The grenade blast that killed three and injured 21 during a religious congregation of the Nirankari sect at Adliwala village in Amritsar Sunday has left political leadership of the border state, which struggled with militancy for over a decade, worried. As the origin of militancy of 1980-90s in the state is often attributed to the differences between Sikhs and Nirankaris, the attack has also made the citizens anxious.
The Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of the Sikhs, had issued a hukamnama (edict) against Nirankaris in 1978 for references about Sikh gurus in their literature. Clashes between Sikhs and Nirankaris had taken place subsequently on April 13, 1978, killing 13.
“The trouble simmered for years, and ended in targeted killing of Nirankari leaders in 1980s and finally it was the start of era of militancy in the state. We paid up a huge price,” said Bir Devinder Singh, former Deputy Speaker of Punjab Vidhan Sabha.
According to him, the atmosphere in Punjab seems ripe for anyone to foment trouble. “We have a border with Pakistan on one side and Jammu and Kashmir on the other. While ISI is always known to create trouble for us, our porous borders, ineffective BSF and police have added to the trouble and been a cause of concern,” he adds.
“It is more worrying as security agencies and Army Chief General Bipin Rawat had alerted the state government about such incidents. The terror attack took place even after that. When the Chief Minister is lax, and goes on a holiday for days, what do you expect from the DGP and the Chief Secretary? They will also take it easy,” Bir Devinder said.
Many political leaders feel that today’s Punjab — with a cash-strapped government, rising unemployment pushing youth into drug abuse, a secessionist NRI organisation (Sikhs for Justice) seeking a referendum for Punjab’s separation, and radical Sikhs were organising a morcha at Bargari for last six months — could be a soft target for those trying to disturb peace.
In the recent past, heads of religious sects and organisations have been on the target of radicals. In April 2016, matriarch of Namdhari sect, Chand Kaur, was assassinated. Later, in September 2016, Punjab RSS Vice Chief Jagdish Gagneja was also shot dead. While Chand Kaur case is being investigated by CBI, other target killings cases are being probed by National Investigation Agency, NIA.
“The politics in Punjab today is all about instigating religious sentiments. It suits many. It takes away attention from core issues. But it is a dangerous game to play. We have already gone through enough,” said a Congress leader, not willing to be named.
Also, call for a “Referendum 2020” by Sikhs for Justice dominated the narrivative not so long ago. The radical Sikhs organisation primarily comprising of NRIs settled across the globe plans to get online voting done asking Sikhs to vote if they are in favour of a separate state. The state has termed it a secessionist force.
Post the grenade attack, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is vociferously raising its concern and saying it was time for Punjab to be worried. While holding the government responsible for the atmosphere, SAD leader Mahesh Inder Singh Grewal said, “What happened yesterday is a serious issue. The forces that created trouble for us 30 years ago are raising their head again. The incumbent government is supporting the radicals. They were behind the Bargari Morcha and supported it to embarrass us. Now the situation is getting out of their hands,” said Grewal adding, “I am not the only one saying this. But even Congress MP Ravneet Bittu has said that this has happened due to Bargari morcha.”
The radical Sikh leaders have, on the other hand, squarely blamed Shiromani Akali Dal. “Whenever Akalis are out of power, such incidents take place. People in Punjab need to ensure peace and harmony and not get swayed by the Akalis designs,” said Baba Baljit Singh Daduwal, a radical Sikh leader who has been spearheading the Bargari morcha.
Countering Akalis, Daduwal said he was against bloodshed. “All my sympathies are with those who lost their lives in Sunday’s incident. We have had 30 lakh protestors since last six months at the morcha who protested peacefully. We are for peace,” he said, adding that they would even go to the families of the Nirankari sect followers after studying the 1978 hukamnama. “If it would permit, we would take a call”, he said.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), often accused of hobnobbing with radical Sikhs sees the incident as a law and order situation. “It is the government’s failure. Such incidents always happen closer to elections. During Assembly election, Maur blast took place and now this,” said Baljinder Kaur, AAP MLA from Talwandi Sabo.
Lately, presence of Kashmiri terrorists’ sympathisers in Punjab’s educational institutes have added to the worries of state government and Punjab Police. Last month, three students of Kashmiri terror outfit Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind (AGH) were arrested from Punjab’s Jalandhar city. It was a joint operation of Punjab Police and Special Operations Group (SOG) of J&K police. All three were students of BTech and police recovered a AK-47 rifle, ammunition and explosives from their possession.
In April too, Delhi Police’s Special Cell had arrested two pro-Pakistan Kashmiri hackers from Rajpura and Jalandhar cities of Punjab. Both were found in touch with Pakistan-based anti-Indian hackers and were suspected to have hacked over 500 Indian websites.
The persistent effort to disrupt peace and harmony in Punjab by terorrist and radical organisations is also evident from Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s statement released Monday where he disclosed that “Punjab Police had busted 15 terror modules in the last 18 months”.
Punjab Police DGP Suresh Arora said, “Attempts to disrupt peace in Punjab have been going on for long. But, because of the social media, the outreach of terrorists has increased. They have started exploiting the gullible youth, be it from Punjab or Kashmir and using them for such acts”.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has, however, said the attack cannot be equated with the Nirankari conflict in 1978, as that was a religious matter and the Adliwala incident was purely a case of terrorism. Violence between the Sant Nirankari Mission and Sikhs on April 13, 1978 at Amritsar had left 13 dead, and sparked the subsequent wave of terrorism in the state. Sunday’s incident had no religious overtones, as per initial investigations, said the Chief Minister in a statement on Monday.