Akali mantra of governance: when in trouble, blame the ISI
In the poll-bound state of Punjab, violence with religious undertones is becoming the norm.
The blame for this downward spiral is being laid at the feet of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP government and they stand cornered on the issue. But the government has hastily tried to shift the blame on an 'outside hand' - in this case, the Pakistani agency ISI.
But no one is taking the claim seriously. Observers say that by making such claims, the Badals are trying to wash their hands off their responsibility over the continuing deterioration of law and order.
The latest episodes
The latest incident involved the desecration of yet another Quran in the state in Mehal Kalan Chowk area of Sangrur district on 15 August. Just a week before, senior RSS functionary Brigadier (Retd) Jagdish Gagneja in Jalandhar was shot three times in the abdomen by two motorcycle-borne assailants. He is still critical.
Prior to this was the attack on Sant Ranjit Singh Dhandrianwale, Gau Sewa Mission head Swami Krishna Nand going missing and the killing of Mata Chand Kaur of the Namdhari sect.
The state has also witnessed political drama over the desecration of the Quran in Malerkotla in Sangrur district in June. All these incidents come after a series of very similar instances taking place last year when several holy books were desecrated.
Deflecting the blame
Deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal is the one who has raised the ISI 'bogey' in the state by attributing the violence to the Pakistani intelligence agency. This is despite previous reports where his father, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, had ruled out involvement of any external agency.
But Sukhbir now says that he and his father have no differences if opinion and that it is an ISI conspiracy which is threatening to destabilise peace in Punjab. Details of this conspiracy, he says, have been along to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and the NIA.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that is emerging as a strong political force in the state has alleged that Sukhbir's statements are yet another way that the government is trying to create fear among the general public ahead of the assembly polls.
"It cannot be ruled out that under the garb of ISI threat, Sukhbir may conspire for fierce and deadly attacks on AAP leaders in Punjab," says AAP leader and the candidate from Mohali, Himmat Singh Shergil.
"Sukhbir's statement is highly irresponsible and it smells of a deep conspiracy by him to disturb the peace of Punjab. Sukhbir must clarify which leaders of Punjab were eliminated by ISI who the current targets are. There have been no killings by the ISI in nine years. How is it that it comes out with a conspiracy now?" he questions.
The AAP leadership has also demanded that Sukhbir, as the state's home minister, reveal the security arrangements he has made for the safety of politicians in Punjab.
"We AAP leaders do not require security from Sukhbir Badal, as the people of Punjab have already provided us ample security in the form of immense support," Shergil added.
The party's campaign committee chief Bhagwant Mann says, "It is ridiculous that the deputy chief minister is virtually terrorising people by raising bogey of an ISI threat. It cannot be ruled out that under the garb of ISI threat, Sukhbir may conspire for fierce and deadly attacks on AAP leaders in Punjab."
Opposition up in arms
Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh too jumped into the fray and attacked Sukhbir for trying to blame the ISI for the complete breakdown of law and order in Punjab.
Amarinder blames the Chief Minister for the spate of violent incidents in the state, including the attack on state RSS vice president Gagneja, saying that Badal is deliberately trying to create fear and polarise people along communal lines for the sake of political capital.
Raising serious concerns over the escalating gang wars in Punjab, he says that the patrons of these gangs, at least till the election is done, is Sukhbir.
Saying that Sukhbir cannot pass off everything on the ISI, Amarinder says, "We all know what ISI is up to, but what are you doing to stop it from executing its nefarious designs. Mere breast beating and blaming them will not solve any problem. You need to act."
Maintaining that there is a consistent pattern in the incidents of violence with religious overtones in the state, he says that the Congress will not let this trend to continue as Punjab cannot afford another dark era. He said that if such things continue to happen Punjab will further slide down the chain as already investors are reluctant to come here.
These allegations from Amarinder are not new. He has constantly spoken of how the Badals are deliberately allowing such disturbances to occur. He has attacked the government many times for its failure to arrest people involved in these violent incidents - be it the desecration of holy books last year or the killing of Mata Chand Kaur.
"Not a single person has been identified, leave aside punished, for such sacrilege. Nor has any action been taken against the guilty police officials responsible for the firing and killing of peaceful protestors. It was Badal's decision to have some sort of controlled destabilisation in the state," he had pointed in one of his interactions while referring to the last year's incidents.
Observers say that the whole exercise of pointing toward an 'outside hand' to cover the government failures reminds them of the Emergency when former prime minister Indira Gandhi used to hold the 'outside hand', or the CIA to be precise, for every failure of her regime.
"The comments by Sukhbir show that he is walking Indira's path. This is a replication of Indira's politics in a new form. The threat to Punjab is not from any external force but the forces of division that are in power in the country, mainly the forces of Hindutva," says prominent radio journalist and political observer Gurpreet Singh, who is based in Canada.