Fatehgarh Sahib, Punjab: The annual Sikh religious fair on Thursday here was a show of strength to cash on democracy—be it by the separatist voices or the political appeal to elect Narendra Modi country’s next prime minister.
“Only Modi can save the country from the clutches of the Congress, and he will address the country’s largest ever rally in Punjab on February 23,” said chief minister Parkash Singh Badal from the dais of the state’s ruling party, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). Not far away, Gurbakhsh Singh Khalsa, Sikh political activist who refused to end his fast-unto-death on Thursday despite his word to Akal Takht, was hailed in the slogans on the banners and wallsize posters that also displayed the photographs of slain Sikh militant leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.
Thrown many choices, the devotees listened to all views. Many even bought the Bhindrawale stickers and calendars at the historic Sikh shrine where the two younger sons of Guru Gobind Singh had laid down their lives on December 25, 1704. Be it the Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party, or the Shiromani Akali Dal (Mann), they all hailed the Sahibzadas’ martyrdom and owned the legacy of carrying forward the message of the Gurus: to fight against atrocities, injustice and class repression.
The SAD counted it the “atrocities of the Congress”, and the Congress interpreted it as the “injustice and the class repression by the Akalis”. Sikh hardliner Simranjit Singh Mann dubbed Modi “killer of the Muslims” and accused the Gujarat chief minister of uprooting Sikh farmers of Punjab and Haryana from his state.
“Ikk taa chhad ditta (one is released),” an old man shared with another about the release of a former militant on parole, as he raised a poster of Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa, who undertook the fast for the release of six ex-militants lodged in jails in Chandigarh, Punjab, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. ‘Langar’ ( food from the community kitchen) arranged throughout the historic town was also there to relish, besides digesting the political speeches.
Toys, screening of religious films, and the CDs of Bhindranwale’s fiery speeches attracted rural folk mainly. Many took out their mobile phones to photograph a huge Pakistani national flag sharing screen space with the emblem of Mann’s party and the slogan of Khalistan (Sikh separate state that was sought in the 1980s and 1990s). The men in political uniform walked not an inch out of the parties’ marquees, and their VVIP caravans with noisy hooters clashed with the melodious voice of Shabad Kirtan.
Families watched the Sikh history in animation on giant screen. The Kalgidhar Trust, which runs an esteemed school at Baru Sahib in Himachal Pradesh, had arranged the show.