With Sacrilege, Lynchings and Now a Bomb Blast, Tensions Are on the Rise in Punjab

Many see these events as an attempt to impact the electoral discourse and its outcome ahead of the upcoming Punjab polls.

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Chandigarh: After the recent sacrilege attempts in Amritsar and Kapurthala, Punjab has plunged into a further crisis with a bomb blast at the Ludhiana court complex on Thursday, killing one person and injuring six others.

While the Punjab police are yet to uncover the intent behind these events – except the lynching in Kapurthala, where police say that the accused went to the gurudwara to commit theft – the political blame game that began soon after the Ludhiana blast has only amplified chaos.

While BJP’s Manjider Singh Sira blamed these series of events on Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu’s “love for Pakistan”, Sidhu hit back by calling it a conspiracy by communal forces to frighten and polarise a particular community in Punjab for petty vote bank politics ahead of the February 2022 polls.

Chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi, on the other hand, went on to draw a parallel between the registration of an FIR against Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Bikram Singh Majithia, the Ludhiana bomb blast and recent sacrilege incidents. His statement was criticised by the SAD as highly irresponsible.

Also read: Why Are Gruesome Lynchings Being Justified in Punjab?

“It is unfortunate that the reins of the state are in the hands of a man who is playing into the hands of anti-national agencies by blaming his political rivals for the same,” SAD’s Daljit Cheema told The Wire.

The Aam Aadmi party, which before the 2017 state polls was accused of favouring Sikh extremists, is now seeing a design to disturb Punjab’s peace ahead of polls.

‘Punjab is more important than electoral politics’

The dominant narrative right now in Punjab is that these events are occurring in order to impact the election discourse and its outcome ahead of the upcoming elections in Punjab.

For instance, the Maur blast before 2017 polls that killed seven persons is often seen as a major cause for the way Punjabis, particularly the Hindu community, voted in that election. After Sikhs (58%), Hindus are a numerically important block in Punjabi politics.

This is the first time that assembly polls in Punjab are going to be four dimensional, with the emergence of unexpected permutations and combinations.

For instance, one had never thought former Congress chief minister Amarinder Singh entering in to an alliance with the BJP at the fag end of his career after being unceremoniously removed by the Gandhis.

On the other hand, the SAD and BSP alliance would have never occurred if the BJP, SAD’s closest partner for over two decades, was not adamant on continuing with the farm laws that it later repeated.

Senior journalist Jagtar Singh told The Wire that without a doubt, the Ludhiana blast and sacrilege incidents may impact the coming Punjab polls. “But it would be myopic to link these incidents to just elections. The situation demands that the political formations avoid competitive politics on such sensitive issues and evolve some minimum consensus to confront such threats unitedly,” he said.

The author of two books on terror in Punjab, Jagtar said, “If we go back to the troubled days in the ’80s, similar incidents engulfed the state in to chaos. Although the current situation is far different from what was there in the ’80s, the political parties however must learnt from the losses they and India suffered due to opportunistic politics during those dark times.”

Also read: Amritsar Lynching: Politicians Condemn Alleged Sacrilege But Remain Mum on Killing

According to Jagtar, Channi must assure the people that the situation would not be allowed to get vitiated again. “Punjab being a border state is also a vital aspect, but what is more important is the situation in the state itself. Pakistan would definitely exploit the situation in case the socio-political tension here rises,” he added.

“The positive vibes that the farmers’ struggle created must continue to dominate the narrative as that is the only way forward to confront the divisive narrative,” he added.

Some also feel that these events may be targeting to neutralise the gains that the farm movement achieved in the past one year by bringing the focus on issue-based politics.

“Punjab has been facing a slew of issues like farm debt, dwindling groundwater crisis, lack of employment opportunities, migration or closure of industries and so many other problems. But look at how the election discourse is changing towards religious and security issues,” said a farm leader.

State’s failure also under scanner

The state, many believe, is equally a party in letting vested forces tamper with Punjab’s religio-social fault lines.

Several members of the public have justified the recent lynchings, claiming that the state failed to nab the culprits involved in earlier sacrilege attempts.

The case on the Maur bomb blast in the run up to the 2017 assembly polls is still pending.

Political leaders, whether in government or in opposition, are often seen blaming each other instead of setting examples by solving these cases.

While questions are being asked of the Congress government on the delay in solving the Maur blast case, the current deputy chief minister-cum-home minister, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, said in October that former chief minister Amarinder Singh had stalled the inquiry.

But nearly two months after since Channi and Randhawa replaced the Amarinder government, the situation remains unchanged.