No Punjab reduxhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/amritsar-grenade-attack-punjab-terrorism-5456280/

No Punjab redux

The state might see violence erupt now and then, but it has learned to be wary from a turbulent political past

Amritsar grenade attack
While the common people do not seem worried about the revival of terrorism, they do keep a wary eye.

The recent grenade attack on a Nirankari congregation in Punjab has not caused much worry among the common people. Just like the earlier blast at Maur did not. In Maur, just before the assembly elections of 2017, two blasts shook a Congress rally. A terror attack was suspected. Before that, in 2007, a bomb exploded in a cinema house at Ludhiana, another explosion was witnessed at the bus stand in Jalandhar in 2006, and senior RSS workers have also been killed in separate incidents 2005 onwards. Each of these separate episodes was suspected to be the handiwork of locals who still held on to the false belief that killing people was the correct way to achieve political objectives. Popular condemnation soon followed. “Misguided youth” and “puppets of Pakistan” were the phrases used for the perpetrators. Some even suspected dera politics to be the driving force behind some of the violent incidences. Punjab, however, continued to be peaceful. People continued to lead their lives without fear.

The chatterati did insist these episodes of violence to be indicators of the re-birth of terrorism, forgetting that a streak of violence has always underpinned Punjab, and, has just as frequently been condemned and rejected by the common people. Irresponsible outsiders who came to campaign for the AAP and contested elections under its aegis, did pin their electoral rhetoric to the mistaken presumption that the people of Punjab have a soft corner for religion-based violence, separatism and other reprehensible political tendencies. In response, the people elected a Congress government with an unprecedented majority.

While the common people do not seem worried about the revival of terrorism, they do keep a wary eye. There seems to be a firm conviction that the mischief makers — those who indulge in sporadic acts of terror — would soon be caught by the police. After all, the Punjab Police does have a well-known record of being able to catch mischief makers. Today, it is not the ineffective police of the 1980s, when it sacrificed its professionalism at the altar of its political masters. The political masters, too, agree — despite formulaic statements from some quarters about the police being a pet poodle of whichever party is ruling. The AAP remains an exception as it alleges an Akali-Congress nexus. In the context of the blast at the Nirankari prayer hall, H S Phoolka, an AAP leader, got so carried away that he insinuated the blasts were the doing of the Indian Army Chief. It is another matter that Phoolka realised the import of his statement and withdrew it later.

If the people are not worried, it is because the authorities of the state are prepared and the state is doing well economically. By now, keeping an eye on and restraining separatism and terrorism has become a part of normal work rather than a stand-alone, special task. Irrespective of the ruling political dispensation, the state is confident about being able to contain any challenge to peace. As the current chief minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, is wont to say, the Punjab Police has repeatedly demonstrated that it is one of the best professional police forces. It succeeded in eliminating terrorism in the 1990s, and ensured that the terrorists did not succeed in Punjab thereafter. It even managed to nab the assassins of various RSS leaders, containing anyone who resorted to breaking the law in the name of religion or promoted separatism. Also, the much talked about drug menace in Punjab has been brought under control by effective policing. Even 21 police personnel, including senior officers, have been arrested for drug-related offences.

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The presence of some 6,000 students from Jammu and Kashmir in the educational institutions of Punjab, too, has not been a cause for worry in the society, despite some of them being suspected as involved in militant activities. Lest the public turn unfriendly to these visitors from Kashmir, the chief minister has gone out of his way to publicly state that a handful of misguided youth should not be taken to represent the entire body of Kashmiri students. At the same time, the police has been successful in arresting those Kashmiri students who got fascinated by violence and perpetrated acts of terror.

In addition to effective governance is the fact that the economy in Punjab continues to be on an upswing. The government has surplus funds, and, efforts at job creation and providing an impetus to industrial growth have increased. So have efforts to wean away the farmer from traditional agriculture by promoting dairy farming, aquaculture and horticulture. These steps would mitigate the current crisis facing the small and marginal farmer, and also the farm labourer, none of whom sees any other gainful employment currently.

Under these circumstances, the SAD has been trying to regain its lost political clout by claiming to be the saviour of the Sikh religion, by creating a furore over school-level history textbooks. In July, the SAD succeeded in forcing the government to scrap thousands of school history textbooks on the fake plea that they ignored the history of the Sikh religion or portrayed it incorrectly. History teachers did not let out even a squeak at such blatant interference of politics and religion in the writing of history. A new set of books was written by an SAD-approved bunch of historians. Those faced condemnation from the SAD-dominated SGPC and were withdrawn. The leader of this team of SAD-approved historians suffered collateral damage when he was fired from a larger project that he had been supervising for the SGPC. The people continue to ignore such political shenanigans hoping that, at some point, the politicians will understand that history is not the correct medium for propagating religion just as religion is a poor medium for conducting politics. That is just how politics works in Punjab.

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