Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to give the 350th anniversary celebrations of Anandpur Sahib on Friday a miss, despite a personal invitation from Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, has emerged as the latest flashpoint between allies BJP and SAD. Man Aman Singh Chhina explains the political significance of the event as both BJP and SAD look to consolidate their voter base ahead of the 2017 assembly elections.
What are the celebrations about?
The ruling SAD-BJP government has pulled out all stops to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the holy town of Anandpur Sahib. The entire town has been painted in white for the June 19 celebrations when over one lakh devotees will descend on the town. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has mobilised its cadres to ensure massive attendance for the anniversary celebrations. Over 300 buses have been assigned the task of ferrying visitors to the site of the function.
What is the historical significance of Anandpur Sahib?
The town, deeply revered by Sikhs as the ‘city of bliss’, was founded in 1665 by ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Teg Bahadur. It’s also where the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, established the ‘Khalsa’ in 1699, giving a special identity to Sikhs.
What is the Shiromani Akali Dal’s political link to Anandpur Sahib?
It was at a meeting in Anandpur Sahib in October 1973 that the Akalis passed the ‘Anandpur Sahib Resolution’ which called for transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab, merger of Punjabi-speaking areas of neighbouring states to the state and greater autonomy for Punjab (except for the Centre’s control over defence, foreign relations, currency and communications). Over the years, SAD has toned down some of these demands, but Chief Minister Badal continues to press for a “true federal structure” in the country and transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab.
What is the political mileage they hope to get from the event?
By holding a mega event in Anandpur Sahib, SAD is reaching out to its core base of Sikh voters. In the run-up to the event, the state government took out a procession of relics of Sikh gurus throughout the state which is expected to culminate at Anandpur Sahib on June 19. With Assembly elections due in February 2017, the 350th anniversary celebration has become a powerful platform for the party to kick off its election campaign.
How has the event affected relations between allies SAD and BJP?
Lately, both SAD and the BJP, its junior partner in the government, have been at loggerheads over several issues, including the shifting of 1993 Delhi bomb blast case convict Devinder Singh Bhullar from Tihar to Amritsar jail.
With only BJP president Amit Shah and Home Minister Rajnath Singh attending the celebrations and Prime Minister Modi giving it a miss, the ties between the two allies is said to have soured further. The BJP itself has been expanding its base in the state and wooing the Sikhs, so it is wary of any event where the Akalis are seen as stealing the spotlight.