The last two days of churning out the Punjab Congress to find an acceptable ministerial face has raised the crucial question of religious identity in state politics. The name of former PPCC leader Sunil Jakhar appeared for the post but was shot down by seasoned party leaders who believed it would not go well with the Sikhs, with Punjab being the only state in the country where they could hope to get that. Publish.
Perhaps they were not aware of the results of an opinion poll conducted before the 2017 parliamentary elections. Respondents were asked if they would accept AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal as chief minister of state , and if not, why. Most people said no, and it wasn’t because he was a Hindu, but because he was not a Punjabi.
GNDU political scientist Dr Jagroop Singh Sekhon, Amritsar, dismisses the reasoning advanced by congressional leaders as “pre-1966 jargon”. âIt’s a thing of the past, all people want now is a clean and efficient Chief Minister. His religion is peripheral.
Whoever said Punjab is a state of mind, maybe was on to something. A state where politics is often intertwined with religion has never seen community riots, even during the dark decade of activism. Sociologists attribute it to the homogeneity provided by its culture.
Reductive as it may sound, this is also a reason why he resisted the Hindutva’s nationalist agenda, and the Bhindranwale brand of Sikhism also couldn’t last here for very long. âThe Hindus in Punjab are like half-Sikhs,â says Dr Pramod Kumar, the state’s political and cultural columnist.
For RSS, Sikhs are the armed wing of Hindus, a term that stems from the sacrifices made by Sikh gurus to protect Hindus from Mughals. . Guru Gobind Singh’s two younger sons were beaten alive for refusing to convert. The community continued its martial tradition, joining the armed forces in large numbers.
Although Sikhs and their clergy fiercely protect their identity as a separate religion – an Akal Takht jathedar once called for banning the RSS for attempting to co-opt Sikhs into the Hindi fold – in everyday life there are has fluidity between the two religions, and interfaith marriages are common.
Although the Punjab was the site of the sectarian violence that accompanied Partition in 1947, it left no residue of hatred among the Punjabis. This is evident in the warm ties between the peoples of the Indian and Pakistani Punjab which in no way dull the patriotism of either. The tiny population of Muslims in the state, whether in the city of Malerkotla or Qadian, home of the Ahmadiyya sect, has never been the victim of any hostility.
Despite the cultural homogeneity, the Punjab has experienced its share of cracks. After the score, Akali’s leader, Master Tara Singh, who was born into a Brahmin family, spearheaded the movement for Punjabi suba on linguistic lines. But the move was viewed with suspicion by many Hindus who thought it was a euphemism for a Sikh state and recorded Hindi as their mother tongue in the census even though they spoke Punjabi. Later, the leader of the RSS, MS Golwalkar, during a visit to Jalandhar in 1966, pointed out that the Punjabi has no religion. âPunjabi is the language of all Punjabi,â he said.
The year 1984 which saw Operation Bluestar followed by the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and anti-Sikh riots in the country did not lead to community unrest in Punjab although mistrust between the two communities was at its crescendo, and terrorists have targeted Hindus several times. Activism was ultimately defeated not only because of strong police action and political will, but also because it lost grassroots support. The villagers lacked sympathy for the “boys (munde)” as the activists were called.
Today, the embers of the movement continue to be fueled in lands overseas by a handful of NRIs, but they have little resonance in the state. The targeted assassinations of right-wing Hindu leaders in the state in 2017 were quickly clamped down by the government of Capt Amarinder at the time.
The Akali-BJP alliance
As far as religion and politics are concerned, the Akali-BJP alliance was the longest political marriage in the state until it was annulled by the three agricultural laws in September 2020. The Patriarch of Akali Parkash Singh Badal, 92, called him ânau maas da rishta (the two communities are like nail and flesh). Although the two parties made an alliance before the election in 1996, when Akali Dal, a panthic party, adopted the Punjabiyat platform, the Akalis had started to align themselves with Jan Sangh, the precursor of the BJP, in 1967.
In 2014, the late BJP mainstay Arun Jaitley could not win against Amritsar because the two communities did not vote according to religion. While his congressional opponent Capt Amarinder Singh garnered more votes in majority Hindu segments, Jaitley questioned more Jat Sikh voters in rural segments. Also in 2019, BJP Minister Hardeep Puri lost to a local Gurjeet Singh Aujla because he was considered a foreigner.
The Punjab, we can safely conclude, has a unique political culture. Culture-based homogeneity offers protection to people regardless of their religion. This is the reason why the state has not seen the emergence of an exclusive Sikh, Hindu or even Dalit identity. As Pramod Kumar says, âIn Punjab, Jat Sikh CM is decided by Hindus and Dalits. The moment you start to mobilize Hindus as Hindus and Sikhs as Sikhs, you are doomed to lose. Food for thought for policies.