Updated: April 21, 2022 10:50:24 am
The two-day celebration announced by the Centre to mark the 400th birth anniversary of Guru Tegh Bahadur, to be capped by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address from the Red Fort, marks another attempt by the BJP to woo the Sikh community. In neighbouring Haryana, the party has planned a series of events to mark the occasion, including a grand event in Panipat on April 24.
The bid comes just a month after the Punjab Assembly poll results, giving the BJP just two seats out of the 73 it contested, with widespread anger against the party in the state over the farm laws that the Centre only withdrew after year-long protests. The withdrawal, on November 19 last year, incidentally was timed with Guru Nanak Jayanti, with Modi himself making the announcement in an address to the nation.
Earlier, four days after the Punjab results, Modi had hosted a galaxy of Sikh intellectuals from Punjab at his official residence in Delhi, who said the PM showed a keen interest in their concerns. Then, on April 1, the BJP had sent its Union minister and Punjab in-charge Gajendra Shekhawat to attend a bhog in the memory of late SGPC stalwart Gurcharan Singh Tohra at his ancestral village, from where its own state leaders had kept away.
The BJP has also inducted prominent Sikh names such as the grandson of Tohra and the spokesperson of the Damdami Taksal, which was once headed by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.
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The BJP government in Haryana organised buses to take youngsters to Bhagat Singh’s ancestral village in Punjab to observe his death anniversary, in another move aimed at the Sikh community.
The Haryana government has planned a state-level programme at Panipat to commemorate the Guru Tegh Bahadur anniversary, with Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar stressing the “special bond” all the 10 Sikh Gurus had with Haryana as they had travelled to Kurukshetra and Lohgarh.
Khattar urged all parties to cooperate in the April 24 event, and asked people to attend in large numbers. “In a way, this programme belongs to every Haryanvi,” he said. A government press release mentioned all the places in the state associated with Guru Tegh Bahadur, including a tamarind tree to which he is said to have tied a horse.
The BJP is keen on wooing the Sikhs as, apart from giving it a cold shoulder in elections, Punjab has remained impervious to the Modi factor.
Sarchand Singh said that the recent steps by the party were meant to also develop a Sikh support base independent of the influence of its long-time ally Akali Dal, which parted ways with it over the farm laws. “The BJP played the role of the younger brother in the alliance. When the Akali Dal diverted from the panthic agenda, the BJP had to share the baggage, while the Akali Dal took credit for all the efforts and decisions made in favour of Sikhs. Now it is more easy for the BJP to claim credit for its overtures towards Sikhs,” he said.
However, one barrier the BJP may face is the unease among the Sikh community regarding the RSS. Back in 1999 then RSS chief Sudarshan had visited the Damdami Taksal headquarters. However, many Sikhs are not comfortable with the Sangh agenda of a larger Hindu identity, that includes the community.
On July 13, 2004, the RSS push for celebration of the 400th anniversary of the installation of the first Guru Granth Sahib had provoked a decree by the Akal Takht which called on Sikhs to remain cautious about the Sangh. The main point of contention was some literature by the RSS which was seen by the Akal Takht as the Sangh trying to put its stamp on interpretation of Sikh beliefs.
In October 2019, when the Akali Dal was still in alliance with the BJP, a statement by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat that India was a Hindu nation had led to calls for a ban on the Sangh by Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh. “I believe what the RSS is doing can’t keep the nation together, but divide it,” the Jathedar had said.
Sarchand Singh, formerly of the Damdami Taksal, accepted there is a problem. “A decree issued against the RSS from the Akal Takht makes Sikhs doubtful about the BJP. But it is not a problem that can’t be solved. The RSS has made repeated efforts to resolve the issue through its body, the Sikh Sangat. I hope this will be solved,” he said.
With inputs from ENS, Chandigarh
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