CHANDIGARH (TIP): Protests continue in Punjab over incidents of alleged desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib even as the government deployed paramilitary personnel in four districts of the state.

PROTESTS ACROSS PUNJABComing as they do so close to the farmers’ rail roko agitation, the protests have effectively grounded the state for over a fortnight and, Opposition leaders said, threatened to raise old ghosts of fear and instability.

The extent of the crisis was underlined by the dramatic appearance of a sombre Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, accompanied by five Akali heavyweights, at a press briefing called by the police this evening to announce the arrest of two brothers for the alleged desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib in Faridkot district’s Bargari village.

“My father, my family, the whole Akali leadership have been perturbed by the incidents and have been on a mission to nab the culprits. A conspiracy was hatched to set Punjab on fire and the faces behind it have come to the fore,” Sukhbir Badal said. His father Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal hinted at a cross-border hand in the incidents.

Announcing the arrest of the two brothers, a day after five other arrests, the police said they had solved five of seven incidents of desecration, and alleged a conspiracy hatched in Australia and Dubai. On Tuesday, the Punjab Cabinet passed a resolution condemning the acts of sacrilege in various districts and described it as “a deep-rooted conspiracy to disturb peace, amity, brotherhood and communal harmony in the state”.

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With just about a year ahead of the 2017 elections and fighting growing public resentment, the state government finds itself pushed into a corner after protests got a fresh impetus today with yet another desecration complaint from Bathinda. Residents of Gurusar village blocked the Bhagta Bhaika-Bathinda rail route from 10 am to 1.30 pm after over 150 pages of the Guru Granth Sahib were allegedly found torn.

The incidents, and the initial use of force by police to disperse protestors that led to the deaths of two men, set off a flurry of resignations from the Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee, which is controlled by the Akali Dal, and a handful from the party, and other positions as well. As many as 15 members of the SGPC have quit.

The latest resignations came from Mohan Lal Banga, a former Akali MLA, who stepped down from the Punjab Public Services Commission, while Mangat Rai Bansal, who left the Congress to join SAD two years ago, quit the party.

Sikh protestors, responding to cues from two little-known preachers and a clutch of radical Sikh groups, continue to keep the state on edge with road blockades lasting several hours daily in several parts of Punjab. Akali MLAs and other district-level leaders have been unable to reach out to them. After a few incidents in which protestors chased away Akali leaders, they have virtually gone into hiding.

The desecration incidents came days after the Akal Takht controversially exonerated Gurmit Singh Ram Rahim, the head of Dera Sacha Sauda, from its own charge of blasphemy against him. The anger over the desecration incidents added to the unrest among panthic Sikhs over the pardon, for which the Akali Dal is widely blamed. A revocation of the pardon last week as a measure to mollify the protestors has not helped douse the anger against the Akalis.

Security forces taking out a flag march in Amritsar.
Security forces taking out a flag march in Amritsar.

The government’s deployment of BSF personnel in the districts of Jalandhar, where Sikh protestors clashed with mostly Hindu shopkeepers, and in Ludhiana, Amritsar and Tarn Taran only seemed to underline its inability to bring the situation back under control.

President of the state Congress Pratap Singh Bajwa said it showed a “trust deficit” between the state police and Sukhbir Badal, who is also the Home Minister. AAP said it was an attempt to “create a fear psychosis” in the minds of the people and “raise the bogey of terrorism” in the State. The Congress has demanded President’s rule in the State.

Captain Amarinder Singh of the Congress asked Badal to stop blaming external forces, and demanded to know why the government had not acted on the theft of the Guru Granth Sahib in the Faridkot village when the complaint was first made in June.

After Monday’s Jalandhar incidents, the BJP, a partner in the ruling coalition with SAD, which had been a quiet onlooker through the last week, sprung to life. The state unit’s core committee including Union Minister Vijay Sampla and three BJP Cabinet ministers Madan Mohan Mittal, Surjit Kumar Jayani and Chunni Lal Bhagat met this afternoon. State BJP president Kamal Sharma made a carefully worded statement after the incident on behalf of the core committee, demanding the arrest of the culprits and “exemplary punishment” to them, plus an investigation into the conspiracy behind the incidents.

He said the core committee had made an appeal to Punjabis all over the world.. “The damage done in the black days of militancy has still not been undone in terms of economic progress. This hard-earned peace has to be maintained at all costs. My special appeal to the youth of the state is that we should not cause damage to the state in anger and spoil the atmosphere of brotherhood,” said Sharma.

Sharma described the Jalandhar incident as “unfortunate” and expressed the hope it would not happen again. “I will also request political parties not to do any politics over peace and brotherhood on the state,” he said.

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