'Punjab Banuga Hyde Park': How Protests Have Become A Ubiquitous Sight In The State

'Punjab Banuga Hyde Park': How Protests Have Become A Ubiquitous Sight In The State

by Rohit Pathania - Jan 10, 2023 06:13 PM +05:30 IST
'Punjab Banuga Hyde Park': How Protests Have Become A Ubiquitous Sight In The StateProtest at Chandigarh-Mohali border (Twitter)
  • Constant protests, crippled administration, and a chief minister distracted with saving his chair—Punjab seems to be standing at the edge of anarchy.

Protest has become a part-time profession for a bunch of people in Punjab of late. The countless morchas that crop up at every nook and corner have been cited as an ‘expression of democracy’, when on many occasions there is clear indication of hoodlum behaviour being adopted at the cost of massive inconvenience to the public at large. 

The latest round of protests has been witnessed at the Chandigarh-Mohali border. Traffic has been brought to a screeching halt at the YPS Chowk by various groups of protestors, who have indefinitely sealed it from all sides by erecting tents and stationing trolleys while the administration sits as a mute witness to mayhem and anarchy. 

The demands make it difficult to believe whether the groups should be treated lightly or too seriously. The protesters are seeking the release of ‘Sikh prisoners’, euphemism for hardcore terrorists in many cases, lodged in different jails despite completion of their jail sentences. 

They refused to budge in spite of senior police officers’ efforts to arrange for talks with the Punjab chief minister’s office. In addition, there is the demand for justice being served to the police officers who ‘killed’ protestors in Behbal Kalan and Kotkapura. This is flexing of muscle by protest groups, having seen a rather submissive response from the Bhagwant Mann government and the diffidence of the Punjab Police.

If that was not enough, it needs to be recalled that the protests at Zira are still going on, which had witnessed protesting farmers attack the Punjab police officials, forcing them to retaliate. Present at the spot are Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) (Krantikari) president Surjit Singh Phool who happily takes credit for the security breach of the Prime Minister in January of 2022, along with hundreds of members of his union. Accompanying him is BKU-Ugrahan, which has time and again faced accusations of being a Maoist-sympathising organisation and sought Umar Khalid’s release among other howlers.

Last month, the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KMSC) held protests at 18 toll plazas in the state for a month starting December 15, 2022. This led to great inconvenience for the ordinary citizens of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. The stated aim of the protests was to press the state government on various issues, including farm-debt waiver, remunerative prices for their crops and compensation for damage to crops.

If all this was not bad enough, the breakdown of the state’s machinery is further evidenced by the latest protest announced by Punjab Civil Services (PCS) officers.  Punjab Civil Services (PCS) and Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers who have been protesting the vigilance action against their colleagues, Punjab Revenue Officers Association, said its members will go on a five-day mass leave from January 9 to 13. 

It must be pointed out that the PCS Officers Association is protesting against the arrest of officer Narinder Singh Dhaliwal in an alleged corruption case by vigilance in Ludhiana while IAS officers are protesting vigilance action against IAS officer Neelima in another case.

No Endgame in Sight? Or Is the Endgame A Dangerous One?

The coordinated effort is a grim reminder of a period when the Surjit Singh Barnala-led Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD-Badal) government was unable to get a grip over the state. Reports of the time show how Mr. Barnala’s government was a lame duck victim to parleys of its own party members, who were more interested in pulling him down. 

Parallels with how Harjot Bains has been trying to replace Bhagwant Mann can be seen immediately. 

The Eradi report on Beas-Ravi water-sharing between Haryana and Punjab was trumped up as injustice to Punjab, similar to the rather stiff stand taken by Punjab on Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL) canal despite the 2002 Supreme Court orders. Of course, one could not help but notice this posturing as an attempt by Bhagwant Mann to flag his sagging popularity and stave off intra party challenges. 

If that was not enough, what we have seen from the Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) in the past few months is a game of brinkmanship. From celebrating former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassins to demanding the withdrawal of a case against a person for flashing Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale’s posters publicly in a nagar kirtan, the SGPC has been trying to take the pole position and radicalise the Sikh community to gain legitimacy for the SAD-Badal. 

What is interesting is the way they also sought an apology from Bhagwant Mann for questioning transparency in the SGPC affairs related to chadhava (offerings) from the sangat. This was reminiscent of the way in which Gurcharan Singh Tohra kept undermining the-then CM Barnala’s government and kept the community on the boil with his machinations, even openly threatening the CM’s assassination at the time

However, what has been the proverbial the icing on the cake in recent times is the obsession with such issues as the Veer Bal Diwas. Lambsting the Modi government, the SGPC sought to call it Sahibzade Shahadat Diwas, and called the Modi government’s effort an attempt to ‘distort Sikh history’. It also issued a diktat, reiterating its stand that personification of any kind (including film & play) of Sikh Gurus, their family members and Sahibzadas of Sri Guru Gobind Singh is strictly prohibited as this is against Sikh traditions. It also supported ‘voluntary’ moral policing on tobacco, though one wonders why nothing of that sort was done on other substances like opium, cannabis, or even alcohol, all of which plague Punjab. 

The attempt at one-upmanship is clearly a contest with Waris Punjab De head Amritpal Singh, who has been making absurd statements around ‘slavery of Sikhs’. Latest in the round is the claim that wearing coat-pants on one’s marriage day is a sign of slavery; even as he brandishes dangerous weapons and roams around inciting people in the name of his Khalsa Vaheer roadshow across Punjab. 

The Bhagwant Mann government is clearly failing to address the law and order situation, when it is its prerogative to ensure that law and order is restored in the state, and rule of law becomes the norm. Everyone has their own endgame, and neither’s path crosses the other’s. In the meantime, the only thing certain is this - Punjab banuga Hyde Park (Punjab will become Hyde Park). 

Rohit Pathania works in the space of renewable energy and environment. Other interests include politics and the economy.
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