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Gur Panth Parkash

Gur Panth Parkash
by Rattan Singh Bhangoo
Translated by
Prof Kulwant Singh




Old Order Changeth Yielding Place to New

Jaspal Singh Sidhu

Politics and governance stand to change in a big way in Punjab as Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have staged a massive victory —92 out of 117 seats— in the 20 February election to 16th state assembly –an unmatchable sweep since the reorganization of Punjab as ‘Punjabi Suba’ in 1966. It is all the more surprising that a Delhi-based party with a non-existent organizational structure in Punjab was vehemently responded to its visceral appeal of badlaav (change) by a sizable section of 215 million-odd electorate. With a low voting of 71 percent, around 5 percent less than 2017 assembly polls, AAP stormed to power with a thumping vote-share of 42.1 percent. A century-old Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), with a remarkable past, was reduced to only three seats Infighting in the incumbent grand-old Congress cost it very heavily. Expected to emerge as a larger party in earlier surveys, the party ended up getting only 18 seats. The BJP shrunk to two seats with candidates of left parties losing their deposits.

The election saw near decimation of the older generation of politicians including five former chief ministers. Their worn-out politics and style of governance seem to have lost relevance now with the entry of 85 debutants, 82 from AAP in the new assembly. Earlier, Patriarch politicians particularly 94-year-old Prakash Singh Badal, enjoying support from New Delhi Establishment, had succeeded in blocking the induction of younger generation of politicians by managing the boycott of elections by the Sikh youth formations in 1985 and 1992.  

IronicallyAPP did not define or qualify the badlaav it stood for except propagating its “Delhi Model” which pertains to improving health and educational infrastructure and, restoring the financial health of the state while promising to slash down bijli-paani  supply chargedLargely an unimagined silent wave in favor of AAP with the explicit vocal support of youth, the Punjab electorate rejected aggressively both mainstream parties—Shiromani Akali Dal and Congress which ruled Punjab alternatively during past three decades. Traditional parties were discarded with a vengeance which was exemplified by the high victory margins of the AAP candidates. Of the AAP winners as many as 57 candidates defeated their nearest opponents by a margin ranging between 20,000 to 75,000 votes when on average a constituency polled around 1,25,000 votes with about a dozen candidates in the contest. AAP’s candidates a labourer in the true sense, Labh Singh Ugoke with ownership of only 2014 Hero Honda scooter beat Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi. Narinder Kaur Bharaj with declared assets of Rs 24,000 defeated crorepati candidate Singla from Congress and Arvind Khanna of BJP and Jeevan jot defeated two powerful politicians Navjot Singh Sidhu and Bikram Singh Majithia. Similarly, Sukhbir Singh Badal and his father Prakash Singh Badal got a drubbing from first-timers Jagdeep Kamboj and Gurmeet Singh Khudian by a sizable margin.   

In fact, there was deep disenchantment of Punjabis with the elitist style of functioning of SAD and Congress leaders which turned out in the shape of a massive mandate for AAP even as the latter did not offer any solid political agenda to the voters. The self-serving leaders of traditional parties, no doubt, rendered the administration corrupted to the core, looted the state resources, and pushed the pauperized Punjab down to 19th position from being the first one on the development ranking index of the states in earlier times. Moreover, Congress and SAD parties colluded with each other in sharing the loot. Leaders of both parties patronized the mafias controlling sand, mining, liquor, and other businesses in the state. Instead of taking up genuine welfare measures for the people who had been voting them to power, the dominant leaders of both parties rarely shied away from shielding the wrong-doers, smugglers, and drug peddlers who spread narcotics to every nook and corner of the state. Two politically powerful families— the Badals and scion of erstwhile Patiala princely state Capt Amrinder Singh—ruled the roost and reduced the democratic governance to the old feudal style rule to be operated through nominated agents. Raging unemployment, colonial style of police functioning, operation coupled with an administrative apathy cumulatively sent among the people a feeling of helplessness and subjugation. And such a repulsive environment alienated the youth who lost the ‘sense of belonging’ with Punjab and felt helpless to migrate to the distant lands to earn and escape apathetic governance.

Such a depressive scenario could be found in some other states too where the constitutional democracy has been reduced to a dynastic rule, sustained and legitimized through electoral management. But in Punjab, the ruling families, enjoying the support of a large section of the Punjabi elite have developed their respective electoral machines to legitimize their usurping of power. Over time, they have been upgrading the electoral exercise and building of their respective ‘vote-banks’, through unethical tactics including media management, enhanced use of money, muscle, and state power.

In their attempt to broaden their ‘vote-bank’ base, the ruling Badals became instrumental in the incidents of sacrilege of sacred Sikh scripture in 2015, popularly known as the Bargari bayadbi case. The SAD rulers followed by the Congress government of Capt Amrinder Singh played politics on that religiously sensitive issue instead of punishing the offenders despite larger public protests.      

Earlier SAD, being a regional party having a long-standing in favour of federalism, struck political alliance with the BJP and extended direct and indirect support to the latter’s Hindutva projects like the abolition of article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, anti-minority Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the establishing the Hindu Rashtra and enactment of pro-corporate Farm Acts. During his tenure as chief minister, Capt Amrinder Singh too became complicit with the BJP rulers as he was, later, openly accused convinance with the BJP by the Congress high command including Rahul Gandhi.

In fact, a majority of leaders both of Congress and SAD parties are businessmen first and seem to be acquiring political power to promote their businesses. Using former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s phrase such politicians could be described as “crony capitalists”. So, such politicians are responsible for creating a fertile ground for the growing disenchantment of the common men which was cached upon by AAP.

It is a known fact that the Sikh militancy got degenerated in its later stage in the 1990s. And their slogan of ‘Khalistan’ coupled with opportunistic politics of Badals blocked the growth of democratic polity among the Sikhs in the aftermath of the troubled period of the 1980s. Hence, Punjab witnessed a vacuum of new Sikh leadership much needed to replace the Badals’ type of polity. And, that vacuum is now filled up by an outsider, Kesriwal’s party in the latest assembly polls by projecting Bhagwant Maan with a cleaner image of a small farmer’s background as AAP’s chief ministerial candidate. 

A majority of Punjabis have no doubt, been rejoicing the overthrowing of the entrenched establishment of old politicians, particularly the Badals. But Kejriwal’s one-man rule in Delhi which is akin to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s style of governance is disturbing the many. Explicit criticism of AAP is now becoming audible with a mention to its election campaign which obliterated regional and federal issues being much propagated dearer by a sizable vocal section of the Sikhs. The Sikhs are susceptible enough to resort to frequent public protests on such issues which AAP may find difficult to handle. Punjab is different from Delhi since its people are historically and temperamentally different from the Hindi heartland’s inhabitants. Punjabis are not deep-seeped into the nationalist lore which AAP supremo Kejriwal has been pushing forward. The Sikhs still reminiscence  Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule as their genuine Punjabi regime and have not emerged fully out of the shock of 1947 Partition which, they feel, have dwarfed them politically. In the recent past Sikhs, particularly youths spilled on the roads half a dozen times protesting against the Sirsa Dera chief, opposing the hanging of Balwant Singh Rajoana in the killing of chief minister Beant Singh and held frequent protests in the Bargari Bayadbi case. Of late, they marched to Delhi borders and held 380-days dharna against the pro-corporate farmer acts and secured their withdrawal.

Besides that, Punjabis are quite touchy on the issue of state autonomy and federalism which are not part of Kejriwal’s political discourse at all. Rather, he is aspiring and acting to project AAP as an alternative to the BJP at the national level. On the other hand, Kesriwal’s track record shows that he has always remained on the positive side of the Hindutva. He supported the BJP agenda of abolishing article 370, kept away from Shaheen Bagh protests against CAA, and remained a silent spectator communal riots of 2020 in Delhi. He created a replica of Ram Mandir in Delhi and publically readout Hanumaan Chalisa to outsmart the Hindutva brigades. Such a brand of politics could hardly go down the throat of Punjabis. Even eyebrows were raised when Bhagwant Maan touched the feet of Kejriwal on his selection as leader of AAP’s legislative party and that scene went viral on social media leaving a bitter taste among the viewers.

Kejriwal’s latest act of nominating five persons of his choice—two from outside Punjab, one cricketer celebrity, and two businessmen — for Punjab quota in Rajya Sabha (Upper House in Indian Parliament) has caused an outcry in Punjab. Opposition leaders were quick to accuse Kejriwal of “selling” Punjab legislators for his personal political ambitions and pecuniary considerations. Thinkers are watching keenly how Kejriwal’s politics fares in Punjab or as being indicated whether he tends to run the state from Delhi. In such a scenario whether he could be able to ward off the disenchantment with Punjabis getting suspicious of his designs sooner than imagined.






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