Congress lays religious, political landmine, SAD to set off one outside House today
The Congress is all set to launch a frontal attack on the Akalis based on report’s indictment of former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son and SAD chief, Sukhbir Badal, for the Akal Takht’s pardon for dera head Gurmeet Ram Rahim in September 2015.Updated: Aug 26, 2018 10:53 IST
In a state where politics thrives on dare for a dare, the rumblings within the Congress and outside it have been that it did not take on the Akalis on coming to power after 10 years in political wilderness. Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s ‘no-vendetta’ line meant no skeletons were to tumble out of the closet of the previous regime.
But the report of Justice Ranjit Singh Commission set up by Amarinder to probe sacrilege incidents of Guru Granth Sahib and police firing on Sikh protesters at Behbal Kalan and Kotkapura is damning for the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) as it threatens its very foundation of Panthic politics.
The Congress is all set to launch a frontal attack on the Akalis based on report’s indictment of former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son and SAD chief, Sukhbir Badal, for the Akal Takht’s pardon for dera head Gurmeet Ram Rahim in September 2015. The report states this had a ‘devastating effect and may have played a catalyst for sacrilege incidents’.
The panel also says though there were enough hints of involvement of dera followers in the sacrilege incidents, they were only caught after the change of guard in the state.
The report has put ex-CM Badal, too, in the dock for the police firing, saying he either allowed the then Punjab police chief Sumedh Singh Saini to fire at protesters at Kotkapura or was “too helpless” to stop him from doing so.
Congress lines up Badal-baiters
In the state’s competitive panthic politics, the report has given the Congress a handle to outmanoeuvre the Akalis who have been targeting it after Operation Bluestar and 1984 anti-Sikh riots. The party has lined up its firebrand Badal-baiters to lead the charge and may telecast the debate live to pin them down, whether or not they boycott it.
“We will expose how the Badals made underhand deals for votes and played politics over religion. Religious faith is above votes. They are now bribing and intimidating witnesses who appeared before the panel. They made the Akal Takht a puppet for meeting their political ends. When the dera did not vote for them in 2007 polls, they went after the sect head and made the Akal Takht issue an edict against him. When they wanted dera votes, they got him pardoned,” Faridkot MLA Kushaldeep Singh Dhillon, one of the speakers lined up by the party, told HT.
He added, “The previous government ordered police firing that killed two. Yet no heads rolled. Saini was only transferred. What action was taken against him? Did he give firing orders without Badal’s permission. Or orders came from the top. It is not political vendetta. We are answerable to people.”
Other than Dhillon, minister Sukhjinder Randhawa, who the Akalis are accusing of coercing witnesses to appear before the panel, says he will give Akalis a befitting reply in the House.
According to Congress insiders, the action taken report to be tabled in the House on Monday, along with the panel’s report, and the concluding speech of Amarinder will deal the final blow on the Akalis. When it comes to harnessing panthic issues, Amarinder can give others a lesson or two. He had resigned from Congress after the Operation Bluestar and has been espousing the cause of Sikhs, including forcing the BJP regime at the Centre to offer compensation to Jodhpur detainees of Operation Bluestar recently.
Outnumbered in House, Akalis to fight outside
Faced with one of its worst politico-religious crisis, the Akalis have decided to make a “sensational expose” on Sunday, a day before the report is tabled. At a press conference on Saturday, Sukhbir said, “We will hammer the final nail in the report’s coffin.” According to SAD sources, the party will expose “secret meetings” held between the panel and Sikh hardliners protesting at Bargari.
All the action of the Akalis will be outside the House though. With just 14 members, they get little time to trash the report. But the political damage will be grave if they don’t. “We will be present in the house for the debate. All our members will be present except the former CM,” SAD spokesman Daljit Cheema said.
Amid the Congress-Akali slugfest, the state’s main opposition, the AAP, which had dented Sikh votes of the SAD, will also try to take on the Akalis. Its other target will be its own rebel faction led by Sukhpal Singh Khaira, who is trying to steal its thunder on panthic issues.