Political play behind Dera row unfolds
The political dimensions of the crisis in Punjab became clearer on Wednesday with Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee Chief Avtar Singh Makkar blaming the Congress for instigating Dera Sacha Sauda Chief Baba Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh.
The SGPC is largely controlled by the group that owes allegiance to the Shiromani Akali Dal. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal seemed to have consciously taken the position, even as efforts were made to defuse the situation by Swami Agnivesh and others.
Punjab watchers believe the SGPC chief's statement attempts to shift focus from the CDs, which show the chief minister and son Sukhbir seeking the blessings of the Dera chief, whose dressing up as the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, offended the Sikhs.
Makkar's assertion that he considered the Akal Takht directives regarding the Dera to be even above the Constitution, however, has rung alarm bells in the state. While the posturing could help consolidate Sikh votes for the Akalis, it could also lead to passive militant cells of organisations like the Babbar Khalsa, KCF etc hijack issues and prevent a solution.
A senior politician said the Akalis want to keep the pot boiling till May 27, the deadline the Akal Takht set for the Deras to shut down. The immediate objective being to discredit the Dera, which helped the Congress win in Malwa.
But since in the process Hindu voters who supported the Akali Dal-BJP combine could also drift away, the BJP softened its initial tough stand on Wednesday. Its concern was the municipal polls in Ludhiana, Patiala, Jallandhar, Amritsar and Bhatinda in early June.
The Congress also lashed out at the Akalis for complicating matters with irresponsible actions and statements. Pradesh Congress Committee President Shamsher Singh Dullo demanded a judicial inquiry to determine who was responsible for escalating the crisis and why the government was allowing youth with naked swords to roam the streets.
"The Dera has supported the Akalis in the past and this time it supported us. But the SGPC and other extensions of the Akali Dal must help in restoring normalcy instead of fueling the fires. You cannot endear yourself to the masses by inculcating fear," he said.
A senior police official, associated with defeating terrorism in the state, also felt the situation was deliberately being allowed to get out of control.
Punjab watchers see a pattern from the time when the controversial photograph of the Baba was published to the gathering at Talwandi Saboh and the unprecedented bandh call by the Akal Takht and now the SGPC chief's statement.
Even Badal's statements that the Dera chief should apologise to defuse matters are not without political ramifications.
"If the apology was sufficient than why prosecute the Baba. Why was the FIR lodged after so much delay? Can the SGPC or other institutions dependent on Akali support take these positions without a nod from Badal who has an overbearing influence on their governance and control? Obviously there is an agenda," a senior politician said.