Out of step in Punjab

Punjab continues to be on edge, and the outlook remains grim. The increasing grip of the Badal family over issues concerning Sikhs, both political and religious, coupled with > incidents of sacrilege of the holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib , and multiple sets of problems faced by farmers, are reinforcing the impression of a State administration at a loss for initiatives to regain equilibrium. The State is already in the grip of drug abuse, falling agricultural output and farm debts. It has faced a farmers’ agitation for over two months now. The resentment in the cotton and rice belt reached such proportions that officials were scared to venture into the villages. In a latest round, there have been the recurring incidents of sacrilege. Sikh hard-liners and ‘ >panthic’ organisations are meanwhile uniting against the ruling Akali leadership . On its part, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-led government is fighting to retain political and religious supremacy ahead of the 2017 Assembly election. While Parkash Singh Badal and Sukhbir Badal, the father and son, are Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister respectively, the latter is also the president of SAD and consequently has under his control the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) that has the power to appoint members of the Sikh clergy. Mr. Sukhbir’s wife Harsimrat Kaur Badal is a Union Cabinet Minister, while at least four members of the family are in the State Cabinet.

The regrouping of the panthic organisations in the context of a supposed Khalistan agenda has given rise to the question whether Punjab will witness another phase of militancy. The organisations are determined to hold a Sarbat Khalsa, or a congregation of Sikhs, in Amritsar on November 10, where they are likely to announce the names of jathedars for the Akal Takht, the Takht Keshgarh Sahib and the Takht Damdama Sahib. SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar has, however, said that only the Akal Takht can summon a Sarbat Khalsa. It was the decision of the clergy on September 24 to grant pardon to Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh that set off protests across the State. The SGPC, dominated by SAD, granted the pardon to the Dera head, who was accused of blasphemy by imitating Guru Gobind Singh. This was seen as an attempt by SAD to garner the support of Dera followers ahead of the Assembly elections. The pardon was, however, reversed to pacify protesters. Following this, >a spate of incidents of sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib surfaced. The situation has gone from bad to worse after two persons died in police firing in Behbal Kalan village in Faridkot district on October 14. The crisis further escalated when, in an unprecedented step, the SGPC suspended the Panj Pyare, the five beloved ones of the Guru, only to revoke the step later. It is most unlikely that Punjab will return to the phase of terrorism of the decade of the 1980s. The suffering and disruption the State went through are, no doubt, fresh in memory for many. But that reassurance in no way diminishes the current political and administrative challenges.

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Printable version | Sep 22, 2022 6:56:09 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/Editorial-on-Punjab-state-of-affairs/article59784597.ece