touted as the most progressive state in the country, Punjab is
today at a crossroads. The contradictory actions of the state's
leadership, especially the ruling elite, are sending confusing
signals on whether the state wants to move ahead or go back in
The latest decision of the Sikh clergy led by the Akal Takht, the
highest temporal seat of the Sikh religion and the Shiromani
Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), to set up a memorial for the
"martyrs" of the 1984 Operation Bluestar is one step that has
shown that the leadership has given in to the radical rhetoric of
the terrorism years (1981-1995).
The operation was carried out by the army to flush out heavily
armed terrorists from inside the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar.
The complex, except for the sanctum sanctorum, had suffered heavy
Even worse is the fact that on the occasion of the 28th
anniversary of the Operation Bluestar Wednesday (June 6), the Sikh
clergy honoured Balwant Singh Rajoana with the title of 'Zinda
Shaheeda' (living martyr). Rajoana is facing the death penalty for
the conspiracy on the assassination of then Punjab chief minister
Beant Singh (Aug 31, 1995). Conferring the title of a 'martyr' on
a man who has been convicted by the higher courts of murder of a
chief minister is being questioned by some Punjab leaders.
While this is being seen by many as an attempt to push back the
state into the dark terrorism days, the other end of the tunnel is
where the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, led by its president Sukhbir
Singh Badal, is trying to give an economic and development push to
the state that has lagged behind others owing to a lack of
industrial investment in the last over two decades.
Radical Sikh organisations like the Damdami Taksal, Dal Khalsa and
the pro-Khalistan factions of the Akali Dal had been demanding the
memorial for over two decades but the SGPC and the Sikh clergy had
ducked the issue so far.
The contradiction facing the state is that the SGPC and the Sikh
clergy cannot be seen taking decisions in isolation and without
the blessings of the Akali Dal leadership -- meaning Chief
Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his Deputy Chief Minister son
But Sukhbir Badal, who harps on his development agenda for Punjab,
tried to distance himself from the controversy over the memorial
"The government has nothing to do with the memorial. The project
belongs to the SGPC and Damdami Taksal. I am not aware of facts in
the Rajoana case," an evasive Sukhbir Badal told the media
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), an alliance partner of the
Akalis in the government, has gone public with its opposition to
the Operation Bluestar memorial and the move to honour Rajoana.
"The BJP is absolutely against the memorial. Building an Operation
Bluestar memorial after 28 years is inadvisable. The Akali
leadership is playing into the hands of extremists and radicals,"
senior BJP leader Balramji Das Tandon said.
In his view, by honouring Rajoana, the Sikh clergy is "making
heroes out of criminals".
State Congress president Amarinder Singh too lashed out at the
Akalis and the SGPC for the memorial and the Rajoana controversy
and accused them of playing politics with Punjab's peace.
"The memorial will serve no purpose other than creating a communal
divide and fear among a section of the people. I condemn the move
to glorify Rajoana," Amarinder Singh said.
Amarinder Singh had resigned from the Congress after the central
government ordered Operation Bluestar on the Golden Temple complex
June 1984. In March this year, he had opposed the death penalty
for Rajoana but clarified that he was only against capital
punishment and not trying to save Rajoana.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)