2024 Lok Sabha: Win of radicals bound to create disquiet in Punjab; embolden hardliners

Sarabjeet Singh Khalsa.  In Fardikot, Mr. Khalsa won by 70,053 votes, defeating Aam Aadmi Party’s Karamjit Singh. Both registered their maiden entry to the Parliament.

In Punjab’s two Parliamentary constituencies, the victory of Independent candidates – Amritpal Singh, a pro-Khalistan (sovereign state for Sikhs) propagator, who is currently in jail, and Sarabjeet Singh Khalsa, who is the son of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassin Beant Singh – is bound to create disquiet and embolden radical elements in the State, which shares an international border with Pakistan.

Political and policing experts assert that with people rallying behind the radical elements, a disquieting feeling will certainly prevail in a state like Punjab, which has gone through a traumatic phase of militancy between the mid-1980s and early-1990s over the demand for ‘Khalistan’, even though the movement has lost popular support.

Mr. Singh won the Khadoor Sahib Parliamentary seat by a margin of 1,97,120 votes over his nearest rival of the Congress Kulbir Singh Zira. In Fardikot, Mr. Khalsa won by 70,053 votes, defeating Aam Aadmi Party’s Karamjit Singh. Both registered their maiden entry to the Parliament.

Mr. Singh has been facing criminal charges surrounding spreading disharmony among classes, attempts to murder, attacks on police personnel and creating obstructions in the lawful discharge of duty by public servants. Mr. Singh’s rise to ‘fame-ill fame’ started in 2022 when was anointed as the head of the ‘Waris Punjab De’, a social organisation established by actor-turned-activist Deep Sidhu. Mr. Singh’s growth was rich with symbolism from the very beginning when his anointment took place in Rode village in Moga district – the native village of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the militant leader who was killed in 1984. Balwinder Kaur, mother of Mr. Singh stated that its was due to “immense” pressure from people from Khadoor Sahib that his son contested the election.

On the other, hand Mr. Khalsa, narrowed his campaign to ‘’panthic’ (Sikh) issues raking the Kotkapura-Behbal Kalan police firing incidents of 2015, which occurred after the sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib at Bargari village in Faridkot. Two persons were killed in the police firing during protests. Widespread spread protests were witnessed in the State and since then it has remained a key political issue surrounding ‘panthic’ politics. He also raised the issue of the release of ‘Bandi Singhs’ (Sikh prisoners) who had completed their terms. Notably, Mr. Khalsa’s mother Bimal Kaur was an MP from the Ropar seat in 1989.

“The moderate space is weakening and the fringe radicals are gaining space in the religious or panthic constituencies in Punjab. The worrying factor is that people have rallied behind them – be it Amritpal or Sarabjit. The counter-narrative appears to be weak in Punjab. The moderate ‘panthic’ politics has gone weak and that space is being occupied by radicals,” Pramod Kumar, director of the Institute for Development and Communication in Chandigarh, said.

“In this election, the fringe radicals got a notable response from the youth. Their main emphasis is on the denial of justice to the ‘Bandi Sikhs’, the exodus of youth from Punjab and the migration to the State of labour from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The negation of the agenda of peace and communal harmony, and one-upmanship in power politics, has weakened the moderate space. This is disquieting,” he added.

Simranjit Singh Mann, a known hardliner Sikh leader and chief of Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) from Punjab’s Sangrur Parliamentary constituency, who has time and again been raising the bogey of ‘Khalistan’, even though lost the Lok Sabha election from Sangrur this time yet he garnered 1,87,246 votes. 

Shashi Kant, former Director-General of Police (DGP), Punjab said the win of radicals will certainly embolden the hardliners as they would propagate the message that they are getting strong, which is dangerous.

“However, there is a catch 22 situation for these radicals as well. When they will have to join the Parliament they would have to swear allegiance to India’s constitution, which defeats their cause. If they do that they would lose support, especially from abroad,” he said.

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