The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), described by eminent sociologist Ashis Nandy as 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 second week of September (2014) in quick succession to a similar camp at Mansa (south Punjab) organized a few months ago. The Sangh Parivar activists from Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh attended these camps. Just before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls Mohan Bhagwat had toured Punjab and camped at Malerkotla, a small pocket of Muslim population in the state.
Media reports say: senior RSS functionaries from across the country took up schooling for the activists and focused on ‘how to strengthen Sangh Parivar, thereby, its political front –BJP- in the north bordering Pakistan. An insider spoke about starting of an aggressive membership drive especially in urban areas- with an ultimate goal of mobilizing support for BJP. Pertinent to note, the presence of the RSS was there in pre-Partitioned Punjab, but to counter the Muslim League and had a membership exceeding 50,000 during 1947.
Now, the Sangh has been using upgraded communication tools, established its website. It 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 BJP by weaning them away from Congress and also to make inroads in the Akalis’ citadel, intending to draw at least 5-10 per cent of rural Sikhs to its fold of the Punjab BJP unit.
Thus, its unit could become a Hindu-dominated counterpart of the Badals’ Punjabi party having overwhelming the Sikh presence. As a strategy, the Badals’ have appointed small-time Hindu leaders as chiefs of its urban units besides a fair inclusion of the Hindu leaders in their party. The BJP resents the Badals’ move as a ‘poaching on its natural allies’. The Akali Dal have become a Punjabi party after the Moga conference in 1996 as the Badals publicly renounced the party’s 70-year-old ideology and practice of its being a party exclusively ‘of and for’ the Sikhs. The BJP is also going in for a ‘tit-for-tat’ and has secured the entry into the party of an Akali leader PS Gill, a former police chief of Punjab. The Vishwa Hindu Prashad (VHP), another Sangh outfit with its active role in the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992, is also eyeing Punjab for drawing some symbolic personalities for its golden jubilee celebrations next year. KPS Gill, symbolizing ‘repressive hand of the India Establishment’, has reportedly agreed to join the celebrations.
The Indian Punjab has problematic demography, which, has been one of main causes of what euphemistically called ‘Punjab problem’. The Hindus here are still carrying a baggage of ‘memories of loss and exile through violence’ from the days of their migration from west Punjab in 1947. The Sikhs, too were forcibly evicted and suffered heavy loss of life and property while leaving west Punjab. Unlike their Hindu compatriots, the Sikh’s anger against the Muslim has subsided to a greater extent. This is not the case with for Punjabi Hindus, for whom, the Sangh has been keeping the pot boiling against the Muslims. The Sikhs have underwent more tragic period of suppression and pogrom in post-1947 days as free India rulers moved on to build a majoritarian nation state. The Sikhs suffered communal and political isolation and experienced Operation Blue Star, November pogrom and a decade long state terrorism in 1980s. This superseded the Partition bloodshed they were subjected to, rendering them to visualize that period as a passing tragic phase of the history. On the other hand, the propensity of ‘self-pityingly and portraying themselves as victims’ seems to persisting with non-Sikh Punjabi migrants. In post-1947 they, aligned with Congress rulers, began to perceive the Sikhs as ‘dominating and aggressors’ at par with the Muslims of pre-Partition days. Such of their perception, invariably, make them turn vigorously to ‘Vedic golden age’ taking consolation from an ‘unspecified Vedic time’ and from fascinating stories for bewitching the middle class mind 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 a 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 to a pitch which was whipped up to by Indira Gandhi in 1980s. The non-Sikh Punjabi have already hitched their religious, cultural and economic expressions and aspirations to the ‘Akhand Bharat’ beyond Punjab. This rendered the Sikhs for them as ‘the Other’ so as Punjabi language and culture as well as natural resources of Punjab. Virtually, Punjab is not a “home” for them.
The religious nationalism become more attractive to the Hindu population of Punjab 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 Sikhs are a sect of pan-Hinduism”. The non-Sikh Punjabi are good subjects for lapping up what the RSS ideology which always harp 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 ayne wale hain’ (goods days are ahead) which brought the BJP into the driving seat of Indian governance. Fixing the Indian mind on the dream of ‘Great Bharat’ also circumvents the ugly ground realities including sustaining of obnoxious caste-system, thereby to deprive a vast chunk of socially and economically unprivileged people. 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 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 as the Badals defying BJP, ruling ally and joining he Chautalas in the ongoing assembly election fray in Haryana.
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 opposition to the brahminism, are being controlled by a party which practically subscribes to and endorses the brahminical-RSS brand of nationalism.
Jaspal Singh Sidhu retired as Special Correspondent with UNI, New Delhi and writing on social, political and economic affairs. He could be reached at e-mail : email@example.com