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Looking Ahead, Looking Back
Deft strokeplay by Cong, SAD
Sarbjit Dhaliwal/Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, May 25
Neither the prevailing religious confrontation nor its pattern and form are new to Punjab. It has witnessed such violent confrontations in the past. However, what is new is the time-frame. The actors involved in the confrontation between the Dera Sacha Sauda and Sikh organisations know well that we are living in more dangerous times than that of April 1978 when Punjab saw such a confrontation and paid a heavy price in form of human lives and emotional and economic devastation till late ‘90s.

They also know that, in these times of visual communication, violent images go to all corners of the world in a flash that only fuels a volatile situation and damage the image people and individuals who are in the forefront of such actions.

And, yet, competing sectarian interests, short-sighted as they are known to be and who usually play into the hands of self-serving politicians, take on one another.

Though the immediate cause of confrontation between the head of the dera and Sikh organisations is religious, a heavy dose of politics forms the backdrop.

Consider this: the dera’s political wing openly supported and campaigned for the Congress in the recently-held Assembly elections in Punjab which demolished the Shiromani Akali Dal(SAD) in the Malwa region, once its pocket borough. The SAD leadership, ruling the state now, had never faced such a challenge in this region earlier. And Congress had never expected that dera’s support base in Malwa can turn out to be such a big gain for it.

For future, SAD’s objective is well-defined. It would like to see the weakening of the dera’s support base in Malwa region well before the next Parliamentary elections. Weakening of the dera’s hold means regaining the political space that it yielded to the Congress. Its second objective is to bring back a section of peasantry, that stood with Capt Amarinder Singh in the last election, back into the SAD fold.

The question is: that how far can SAD go in weakening the hold of the dera in Malwa region? Not too far at this stage. Why? Because, it knows that sectarian fire can consume its government if it goes out of control.

On the other hand, however much the Congress might deny it, would never like the weakening of the hold of dera in Malwa. In fact, truth is that the Congress is a discreet gainer from the confrontation between the dera and Sikh organisations. Such confrontation will push dera’s supporters into the Congress camp for years to come. It may lose a bit of support of the Sikh peasantry that backed Amarinder Singh but it will certainly gain politically from further consolidation of its position among dera’s followers.

Congress leaders have been appealing for peace but very carefully. They realize that just one wrong word can prove to be very costly for them vis-à-vis the dera.

It is this conflicting political interest of the these two main players in Malwa region that would keep the dera fire burning one way or the other for a long time.

The immediate fall-out of the turmoil is a telling blow to people faith in keeping peace in the state. Peace may be restored soon enough, in a week or a month, but there are worrying signs already. Investor confidence, for instance, has been shaken and it may take some to time to restored. Industrialists have expressed their concern to Chief Minster Parkash Singh Badal. The overall loser will the development of the state. That’s a prospect no party that means good for the state can afford to even think about.

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