Chandigarh, July 7: It is ironic for Aam Aadmi Party that hit the political scene in the country with a bang on the agenda of alternative politics having been caught in the whirlpool of Panthic politics in Punjab with the release of its manifesto for the youth. A party that claims to be different is not supposed to resort to appeal to religious sensibilities of any community, the issue is not being that of the Sikhs in this border state.
A new dimension was added when Inderjit Singh Zira, chairman of the Kisan Khet Mazdoor Cell of the Punjab Congress and his associates handed over a petition yesterday to Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh to summon AAP state convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur, Bhagwant Mann, MP and Punjab Dialogue head Kanwar Sandhu that prepared the manifesto. They maintained that this had been done deliberately to denigrate the Sikhs. They have demanded action on two counts --use of picture of Golden Temple on the manifesto cover along with party symbol broom and equating this manifesto with guru Granth Sahib. Apology extended from Ashish Khetan and Kanwar Sandhu has not satisfied the Sikh organisations. A case has been registered against Khetan at Amritsar for hurting the Sikh sentiments on the complaint filed by All India Sikh Stidents chief Karnail Singh Peermohammad. State Congress chief capt Amarinder Singh has called for strict action. Zira is a leader with Panthic background once associated with Panthic stalwart Gurcharan Singh Tohra.
AAP’s national organizational secretary Durgesh Pathak admits it was an oversight.
Significantly, this blunder has been committed despite party’s state convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur having his grounding in Panthic affairs and is an Amritdhari Sikh. However, sources maintain that even Chhotepur was not part of the inner-party discussions to finalise this manifesto. In case he had seen the cover, this embarrassment could have been avoided. This betrays the functioning of the party that claims to provide alternative politics. Delhi Chief Minister and AAP convener has been under attack from two rebel party MPs Dr Dharam Vira Gandhi and Harinder Singh Khalsa for being authoritarian. Lack of inner-party consultation reinforces this perception.
State party chief is supposed to be consulted in every decision making for that particular state. This could be the definition of AAP’s alternative model.
Not that the name of the Gurus and the Golden Temple have not been misused by the Sikhs earlier. One can find even cycle stores after the name of the Guru. Naming a train as the Golden Temple Express has been the demand of the Akali Dal. But then the SGPC took strong notice tea being marketed under the brand name of this shrine in USA.
However, here the issue is different and it is that of AAP resorting to the routine politics like any other political parties. During the election days, one can see pictures of the candidates in the ads appealing for votes with folded hands. Kejriwal appears in the same pose on manifesto cover but with Golden Temple in the background. It is this style that is objectionable in the framework of what AAP claims. Akali Dal had been created as the political party that used to articulate Sikh ambitions and aspirations till it turned dynastic. However, the party never used picture of the Golden Temple complex in elections. Moreover, seeking votes in the name of religion or using religious symbols is violation of the electoral code of conduct.
Now under attack is Kejriwal himself. Dal Khalsa is no sympathizer of the Akali Dal. The organisation has attacked AAP sharply questioning its very origin as Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement was designed by the Saffron brigade.
AAP leadership failed to comprehend complexities of Punjab political discourse that is different from all other states. The parties might give slogan of development but this discourse is dictated by some other forces.
What is now apparent is that the main strength of this party in the state is strong anti-incumbency rather than any other factor. The party leadership would have to match to people’s aspirations without making another slip like the present one. Dependence on outsiders would have to be phased out with local leadership getting more functional space. The problem with AAP in Punjab is that it has not projected a local face deliberately.
It is for his reason that the party has slipped on the use of Panthic symbolism.