RAJEEV KHANNA | 29 NOVEMBER, 2018
The disappearance of an ideas-based polity
CHANDIGARH: Every few months, politicians in Punjab seem to set a new benchmark for disgraceful public conduct. The tamasha they enacted during the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Kartarpur corridor between India and Pakistan on November 26 was just one of many episodes in the recent past.
It is worth asking why these ‘leaders’ won’t act sensibly even on solemn occasions with the whole world watching them.
The drama began when the National Highways Authority of India prepared a foundation stone which also carried the names of former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, his son and deputy Sukhbir Badal, and union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal. Harsimrat is Sukhbir’s wife.
This infuriated Punjab minister and local Congress MLA Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa – who stuck black tape across his own name, along with the names of state Congress chief Sunil Jakhar and Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.
The foundation stone had to be replaced. Vice-President M.Venkaiah Naidu had to lay the foundation digitally.
This was clearly the centre’s game: to give credit to the Badal family and help give them an image makeover.
As if this weren’t enough, Harsimrat Kaur Badal in her speech chose to give credit to PM Modi and raked up the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom. This was certainly not the occasion to indulge in such politics. The Congress got even, with Jakhar bringing up the drug menace issue much to the discomfort of the Akalis.
The attack and counter attack saw lots of jeering and slogan shouting from the supporters of rival camps. All this at an event held in the name of Guru Nanak.
Amarinder Singh meanwhile went on a different tangent, attacking Pakistan for sponsoring terrorism in Punjab. Even as he thanked the country’s prime minister Imran Khan for reciprocating India’s move on opening the Kartarpur corridor, Singh was scathing in his criticism of Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, for promoting state-sponsored terror and the brutal killings of Indian soldiers and innocent citizens.
By evening the running joke among Punjabis was, Amarinder Singh shows the will to take on the Pakistan Army Chief, but not the mining mafia in his own backyard.
Others pointed out he had no right to attack Pakistan and go ‘jingoistic’ when his closest, most visible accomplice is Aroosa Alam, a citizen of Pakistan.
The Narendra Modi led central government is equally responsible for the drama at Dera Baba Nanak, for trying in this unfortunate way to resuscitate the Shiromani Akali Dal, a BJP ally currently on a very sticky political wicket.
Then, just a few days ago, it was Punjab’s technical education minister Charanjit Singh Channi who was accused by an IAS officer of sending her ‘inappropriate’ text messages. He reportedly claimed he had tendered an apology which she had accepted.
Now, this is a gentleman who a few days after his induction into the state cabinet illegally constructed a road, on the advice of an astrologer, from a park outside his official residence in Chandigarh. The astrologer had reportedly advised him that an eastward facing entry into his house would bring him political gain. The road was razed by the Chandigarh administration when the matter was reported.
Not to be deterred, Channi again followed his astrologer’s advice to ride an elephant in the lawns of his house in Kharar. Pictures of the elephant ride went viral.
Channi also flipped a coin to decide between two candidates for the post of lecturer in a polytechnic institute, leaving the Congress embarrassed.
A government spokesperson clarified that Channi’s intention was to allot the posts in a ‘transparent’ manner.
In June last year, the state assembly witnessed unprecedented scenes when the turban of an Aam Aadmi Party legislator was allegedly tossed, and two other legislators had to be taken to hospital with injuries.
While the AAP and SAD accused Speaker Rana KP Singh of letting loose marshals on protesting AAP lawmakers, Amarinder Singh criticised the leaders of both opposition parties for unruly behaviour in the house. Tension prevailed inside and outside the house following the incident. SAD president Sukhbir Badal called the Speaker a ‘goonda’.
In April the same year another ministerial video went viral. Minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, annoyed at his name appearing third on the inauguration stone of an academic block of an institute in Patiala, was apparently seen threatening the principal of a government school with suspension.
Congress MLA Ramanjit Singh Sikki also went viral, in a video that apparently shows him threatening the police to submitting to his followers’ demands, or suffer consequences.
Just a few months before the Punjab assembly polls last year, it was the rural development and panchayat minister in the Akali government Sikander Singh Maluka who was accused of threatening and abusing a cop. The constable deputed at the gate of the venue of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally had ‘dared’ to ask the driver of Maluka’s car to park the vehicle in the parking area.
The campaign for those polls had seen liberal use of invectives and name calling by all the key political players, as they equated their rivals with the British East India Company, Ahmed Shah Abdali, etc.
The way things are going, this will be the norm in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls as well.
On Punjab politicians’ conduct at Dera Baba Nanak, the most scathing comment aptly comes from former deputy speaker Bir Devinder Singh, among the best political orators of recent times.
“Bonhomie among all the major stakeholders was obviously terrifically amiss. The behaviour of almost all those present on the stage lacked political maturity, benignity, benevolence and decency. The predetermined cynical notions of all three political parties present on the scene of this sordid display, entirely blemished the solemnity of the event. Never in my entire political career have I seen such a brutal exhibition of savagery and political smallness on such an exalted occasion,” he said.
Singh went on to say that all those who had exposed their pettiness on the exalted occasion deserved the reprimand of the entire Sikh community for their reprehensible behavior.
Observers have been pointing out that with the disappearance of an idea-based polity, the political space too is going into nothingness. Politics stands commercialised, communalised and criminalised, which creates and enlarges space for abuse.