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Counter Radicalism

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The attack by a mob on a police station in Ajnala, Amritsar, on Thursday, is a stark reminder of why politics has to be carefully calibrated in the state of Punjab after having experienced the dark years of Khalistani terrorism. Warnings had been issued during the assembly elections for the ambitious Aam Aadmi Party to be careful in pandering to the residual Khalistani elements. The sins have come home to roost and exposed the abject unpreparedness of the Bhagwant Mann Government on this crucial internal security issue.

It is also a matter of serious concern for the Sikh community. The radicals that constitute ‘Waris Punjab De’, which is led by self-styled preacher and Khalistan proponent Amritpal Singh, are basically pursuing their agenda in the name of Sikhism and the community. While Amritpal ordered the attack on the police station, even as he stayed absent, it was designed to provoke a strong reaction that would then be projected as proof of atrocities committed on the Sikhs in Punjab and India. A copy of the Guru Granth Sahib was brought in procession to the protest site. Had any damage been caused, it would have become a major incident of blasphemy, inviting reactions from radicals around the world. (In fact, misuse of the sword that Sikhs have the right to bear in India has become quite common – a betrayal of the sacred pact that exists with Hindus and other communities.) This explains the restraint exercised by the police, even at the cost of its honour and dignity, and the injuries experienced by its personnel.

Punjab, which was one of the leading states in India following the Green Revolution and the initial growth of small and medium industry, suffered a major setback due to Khalistan terrorism. It was exacerbated by the mistake made by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of promoting Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale in the attempt to unseat the Akali Dal. It rebounded on her in a big way and what followed is well known. At that time, despite the many pressures, the majority of the Sikh community remained steadfast against the despicable acts carried out in their name. Even so, they paid a heavy price due to the actions of a few. This cannot be allowed to be repeated. The challenge today is more sophisticated owing to greater coordination with inimical foreign agencies made possible by new technology. The new generation of Sikhs has not been made aware of the dangers and is being radicalised by a glamorised narrative of the past. This lapse should be corrected by the Punjab Government, the Gurudwaras and the community at large. India cannot afford a repeat of the past.