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Politics on religious violence in Punjab, Kejriwal visits injured preacher

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 25 May 2016, 21:08 IST

Religious violence

  • Religious preacher Ranjit Singh Dhadrianwale was attacked near Ludhiana last week, and an aide was killed
  • Recently, there have been an increasing number of instances of religious violence in Punjab

Political significance

  • Punjab has many deras, which act as galvanising points for the non-upper classes
  • With the Assembly elections due next year, politicians are wooing the deras for their members\' votes

More in the story

  • The Bhindranwale-Khalistan connection behind the attack on Dhadrianwale
  • Why Kejriwal visited the injured preacher

Poll-bound Punjab is witnessing a heavy dose of politics around religious violence. Besides being on the boil owing to instances of desecration of religious texts last year, the state has been a witness to targeting of heads of religious sects.

The most recent of these attacks was the assault on religious preacher Ranjit Singh Dhadrianwale last week. He had a narrow escape, while his aide Bhupinder Singh died in the attack on his cavalcade near Ludhiana.

Also read - Life imprisonment for desecrating Guru Granth Sahib in Punjab now

The attack was carried out by around a dozen assailants near a 'chabeel', offering cold drinks to passersby. He was fired upon when his car slowed and the assailants raised pro-Khalistan slogans.

Bhindranwale's seminary linked

The irony is that the chief of Damdami Taksal, a seminary that had also produced militant leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, has openly come out in support of the assailants. Harnam Singh Dhumma has reportedly admitted to the role of his supporters in the 17 May attack.

Religious preacher Ranjit Singh Dhadrianwale was attacked near Ludhiana, and an aide was killed

"Some of the attackers are students of the Taksal. Even the vehicles belong to the Taksal. But I was unaware about all this," Dhumma said to the media personnel. The Taksal was headed by Bhindranwale from 1977 till June 1984, when he was killed in Operation Blue Star at the Golden Temple.

Dhumma has reportedly said that the attack was the result of Dhadrianwale's objectionable remarks on Taksal's 'dastar' (turban) and the propaganda being carried out by him inside and outside the country.

Kejriwal's low-key visit

Ever since the attack was carried out, political leaders from all the parties have been queuing up to meet Dhandrianwale and offer their support, while condemning the attack. He has had visits from Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, Congress leader Preneet Kaur and also Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal.

Kejriwal's visit on Wednesday to Gurudwara Preshmwar Dawar in Patiala to meet Dhandrianwale was a low-profile one. Known for making high-profile visits to the state, where his party is eying victory in the forthcoming Assembly polls, he chose to ignore the media glare and confined himself to the 20-odd minutes that he spent with the religious preacher.

This has drawn a strong reaction from Dhumma, who reportedly said: "Where were all these leaders when Dhadrianwale made remarks against me?"

Repeated instances

The attack on Dhandrianwale follows the killing of Chand Kaur, the 88-year-old wife of late Satguru Jagjit Singh, the former head of Namdhari sect, in April. She was gunned down at Bhaini Sahib, the headquarters of the Namdhari sect, near Ludhiana. The assailant is yet to be nabbed.

Over the last few years, Punjab has witnessed violence involving followers of various sects. In 2009, the state had witnessed large scale arson over the killing of Sant Rama Nand, the Ravidasi preacher from Dera Sach Khand, in Vienna.

In April, Chand Kaur, the wife of late Namdhari leader Satguru Jagjit Singh, was gunned down

Prior to this, there had been skirmishes between hardline Sikhs and followers of Baba Ram Rahim of Dera Sacha Sauda.

Last year, the state had been on the boil for several months following incidents of desecration of holy books. The matter is being probed by the CBI, with no arrests having been made till now.

Akalis under pressure

The violence involving religious sects has placed the ruling Akali Dal leadership in the eye of the storm.

State Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh has gone to the extent of demanding a white paper on the deteriorating law and order situation in Punjab. His wife and former Patiala MP Preneet Kaur has promised that the party will ensure that the culprits are brought to book. She said the party did not like or want to play politics on such a sensitive issue, but at the same time, it could not overlook the seriousness and sensitivity of the matter.

Various leaders have gone to the extent of demanding a special session of the state Assembly to discuss the deteriorating law and order situation in the state. The demand has been turned down by Badal, who asked how it would serve any meaningful purpose when the state government is already seized of the matter.

Also read - Ghosts of 1984 past: Death and violence haunt Punjab in 2015

Badal has asked all the Opposition parties to exercise restraint over this sensitive issue, otherwise any irresponsible or unwarranted utterances meant for politicking could jeopardise the congenial atmosphere in the state.

Akal Takht's intervention

Political analyst Jagtar Singh, while referring to the attack on Dhandrianwale, pointed out: "The Badal government is walking on a razor's edge on this sensitive issue, as it has the potential to snowball in case not handled properly."

The highest Sikh temporal seat, the Akal Takht, has stepped in to defuse the situation. Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh has reportedly said that both Dhumma and Dhandrianwale would be called for discussions and a solution would be found. He has asked both of them to refrain from issuing statements, and ensure that there is no division in the community.

The Badal govt seems to be walking on a razor's edge on the sensitive issue of religious violence

While the Taksal head has been helping the Akalis in controlling Sikh institutions like the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), Dhandrianwale has considerable influence over the common masses. He was very vocal during the protests against the desecration of holy books last year.

Observers say it is the massive following of Dhandrianwale that has drawn politicians of all hues to his doorstep following the attack, while Badal has always been known to be close to the Taksal chief.

Political importance

Punjab has witnessed sprouting of a large number of religious sects, marked by deras with people mainly from the non-Jatt or upper classes thronging them.

"The Gurudwaras and other Sikh institutions have been dominated by the upper classes, which have given no space to the Dalits and backward classes in their management or functioning. This has led to the people from non-Jatt communities taking to the deras, making them very powerful centres of socio-economic and socio-political influence. In election years, politicians try to woo the heads of such deras, looking for their support," said a political observer.

He further pointed out that people get affiliated to these deras for various reasons, like ensuring jobs and education for their children, finding appropriate match for their daughters' marriages and, most importantly, for availing affordable and good healthcare. Most of these deras are known to organise health camps and also run hospitals," he added.

More in Catch - Bhindranwale is a poster hero, has no play on ground

First published: 25 May 2016, 21:08 IST