Chandigarh, April 12: His motive can be questioned but Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal has finally taken almost four years to take the long step to pay obeisance at the martyrs memorial adjacent to Akal Takht in the Golden Temple complex. Raised by the Damdami Taksal with active cooperation from the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and tacit connivance of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, the memorial was dedicated to the Sikh community on April 27, 2013. However, the Akali Dal chief had opted out of the inaugural ceremony fearing controversy. This is the third memorial in the holiest of the holy Sikh shrine complex after that of Baba Deep Singh and Baba Gurbax Singh.
As Sukhbir ascended the stairs of the Bhindranwale memorial, his steps were covering both time and space. It was the Akali Dal that had resolved to raise this memorial at a meeting of its ad hoc committee on October 7, 1984.
This resolution was in accordance with the statement issued by two senior party leaders Parkash Singh Badal and Surjhit Singh Barnala before their arrest on June 11, 1984 in which they stated: “This is the voice of anguish of the Sikh people who today stand mortally wounded, for the repository of their faith to uphold the principles of justice, equality and dignity of man and love of God stands destroyed by the might of the Indian army. After nearly two centuries of Abdali’s invasion, Sro Akal Takht stands blasted. The Golden Temple complex is drenched with the blood of the Sikh martyrs. Delhi once again has embarked upon a pogrom of systematic and well-planned genocide of the Sikh people. The whole of Punjab is under the jackboots of the Indian army and no one can get on the roads or even drive a bicycle in the whole state. Punjab is a prison house. Sikh nation is in chains”.
It is this statement of these two leaders that is the first document in which Sant Bhindranwale and all others have been accorded the status of martyrs and hence the memorial. However, it was the Damdami Taksal that Sant Bhindranwale headed denied him martyrdom for years under the design of some other forces despite the fact that the person who was the eye witness to his last moments and was with him when he was hit had surfaced in 1989.
That is part of history but what is now all the more relevant is the repositioning by Sukhbir. This can’t be interpreted as supporting the ideology and tactics of Sant Bhindranwale but fact is that he had resolved to sacrifice his life. He could not have been the martyr with memorial that is part of the Golden Temple complex, the highest honour that one can aspire for, in case he had opted to escape. It is this resolve of his that covers up all that is negative associated with him.
One can read political motives in this move in the election year as the Akali Dal president has always distanced himself from the anniversary of Operation Bluestar that is observed at Akal Takht on June 6. This belated step might not earn his party more votes. He would have to work hard at image makeover in the coming months even to give a reasonable fight in the triangular contest.
At one level, this can be interpreted as a balancing act after his pictures went viral playing Holi at his Delhi residence in which he was bare-headed. It was tactical blunder to release those pictures. His Sikh security people had their heads covered. He diluted the global Sikh struggle for wearing turban, besides violating Sikh code of conduct. He is also the president of the Akali Dal whose responsibility it is to preserve Sikh values. There are better ways to appear as Aam Aadmi than opening oneself to ridicule.
The Akali Dal strongman faces major challenge this time from the common man and the reasons are too obvious.
It may be mentioned that there is a big section of the Sikhs that is alienated with the Akali Dal and the Chabba conclave on November 10, 2015 near Amritsar was its manifestation. With the toughest ever fight staring in his face, Sukhbir can’t take any chance as each and every vote will matter this time. At one stage, this section used to support former chief minister and state Congress chief Capt Amarinder Singh. Now the tilt is towards the Aam Aadmi Party. There is enough time to cover up the gap.