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Congress flirts with Sikh radicals to keep the poll pot boiling in Punjab

It will go down in history as a session when politics and religion were again mixed, dangerously, to toe the radical line. It is not the first time that the Congress is doing it.

punjab Updated: Aug 30, 2018 09:17 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Congress,Sikh,Sikh radicals
In fulfilling its poll promise to bring the culprits of police firing and sacrilege incidents to justice, the Congress seems to be flirting with hardliners.(HT Photo)

The only agenda of the three-day monsoon session of the Punjab assembly that concluded on Tuesday was the tabling of the report of Justice Ranjit Singh (retd) Commission on sacrilege incidents and police firing on protesters that rocked Punjab in 2015 and a debate on it.

It will go down in history as a session when politics and religion were again mixed, dangerously, to toe the radical line. It is not the first time that the Congress is doing it. In Punjab, the consequences of blurring the line have always been debilitating. HT brings you five key takeaways from the session.

Rise of the fringe in the party

In fulfilling its poll promise to bring the culprits of police firing and sacrilege incidents to justice, the Congress seems to be flirting with hardliners. Some firebrand Congress ministers and MLAs have a radical tinge to their politics. Minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa has accepted meeting Sikh hardliner Baljit Singh Daduwal a night before the report was tabled in the House. The protest at Bargari, too, is being led by Sikh right wing leaders. Their refusal to end the indefinite strike was one of the factors that forced the Congress to bring a resolution to take back cases from the CBI. A special investigation team (SIT) will probe them now and keep the poll pot boiling till the next year’s Lok Sabha elections. It needs to take caution lest it boils over.

Internal pressure forced Capt’s hand against Badals

The internal politics of the Congress was at play. At the meeting of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) before the session, state Congress chief Sunil Jakhar had said that political obituaries of many will be written after the debate on the report. His target was not just the Badals, but also his own party leaders. The party rank and file resents Amarinder’s ‘no-vendetta’ line. The CM had assured the party that the Action Taken Report as well as his concluding speech will deal a final blow to the Badals.

Target panthic vote-bank

The target of all the three parties was the panthic vote-bank. Amarinder knows how to harness it. In 1984, after the Operation Bluestar, he had resigned from Parliament; later, in 1986, he quit CM Surjit Singh Barnala’s cabinet against Operation Black Thunder.

The AAP got the second slot by wooing radicals. So, the Akalis, who appeal to the moderate Sikhs, are trying to discredit the report by saying hardliners scripted it. It also fears losing control over gurdwara bodies. When minister Sukhjinder Randhawa declared in House to free the SGPC from the clutches of the Akalis, minister Navjot Singh Sidhu nudged him to do so. For now, the Dera Sacha Sauda is the target for both the Congress and the AAP for supporting the SAD. Its political clout stands diminished after the sect head’s conviction in rape cases.

AAP’s United colours

The AAP, a party in a constant state of flux in Punjab, united in the House for the “sake of the panth” and perhaps, family ties. Both AAP factions played along to the Congress game plan. It helps AAP’s appeal among hardline Sikhs. Its other target was rebel leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira, who is trying to steal a march over it on panthic issues. The panel report suits Khaira’s hardline politics too. Also, Justice Ranjit Singh is his brother-in-law.

Man admired by both the panel, Akalis

The panel has commended SIT head Ranbir Singh Khatra for arresting dera followers behind the Bargari sacrilege. Khatra was made the SIT head in November 2015. He made the first arrests days after hardliners started their protest at Bargari on June 1. The timing is uncanny.

Akalis, too, are all praise for the SIT head, who held a press conference two days before the tabling of the report to justify the police action at Kotkapura. The report has indicted former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal for the action.

Sukhbir says that they had constituted the Khatra-led special investigation team (SIT) and it showed they did not go soft on the dera. The Congress has raised questions over Khatra’s son being given SAD ticket in last year’s polls.

First Published: Aug 30, 2018 09:17 IST