Badal cornered: Will he wriggle out of this mess?
Former Punjab chief minister and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) patriarch Parkash Singh Badal has mastered the art of surviving in politics. He stands cornered once again on the turf of religion, something that goes hand in hand with politics for his party. The question doing the rounds is whether he will be able to wriggle out of the precarious situation he has landed in following the report of the Justice (retired) Ranjit Singh Commission on instances of sacrilege of religious texts in Punjab over the last three years. Everyone is waiting to see how he manages to salvage himself this time.
The Congress is now trying to corner the Akalis on Panthic issues, particularly the instances of sacrilege and the firing on protestors at Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan in 2015 by the police that had led to two deaths. Reports quoting the Ranjit Singh Commission say that Badal was in the know how of the police action at Kotkapura.
For the Akalis, the things have taken a turn for the worse with the issue of the party dominated Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) and the Akal Takht in granting the apology to the Dera Saccha Sauda chief Ram Rahim coming back to haunt them at the time when the Dera followers have reportedly been held for sacrilege. The Dera chief who is presently in jail for rape had been accused of blasphemy in 2007 for allegedly wearing an attire similar to Guru Gobind Singh.
It has been none other than the former SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar who in a media interview claimed that he had been kept out of loop on the issue of apology and had been approached by Badal's son and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal with the decision on the day the apology was granted. He claimed that he had advised Sukhbir to first consult all Sikh bodies and take them into confidence to which the latter had agreed. But by evening he came to know that the apology had been granted. The apology was withdrawn later following a public outcry.
At this point Badal stands cornered on Kotkapura firing and Sukhbir is feeling the heat on the issue of the apology. There is also a vertical divide within the Akalis emerging on these issues and also the fact of Sukhbir 'running away' from the debate on the Commission report in the state assembly last week. Several Akali leaders are of the view that the party should have contested the allegations coming from the ruling party along with the main opposition Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and put forward their views.
The Congress under Captain Amarinder Singh is going on the offensive on daily basis at a time when the Lok Sabha polls are barely eight months away although the government is yet to get a FIR registered in the matter and a large number of the Congress leaders are peeved over the leadership making a lot of noise but nut supplementing it with enough action on the ground.
On Tuesday, Amarinder accused Badal of ruining Punjab and held him squarely responsible for the Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan firing incidents. He vowed to go hammer and tongs after Badal and fix him.
Reacting to Badal’s assertion that he was ready to swear that he did not know about the firing, Amarinder dismissed it as a gimmick to divert public attention from his role in the incident. He pointed that the former DGP Sumedh Saini had clearly stated before the Ranjit Singh Commission that Badal had asked him to disperse the crowd forcibly. “If something happens in my state then as Chief Minister I cannot take refuge in such lies and should be thrown out if I am not aware of what is happening right under my nose,” he asserted while adding that as per the Commission’s findings, as many as 22 calls were made to Badal before the firing took place.
Badal and Sukhbir have been trying to get their act together by trying to present the SAD as a party of Sikhs. They have also been going to town sayting that it was the Congress that has carried out the biggest instance of sacrilege when former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had 'rolled tanks and mortars to destroy Akal Takhat and shatter the sacred bosom of Shri Harmandar Sahib'. They have been pointing that countless ‘saroops’ of holy Guru Granth Sahib were desecrated by the forces then.
Badal has warned Amarinder against playing with fire and pushing Punjab back into the jaws of violence and bloodshed. “The flames that turned the urban and country landscape of Punjab almost to ashes are still raging. And you are preparing to unleash new flames. Have mercy on the innocent and peaceful men, women, youth and children of Punjab and roll back your forces of hatred,” he said.
He said that as the Chief Minster he devoted all his time and energy to ensure peace and communal harmony and understanding among various sects in the state. “My mind and my conscience are absolutely clean in this regard. I am not scared of the threats being thrown by a hollow braggart who wastes his life in the pursuit of unethical pleasures. I have discharged with utmost honesty, transparency, dedication and commitment whatever sacred duty had been assigned to me by the people of Punjab,” he conveyed.
Commenting on the 'painful' incidents of sacrilege and the consequent police action in October 2015, Badal said, “ It was a period of unbearable pain and stress on my mind. I remained in live contact with the district administration officials and the DGP till well past midnight. There was never a minute when I was able to go to sleep peacefully as the situation was extremely delicate and critical.”
He further said there were clear and firm instructions from him that the entire issue should be resolved through discussion and dialogue. “At no stage was the issue of police firing even considered and nor were any orders passed by me in this regard,” he added.
Badal was the leader who resurrected the SAD and himself in 1997 from oblivion by coming to power after more than a decade when they had almost been written off. Can he repeat the feat again? The Akalis would definitely be looking at him once again.