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In Punjab’s peace,a disturbing reminder

SGPC memorial to Op Bluestar dead reopens old wounds

One of the standout features of the Punjab Assembly elections was that the Shiromani Akali Dal left its traditional panthic agenda alone and focused on development. It also gave record representation to Hindu candidates,reflecting an effort to reach out across sections.

Having pressed months earlier for elections to the SGPC,the mini-parliament of Sikhs,the SAD did not need to talk of panthic issues during the Assembly elections. And riding this strategy,the SAD-BJP alliance retained power.

Under these circumstances came the decision of the SGPC,which is dominated by the SAD,to build a memorial to the victims of Operation Bluestar within the precincts of the Golden Temple. Though there had been no overwhelming movement for such a memorial,and in spite of various sections having cautioned against it,the SGPC went ahead and laid the foundation stone on the 28th anniversary of Operation Bluestar.

The initial announcement was ambiguous on whether it was to be a memorial to all who died during the years of militancy,or to the innocents killed during the operation. The jathedars have,however,given enough indications that it would commemorate the Army “attack” on the Golden Temple. They have insisted on having the memorial close to the Akal Takht on the temple premises,and on placing there a copy of the Guru Granth Sahib with a bullet hole caused during Operation Bluestar.

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The SGPC,which cannot move a finger without the approval of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son and deputy Sukhbir,has bestowed an “honour” on Balwant Singh Rajoana,now on death row for plotting the assassination of chief minister Beant Singh. He was given the “title” of zinda shahid (living martyr) the day the foundation was laid.

Sukhbir,also SAD president,has sought to distance the party from the memorial,citing the SGPC’s independence. Few will be convinced. With the SAD enjoying a majority in the SGPC and a complete hold over the elected body,the SGPC will not take any decision without the concurrence of the Badals.

The memorial will be a constant reminder to one of the ugliest incidents in Punjab’s memory. The move to open old wounds has come at a time when the state has been peaceful for a decade and a half and when extremist elements had been losing in elections and in relevance. The only demand for a memorial was made by groups outside the country who had earlier,too,been responsible for funding militancy. The SAD itself had demanded a memorial in 1984,just after Operation Bluestar,but never pressed for it.

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Now,fundamentalists have found a fresh voice. Leaders like Simranjit Singh Mann are back in the limelight with demands for much more than a memorial commemorating the “attack” on the Golden Temple. Other groups like the Dal Khalsa have been dismissing the possibility of any “threat to peace”,saying it is an “humble effort by the community to pay respect to those who lost their lives for the sake of the panth”.

State Congress chief and former chief minister Amarinder Singh,who had resigned from the Congress in the wake of Operation Bluestar,has accused the Badals of double standards. He has said it was part of their strategy to cause “controlled destablisation” of the state.

The state BJP,the SAD’s alliance partner,has been maintaining silence. Some of its central leaders have condemned the move and have even described it as “anti-national”. Former minister Laxmi Kanta Chawla has been the only leader to openly oppose the move and to stress the need for a memorial to all those who lost their lives during the years of militancy. And a group of citizens has sought a peace memorial instead of one to Operation Bluestar.

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Punjab has been earning the reputation of a laggard with a poor track record in attracting investment or setting up projects. A western diplomat,whose job is to encourage investments from his country,is aghast about two ministers getting convicted within two months of the government taking over and about these efforts to whip up passions,which can only be expected to discourage prospective investors.

First published on: 11-06-2012 at 03:09:43 am
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