Most in Punjab had nothing to do with faith frenzy
Having witnessed mindless terrorism for over a decade and a half (1982-95), a majority of the people in Punjab condemned the latest round of violence this week instigated by hardline Sikh groups that tried to hijack the state in the name of religion.
Contrary to what television visuals showed angry Sikhs and equally determined Dera Sacha Sauda sect followers taking to the streets with swords, traditional weapons, sticks, bricks and anything they could lay their hands on a majority of the state's population comprising the dominant Sikh community, Hindus, Muslims, Christians and others had no involvement in the frenzy.
The Sikhs who took to the streets were mainly those owing allegiance to radical Sikh organisations like Damdami Taksal which still continues to preach separatist ideology Dal Khalsa and other hardline groups.
A section of the Sikh community protested against the chief of the sect Gurmit Ram Rahim portraying himself on the lines of revered 10th guru Gobind Singh. Though all Sikhs and people from other religions seemed upset with the portrayal, it was only a small section of the community that resorted to violence.
The incidents made the state remember black days of terrorism in just five days this week.
"The TV visuals have done a lot of damage to the Sikh community. Brandishing swords and sticks and attacking shops and properties are not the values of our progressive community. People will get an impression that we are a primitive community living in the 21st century. Our political leadership is responsible for allowing this to happen," lamented educationist Raghubir Singh of Phagwara town.
Leaders of the Damdami Taksal and other hardliners, who had been lying low since terrorism was wiped out of Punjab in 1995 and all communities had been living in peace, suddenly found an issue in the Dera Sacha Sauda controversy to assume centre stage.
"These organisations have their own agenda. Not every Sikh or Punjabi is with them. People are more bothered about peace and their bread and butter," retired government officer Swaran Singh said.
As the state saw near normalcy on Friday, people across Punjab, particularly businessmen and traders from all communities, Saturday tried to get things in order and count the losses they suffered during four days of violence.
Helped by the indifference of the Akali Dal government led by Parkash Singh Badal in controlling the situation from going out of hand in the beginning itself, these radical elements enjoyed a free run all over the state, especially in the cotton-rich Malwa belt of south Punjab.
"My government has done everything to control the situation. What do you know what we have been doing behind the scenes to curb rising passions (of the Sikh community). We will not allow anyone to take law in their hands," Chief Minister Badal said on Friday.
But the hardline Sikh groups are not going to let things pass as easily. The May 20 deadline to the Badal government to get the sect chief arrested is the biggest hurdle that the state government will face on Sunday.
The arrival of nearly 40 companies of paramilitary forces, who have also conducted flag marches in various parts of Punjab, and deployment of Punjab police in good numbers will ensure that violence will not erupt again next week.