No political conferences at Jor Mela; Will the trend continue in Punjab?
The Jor Mela at Fatehgarh Sahib, which concluded on Wednesday, has marked a new phase in Punjab politics. For the first time in recent history, the main political forces did away with the practice of holding political conferences at the religious event.
Barring the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) led by Simranjit Singh Mann, no other political party organised a political conference at the event. This includes the Congress, the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal), as well the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
It is believed that these parties would also refrain from holding political conferences at the four other major religious events in the state, namely the Maghi Mela at Muktsar, Hola Mohalla at Anandpur Sahib, Baisakhi at Talwandi Sabo, and Rakhar Punia at Baba Bakala.
The corruption of the Jor Mela
The Jor Mela marks the sad occasion of the youngest sons of Guru Gobind Singh - Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh - being entombed alive after refusing to renounce their faith after being imprisoned by Wazir Khan, the governor of Sirhind.
“The organising of political conferences at these events began around half a century ago. Initially, these conferences used to be Panthic in nature, but gradually they became an outright political slug fest with charges and counter charges being leveled by various political parties,” points out political observer Ujjagar Singh.
“The Panthic gathering slowly turned political under the Akali Dal. Slowly the Communists jumped in, followed by the Congress and the fringe groups, and it became an occasion to run each other down and make it a political show. The parties used to exploit a captive audience,” veteran political analyst Jagtar Singh recounts.
It must also be pointed out that the solemn event gradually turned into a mela (fair), with entertainment at the forefront and solemnity fading into the backdrop.
“A circus was organised at the event, and people also resorted to gambling and playing vulgar songs on the sidelines of the main event. The Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC), that rented out space for the event and is actually supposed to discourage such social ills, was often accused of turning a blind eye to what was happening,” explains Ujjagar Singh.
The cancellation of political events at Jor Mela is the result of a sustained campaign by various segments of society that wanted the event to be a solemn affair. Former deputy speaker of Punjab Bir Devinder Singh was at the forefront of this campaign, and even got around one lakh copies of an emotional seven-page pamphlet circulated on the issue.
However, Bir Devinder Singh wasn't the first to raise the issue. “It was District Collector SK Ahluwalia who first raised the issue of doing away with such social ills as well as political press conferences during the previous Congress government's tenure under Captain Amarinder Singh. The opposition parties tried to portray the Congress government at that time as anti-Sikh. While things like gambling etc were done away with, the political conferences continued,” recounts Ujjagar Singh.
A return to solemnity
In its statement on why they were not organising a political conference at the event, the Congress party said the decision was taken keeping in view the sanctity of the occasion and sentiments of the people.
A Congress spokesperson said that Capt. Amarinder felt that the solemn occasion should not be used by groups with vested interests as a platform to gain political mileage. The people also felt that it was increasingly becoming a forum for political parties to score brownie points.
The state unit chief of the party, Sunil Jakhar, said this decision of the party was in line with the various path-breaking initiatives taken by Amarinder during his earlier tenure as the chief minister to restore the sacredness of the Jor Mela. These included simplification of langar, banning of sweets, prohibition of entertainment, amusement games, gambling, etc.
SAD (Badal) president Sukhbir Badal said the party always follows the directives of Shri Akal Takht Sahib in letter and spirit. He said that even though the tradition of holding annual conference by the SAD at Shri Fatehgarh Sahib had been going on for long, the party would not hold its conference keeping the larger interest of the Sikh community first. Badal admitted that political parties had ruined the importance of the occasion by making it a political battlefield over the years.
The AAP also canceled its proposed conference on the occasion so that “Sahibzadas (Guru's sons) could be paid tributes without any political colour.”
However, Simranjit Singh Mann defied the appeal of Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh against holding political conferences, and went ahead with his 'Miri Piri Shaheedi Conference'. Justifying his decision, he reportedly said that the Guru has given the Sikhs the principle of ‘Miri and Piri’, which means that religion and politics run together.
There is a small segment that believes that there is no harm in political parties propagating their views at such events unless they become a political slug fest. This segment says that such religious occasions provide an opportunity to political outfits with limited resources to reach out to the masses. They also point out that if the political forces agree not to hold political conferences at any of the main religious events, they should also ensure that no religious issue is raised at their political events.
What is eagerly being awaited is whether the political parties will build on their choices at Jor Mela and not organise political conferences at the remaining four religious events in the state.