Religion has paramountcy in Congress politics in Punjab
There seems to be no end to turmoil in Punjab. Due to inept handling of the farm crisis and the CORONA pandemic by the Congress led state Government, the state has regressed into a deep financial and management catastrophe.
In the midst of this turmoil an internal crisis has enveloped the ruling Congress party with a junior party member, Navjot Sidhu, raising a banner of revolt against the chief minister of the state, Captain Amarinder Singh. Sidhu managed to garner support from the “High Command” (Gandhi family) and also from many sitting MLAs of the party.
It is well known that a political coup of this nature involves huge amounts of money changing hands; there is, as such, much speculation about the source of funding and support to Sidhu. In many circles his proximity to the senior leaders of Pakistan like Imran Khan and General Qamar Bajwa is also been spoken of.
The internal crisis of the Congress came to a head with the resignation of the Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, on 18 September. The Captain said that he was compelled to take this step due to the incessant and consistent “humiliation” that he had been facing since the last few months in the hands of the party leadership.
The Congress immediately went into a huddle wherein its state of panic was quite visible in the multiple declarations of chief ministerial names only to withdraw the same after a few hours. After a lot of drama the name of Charanjit Singh Channi, a serving minister, was cleared by the “High Command.”
Channi is a junior leader of the party. The main criteria of his selection was his being a Dalit by caste. With this move the Congress has heralded politics of religion in Punjab, a state that is secular to the core in which politics on religious grounds have never been played and elections have never been contested on the basis of class and caste. Political observers feel that this divisiveness on the basis of class and caste will become a new normal in the forthcoming elections and onwards to the detriment of the composite culture of the state.
The new chief minister corroborated the fear of the people of Punjab when, in his very first address, he thanked his party leadership for placing a “poor and backward class person like him” on the chair of the chief minister. By admitting so, he made it very clear that he did not consider his appointment as one based on his ability and merit but a result of his being from a particular community.
Charanjit Singh Channi, a subservient CM
As things stand there is no clarity about the religion that the new Chief Minister professes since there are inputs of his family and he personally having converted to Christianity,
In its election campaigning and other meetings both Charanjit Channi and Navjot Sidhu have been heard voicing Muslim and Christian religious slogans including “Naara-e-Takbir, Allah O Akbar” and “Hallelujah.” There are not many precedents of this practice in the politics of Punjab where people meet each other very affectionately but do not indulge in inter-religious sloganeering. This development has caused considerable consternation in the state since it is considered to be an unhealthy trend.
Most parties have brushed aside the appointment of Channi as an internal adjustment of the ruling party. The people hold a view that the outgoing Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh cannot be blamed for all the administrative and political lapses of the Congress party as is being attempted at this last stage of its tenure. The blame has to be borne collectively. All eyes are now on the next step that the outgoing Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh will take is a subject of considerable speculation.
Apart from the very dangerous religious card being played by the Congress party, the internal crisis of the ruling party being played out in the last five months has paralysed governance in the state. Punjab is in total disorder and chaos. All aspects of governance are being adversely impacted.
The tenuous law and order situation has led to a virtual unleashing of terror by the pressure groups that operate under the guise of the farm agitation. Earlier only the BJP was targeted by them, now all parties are being told to cease election related activity. Recently these pressure groups intimidated and humiliated members of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) who had gone to Delhi to register a protest on the farm agitation. The situation is akin to the Diktats that separatist and divisive elements of Kashmir used to give when terrorism was at its peak over there.
This apart, the activity of Pakistan from across the border in terms of drug and arms smuggling with the help of Drones and also through other conventional means has gained momentum. It is so because the incumbent Congress led Government of Punjab has failed to nail the kingpins of the drug and arms smuggling business even as arrests of the small time workers are made from time to time. It seems that Pakistan wishes to take full advantage of the political vacuum in the state which has possibly been engineered by the neighbouring country to a great extent.
Within the state, employees of various categories including state transport, Government teachers, Doctors, nurses etc are out on the street asking the government to fulfil its promises made when it came to power, which have not been addressed in the last four and a half years. The people are also very unhappy at the inability of the incumbent government in finding a closure to the sacrilege case as it had promised.
Directly or indirectly, the corporate sector used to provide employment to about five lakh employees in the state, mostly from among the youth. With corporate houses being attacked by the agitators the businesses have been shut down and a large chunk of the employees are now out of a job. Industry is also exiting the state and finding more opportunity in huge industrial complexes being created by states like Uttar Pradesh. This critical situation is causing great financial distress to lakhs of Punjabi families.
Due to the faulty political ambitions of some Punjab is in the cusp of change, sadly not in the right direction. The ignoble machinations of a few with a selfish vested interest will need to be challenged so that the firm traditions of the state which lives and thrives in the name of its most sacred Gurus.
The new chief minister will, quite obviously, not have the time to set right the mis-governance of the party over the last four and a half years. He is, therefore, expected to keep aspects of security paramount during his short tenure and also ensure that a safe environment is created for holding assembly elections in a free and fair manner keeping the highest norms of democracy paramount.
(Jaibans Singh is Media advisor to BJP, Punjab)