Opinion

RSS targets Sikhs in Punjab

Jaspal Singh Sidhu | September 18, 2014 01:59 PM
Armed with lathis volunteers showing Military parade at RSS camp
Jaspal Singh Sidhu

RSS targets Sikhs in Punjab

Membership drive aims to consolidate Hindus behind BJP

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), described by eminent sociologist Ashis Nandy as the fountainhead of ‘demonic and seductive Indian religious nationalism’, seems to have put Punjab on its radar. Its chief Mohan Bhagwat finished a five-day ‘training camp’ of RSS at Doraha, near Ludhiana, in the second week of September in quick succession to a similar camp at Mansa (south Punjab) organized a few months ago for Sangh Parivar activists from Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh. Just before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Bhagwat had toured Punjab and camped at Malerkotla, a small pocket of Muslim population in the state. 

The Sangh Parivar seems to be attempting to consolidate Punjabi Hindus behind the BJP by weaning them away from the Congress and to make inroads in the Akali citadel by drawing 5-10 per cent rural Sikhs in the fold of the Punjab BJP unit. 

Media reports suggest that senior RSS functionaries from across the country took schooling for the activists focusing on how to strengthen Sangh Parivar, its political front -BJP in the north bordering Pakistan. An insider confirmed that an aggressive membership drive, especially in urban areas, has started to enlist maximum support for the BJP. Pertinent to note, the RSS was already there in pre-Partitioned Punjab to counter the Muslim League with a membership exceeding 50,000 during 1947. 

Now, the Sangh has upgraded its communication tools, established its website and claims to have roped in 10,000 IT professions in its fold. It has also been using Internet to boost its membership drive, enlisting 2,000 members online every month. The Sangh Parivar seems to be attempting to consolidate Punjabi Hindus behind the BJP by weaning them away from the Congress and to make inroads in the Akali citadel by drawing 5-10 per cent rural Sikhs in the fold of the Punjab BJP unit. 

Thus, its unit could become a Hindu counterpart of the Badals’ Punjabi party which is having Hindu chiefs of its urban units besides some other Hindu leaders in the party. The Badals’ Akali Dal have become a Punjabi party after the Moga conference in 1996 publically renouncing of its old legacy of being  a party exclusively for the advocacy of the Sikh cause. Poaching of some Akali leaders by the BJP is already on with former Punjab police chief PS Gill quitting Dal to join the Sangh Parivar. The Vishwa Hindu Prashad (VHP), another Sangh outfit with its active role in the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992, will be observing its golden jubilee celebrations next year. It will be organizing “World Hindus Congress” and an array of conferences.

KPS Gill, symbolizing repressive might of India Establishment, has reportedly aggressed to join the celebrations.

The elite Hindus in Indian Punjab are still carrying memories of loss and exile through violence during their migration from west Punjab in 1947. Unlike the Sikhs, the Punjabi Hindus anger against the Muslim has not subsided since Partition. For Punjabi Hindus, the RSS has been keeping the pot boiling against the Muslims. But the Sikhs have underwent a more tragic period of suppression and pogrom as free India rulers moved on to build a majoritarian nation state. The Sikhs experienced Operation Blue Star, November pogrom, and a decade long state terrorism in 1980s. 

This made them visualize the Partition bloodshed as a passing phase a historic tragedy. On the other hand, the propensity of ‘self-pityingly and portraying themselves as victims’ as ingrained by the Punjabi migrants during the Partition continued to stay with them. In post-1947 they aligned with Congress rulers, began to perceive the Sikhs in Punjab as ‘dominating and aggressors’ at par with Muslims of the pre-Partition days. Such of their perception, invariably, seeks salvation and solace in ‘Vedic golden age’. Here enters the RSS with an unspecified Vedic time and with a bunch of fascinating stories for the Hindu middle class that ‘Indians had invented airplanes, dynamite, nuclear weapons, the wheel, zero, and other wonderful things during the Vedic golden time”. 

The Punjabi society does not need polarization exercise as initiated by the RSS in other parts of the country as the state has already having a visible Hindu-Sikh divide on social and mental level since the 1980s developments. Now the RSS could arouse and sustain a level of the Punjab Hindus’ antipathy to the Sikh politics which was whipped up to by Indira Gandhi. The non-Sikh Punjabi have already hitched their religious, cultural and economic expressions and aspirations to the ‘Akhand Bharat’ beyond Punjab. The Sikhs are ‘the Other’ for them so as Punjabi language and culture as well as natural resources of Punjab. Punjab is not a “home” for them. But, Punjabi Hindus’ religious nationalism gets a boost when Mohan Bhagwat asserts ‘India is Hindu nation’ and the Badals choose to keep mum only to register their mild protest through the SGPC when the Sangh reiterates its earlier contention that “the Sikhism is part of the pan-Hinduism”.   

The non-Sikh Punjabi are good subjects for lapping up what the RSS always harps on “India’s once and future greatness”. The Indian mind is attuned to a ‘feed of myths’ so as their religious beliefs emanating from Mahabharata and Ramayana epics. The Modi’s myth-laced electioneering should be viewed in this context that promised ‘acche din aane wale hain’ (goods days are ahead) brought the BJP into the driving seat of Indian governance. 

Fixing  the Indian mind on the dream of ‘Great Bharat’ also circumvents the ugly reality of sustaining obnoxious caste-system with mainly upper castes forming the Hindu elite leaving more than half of the population socially and economically deprived. As Sushank Kela, an eminent writer on the Indian caste-system, says “The RSS and BJP believe, for example, that India is destined to become a great industrial power. So did Nehru, and assorted Indian Marxists. Indeed, it is an article of faith for the burgeoning middle-class (mostly, but not entirely Hindu) that India can, should and will equal China to become a great power, economic and military (thus leaving Japan and South Korea in the dust)”. 

Back to Punjab political scene: some sort of ‘ tug of war’ of war is going on between the Badals and the BJP. The BJP leaders are asserting their equal standing in Punjab and refusing to play second fiddle to the Badals after the Modi rule in New Delhi. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has refused to oblige the Badals demanding ‘special financial package’ for Punjab. Central BJP leaders reportedly snubbed the Badals out to decimate the separate Haryana SGPC committee. The BJP highly resent the Badals defying BJP, ruling ally, and joining he Chautalas in the Haryana ongoing assembly election fray.

 The Badals are undergoing a crucial and sensitive political phase. The Sikh minority’s political space is getting unrepresented with the Akali Dal (Badal) becoming a Punjabi party. The Sikhs are awakening to an unbecoming situation where their religious institutions, grown in strong antipathy to brahminism, are being controlled by a party which practically subscribes to and endorses the brahminical-RSS brand nationalism.

(Jaspal Singh sidhu,  a senior journalist and author ,who had covered Indian Parliament for more than two decades.)

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