Bargari, Faridkot, Panjab, 01 February 2017. Political analysts in Punjab see the latest attempt of the Prime Minster and the Akali leadership to heal the hurt feelings as a last-ditch effort to consolidate the support of Sikh voters that could be a make-or-break factor in the upcoming polls.
At a recent election rally in Kotkapura, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to soothe Sikh sentiments hurt by wanton acts of desecration of Sri Guru Granth Sahib in the State, but barely 10 kilometres away at Bargari, the village where the outrage first took place over a year ago, many believe that the political damage is irreparable.
Soaking in the winter sun outside Gurdwara Sahib Patshahi Dashmi in the village, Balwinder Singh, a former carpenter, who is here to attend a religious ceremony, feels the State government should have made more efforts to find the culprits and punish them.
“It’s been more than a year, but those responsible for the desecration of Sri Guru Granth Sahib have not been caught … I’m angry, I’m pained and so are many others in the village with the Akali government,” he told The Hindu, pointing out that it was right in front of this Gurdwara that the torn pages of the holy book were found on 12 October 2015.
‘All faiths targeted’
“It’s not only Sikh holy books; there have been sacrilege of Hindu and Islamic holy books as well in parts of the State, which is unacceptable. The government is the custodian of people’s faith and if it fails in its duty, then naturally, people will get angry,” he said.
After the outrage at Bargari that protests erupted here and in surrounding villages. After two protesters were killed in police firing at the nearby Behbal Kalan village, tensions spread across the State and anger against the government snowballed.
“The Guru Granth Sahib is treated as a living guru by us [Sikhs] and such incidents have to be curbed as soon as possible … It’s the responsibility of the government to stop such incidents, but they (SAD-BJP combine) have failed,” said Pritpal Singh, a local farmer, who had come to pay obeisance at the Gurdwara.
The ruling Akali government, meanwhile, has blamed the Aam Aadmi Party for the series of desecrations. “Incidents of sacrilege started in Punjab after the entry of the AAP into the State.
The Punjab government had solved around 30 cases of sacrilege and only the incident at Behbal Kalan remained unsolved,” Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal said at the Kotkapura rally, requesting the Prime Minister to direct the CBI to conduct a speedy inquiry. Mr. Modi was quick to assure the crowd that the culprits would be punished.
Pre-poll damage control
Political analysts in Punjab see the latest attempt of the Prime Minster and the Akali leadership to heal the hurt feelings as a last-ditch effort to consolidate the support of Sikh voters that could be a make-or-break factor in the upcoming polls.
“They [SAD-BJP] have realised and recognised the fact that “sacrilege incidents” are a key issue in these elections, and Mr. Modi’s assurance from the election stage at Kotkapura seems to be a damage-control exercise,” Ashutosh Kumar, Professor of Political Science at Panjab University, said.
Professor Kumar said the Shiromani Akali Dal had been facing the wrath on the sacrilege issue as it claims to be a “Panthic” party, but the BJP cannot absolve itself of responsibility as it is a partner in the government.
“Sacrilege incidents happened during the SAD-BJP combine regime, which were related to law and order. In a secular polity, the government has to respect sentiments of all religions and it is its constitutional duty to protect all religions. It was their [SAD-BJP] responsibility to find out the culprits and punish them,” he said.
The Aam Aadmi Party has squarely blamed the ruling Akali government for the desecrations.
AAP State convener Gurpreet Singh Waraich said on Tuesday that during the tenure of Sukhbir Singh Badal as Home Minister, 95 cases of sacrilege took place, one being the theft of the Guru Granth Sahib from the gurdwara at Burj Jawahar Singh Wala village in June 2015.
“What could be more shameful that even a year-and-a-half later, Sukhbir Badal was unable to trace the Holy Guru Granth Sahib,” he said.