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Fighting Back

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The social climate in Punjab has been grossly affected by its failing economy. The state that was well on the way to prosperity at one time, witnessed its youth succumb to the lure of a better life in the developed countries. The effort to make a better life in the land of their birth was substituted by that to obtain a visa to Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, etc. The rise of orthodoxy within Sikhism and the manipulations of foreign agencies like the ISI fuelled the Khalistan delusion. Then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s decision to play politics by propping up Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale created the tragic mess the entire nation and the Sikh community had to endure for a long time.

Continued political instability meant that the necessary counter-narrative against radical belief was not inculcated among the new generation of the youth, particularly the Sikhs. There has also been frustration regarding the increased conversion activity directed at the community. Adding fuel to the fire has been popularisation of the gun and drug culture by irresponsible musicians and folk performers, many of whom have, themselves, become victims of the violence they promoted – much like the gangsta and hip-hop rappers who inspired them.

All of this has proved a rich mix for the wannabe Bhindranwale, Amritpal Singh. Along with his mentors abroad, he has tried to pursue the ignoble cause by exploiting the political fluidity in the state. It has been a miscalculation because the security establishment has residual memory of the past and is certainly better geared to deal with the challenge than some gangster aspiring to blackmail the system.

The Punjab Government did well to exercise restraint in the face of the initial provocation when a police station was taken over by using the Guru Granth Sahib as a shield. The counter-strike has been well-planned, with the necessary input from the central agencies. Most of the perpetrators of the attack have been rounded up, while Amritpal is on the run. Ironically, the very persons who claimed they do not accept the Indian Constitution are now filing habeas corpus applications with the High Court alleging their boss is in ‘illegal’ police custody. It is expected that, whatever the prevailing scenario, the police will have worked out the alternatives. It is interesting to note that, even the political forces that stand against, both, the Punjab and Union Governments, are advising the radicals not to play the Khalistan game as it is allegedly a plot against Punjab by the politicians in power. What is certain is that in no way can the state repeat the experience of the past in the present.