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Congress, Akalis fight it out over the legacy of Longowal in Punjab

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 23 August 2016, 12:13 IST
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Story so far

  • Centre recently called off the appointment of an independent administrator for Chandigarh on Badal\'s behest
  • The matter of Chandigarh and the Punjab Accord cropped up under these circumstances
  • Now, Congress and SAD have brought up the issue of Longowal to fight over


More in the story

  • How parties are raking up decade-old issues to political speeches
  • How SAD and Congress are fighting over Longowal\'s legacy


In a build-up to the Assembly elections, Punjab is witnessing a tumbling out of issues that were at the core during the decade and a half-long militancy in the state.

This is being viewed as an attempt by traditional rivals - the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) - to reap benefits from old emotive issues.

And amid this continuing trend,the two political rivals are now at each others' throat with daggers drawn on the legacy of the moderate Akali leader Sant Harchand Singh Longowal.

The Sant had been gunned down days after signing the famous Punjab accord with the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The state had witnessed a war of words last week on the issue of transfer of Chandigarh that had been a part of the Punjab accord signed in 1985.

The war had emanated in the light of the Narendra Modi-led government in the Centre appointing an independent administrator for Chandigarh and then retracting under pressure from SAD chief Parkash Singh Badal

Also read: Chandigarh: How Badal ensured a Pandora's box remained shut

Six months ahead of the assembly polls, both parties have upped the ante on the issue and they are likely to keep it alive during their poll campaigns, given the fact that a section of the electorate still remains influenced by Longowal's line of thought.

The Longowal school of thought

In April this year, the Congress made a strong political move by managing the merger of SAD (Longowal), the moderate and secular Sikhs, into its fold. The move had put the ruling SAD (Badal) on the back foot.

But observers say that not all Longowal supporters have joined the Congress and a large section still feels that it has a more ideological closeness with the Akalis. Hence, both parties still feel the need to usurp the political legacy of Longowal.

The fresh round of battle began when Badal in his address at the Longowal village to mark the Sant's martyrdom on 20 August, held the Congress responsible for his martyrdom accusing them of back stabbing the Sant by not fulfilling the Punjab accord.

Badal cited that the non-implementation of terms and conditions of the accord had led to the killing of Longowal.

The chief minister said that Longowal made the supreme sacrifice of his life for the sake of peace, communal harmony and brotherhood in the state. Badal said that the SAD-BJP alliance government in the state has been working tirelessly to uphold this ethos as a humble and befitting tribute to the Sant.

Saying that the Congress has always pursued the policy of divide and rule for their vested political interests, the SAD-BJP alliance has always upheld the ethos of communal harmony, peace and brotherhood.

Congress counters

In a swift counter move, the Congress Chief Captain Amarinder Singh launched a frontal attack on Badal saying that the latter's hands are stained with Longowal's blood.

Amarinder ridiculed the "crocodile tears" being shed by Badal over the martyrdom of Longowal and said, "Shedding crocodile tears now is not going to wash your sins and the blood off your hands. Badal's hands are stained with Santji's blood as he betrayed him and backed out of the Rajiv-Longowal accord that eventually led to his assassination."

He further charged,"Either you have lost your conscience or you have lost your memory. Otherwise, you wouldn't be blaming others for the crime, you very well know, you are yourself guilty of. Didn't you reject the Rajiv-Longowal accord and didn't you raise the emotions and provoke people that led to Santji's martyrdom?"

Amarinder said that Badal pushed Longowal towards signing the accord and later backed out at the last moment.

"Not only did you back out, you opposed it so vehemently and maliciously and exploited the sentiments of people and provoked them to the extent that Santji had to pay with his life," he said.

Upping the ante

Now, the SAD leadership has taken the battle further by holding Rajiv Gandhi and his coterie directly responsible for the betrayal and assassination of Longowal while pointing at Amarinder, a close confidant of Rajiv and the entire Gandhi family.

"Rajiv Gandhi betrayed a saintly soul. He made a sacred commitment to transfer Chandigarh to Punjab and solve other issues of the Sikhs as per the nationally and internationally accepted norms and conventions. This was a well planned act of treachery against a saint by the then prime minister who was also responsible for the massacre of thousands of innocent Sikhs. Amarinder should explain his role in the tragedy," said SAD general secretary Balwinder Singh Bhunder, while pointing to the historical irony in Rajiv Gandhi's birthday and Longowal's death day fall on the same day.

"This is history's revenge against Rajiv Gandhi for his betrayal of an innocent and saintly soul," said Bhunder.

He charged that Amarinder had been sent into Akali Dal as a part of a deep conspiracy to persuade Longowal to agree to the accord which Rajiv never intended to honour.

"Amarinder was rewarded with the number three position in the Surjit Singh Barnala government as agriculture minister for his services to his masters against the Sikhs," he said.

Bhunder said that Badal had cautioned the party and the Punjabis at that time saying that the Centre would betray Longowal and never honour the accord.

He proved to be right, as Rajiv Gandhi backed out of his commitment refusing to transfer Chandigarh to Punjab on 25-26 January 1986, even after the cards for the transfer ceremony scheduled for the next morning had been sent out.

"The circumstances surrounding his death still remain a mystery which Amarinder should explain because he was a powerful minister in the government that was formed on the blood of Santji. Badal was not a part of that government," said Bhunder.

Observer speak

Observers like radio journalist Shiv Inder feel that in the face of anti-incumbency haunting them the Akalis are now falling back on decades-old issues like Longowal's assassination, transfer of Chandigarh and sharing of river waters with neighbouring states.

"These were not a part of their manifesto in 2012 but are sure to find a prime place in it this time around," he said while pointing that till a few months back, Longowal's family had been accusing the Akalis of having done away with his legacy," he told Catch.

Senior political analyst Baljit Balli says that Badal has been raising Longowal's assassination every ear on his death anniversary but this year being the poll year, the noise is more vociferous.

The Congress too has used the occasion to hit out at the Akalis. "But one thing cannot be forgotten that the Akalis had opposed the Punjab accord. These issues will be raised till the elections and then consigned to the dustbin. Besides it is another attempt to divert the public attention from the real issues," he says.

But till the polls are held, the issue is expected to feature prominently in the public speeches of the leaders.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

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First published: 23 August 2016, 12:13 IST
 
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