At age 88, Parkash Singh Badal, the country’s oldest chief minister and one of India’s most experienced politicians, is suddenly finding Punjab difficult to handle – or so it seems.
For one with a long innings in politics and plenty of administrative experience, the wily leader and his Akali Dal government have been mostly at the receiving end of people’s anger for the past one month.
After seeing peace for years, Punjab has been suddenly on the boil for both religious and political reasons.
First, there was the controversial “pardon” to Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh by the Sikh high priests and the Akal Takht and the subsequent withdrawal of the pardon.
Then came the response to the “rail roko” protests by farmers and the handling of the incident of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib and its violent fallout.
Two youths were killed in police firing and scores of others injured, putting the government on the backfoot and inviting widespread criticism.
Common people bore the brunt as the state was brought to a virtual standstill by the various protests.
Everything left an impression that the Badal government was not in control of the situation.
The government then went overboard. It shunted out Director General of Police Sumedh Singh Saini, suspended a district police chief, withdrew the cases against those indulging in violence, talked about a “foreign hand” behind the troubles and finally transferred the case of sacrilege to the CBI after admitting that people had no faith in a Punjab Police probe.
The Punjab Police made some arrests, including the controversial arrests of two brothers, and came up with the “foreign hand” theory. The brothers have been since released.
Radical Sikh groups spearheading the protests called the police probe a hogwash.
The days of violent protests and blocking of highways by Sikh activists and earlier by farmers led to a situation whereby the chief minister, his son and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is also the Akali Dal president, ministers and other Akali leaders have chosen to keep away from public appearances or have been hounded out of events.
Badal’s ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the opposition – including the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party – are watching from the sidelines.
With assembly polls likely to be held in early 2017, the recent incidents, particularly those related to the sacrilege of the Sikh holy book, will definitely have a political fallout.