After the dramatic chase and surrender of Amritpal Singh and many others last year, a large section of observers breathed a collective sigh of relief, and claimed that all was well again in Punjab.
As one of the few voices of dissent at that point, and since, this writer had been regularly pointing out how the subversionist elements continue to fester in the state.
Many pro-Khalistan rallies and marches had taken place across Punjab during this period, and radical media channels sympathetic to the Khalistani issue had been continuing with their propaganda.
The Qaumi Insaaf Morcha recently blockaded a highway and forced toll plazas to shut down in Punjab on the pretext of seeking freedom for the ‘Bandi Singhs’. The Morcha caused sufficient chaos through the past year, engaging in mayhem, rioting and anarchy.
The latest example of the anarchy of such elements was seen in Pahuwind in Tarn Taran district of Punjab, where a retired Colonel, Harisimran Singh, was attacked for objecting to the display of a picture of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and removed it personally.
The incident took place at the Gurdwara Janam Asthan Baba Deep Singh during the birth anniversary celebration of the revered Sikh warrior the Gurdwara is named after. The shrine is managed by a committee that the Colonel (retd) presides over currently.
Not heeding to his age, an entire mob attacked his car and his guards, and also shared videos of the attack, glorifying the act by saying ‘sodha la ditta’ (rough translation: we beat him up and taught him a lesson)
A new low was achieved earlier this month on 17 January, when a mentally unstable man was locked up and murdered in a gurdwara in Phagwara. The perpetrator of the crime was a Nihang named Ramandeep Singh.
The police stated that during its investigation, they discovered that the victim had neither attacked the Nihang nor made any sacrilege bid. But the extremist hold has been so high in the religious institutions that the perpetrator was feted at the time the police was taking him away.
In the garb of Nihangs, lumpen elements have been running amok in Punjab for a while. A few days around the same incident, a ‘Nihang’ had slapped a migrant woman and threatened to kill her, accusing her of selling alcohol and drugs.
What was rather worrying in the case of the Phagwara incident was the fact that the accused, Ramandeep Singh, has been a serial troublemaker. A couple of years ago, he was caught on camera, threatening a local Hindu leader, Rohit Sahni, in Ludhiana.
The incident, reported in Punjabi media, mentioned that Sahni had been threatened by a few ‘Nihangs’ for criticising Amritpal Singh of Waris Punjab De. In turn, he was accused of selling hard drugs.
Diaspora Radicalism Continues Unabated
In the diaspora too, the manner in which the FBI shielded Gurpatwant Singh Pannu and how he has been allowed to gain control of the US Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee is not surprising.
What has been worrying though are the set of events that took place following the incident, starting with the heckling of Ambassador Taranjit Sandhu, India’s Ambassador in the United States of America, in a New York Gurdwara.
That he is the grandson of Teja Singh Samundari, one of the leading lights of the Akali movement that led to the creation of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, makes the incident gain even more attention, especially with rumours of him joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) post retirement and contesting Lok Sabha elections from Amritsar.
But that was not all. The US Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee also passed a resolution on 14 January 2024, asking the 5-Takht Sahibans, Parcharaks and Sikh sangat to “Stay away from the opening ceremonies of the Ram Mandir'' and “Ban Pseudo-preacher Giani Sher Singh ji from speaking on any panthic and Gurdwaras stages”.
Giani Sher Singh ji, as a fairly popular preacher belonging to the Nihang Budha Dal of Baba Santa Singh, stands out in particular. In his own lifetime, Baba Santa Singh had been a fierce opponent of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.
On top of that, the said resolution passed without question on the allegation that the “Indian state, RSS-BJP combine has direct hand in attacking Darbaar Sahib, Akal Takhat sahib, Sikh Genocide, demolition of Gurdwara Mangu Math, Gurdwara Gian Godri, and Gurdwara Daang Maar”.
Particularly noteworthy is the mention of Giani Sher Singh ji, a preacher actively countering the Khalistani agenda and questioning their credibility in Punjab through various samagams. A significant development was his meeting with Vrindavan's renowned saint Premanand Govind Sharan Maharaj.
Giani Sher Singh gifted Premanand ji gurbani of Guru Tegh Bahadur ji, celebrating Radha Rani. This gesture of harmony has not been well-received by the Khalistanis, who, with their agenda of creating communal disharmony in Punjab, find such interactions contrary to their objectives.
A New Storm In The Pipeline? Kisan Morchas Heading To Delhi
Adding to the anarchy are the Kisan Morchas of Punjab, who have not been happy with their political irrelevance. Already facing the ire of common people for their Luddite behaviour on a daily basis, the farmer unions are now trying to regain influence and importance.
Farmer unions decided on 2 January that they will once again march to the national capital.
During a Kisan Mahapanchayat at the town of Jandiala Guru in Punjab’s Amritsar district, the unions announced that the march to Delhi will happen on 13 February 2024. The joint call was made by 18 farmer and worker organisations of northern India and the Samyukta Kisan Morcha in Jandiala Guru’s Dana Mandi.
The farmer leaders addressing the mahapanchayat accused the current government at the Centre as well as previous ones of having worked to sell the country’s resources to domestic and foreign corporate houses. They alleged the present regime had taken this work forward the fastest.
The farmer unions have stated that till the following demands are not met, they will not move back, threatening a blockade similar to the one they undertook in 2020-21:
1. A law should be made to guarantee MSP for the purchase of all crops
2. Crop insurance schemes should be implemented in accordance with the Swaminathan Commission Report
3. Complete debt relief for farmers and farm labourers
4. The amendments made in 2015 to the Land Acquisition Act of 2013 should be repealed. The Act should be implemented in its original form
5. Agreements made by India with the World Trade Organization should be annulled
6. A pension scheme of Rs 10,000 per month should be implemented for 58-year-old and above farmers and farm labourers
7. Electricity Bill 2020 should be cancelled completely
8. The culprits of the Lakhimpur Kheri massacre should be punished and the police case filed during the march to Delhi should be cancelled
9. The families of the those who died in the 2020-2021 agitation should be compensated as promised and other demands should be fulfilled.
In all of this, the Bhagwant Mann government has been rather quiet. This is not surprising, as Arvind Kejriwal and he seem to be locking horns for importance.
While Kejriwal battles the possibility of an eventual arrest, Bhagwant Mann has ruled out any seat sharing in Punjab with the Congress as part of the INDI Alliance.
In the midst of this internal tussle, governance has gone for a toss, as law and order suffers. Beyond the issues ongoing, businessmen are also being targeted in the state now.
While the state police struggles to find the killers of Patiala-based businessman Sameer Kataria, who was stabbed to death by three armed assailants on Passy Road on 28 January, the situation has not gone unnoticed from the opposition. Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Bikram Singh Majithia lambasted the government for the security situation in the city.
Earlier, Bharatiya Janata Party’s Sunil Jakhar had also taken the government to task for failing to prevent lawlessness. In his press conference, particular emphasis was placed on the daylight murder of Tarn Taran village sarpanch Sonu Cheema, who had received regular threats. Coincidentally, this attack occurred in the same vicinity as the assault on the Colonel.
Ironically, in December last year, Punjab Assembly’s Speaker Kultar Singh Sandhwan himself complained to the DGP (Punjab) of the poor law and order in the Kotkapura constituency that he represents.
While Sandhwan was interacting with the DGP Punjab in Chandigarh, residents of Kotkapura were protesting in the main markets of the town area against the ‘poor’ law and order situation.
Things continue to be on a slippery slope in Punjab. While communal fires flare, the inability of the police to control the lawlessness in the state and ensuing anarchy portends a worrying time ahead.
It is hoped that like in the case of Amritpal Sandhu, the Centre will read the riot act to the Bhagwant Mann government, so that strict action is taken to curb the prevailing chaos in the state.
Rohit Pathania works in the space of renewable energy and environment. Other interests include politics and the economy.
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