'State allowed regrouping of fundamentalists'

'State allowed regrouping of fundamentalists'


'State allowed regrouping of fundamentalists'
Punjab hurtles through an unsettling phase. Sacrilege incidents, the clemency row, farmers stir and attempts to erode sanctity of sacrosanct Sikh religious institutions like the Akal Takht, have put Punjab on the boil. The political narrative has fast altered. Pramod Kumar, political analyst and Director, Institute for Development and Communication (IDC), Chandigarh, discusses the convolutions and ramifications of the crisis with Gautam Dheer of Deccan Herald in Chandigarh.  Excerpts:

How do you view the ongoing crisis in Punjab?

A number of simmering problems in sphere after sphere activated the hawks on the margins. People’s unfulfilled expectations were visible in protests: peasantry agitating for adequate compensation; discontentment against growing nexus between political actors, illicit businesses and officialdom, leveraging public resources and political adventurism effecting religious sentiments. But, granting pardon to chief of Dera Sacha Sauda sect Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh by the Sikh clergy was the final straw. This crisis cannot be labelled as a resurgence of Khalistan. The violation of Sikh scriptures, the holding of a congregation of Sikhs dubbed as ‘Sarbat Khalsa’, announcement of terrorists as custodians of Sikh religious institutions- Akal Takht and SGPC- by hardliners point towards strategic management. The way in which events have unfolded indicate that these were planned and politically motivated.

Is the crisis a home grown conspiracy, and has the government done enough?

The crisis has lent wings to hardliners across borders. The widespread protests against ruling establishment for securing pardon from Sikh clergy, followed by denigration of holy Guru Granth Sahib mobilised people for a congregation of Sikhs (Sarbat Khalsa). The organisation and participation in ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ was facilitated not merely by religious groups, but also reportedly by individual leaders belonging to the competing political parties. The organised protests through the ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ platform by select Sikh religious groups and protagonists of a separate Sikh state torpedoed the political protest to re-launch an extremist agenda. The government response in the first instance was insensitive and led to killing of two Sikh followers. Confident of their sway over the religious domain, the ruling establishment allowed extremist groups to hold the congregation of Sikhs. The government arrested and charged radical leaders with sedition. This created a sense of security among the people.

Why have we reached such a stage? Who is to blame?

The political battle is being fought in the religious domain (panthic) rather than on the development, agrarian front or on governance. The struggle to capture Sikh religious institutions like SGPC and Akak Takht, targeted the ruling Akali Dal that controls these institutions. The protests also very carefully appropriated the absence of counter narrative to ‘Khalistan’. The consensus in the country to ensure justice for Sikhs butchered in 1984 anti-Sikh riots was extended to rehabilitate terrorists. This provided claim to a section instigating revenge for hurt Sikh psyche and a separate Sikh state.

This was further reinforced by eventually conceding twice denied appeal of Dal Khalsa for conferment of martyrdom on leaders of Khalistan by the Akal Takht. These organisations after having acquired legitimacy raised their claim to control the SGPC and the Akal Takht and ‘liberate’ these from the moderates. The state on the one hand allowed coming together of fundamentalist groups in order to appropriate religious (panthic) constituency and on the other, its inept handling of the violation of the sanctity of Sikh religious scriptures provided enough fodder to fringe groups to articulate their divisive agenda in mainstream politics.

What is the way forward?

There is a need to apply closure to tragic events without submitting to a martyrdom psyche that one’s perpetrator of violence is a martyr and the others’ is a villain. In other words, violent acts of non-state actors be pardoned and state actors indulging in violence be hanged and vice-versa. But, closure should not mean subversion of the institution of justice for saving those who have taken the life of others. The main focus should be on de-legitimisation of violence, reduce incentive to violence and deliver restorative justice.

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