One often thinks God is complex. The situation of Punjab is even more complicated for it does not even inspire belief. A month back the Akal Takht pardoned the Dera Sacha Sauda chief, Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh in response to his clarification letter. When faced with questions on the pardon to the Dera Sachha Sauda head, the Akal Takht has had to revoke its edict – Hukamnama. When news of the sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib came, the anguish of the people boiled over on the roads of Punjab. Two protestors fell to the police bullets in Kotakpura. The police continues to arrest people on preventive grounds or as accused. Veteran Shiromani Akali Dal leader Sukhdev Singh Bhaur has resigned from his leadership position as General Secretary and as member of the party. More than a dozen Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee members have claimed to resign but it has no constituted house pending a legal case in court and functioning under interim committee appointed by court to execute routine buisness. Technically these resignations have no meaning but politically it define new alingnments. Local SAD leaders are trying to dissociate themselves from the party. Protestors have attacked two SGPC members. The Khadoor Sahib MLA Ramanjit Singh Siki from the Congress has resigned from the Punjab Vidhan Sabha.
After the protest has crossed seven days the para-military forces have been deployed in Ludhiana, Jalandhar, and Amritsar. At the same time the Punjab police claims to have solved five cases of sacrilege of the Seri Granth Sahib. The protestors, the government, and even ordinary neutral citizens agree that it is essential the sacrilege is investigated through a neutral agency and strict action be taken.
Even before the issue of sacrilege the call for a Sarbat Khalsa, a grand gathering, on the matter of the pardon to the Sachha Sauda head had gone out to the community. Now the matter of the sacrilege has attached itself to the issue of pardon. The hurt of the protestors is so intense that there seems to be no scope for dialogue or discussion. The rumour mills are spinning such that the Amritsar Police Commissioner Jatinder Aulakh had to publically state that the district is not under curfew and the Army has not been called in. At the same time the Sikh Student Federation leader Karnail Singh Peermohammad and the Damdami Taksal had to clarify last Sunday that there was no call for a general strike on Monday. The protest leader Panthpreet Singh who took the initiative to organise the first protest had to face ire from protestors at Kotakpura. Simranjit Singh Mann from SAD (M) has rejected the call of Sikh preachers for a daily 10 AM to 1 Noon road block. He has also announced that the direction of the protest will be determined on October 25 upon the completion of the final prayers of those killed in the police firing and urged people to keep the blockades on until then. In a press conference he stated that protesters will continue on their own till further directions.
The issue has three parts: What is the demand of this protest? What is the role of both the pardon and its revocation in this protest? How does this protest address the issue of the sacrilege?
Before the sacrilege, the issue of the pardon to the Dera head was gaining traction. Detractors from SGPC and SAD had started questioning Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal and his Deputy and son Sukhbir Singh Badal. Under pressure from the farmer-labour protest and later rail-roko the Punjab government had played a wrong move on Dera issue. Panthic groups had started targeting the government on the issue. Then followed the matter of the sacrilege and the bubble burst. Within a few days seven incidents of sacrilege got reported and the protest grew like wild fire. While there can be many ways to address the matters of management of Gurdwaras or have difference of opinion on the implementation of the thoughts enshrined in the Granth Sahib, a matter of sacrilege is surely massively emotive and unify community in hurt.
Those SGPC members, who though distressed with the working of the Committee could not voice their thoughts, are now voicing their dissent against the political interference in religious matters. The sacrilege has also given a chance for those SAD members who were angry about the control of the Badal family on the party. The political dissent has found a voice within the religious framework. By turning dissent into revolt, the SGPC and SAD leaders have now given their opposition to Sukhbir Badal a concrete shape. Protesters are targeting local leaders of SAD who are rising in protest against their party establishment. The leadership as well as management skill of Sukhbir Badal has been, seriously, questioned after he became president of SAD.
The sacrilege breaches all political binaries. The protest is also being viewed as political. That can be seen through the unprecedented coverage on foreign Punjabi channels, newspapers and internet media. Though the factor that binds the protestors is the issue of sacrilege, it is clear that the protestors do not see themselves aligning with any political party.
The protest does not seem to be in the control of any traditional power centre. While the panthic forces are trying their best to establish their presence they are in no position to take it to any political conclusion. The mistrust is so large that it is unlikely that anyone will listen to another voice. Various theories on the sacrilege are floating through different sources. These include the Congress to the central government, the state government to intelligence agencies, Punjab police to miscreants, the RSS to the Deras. Most of the theories provide examples from earlier involvement of these parties but no local leader or preacher is able to prove the allegations on the basis of any evidence. It seems impossible that any formulation or theory can convince the whole spectrum of protesters.
The trust vacuum and hurt is so large that adjectives like anti-faith, anti-Sikh, traitor, bought-out are ready for everyone who wants to assert an opinion. Such adjectives are being freely traded for anyone who questions the method of protest or its time and place so all leaders feel compelled to stay put in the protest. Panthpreet Singh has been publically asked how the case against him, registered in Kotakpura, got withdrawn. This question implied that his credibility is doubtful within protesters. While asking these questions, Simranjit Singh Mann and Baljit Singh Daduwal are also facing similar questions. In such circumstances, every protest leader will shirk responsibility to take the protest to any conclusion as there are apprehensions that it would be declared as opportunism by the protestors. For panthic formations, that have lost their political space, such circumstances are both a benefit and a cause of anxiety. That is why this protest can spill over. The clash between protestors and shopkeepers in Jalandhar is a symptom of this weak hold on the protest. Punjab government, SAD and SGPC is equally anxious as reflected in ‘repentance letter’ of Prakash Singh Badal and suspension of Panj Piaras and four employees of SGPC including its secretary after Jathedars were asked to appear on Akal Takht to clarify the Dera issue.
In these trust deficit circumstances some questions have become important and have long term aspects associated. What will happen to voices that break their loyalties with SAD and SGPC to join protest? What will happen to their political issues? What will happen to leaders of SGPC and SAD who have broken ranks? How can the Dal Khalsa, Damdami Taksal, different factions of SAD, Sant Samaj, preachers, self-appointed leaders be appeased? How can the intellectuals and politicians who base their politics and formulations on hurt be satisfied with a promise of impartial enquiry and strict action? When all political parties, including the ruling one, are wondering about the political fall-out of this sacrilege who is actually addressing the hurt emanating from the sacrilege? If Punjab crosses through this phase of uncertainty maybe the political revolt in SGPC and SAD will lead to some reform in the management of the Gurdwaras and open up people’s participation in the SAD. The daily Areas after the recitation of the Granth Sahib includes the respect the congregation bestows upon the Holy Book. The prayers which include supplication for knowledge, rationality and trust are capable of bandaging our wounds. Yet, there has to be a way to avoid such sacrilege again and that is only possible through dialogue.
(The article has been translated from Punjabi by novelist Amandeep Sandhu)
(This article was published by Counter Currents on October 23, 2015. http://www.countercurrents.org/ami231015.htm)