As part of Punjab makeover, BJP gets panthic faces
Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi found an unlikely ally in Harnam Singh Dhumma, head of Damdami Taksal, a Sikh seminary once run by Khalistan extremist Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who was killed in the Operation Blue Star. While others like the SGPC questioned Modi’s December 26 announcement as Vir Bal Divas to honor the two youngest sons of Guru Gobind Singh killed by the Mughals, Dhumma praised him.
Arguably the most vocal Taksal leader after Bhindranwale, Dhumma said: “There are very few who are doing their duty and the Prime Minister has done that. He should be thanked. He told the whole world about the martyrdom of the two youngest sons and the mother of Guru Gobind Singh.
Shortly after Dhumma’s comment, his spokesman, Sarchand Singh, once president of the Federation of Sikh Students, an organization led by Bhindranwale in the 1980s, joined the BJP. Singh, a Punjabi teacher, was followed by Kanwarveer Singh Tohra, grandson of the late Gurcharan Singh Tohra, who remained Chairman of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee for 27 years and was popularly called the Pope of the Sikhs.
The BJP, which until a few months ago struggled to find Sikh faces in Punjab, now has new members with strong panthic credentials, apart from disgruntled Akali and Congress leaders. The Damdami Taksal teaches the Sikh scriptures and prides itself on protecting the tenets of the religion in their purest form.
But the BJP-Taksal association is curious on both sides. The BJP has spoken with a Khalistan hand since the start of the agricultural protests and raised its voice after the blockade prevented Prime Minister Narendra Modi from addressing a rally earlier this month in Punjab. BJP ally Amarinder Singh regularly speaks of the “threat” posed by Khalistani elements in the border state.
Taksal is, however, closely associated with Punjab’s years of militancy. In the 1980s, extremists commanded by Bhindranwale established their base at Taksal headquarters in Chowk Mehta, 40 km from Amritsar. As recently as 2016, there were allegations that the Taksal was involved in an attempt to kill an opposing Patiala-based preacher, Ranjit Singh Dhadrianwale.
Defending his entry into the BJP, Sarchand said that when regional parties fail to resolve panther issues, an individual is forced to look for alternatives. “The state leadership failed to get its demands met by the Center. The BJP at the Center can resolve long-standing issues such as the release of Sikh political prisoners and others regarding out-of-state gurdwaras.
Sarchand also said the Prime Minister had shown his sincerity by trying to bring justice to the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and by opening up the Kartarpur corridor to allow pilgrims visa-free access to one of the holy Sikh shrines. . “Congress attacked our religion, the most sacred of our sanctuaries (Golden Temple, during Operation Blue Star). BJP supported us, Prime Minister celebrates Gurpurab, why shouldn’t we support him? »
Admitting that not everyone is happy, Sarchan added, “For them, I say we should have a dialogue with the BJP as an insider.”
Regarding the labeling of protesting farmers as “Khalistanis”, Sarchand said the prime minister never called them that. “These are evil elements,” he said, adding that he would rally Sikh historians and intellectuals to support the party.
Tohra, a political novice whose father was a minister in Badal Senior’s Akali Dal cabinet, said an old friend told him the RSS was very fond of Sikhs and the prime minister’s actions showed it. After joining the BJP, Tohra said, his leaders asked him what he would do for the welfare of Sikhs. “Even the Akalis don’t ask themselves this question anymore.”
On the bitterness caused by the farmers’ unrest, Tohra, an engineer-turned-farmer whose actress wife Mahreen Kaleka supported the farm unrest, fired back: “Has a congressional prime minister ever apologized for the Operation Blue Star? But the Prime Minister (Modi) asked for forgiveness for the three agricultural laws.
While the BJP said the developments show Punjabis changing their minds towards it, other parties see it as “ranking opportunism”. Senior Akali leader and former minister Dr Daljeet Cheema said: “People join the BJP for personal gain, and the ‘panthic soch (think)’ will not tolerate it.”
Professor Amarjit Singh, director of Guru Granth Sahib studies at Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, said only time will tell if the saffron party is really interested in solving panthic issues. “It was during their tenure that Punjabi was withdrawn as a special language by Jammu and Kashmir. Full justice has yet to be served in the 1984 riots. The Sachar panel had provided details of the guilty, they can act accordingly.Moreover, if they are serious about the welfare of Punjab, they should open the Wagah border to trade.