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Sacrilege attempt is heinous but leaders not calling lynching by its name shrinks space for conversations Punjab needs

🔴 If political players abdicate their responsibility to temper and mediate, if they let their strategic silences speak louder than their words, the sacrilege issue could end up consuming all other issues.

By: Editorial |
Updated: December 20, 2021 10:00:41 am
Significantly, the sacrilege at Bargari in 2015, following which two protesters were killed in police firing in Faridkot district, still resonates in the state’s politics. It featured prominently in the campaign for the 2017 polls.

The sacrilege attempt, as per the video footage, at the Golden Temple on Saturday, is condemnable. But the silence on the crime that followed it, the lynching of the alleged culprit at the holiest shrine of the Sikhs, is chilling. From the SGPC chief to the Akal Takht jathedar, from a former five-time chief minister to the newest one, religious and political leadership across the spectrum and government officials have all denounced the attempt at sacrilege and called for a thorough probe. But, disturbingly, they have offered no words of horror or condemnation on those who clearly took the law into their own hands and beat the accused to death. This silence is not incidental. With elections only weeks away, parties and leaders are measuring their words on an issue that is seen to be emotive in a state where religion segues into politics in seamless, and sometimes precarious, ways. Significantly, the sacrilege at Bargari in 2015, following which two protesters were killed in police firing in Faridkot district, still resonates in the state’s politics. It featured prominently in the campaign for the 2017 polls. More recently, Punjab Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu invoked the lack of closure in the case on the watch of successive SAD and Congress governments to publicly target his colleague and then CM Captain Amarinder Singh, who has exited the party since.

And yet, if it is not broken, this silence on the other crime at the Golden Temple could take a heavy toll. After Amritsar, another lynching of a sacrilege accused has already been reported from Kapurthala. But while the possibility of the mob being emboldened by a climate of impunity to mete out instant vigilante justice is something that should worry everyone in a system governed by the rule of law, it is not the only danger that lies ahead. The government and political leadership of the state must call the lynching by its name and urgently make attempts to lower the temperature on the issue also because of its possible impact on the approaching elections. If political players abdicate their responsibility to temper and mediate, if they let their strategic silences speak louder than their words, the sacrilege issue could end up consuming all other issues. It would mean shrinking the space for, if not putting an end to, conversations that Punjab desperately needs to have on so many gathering crises — from the problem in agriculture beyond the three repealed farm laws to the unchecked decline of industry, from the rampant joblessness to the exodus of the young abroad and the deep inroads of corruption in the state.

The upcoming elections provide another opportunity for Punjab to make a new beginning. But for that, all players, candidates and voters, must be free to speak out and argue with each other, to find the best ways forward. They must not feel constrained and overtaken by spectres that stoke suspicion and fears that cannot be named. In times when, even outside Punjab, mob violence and vigilantism has all too often challenged constitutionalism and the rule of law, the state and, especially, its Sikh community, which has on so many occasions set an example by the forthrightness and generosity of its spirit, must stand up against the second crime perpetrated in Amritsar with the same unambiguousness with which everyone has condemned the first.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on December 20, 2021 under the title ‘Sacrilege & silence’.

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