Badals Under Cloud As Cracks Appear In Akali Dal

th Guru of the Sikhs. Human depiction of the Sikh Gurus is forbidden. Sikhs by and large, and hardliners in particular, had been having a strong dislike for the Dera chief for a variety of reasons including his ability to draw majhabi Sikhs to his fold in large numbers. Although he never asked them to give up their religion, the concept of “Guru manyo Granth”, or consider the holy text as the only guru, conflicted with the tenets of Sikhism. It was his emulation of Guru Gobind Singh that incensed Sikhs worldwide. It was considered a step too far. It led to protests and calls for him to present himself at Sri Akal Takht Sahib. As it was with the politics of Badals, they were eyeing the vote bank of Majhabi Punjabis that Gurmeet Ram Rahim could deliver. Ram Rahim sent an unsigned letter without apologising or directly asking for a pardon for his conduct. Nevertheless the Jathedars pardoned him. The Sikh maryada requires a person to present him/herself at the Akal Takht, express regret and accept a punishment, often cursory. Usually it is cleaning of utensils, or shoes or saying a few recitations from the Guru Granth Sahib. Maharajah Ranjit Singh, the only Sikh and Punjabi Maharajah of Punjab had famously accepted being whipped when he was punished at the Takht for indulging with prostitutes while being an Amritdhari Sikh. Thus the ‘politically staged’ pardon of Ram Rahim  granted to him without due process came as a rude shock to most Sikhs and led to several protests. This forced the Jathedars to subsequently withdraw the pardon but enough damage had been done. It was under these circumstances that a spate of incidents of sacrilege involving Guru Granth Sahib were reported from several parts of the state. The Justice Ranjit Singh panel’s first report had said Badal and his son Sukhbir secured Akal Takht’s pardon for Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim in September 2015 to facilitate release of the Dera head’s movie. Though the edict was revoked after backlash from Sikh bodies, the report said it had a “devastating effect and played the role of catalyst in sacrilege incidents”. It had also put Sukhbir, the then home minister, in the dock for “showing lack of will and seriousness” in solving sacrilege cases. Though the exact tally of the acts of sacrilege is not available, it is estimated that about a hundred such incidents were reported in late 2015 and early 2016. That there was a clear pattern in such acts of desecration was an obvious fact. Some suspects were arrested, including Dera followers, but the charges could not be proved against them. The state government appointed Zora Singh Commission to identity the culprits and conspiracy but its report was “inconclusive”. Capt Amarinder Singh government had subsequently constituted a commission under Section 11 of the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952, to probe cases of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib and other religious texts at Burj Jawahar Singh Wala, Bargari, Gurusar and Mallke after rejecting the findings of the Zora Singh Commission. Justice Ranjit Singh Commission, while indicting Parkash Singh Badal and the former DGP Sumedh Singh Saini, has also recommended registration of cases against police officers responsible for the firing in which two protesters were killed at Behbal Kalan. Badals have reacted by claiming that the Commission’s report was a ‘sham’ and that it was worth only the waste paper basket. However, in view of the gathering storm, they have announced a series of ‘pol-khol’ rallies in the state to ‘expose’ the government. The cracks developing in the senior leadership pose a serious threat to the Badal clan. The resentment had been brewing over several years as top posts were given only to their favourites. The abrasive and insulting behaviour by Sukhbir towards some senior party leaders had been adding to the resentment. The Akali politics is once again in turmoil. The immediate solace for the Badals is the fact that there is no clear cut alternative leadership and none was allowed to grow in the recent years. Speculations are that senior Punjabi leaders from other parties may join hands to fill the vacuum. The developments would be closely watched.]]>

Sikh 2020 Referendum, India Shares Responsibility

th August, to hold a rally in London and declare the referendum. The Government of India has been reacting to it and accusing Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI, to be behind the exercise. The campaign has been called a waste of time, a gimmick or opportunist by many Sikhs, since it has no authorisation from any State or UN or other legitimate authority. Ironically most serious Sikh Khalistani (Sikh State) groups have opposed it.  However their response has been muted because they don’t want to be seen to be on the same side as the more aggressive opposition by the Indian government to this referendum campaign. Nevertheless, the fact that it has reached such proportion of debate in Indian press and within Sikhs is a victory of sorts for SFJ, even if nothing else may be achieved. It is also symptomatic of the frustration and resentment that has continued to fester among worldwide Sikhs since 1984. The issues that have arisen recurrently between Sikhs and the Indian State are well known. The foremost is that the holiest place of the Sikhs, Sri Darbar Sahib was entrusted to Indian protection. But in 1984, the Indian Government, under Mrs Gandhi, sent in the Indian Army to invade the most powerful and influential seat of authority in the Sikh world, thus declaring a form of war without realising it.  The attack led to calls for a separate State so that the Akal Takhat Sahib and Sri Darbar Sahib can be protected by a State of the Sikhs instead. Closely following this and for many years were the unconstitutional methods adopted by the State in eliminating large number of Sikh youth to prevent a civil uprising. Over 60000 Sikhs have been executed extrajudicially and many tortured grotesquely. Some unique methods were developed by Punjab police, now copied by dictatorships around the world. The other major incident was the organised massacres of Sikhs by the Congress party that followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister in November 1984. New Delhi’s contribution to world civilisation was the invention of burning alive of people with tyres around their necks.  Over 4000 Sikhs were massacred with iron bars, long knives, axes and burning alive in a free orgy of violence over four days. The police looked the other way and the Army, stationed only half an hour’s distance away, remained in its barracks. The Sikhs of Punjab responded to the attack on Darbar Sahib by executing Mrs Gandhi, the Chief of Army (Gen Vaidya) who ordered the attack and the Chief Minister (Beant Singh) who gave the police carte blanc unconstitutional powers to kill as many political activists as it could. The Sikhs of Delhi put their trust in the Indian judicial system. 34 years later they have been fed 11 Commissions of Enquiry but no incarceration of any senior Congress member. It should not surprise any analyst why 34 years after 1984, resentment and hurt festers below the surface among Sikhs, leaving the community susceptible to those who imagine themselves as wannabe messiahs on a mission to lead Sikhs to freedom from this pain or worse prey to political and economic opportunists. Even the Akali Dal regularly exploits Sikh issues when in opposition but goes quiet when in power. However it is simplistic for victimhood within Sikhs to see Hindu India as a hostile, cruel inhuman country and hope for justice and restoration of mutual respect. The Indians themselves are imprisoned in a Kafkesque nightmare from which they don’t know how to step out.  Physical colonialism came to an end in 1947 in India but the institutions and political concepts of colonialism remain intact even 70 years after the British transferred power. [caption id="attachment_29480" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Presidents of India have been trapped in ceremonies left by the British.[/caption] India is a colonial edifice, to the last brick of its foundation. All modern Indian institutions were established by the British to govern ‘over Indians’ and protect themselves from the natives or promote interests of the occupying colonialists. Whether it is the constitution founded on the 1935 Act which the British enacted to rule ‘over’ Indians with some punitive accountability to ‘natives’, or the police which was to keep the natives in check while applying different rules for the Sahibs, or the Army which was orientated to protect the British from Indian mutinees and rebellions, to the legal system which was meant to usurp indigenous value systems and implant British Victorian values and system of rule or whether it is the civil service which was established to administrate Indians on behalf of the British. Nothing has changed in the founding frameworks of these institutions. The Indian State follows the blue print left by the British colonialists to rule India as conquerors. The British didn’t leave behind a repair manual nor sent revision sheets or updates, and so to date Indians haven’t found a way to solve any of the regional or cultural conflicts. Strengthening colonial era laws on detention, making colonial era torture methods even more painful and sending in the Army to protect the ‘rulers’ against the ‘natives’ is a recurring pattern of response to challenges, where politics should seek solutions instead. The political class behaves like managers. The institutional framework of British India was enacted for the British in India to act as managers on behalf of the Crown or rather British Parliament. They were not meant to govern. Government was in UK. [caption id="attachment_29482" align="aligncenter" width="300"] The Viceroy’s Carriage pre-1947. Little has changed except the logos.[/caption] Unfortunately the Indian political class acts as managers and has been managing the edifice since 1947 waiting for guidance from some mythical power above it.  India has been in management mode since 1947. 70 years later it has yet to start governing and take bold decisions, such as a new contract with the people, change of colonial era laws, overhaul of an imperialist constitution, and instil in the army that it is there to protect the borders, not kill Indian citizens etc. This is the intractable dynamics in which Sikhs and the Indians are locked in. The Sikhs are hoping India will give justice. Individually Indians weep when told about stories, the massacres, the tortures etc, but Indians as the State simply don’t know how to untangle the shackles of colonialism and transfer that empathy with minorities into solutions. Like all such scenarios, in which those in power are powerless, there is recourse to diversion such as calling secessionists as ‘dreaded terrorists’ and blaming others, such as ISI for troubles of India’s own inadequacies. The Sikhs like some other regional minorities do not expect Congress to address the issues that divide them from the State. Congress after all was the Government that attacked Sri Darbar Sahib. Congress is in fact the penultimate party of WOGS if there is such a creature. Since 1947 it has been managing a failed colonial mission, to change Indians into a poor image of European society.

RSS vision is to make India a Hindu Rahstra.

  There was hope when Modi came to power that he will bring in a fresh and bold approach to solving issues such as those of the Sikhs. But his own party has been riddled with conceptual ideologies which have little to do with Indian civilisation. The identity Hindu and the name of the country, Hindustan, was given by Muslim invaders. Both RSS and the BJP have internalised these as missions, to make India a Hindu State and take pride in calling it Hindustan. Pakistani Muslims must be smug that their forefathers gave identity both to the people and the country. If the Congress is peddling a bastardised ideology developed from nineteenth century European political theories calling it Indian secularism (if ever there was a word more nonsense), the BJP and RSS are hell bent on promoting concepts inherited from radical Islam strongly similar to Hassan al-Banna’s ideas of Muslim Brotherhood packaged in the nomenclature given by Muslim invaders, Hindu and Hindustan. The trouble is that neither the Sikhs nor the Indians have introspection of their situation. Neither seems to be aware of the time warp they remain in, frozen in 1947. The Indians are caught in a Goldfish bowl, unable to break through it. The Sikhs expect empathy and solutions that the colonial  institutional framework of post colonial India is not constructed for, hence unable to deliver. This is why 34 years after 1984, Sikhs cannot make sense of the attack on Sri Darbar Sahib, the extra-judicial executions, the massacres of Sikhs in Delhi and this is also why India has not been able to move an inch forward towards addressing the resentment festering within Sikhs. Until one or the other side understands the dilemma and weakness of the other and starts to help the other come out if its crises, the Sikhs will continue to be victims of excitable gimmick like rallying calls such as Referendum 2020 and India will continue to make enemies of its own people with the political class acting as managers of an edifice and the Army gingerly killing the very people it is meant to protect. Neither side knows how to move forward.]]>

Beyond Kairana: Not a pretty picture for BJP

Maharashtra, two Lok Sabha seats were fought for. Once rivals Congress and Nationalist Congress Party fought as a team and once brothers in saffron BJP and Shiv Sena fought each other, the Uddhav Thackeray-led party putting up as candidate the son of the MP whose death necessitated the bypoll in Palghar. The BJP took this seat, but by a winning margin of about 30,000 votes as opposed to almost 300,000 in the 2014 election. The other Maharashtra seat was Bhandara-Gondiya, in the saffron-friendly Vidarbha region. The BJP lost the seat, and face. It lost to the NCP by a good 50,000-odd votes. In 2014, the BJP candidate Nana Patole—whose defection to the Congress over what he called PM Modi’s neglect of farmer’s issues—had won by three times that margin. The wave is gone, and more importantly, the Shiv Sena who the BJP calls its oldest ally has had its claws out for Big Brother through the campaign, and now after it even as the larger party is articulating placatory whimpers. Maharashtra gave the BJP-SS partnership 41 of its 48 Lok Sabha seats last time, and a resurgent Congress-NCP partnership in the absence of a Modi wave is bad news indeed for the BJP. Kneeling before Uddhav may well be the best-case scenario for the BJP in next year’s big one, and even that may not help much. The one seat from Nagaland went to BJP ally Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party, as expected—one of the truisms of Indian politics is that Northeast voters tend to back the ruling party at the Centre in bypolls. The BJP has made great inroads in the Northeast region in recent years—it rules in six of the ‘seven sisters’ now—but it’s also true even a vigorous performance here in 2019 will not make much impact on the big numbers of the next Lok Sabha election.The seven states put together have as many seats as Rajasthan alone. Kairana was the big loss, a united Opposition defeating the BJP with voters cutting across caste and religious lines to back the challenger. Also, it cannot be overlooked that Prime Minister Modi held a massive roadshow in a nearby district to showcase a spanking new highway, and followed it up the same day— one day before the vote in Kairana—with a rally in Baghpat where he reached to sugarcane farmers. He got the issue right, for it was ‘ganna over Jinnah’ in the end, only voters didn’t expect the BJP to address the issue. Shades of Karnataka in Kairana; Modi uping his rallies from 15 to 21 didn’t turn the southern state around, and Baghpat didn’t do the trick either. The new battle order that is coming up has even resurrected Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal that got wiped out from its western Uttar Pradesh stronghold last time. It is also significant to note that Ajit’s father, and once prime minister Chaudhary Charan Singh was the architect of the Hindu-Muslim peace and amity that sugarcane belt of western Uttar Pradesh once exemplified. That peace was missing in the 2014 Lok Sabha election: polarisation may have crossed its expiration date in the the largest arena of 2019 . The Assembly seats The BJP got just one—Tharali in Uttarakhand—in a set that was sprinkled pretty representatively across the nation. Noteworthy here is desperately thin margin of victory—about 2,000 votes—in what has been traditionally regarded as a saffron state since it was created about two decades ago by an NDA government. Uttarakhand isn’t in the BJP bag either for 2019. In Punjab, the seat of Shahkot was taken from the Akali Dal by the Congress. Punjab has been regarded as a bellwether state, and the Congress victory in the 2017 Assembly elections as the backdrop of the latest contest has a strong message for the BJP. Significantly, the Aam Aadmi Party candidate came third, losing his deposit and even the vote in his native village in the process. The Akali Dal is down for the count, and AAP has slid out of the reckoning. More worrisome for the BJP is that Haryana’s simmering peasantry appears set to follow the Punjab example, with both Congress and the Chautala clan resurgent in the agricultural state. That’s 23 Lok Sabha seats from the two agrarian neighbour states for 2019 the BJP needs to worry about. In West Bengal, Didi’s Trinamool took the Maheshtala seat by over a chunky 60,000-vote margin. The BJP came second but that’s just a repeat of what has been happening in the state despite a focussed saffron effort, a noticeable increase in its popular support but one that’s not enough to shake Mamata Banerjee. Didi’s in the saddle, and she looks set to ride unscathed through the 2019 battle. Jokihat in Bihar was another upset, Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata Dal winning this battle of prestige and stamping another question mark on Nitish Kumar’s swinging politics. This is the third straight loss for Nitish after he dumped the RJD and Congress in July 2017 to walk out of the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) that had so comprehensively won the 2015 Assembly elections, Araria Lok Sabha and Jehanbad Assembly bypolls the other two that the RJD took. Given the RJD’s incredible performance in 2015—it won 81 of the 101 seats it contested—and the way its fortunes remain on the up, the future isn’t looking too bright for either Nitish’s Janata Dal (United) or the BJP. And Nitish may well be out of swinging room. Bihar could be where this unlikeliest of BJP allies sinks with the saffron party in 2019. Ampati in Meghalaya brought back memories of Karnataka again, as Congress candidate Miani D Shira, daughter of former chief minister Mukul Sangma defeated Clement G Momin of the National People’s Party. With 21 legislators, the Congress is now the single largest party in the state Assembly, and can, following the Karnataka model, stake claim to form the government. The NPP has 20 seats and the support of 15 other MLAs, including two from the BJP. In Karnataka, fresh from the churn of the recent Assembly elections and the hurly-burly of government formation, the Congress thumbed its nose at the BJP, winning the RR Nagar bypoll with 40,000 votes to spare. If not entirely expected, the other results were not as surprising. They are: * Chengannur, Kerala: CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front’s Saji Cheriyan beat Congress as well as BJP candidates. * Noorpur, Uttar Pradesh: Samajwadi Party candidate Naeemul Hasan, supported by the Congress, BSP and AAP beat the BJP candidate by 6,000-odd votes, a relatively slim margin but yet another winner for a combined Opposition. * Silli and Gomia, Jharkhand: Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) retained both seats. * Palus Kadegaon, Maharashtra: Congress candidate Vishwajeet Patangrao Kadam, the son of sitting MLA Patangrao Kadam whose death neccessitated the poll, won the seat uncontested. — The author tweets @NSDahiya]]>

Amarinder: A year of unfulfilled promises

By Jaideep Sarin Suicides by debt-ridden farmers refuse to abate, jobless people yearn for employment, and the youth are yet to get a first glimpse of the promised smartphones. One year after the Congress romped back to power in Punjab, the tall promises made to various sections of the electorate are staring Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and his government in the face. Having remained out of power for 10 long years, the Congress and Amarinder made populist promises in the run-up to the state’s assembly polls last year. Estimates put the worth of these promises at over Rs 10,000 crore (over Rs 1.5 billion) even without the farm debt waiver. The total debt of Punjab farmers with banks and other institutions is believed to be over Rs 90,000 crore. With Punjab’s finances in a complete mess, which the Congress never forgets to attribute to the 10-year rule of the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) alliance government (2007-2017), Amarinder is nowhere on the road to delivering on these. The much-touted loan waiver for the debt-ridden peasantry has been announced in recent months but it has so many limitations and conditions that the eventual beneficiaries are either not eligible or are getting peanuts in the name of the waiver. Yet, the Congress continues to promise them the moon in the remaining four years in power. Leader of Opposition Sukhpal Singh Khaira, quoting government figures, has pointed out that over 360 farmers have committed suicide after the Amarinder government came to power in Punjab on March 16 last year. The farm waiver apart, the Congress has an uphill task where other promises are concerned as well — be it employment to one person in every household (there are over five million households in Punjab), eradicating drugs from the state, ending corruption, and smartphones for the youth, among several others. Not one of these promises is being fulfilled, nor is likely to be in the near future, due to an acute financial crunch. Salaries of government staff have been, in recent months, delayed as there was no money to pay them. With a Congress government in Punjab and the Centre being controlled by the BJP, not much help on finances is expected on that front. Investments from industrial houses and big corporates have largely remained confined to mere announcements. Development projects are delayed or held up for want of funds. Unemployment continues to haunt the youth and the government. Punjab BJP president and Union minister Vijay Sampla has demanded that Amarinder should list the promises he has fulfilled so far. Even though Amarinder Singh rode to power with an overwhelming majority of 77 seats in the 117-member assembly, the goodwill around him is fast evaporating. The Chief Minister, who has been skipping official meetings on occasion, has ended up fighting internal battles in the government and the Congress party. The appointment of his hand-picked Chief Principal Secretary Suresh Kumar was quashed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court in January. A division bench last month stayed the ruling and Kumar, who was sulking, is back in office. Amarinder was forced to accept the resignation of his close aide Rana Gurjit Singh from the cabinet following a string of controversies around the billionaire minister over a mining scam. Amarinder’s claims before the elections that the prevalent drug menace in Punjab, which the Congress had hyped in a big way, would be eradicated within four weeks of his government’s formation, have remained questionable. There is no official data to prove that the menace, as alleged earlier, has actually been eradicated on the ground. Punjab Police, under the present government, have however been able to end the free run of gangsters and criminals. The police cracked the cases of high-profile killings of Hindu leaders in recent years and arrested several people involved in the killings and those abetting it. The police have also been successful in containing dreaded gangsters, either by killing them or arresting them. The hiring of a big team of advisers to the Chief Minister and giving them fat salaries, even higher than what ministers get, despite the state’s financial constraints, has ruffled features in official and political circles. At the same time, Amarinder has asked ministers and legislators to pay their own income tax, instead of the state government doing so. Within the Congress, legislators and party leaders are upset with Amarinder for being inaccessible at times. His frequent sojourns to his orchards in Himachal Pradesh and visits to New Delhi often set the gossip mills whirring. With the government about to complete one year, a number of senior legislators are still waiting for Amarinder to expand his cabinet so that they also get a shot at power. In the coming days and months, things are likely to get even tougher for the Amarinder government. The party and the Chief Minister will have to find out ways to tackle the brickbats coming from the opposition and the electorate over unfulfilled promises. (IANS)]]>