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India: Sacrilege attempt is heinous but leaders not calling lynching by its name shrinks space for conversations Punjab needs

With Sacrilege, Lynchings and Now a Bomb Blast, Tensions Are on the Rise in Punjab

Saturday 25 December 2021, by siawi3

Source:https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/editorials/golden-temple-lynch-sacrilege-silent-7680770/

Sacrilege attempt is heinous but leaders not calling lynching by its name shrinks space for conversations Punjab needs

If political players abdicate their responsibility to temper and mediate, if they let their strategic silences speak louder than their words, the sacrilege issue could end up consuming all other issues.

By: Editorial

Updated: December 20, 2021 10:00:41 am

Significantly, the sacrilege at Bargari in 2015, following which two protesters were killed in police firing in Faridkot district, still resonates in the state’s politics. It featured prominently in the campaign for the 2017 polls.

The sacrilege attempt, as per the video footage, at the Golden Temple on Saturday, is condemnable. But the silence on the crime that followed it, the lynching of the alleged culprit at the holiest shrine of the Sikhs, is chilling. From the SGPC chief to the Akal Takht jathedar, from a former five-time chief minister to the newest one, religious and political leadership across the spectrum and government officials have all denounced the attempt at sacrilege and called for a thorough probe. But, disturbingly, they have offered no words of horror or condemnation on those who clearly took the law into their own hands and beat the accused to death. This silence is not incidental. With elections only weeks away, parties and leaders are measuring their words on an issue that is seen to be emotive in a state where religion segues into politics in seamless, and sometimes precarious, ways. Significantly, the sacrilege at Bargari in 2015, following which two protesters were killed in police firing in Faridkot district, still resonates in the state’s politics. It featured prominently in the campaign for the 2017 polls. More recently, Punjab Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu invoked the lack of closure in the case on the watch of successive SAD and Congress governments to publicly target his colleague and then CM Captain Amarinder Singh, who has exited the party since.

And yet, if it is not broken, this silence on the other crime at the Golden Temple could take a heavy toll. After Amritsar, another lynching of a sacrilege accused has already been reported from Kapurthala. But while the possibility of the mob being emboldened by a climate of impunity to mete out instant vigilante justice is something that should worry everyone in a system governed by the rule of law, it is not the only danger that lies ahead. The government and political leadership of the state must call the lynching by its name and urgently make attempts to lower the temperature on the issue also because of its possible impact on the approaching elections. If political players abdicate their responsibility to temper and mediate, if they let their strategic silences speak louder than their words, the sacrilege issue could end up consuming all other issues. It would mean shrinking the space for, if not putting an end to, conversations that Punjab desperately needs to have on so many gathering crises — from the problem in agriculture beyond the three repealed farm laws to the unchecked decline of industry, from the rampant joblessness to the exodus of the young abroad and the deep inroads of corruption in the state.

The upcoming elections provide another opportunity for Punjab to make a new beginning. But for that, all players, candidates and voters, must be free to speak out and argue with each other, to find the best ways forward. They must not feel constrained and overtaken by spectres that stoke suspicion and fears that cannot be named. In times when, even outside Punjab, mob violence and vigilantism has all too often challenged constitutionalism and the rule of law, the state and, especially, its Sikh community, which has on so many occasions set an example by the forthrightness and generosity of its spirit, must stand up against the second crime perpetrated in Amritsar with the same unambiguousness with which everyone has condemned the first.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on December 20, 2021 under the title ‘Sacrilege & silence’.

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Source: https://thewire.in/politics/with-sacrilege-lynchings-and-now-a-bomb-blast-tensions-are-on-the-rise-in-punjab

With Sacrilege, Lynchings and Now a Bomb Blast, Tensions Are on the Rise in Punjab

Many see these events as an attempt to impact the electoral discourse and its outcome ahead of the upcoming Punjab polls.

Photo: Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi offers prayers at the Golden Temple, in Amritsar, Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021. Photo: PTI

Vivek Gupta

24.12.21 23 hours ago

Chandigarh: After the recent sacrilege attempts in Amritsar and Kapurthala, Punjab has plunged into a further crisis with a bomb blast at the Ludhiana court complex on Thursday, killing one person and injuring six others.

While the Punjab police are yet to uncover the intent behind these events – except the lynching in Kapurthala, where police say that the accused went to the gurudwara to commit theft – the political blame game that began soon after the Ludhiana blast has only amplified chaos.

While BJP’s Manjider Singh Sira blamed these series of events on Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu’s “love for Pakistan”, Sidhu hit back by calling it a conspiracy by communal forces to frighten and polarise a particular community in Punjab for petty vote bank politics ahead of the February 2022 polls.

Chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi, on the other hand, went on to draw a parallel between the registration of an FIR against Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Bikram Singh Majithia, the Ludhiana bomb blast and recent sacrilege incidents. His statement was criticised by the SAD as highly irresponsible.

Also read: Why Are Gruesome Lynchings Being Justified in Punjab?

“It is unfortunate that the reins of the state are in the hands of a man who is playing into the hands of anti-national agencies by blaming his political rivals for the same,” SAD’s Daljit Cheema told The Wire.

The Aam Aadmi party, which before the 2017 state polls was accused of favouring Sikh extremists, is now seeing a design to disturb Punjab’s peace ahead of polls.

‘Punjab is more important than electoral politics’

The dominant narrative right now in Punjab is that these events are occurring in order to impact the election discourse and its outcome ahead of the upcoming elections in Punjab.

For instance, the Maur blast before 2017 polls that killed seven persons is often seen as a major cause for the way Punjabis, particularly the Hindu community, voted in that election. After Sikhs (58%), Hindus are a numerically important block in Punjabi politics.

This is the first time that assembly polls in Punjab are going to be four dimensional, with the emergence of unexpected permutations and combinations.

For instance, one had never thought former Congress chief minister Amarinder Singh entering in to an alliance with the BJP at the fag end of his career after being unceremoniously removed by the Gandhis.

On the other hand, the SAD and BSP alliance would have never occurred if the BJP, SAD’s closest partner for over two decades, was not adamant on continuing with the farm laws that it later repeated.

Senior journalist Jagtar Singh told The Wire that without a doubt, the Ludhiana blast and sacrilege incidents may impact the coming Punjab polls. “But it would be myopic to link these incidents to just elections. The situation demands that the political formations avoid competitive politics on such sensitive issues and evolve some minimum consensus to confront such threats unitedly,” he said.

The author of two books on terror in Punjab, Jagtar said, “If we go back to the troubled days in the ’80s, similar incidents engulfed the state in to chaos. Although the current situation is far different from what was there in the ’80s, the political parties however must learnt from the losses they and India suffered due to opportunistic politics during those dark times.”

Also read: Amritsar Lynching: Politicians Condemn Alleged Sacrilege But Remain Mum on Killing

According to Jagtar, Channi must assure the people that the situation would not be allowed to get vitiated again. “Punjab being a border state is also a vital aspect, but what is more important is the situation in the state itself. Pakistan would definitely exploit the situation in case the socio-political tension here rises,” he added.

“The positive vibes that the farmers’ struggle created must continue to dominate the narrative as that is the only way forward to confront the divisive narrative,” he added.

Some also feel that these events may be targeting to neutralise the gains that the farm movement achieved in the past one year by bringing the focus on issue-based politics.

“Punjab has been facing a slew of issues like farm debt, dwindling groundwater crisis, lack of employment opportunities, migration or closure of industries and so many other problems. But look at how the election discourse is changing towards religious and security issues,” said a farm leader.

State’s failure also under scanner

The state, many believe, is equally a party in letting vested forces tamper with Punjab’s religio-social fault lines.

Several members of the public have justified the recent lynchings, claiming that the state failed to nab the culprits involved in earlier sacrilege attempts.

The case on the Maur bomb blast in the run up to the 2017 assembly polls is still pending.

Political leaders, whether in government or in opposition, are often seen blaming each other instead of setting examples by solving these cases.

While questions are being asked of the Congress government on the delay in solving the Maur blast case, the current deputy chief minister-cum-home minister, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, said in October that former chief minister Amarinder Singh had stalled the inquiry.

But nearly two months after since Channi and Randhawa replaced the Amarinder government, the situation remains unchanged.