Punjab News and Information - General Information, Property, Corporate News, Punjab Information Directory, Punjab News » Blog Archive » Keeping faith in Punjab Keeping faith in Punjab If a stark parallel is being drawn between the 1978 clash of the Akalis and the Nirankaris that led to two decades of bloodshed in Punjab, and the recent conflict emerging from the Dera Sacha Sauda Baba’s controversial advertisement, it is a misconceived one. From television talk show hosts to armchair analysts across India, the affair has simply been a matter of “secularists vs fundamentalists”. This is, mildly put, a case of missing the woods for the bushes. Machinations of the Congress and intelligence agencies in 1978 — abetted by dogmatic secularists — ended up pitting the Sikhs against the Nirankaris and eventually squeezed out the space for the moderate Akalis. Circa 2007 and there is a replay. The Dera’s controversial chief Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is facing charges of heinous crimes and cannot be confused with an iconoclast tilting at the windmills of orthodox religion. The Damocles’ sword hanging on his head in the form of cbi cases as well as the vested interest behind the political misadventure of the advertisement, detract from any sympathy for the Dera’s chief. Apart from the offensive advertisement aping Guru Gobind Singh, the fact that the Dera’s name is derived from the teachings of Guru Nanak also hurts many a liberal Sikh, given the Dera’s sullied antecedents. The Baba had cleverly used orthodox religious symbols to widen the appeal of his cult and possibly enter the electoral fray in the future through sponsored candidates. In 1978 too, the Congress had backed the Nirankaris and secretly sponsored a hardline faction of the late Bhindranwale. This time around, the Congress backed the Dera, even as its covert allies in the radical/ex-militant fringe are gunning for extreme measures against the Baba with the aim to fan the fires in Punjab. The Dera row nearly turned into a Hindu-Sikh question and threatened to bring back the mistrust between the two communities that was sown in 1978. Secularism in such times cannot itself turn into a blind belief, simplistically assigning labels to what are complex communal conflicts. Even the Pope had to apologise to the Muslim community, and he did so gracefully. Of what use are the appeals of this blinded secularism if society itself burns out? Of what good would the secularists be in the aftermath of a communal bloodbath, as they go about with bagfuls of medicines trying to soothe the victims of unheeded popular sentiment? Whatever may be the freedom of speech and religion, it cannot be at the cost of communal harmony. Undoubtedly, the Dera has excelled in social service and has given a lifeline to the socially marginalised and those denied a rightful place in the community by the Sikh clergy. However, as investigations into the Dera on criminal matters reveal, this huge sacrifice by the “premis” in terms of social, personal, economic and political contribution, has been appropriated by the luxury-loving Baba. Even as the Baba and his coterie snuggle in their gufa at Sirsa under heavy paramilitary protection, their followers who constitute a minority in Punjab face the wrath of Sikh hardliners. For the Sikhs too it is time to reflect deep into the origins of their religion for its most powerful impulses have come from the Gurus sacrificing their lives for the protection of other faiths. The Sikhs are a majority only in Punjab, and are perilously outnumbered outside the state. Televised images of sabre-rattling Sikh youth on Punjab’s streets are going to do little good to the community’s image of a responsible majority in Punjab. A backlash against the Sikhs outside Punjab in some form or the other can always be a possibility. Turn back to the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom where even sections of the educated and well-heeled justified the killings as the “Sikhs needed to be taught a lesson” for the excesses against the Hindu minority in Punjab by rabid elements amongst the Khalistanis. And for leaders like Parkash Singh Badal and the Congress’ Amarinder Singh — dependant as they are on the Panthic vote — it remains a question as to whether they are under pressure not to crack down on rioting Sikh mobs in Punjab. In fact, Badal on May 17 wrote to the Prime Minister protesting strongly against the move of the Centre to determine minorities on the basis of state populations and not national numbers. The past three weeks’ incidents in Punjab will hardly help Badal’s cause and that of the Sikhs, if a “minority tag” is what the community aspires to.