Sunday, November 10, 2002, Chandigarh, India


S P E C I A L   E D I T O R I A L

At stake is maryada
Hari Jaisingh

Punjab has of late been witnessing dangerous games of political brinkmanship and a naked display of police power in the name of religion. The Akali-Congress tug-of-war is specifically meant for the purpose of controlling gurdwaras by manipulating the 170-member SGPC executive election scheduled for Tuesday (November 12) in Amritsar. There is a virtual state of siege in the Holy City. This is not a gratifying sight. The political bosses belonging to the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Congress and their individual and factional allies somehow believe the levers of power in the State get strengthened and consolidated by controlling the SGPC. Perhaps, they see Punjab politics in a set perspective without trying to open new windows for fresh winds to blow in.

What has been seen all over the state has a familiar ring about it. Giani Zail Singh as Chief Minister played his own subtle tricks for the control of the SGPC with a view to weakening the Akalis. What happened subsequently over a period in that no-holds barred competitive politics is too recent a phase of Punjab's bloody happenings to be forgotten. The problem with the political leaders in the state is that instead of competing with each other for the betterment of the people in socio-economic areas, they shamelessly exploit religious sentiments to fulfill their vested interests. How long can the people tolerate this?

Why make the people pawns in their dirty politics? Why can't they be left in peace to manage their religious affairs? Why should there be a hush-hush atmosphere in the State? Why should there be any need to “hijack” a large number of SGPC members to be kept in hiding in a neighbouring “Akali friendly” State? Why should the state police be overactive and take a large number of Akali Dal workers in preventive custody in a state-wide pre-dawn swoop?

Who is calling the shots? What are the motives behind such a massive crackdown and a show of force? Former Chief Minister and opposition leader Parkash Singh Badal has dubbed this as the “broad daylight rape of democracy and gruesome suppression of civil liberties and the rule of law”. Mr Badal has a point. But the problem with most politicians, Mr Badal included, is that they have different politico-moral yardsticks of looking at the outside world when in power and when out of power. How do we find a meeting ground in such a situation?

The problem with Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh is that he too believes that his political agenda will remain unfinished unless he establishes his control over the SGPC outfit and thereby cuts the Akalis to size. The moot point is: are the people supposed to thrive only on a political menu even in purely religious matters? Who is to push the economic agenda and put the state on top again?

Ironically, in the state's changing political loyalties, the old master in Punjab's politico-religious affairs, former SGPC chief Gurcharan Singh Tohra, today happens to be on the right side of the Congress establishment. He is, of course, free to exercise his political choice. What the people want is that the leaders of different political hues and affinities should conduct themselves with due decorum and dignity. At stake is the question of maryada. Mr Tohra, incidentally, has advised Mr Badal “not to use SGPC members to settle a score with the ruling Congress in the State”. Interesting indeed!

Viewing today's disquieting trends in a larger perspective, we would like to say that the time has come for every leader to search his own soul instead of blaming each other to score a few points by adding to new areas of tension in the state. In the prevailing tension-ridden atmosphere, it will be worthwhile to listen to some faint voices of sanity of those who stress the need for depoliticising the SGPC. It is not certain whether this can be initiated straightway, but it is in the interest of the people to force the parties and their leaders to draw a line between politics and gurdwara affairs.

Let us not forget the message of love, compassion and of personal and public maryada of those engaged in power business. We must not deviate from the righteous path shown by Guru Nanak Devji and other great Gurus of the Sikh Panth. Punjab cannot afford to play with fire. It badly wants peace and harmony to rejuvenate the multi-faceted glory that has rightly belonged to Punjab and the Punjabis whether at home or abroad.

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