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Punjab: The volatile mix of politics and religion

The incidents themselves are disturbing, also because the alleged perpetrators were immediately lynched
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The first, on December 19, occurred during evening prayers at Amritsar’s Golden Temple where a man jumped over the railings to try and grab the sacred “kirpan” (Sameer Sehgal /Hindustan Times)
Updated on Dec 20, 2021 08:33 PM IST
ByHT Editorial

In Punjab, politics and religion make for a volatile mix, often with serious consequences, evident in the state’s tumultuous past. The two alleged desecrations at Sikh shrines this past week, followed by the lynching of two accused, have revived a sense of foreboding weeks away from the assembly polls. There is disquiet because Punjab is a border state, which successfully fought off an insurgency in the 1980s (although there have been sporadic efforts, from Pakistan and extremist Sikh groups based in other countries, to revive the demand for a Sikh state). There is disquiet because Punjab, in many ways, is India’s first line of defence, and one of its most important agrarian states. There is disquiet because Punjab, the heart of the 14-month-long farm protest that saw the repeal of three farm laws, is headed into elections where, right now, the field seems wide open.

The incidents themselves are disturbing, also because the alleged perpetrators were immediately lynched. The first, on December 19, occurred during evening prayers at Amritsar’s Golden Temple where a man jumped over the railings to try and grab the sacred “kirpan”. As the hymn recitals at the shrine are telecast live, the alleged sacrilege went viral, and even before the police could intervene, the alleged offender, whose identity is unclear, was beaten to death by the crowd. The second alleged sacrilege was reported the next day from a village gurdwara in Kapurthala district where the accused, also unidentified, met with instant death by the mob, though details are awaited on what happened. Given the current context, the two incidents (and the lynchings) must be adequately and thoroughly investigated to understand the motivations, and, if there is a larger conspiracy, to identify the people and agencies behind it. Punjab should not be allowed to come to a boil – for that will be bad for all of India.

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In Punjab, politics and religion make for a volatile mix, often with serious consequences, evident in the state’s tumultuous past. The two alleged desecrations at Sikh shrines this past week, followed by the lynching of two accused, have revived a sense of foreboding weeks away from the assembly polls. There is disquiet because Punjab is a border state, which successfully fought off an insurgency in the 1980s (although there have been sporadic efforts, from Pakistan and extremist Sikh groups based in other countries, to revive the demand for a Sikh state). There is disquiet because Punjab, in many ways, is India’s first line of defence, and one of its most important agrarian states. There is disquiet because Punjab, the heart of the 14-month-long farm protest that saw the repeal of three farm laws, is headed into elections where, right now, the field seems wide open.

The incidents themselves are disturbing, also because the alleged perpetrators were immediately lynched. The first, on December 19, occurred during evening prayers at Amritsar’s Golden Temple where a man jumped over the railings to try and grab the sacred “kirpan”. As the hymn recitals at the shrine are telecast live, the alleged sacrilege went viral, and even before the police could intervene, the alleged offender, whose identity is unclear, was beaten to death by the crowd. The second alleged sacrilege was reported the next day from a village gurdwara in Kapurthala district where the accused, also unidentified, met with instant death by the mob, though details are awaited on what happened. Given the current context, the two incidents (and the lynchings) must be adequately and thoroughly investigated to understand the motivations, and, if there is a larger conspiracy, to identify the people and agencies behind it. Punjab should not be allowed to come to a boil – for that will be bad for all of India.

RELATED STORIES

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