Ground Zero: Punjab may be entering into yet another cycle of political violence

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Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, August 7: Second incident of political violence in Punjab within a period of ten days.  Punjab may be entering yet another cycle of political violence. The target this time was second-in-command of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh in Punjab - Jalandhar based Jagdish Gagneja, a retired brigadier. He was shot by two motorcycle borne assailants late in the evening Saturday in a busy market in Jalandhar . He is the media face of the saffron brigade in this sensitive border state.

Earlier on July 26, Balwinder Kaur, 50, an accused in the case of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib, was shot dead by two persons outside historical shrine at Alamgir village near Ludhiana by two persons who had come on a motorcycle. The accused have been arrested and they are proud of the killing. This has been the pattern when the Sikh militancy started in Punjab beginning with the killing of Nirankari chief baba Gurbachan Singh on April 24, 1980 to avenge the Sikh-Nirankari clash on the Baisakhi of April 13, 1978 at Amritsar.

There are similarities in both the situations separated by  36 years.

Bhai Ranjit Singh, who gunned down Baba Gurbachan Singh was uninitiated ordinary person not aligned with any group. Rather there was no group as such at that time but for the seminary that was Damdami Taksal headed by Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who had announced at the bhog ceremony of the 13 Sikhs killed in the clash performed on April 22, 1978 that in case the government failed to do justice, the killing of the Sikhs would be avenged.

Ranjit Singh was a devout Sikh who wanted to take revenge. He approached Sant Bhindranwale only once and that was for procuring a weapon. That was the only role the Taksal chief played in the very first killing. The chief minister at that time was Parkash Singh Badal. The Nirankari chief  and his associates had been acquitted by the Karnal court in this case in February, 1980. The Badal government was dismissed on March that year. The revenge psyche came into operation within no time of the acquittal.

The two Sikhs who killed Balwinder Kaur were again dictated by the revenge psyche. There have been spate of incidents of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib since June 1, 2015. The government has failed to apprehend the culprits. Badal is again the chief minister and this time, in his fifth term. Failure of the Badal government is again the common factor.

The political parties started dubbing Sant Bhindranwale as the Congress agent including a section of the Akali Dal after a certain stage despite the fact that Indira Gandhi had gone out of power and was fighting  for her own survival when he took over as the Taksal chief in August, 1977 after the death of Sant Kartar Singh. His taking over of Taksal was thus an accident of history, not the design of any power or individual.

The assailants in case of Gagneja are yet to be identified but the pattern happens to be the same. This attack has the potential to polarize a section of Punjabi society in the run up to the Assembly election February 2016.

Significantly, a few months back when  the Bharatiya Janata Party, the alliance partner of the Akali Dal, had started attacking  the Badal government  on the issue of increasing scourge of drugs, a Delhi based leader had come out with interesting logic in a private talk with a source about continuing the alliance. His loud thinking was articulation of the party’s perception at the top level. He said the apprehension was in case the BJP came out of the alliance, the situation might worsen once again in the border state. The centre can’t afford second state after Kashmir getting disturbed along the border with Pakistan. For the BJP, the alliance with the Akali Dal is a strategic necessity.

However, with two incidents reported in the state within a period of ten days, Punjab could again be heading for a similar situation.

Political violence in Punjab is cyclical during the last about 100 years. Armed struggles launched in Punjab including during freedom movement have to be taken into consideration to understand the violent cyclical nature of political discourse.

In 1978, while Badal was the chief minister and the Akali Dal was in alliance with the Janata Party of which the Jana Sangh, the earlier avatar of the BJP, when the seeds of this violence were sown, Badal is again the chief minister and the Akali Dal is in alliance with the same saffron party. The Congress, as earlier, is in opposition.

Revenge psyche is party of the historical collective Sikh psyche.


Jagtar Singh


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