Before Congress puts an end to the suspense and announces the name of Charanjit Singh Channi as next Chief Minister of Punjab On Sunday, giving the state its first Dalit CM, he would have played with the possibility of another first.
There has been speculation that the Punjab would get a Hindu CM for the first time after it was established as a Sikh majority state in 1966. This was not to be the case.
The withdrawal of Congress from one of its possibilities, even if it embraced another, perhaps made explicit the unspoken assumption of Punjab policy – that the CM in a majority state a Sikh will always and only be a Sikh. In the process, he may have hardened a line.
But hours before his decision on Sunday, Giani Harpreet Singh, acting Jathedar (high priest) of Akal Takht, the youngest to hold the post so far, opened up an important new space.
Talk to Indian express at his office in Talwandi Sabo – he is also the Jathedar of Takht Damdama Sahib – on the possibility of a Hindu CM for Punjab, he said: âBehtar insaan hona chahiye (should be a good person), achchai pehle number pe (human kindness is the primary consideration). Sikh hona ya hindu secondary hona hai (whether Hindu or Sikh is secondary).
For many, however, the Jathedar has said that “faces matter.” “A Sikh CM counts for the public aamâ¦ talks about Punjab pehchaan (identity)â¦ just as Hindus are proud when (one of them) does well in the United States (politics)â¦ â.
It is not as if âHinduâ and âSikhâ have been isolated from each other in Punjab politics. Even if no Hindu has become CM, all the main parties, Congress, SAD and AAP present themselves as catch-all parties and, in alliance or individually, court all castes and communities.
(For now, the BJP has found itself in a lonely corner, after the Modi government introduced the controversial farm laws that also led to its break with the SAD).
In 2012, the SAD, as part of its attempts after the 1995 Moga Declaration, to move from a panthic program to one that talks about Punjabi identity and Punjabiyat, for the first time, nominated 12 candidates. Hindus – and nine won.
The fact that the BSP has an average vote of 4 percent in a state with a total Dalit population of nearly 32 percent, also testifies to a policy of cross-divides.
And yet, Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh’s opening expression is an important step towards blurring the fault lines – it comes from someone who occupies the highest religious and temporal seats in Sikhism.
Jathedar’s comment also comes against a difficult background: the farmers’ movement against the laws set up by a BJP-led center can create a two-tone situation in Punjab – on the one hand, it brings people together, through communities, rallying Hindu traders to the cause of Sikh peasants, against a center perceived as stubborn and inflexible.
On the other hand, it also stokes fears of a BJP-led attack on Sikh identity, with perceptions of a dying MSP rekindling not only older resentments against the Center, but also specters who feed off the Sikh consciousness of being a majority and also a minority – a majority within the state, a minority outside.
The Jathedar, too, spoke of increasing dangers: Incidents of “be-adabi“or sacrilege -“kaun log hain, uske peeche kaun si saazishein hai (who are the people doing it, what are the conspiracies behind them â); RSS interference – âwhoever believes in one religion should not interfere in anotherâ. And an authoritarian and callous Center – âSikh problems are not so important that the Center cannot solve them, but since 1947 the Center has not taken seriously the fulfillment of the promises made to the Sikhs, of them. keep safe and protectedâ¦ The centralization of power is always damaging to the country, state governments become like municipalities â.
And yet, on the agitation of the farmers, he made a distinction that softens the edge – it’s a “kisan aandolan, not a dharm (religion), although most of the farmers are Sikhs â. The solution, he said, can only come “baatcheet ke zariye (through dialogue) â. Because “movement jo lambi chal jaati hai, we mein dikkatein aa jaati hain (if a movement stretches too long, it runs into trouble) â.
“There must be negotiations in any dialogue, and we have seen it all over the world, in compromises between countries and states, or in land disputes … Kuch sarkar maane, kuch kisaan maane,” he said. -he declares. But as a “bigger and more responsible” party, the government must take the lead.