During the campaign for this year’s Punjab assembly elections, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief ministerial candidate Bhagwant Mann had lobbed a question at a gathering in Malwa. “Will you hold jhadu (broom, the AAP symbol) or talwar (sword)?” he had asked, evoking strong reactions from a section of right-wing Panthic leaders accusing him of disrespecting Sikh sensitivities. But that time Punjab, at large, had responded unanimously by picking up the ‘jhadu’ and sending AAP to the assembly with a brute majority.
A little over 100 days later, the debate of “jhadu vs talwar” has returned as hardliner Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) leader Simranjit Singh Mann prepares to take his seat in the Lok Sabha after a dramatic win in the Sangrur bypolls. The 77-year-old former IPS officer has in the past repeatedly backed secessionist propaganda and advocated the need for a separate Khalistan state.
Ironically, what seem to have given a push to Mann’s fortunes were the killing of popular Punjabi singer Sidhu Moose Wala and the road-accident death of controversial actor-turned-activist Deep Sidhu, an accused in the Republic Day violence last year in Delhi during the farmer protests and was booked for instigating a mob to hoist the Nishaan sahib (Sikh flag) at the Red Fort that day. While Moose Wala had joined the Congress before his death, the controversial subjects on which he based his songs were used by right-wing Panthic leaders to trigger anti-establishment sentiments in the run-up to the bypolls.
The killing of Moose Wala, who primarily chose subjects that addressed the angst of the youth, was among the reasons that resulted in the catapulting of Mann who otherwise had lost five assembly polls and one Lok Sabha election, say analysts.
It was not just Mann but Shiromani Akali Dal, which finds itself on the precipice of extinction following a series of poll drubbings, that stirred the sentiments. In fact, SAD leader Sukhbir Badal had proposed a joint candidate to take on AAP in the by-election. SAD had urged Mann to support the candidature of Kamaldeep Kaur Rajoana, sister of Balwant Singh Rajoana, who had been convicted in the Beant Singh assassination case, and the Akali Dal has been pressing for the release of prisoners like him who have spent more than 25 years in jail. Mann had turned down the proposal at the last moment but the noise created by the right-wing Sikh Panthic leaders seems to have turned the tide against AAP.
What didn’t help AAP either was its failure to deliver on the law and order front. The Moose Wala killing not only exposed the governance claims of the party but made Panthic politics even shriller.
With inputs from News18