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Canada Defence Minister Sajjan's visit brings Punjab politics to boiling point

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 20 April 2017, 19:13 IST
(PTI photo)

The visit of Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan to his native state of Punjab has provided an opportunity for the political parties in the state to get at each other's throat.

This visit follows Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh courting controversy by refusing to meet Sajjan, and labelling him a 'Khalistani sympathiser'. It also comes just a few days after the Ontario legislature passed a a motion dubbing the 1984 anti-Sikh riots a 'genocide', and India retorting by calling it a 'misguided' notion.

This was enough to provide fertile ground to the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress to rack up some quick brownie points by attacking their opponents.

Sajjan's Golden Temple visit

Protestors oppose Amarinder's stand against Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan
Sikh activists welcome Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to Amritsar
Sikh activists welcome Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to Amritsar

On Thursday, Sajjan's visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar was marked by hardline elements raising slogans in favour of a separate Sikh nation of Khalistan. These elements reportedly clashed with the task force of the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), for not being allowed to get close to Sajjan.

The protestors, belonging to various hardline organisations, stood outside the complex with posters, banners and placards, welcoming the Sajjan and condemning the Punjab government. Sajjan avoided the hardline elements.

Before this, the SAD leadership has used Amarinder's stance to attack the Congress party, saying that the Punjab Chief Minister was executing a direct order from the Gandhi family to discredit Sajjan, as well as all Punjabi representatives in the Canadian Parliament, after the Ontario legislature passed the resolution terming the 1984 anti-Sikh massacre as a 'genocide'.

SAD leaders' statement

Senior SAD leaders and MPs Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, Balwinder Singh Bhundur and Prem Singh Chandumajra came out saying the Gandhi family's hand in the sordid humiliation of Sajjan could be gauged from the fact that it has the most to lose from the 1984 mass murder incidents being termed as a 'genocide'.

“Everyone knows that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi instigated the violence after the assassination of his mother and then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, by stating 'when a big tree falls, the earth will shake'. The Gandhi family has tried to downplay this detestable legacy, but now faces the prospect of being exposed worldwide, with other countries and parliaments also likely to accept the 1984 violence as 'genocide',” they said in a statement.

“It is for this reason that the Gandhi family has directed Amarinder to strike out against Punjabi-origin representatives in Ontario's legislature, who were instrumental in getting this resolution passed. Terming these representatives as 'Khalistanis' is a diversionary tactic to take away attention from the fact that people would now question the direct role of the Gandhi family in this genocide.”

They further attacked Amarinder, saying:“You are not the scion of a former Maharaja now who can get piqued at personal insults. You are the Chief Minister of Punjab and represent the state in the Punjabi diaspora also. How can you equate Sajjan's visit with the revival of terrorism in Punjab. In fact, it is you who is guilty of having a hand in the revival of the Khalistan movement in Canada. You shared the stage with Khalistanis at the Dixie Road Gurudwara during your earlier tenure as CM of Punjab. What moral ground do you have of lecturing others on terrorism?”

Harsimrat blows NDA's trumpet

Taking the onslaught further, Union Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal has pointed out that the NDA government had publicly termed the 1984 mass murder of Sikhs as 'genocide', and would continue to actively work to prosecute those behind this dastardly act. She has urged the Punjab Congress not to buckle under pressure of its high command, and work against the cause of Punjab and Punjabis.

However, she believes that the Ontario resolution is unacceptable, because it made critical references to India, particularly its human rights record and even questioned its democratic credentials. “India is a pluralistic society and constitutional guarantees have been put in place to protect its diverse nature. The Ontario resolution has tried to discredit the country completely in the eyes of the world by condemning communal violence, hatred, hostility, prejudice, racism and intolerance in India, instead of focussing only on the 1984 mass murders,” she said.

She has tried to play up the initiatives by successive NDA governments to ensure justice to the 1984 massacre victims, and to bring those guilty to book. “Right from establishment of the Justice GT Nanavati Commission by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to the establishment of an SIT by the present government, reopening of 250 cases of violence against Sikhs, giving compensation to the victims and reopening CBI cases to asking for a lie detector test for the accused Jagdish Tytler, the NDA has done all this and more,” she said.

AAP's new tack

The AAP leadership, in its attempt to gain from the political melee, has gone on to welcome Sajjan for making Punjabis proud by securing a high post in the Canadian government. Leader of the Opposition in Punjab Assembly, HS Phoolka, had invited Sajjan for a formal meeting with party MLAs, but the latter cited unavailability of time and pre-scheduled programmes not to do so.

Phoolka, meanwhile, has criticised Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley for conveying his objections to the Ontario resolution. He has also chosen the occasion to question why the SAD, an alliance partner in the Central government, and Harsimrat for supporting the Congress and Amarinder on the issue.

Congress sticks to its guns

The Congress has hit back, while castigating the elements standing up in support of Sajjan, saying there is enough documentary and circumstantial evidence on record to prove his Khalistani sympathies.

Congress leaders and MPs Ravneet Bittu and Gurjeet Aujla have come out in support of Amarinder, saying those criticising Amarinder are playing into the hands of anti-Indian forces, which are out to destroy the secular fabric of the nation. They have urged all organisations, including political parties, not to indulge in petty politics over such a serious issue, which has grave implications for the future of Punjab and its people.

They said that Sajjan's pro-Khalistani leanings have been endorsed by several leaders of his own Liberal Party, many of whom had quit the party in protest against his candidature as a Liberal. They also pointed to the apology from Canada over Sajjan leading soldiers to a Surrey gurudwara on Remembrance Day in 2011, that had posters of Khalistan 'martyrs'. He had warned his colleagues not to allow themselves to be photographed near these posters.

The Congress leaders further said that having been badly scarred by militancy in the past, Punjab cannot afford to ignore such blatant signs of efforts to revive the Khalistani forces, which were simply waiting to draw out their fangs at the slightest opportunity.

Hitting out at AAP's national convener Arvind Kejriwal, they said the run-up to the recent Assembly polls had witnessed several incidents lending credence to these fears while Kejriwal's stay at a former KCF commando's house and the Maur bomb blast.

State cabinet minister Rana Gurjit has attacked the SAD, saying that by choosing to deny a fact acknowledged and accepted by many in Canada and India, the SAD is once again trying to polarise the state of Punjab on communal lines, as it has been doing repeatedly over the past several years. He said the state government has been tracking all activities of the pro-Khalistani elements, and has enough information to show that Sajjan has been siding with pro-Khalistani forces.

First published: 20 April 2017, 18:35 IST