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Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale: Unclear Legacy


The Indian Express, Jun. 9, 2003

If the attempt to rev up Bhindranwale's appeal is handled right, the issue will fade away.

This is not the first time that the legacy of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale has been sought to be revived. His hard-core supporters have, every now and then, come up with plans and programmes to keep his memory alive. Two years ago, some sections of the Damdami Taksal sought to promote him as shaheed, or martyr. Similarly, several politically ambitious Akalis have tried to iconise Bhindranwale in their search for short cuts to power. What's interesting about these experiments is that while they may have struck a chord with a small section of hardliners, people in general have remained indifferent.

When Akal Takht jathedar [head priest], Joginder Singh Vedanti, declared Bhindranwale a martyr on Friday [June 6] at a function organised by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee [S.G.P.C.], there was general consternation. Both the Congress and the B.J.P. were quick to term the move as unfortunate and many, like the former director general of police in Punjab, K.P.S. Gill, have perceived it as a dangerous new attempt to revive separatist sentiments in the state. While such concern is valid, it is also important to remember that 19 years have passed since Operation Blue Star, that unfortunate moment in India's history.

The intervening period has seen great bloodshed - to the extent that the eighties came to be regarded as Punjab's lost decade - but it has also seen a consolidated attempt by the people of the state to exorcise this unfortunate history and allow a genuine democracy to take root. Today, despite some reverses like plateauing agricultural yields, the state has a per capita income that is nearly twice the national average and an infrastructure that is the envy of other regions. At least three cities in this state are rated as national-level magnets of wealth creation. In other words, the people of the state, when given the chance to usher in development, have seized it with energy and industry.

It would appear, then, that - having realised to a great extent the fruits of a decade of development and peace - they would be reluctant to the court yet again the forces of regression and violence. Common sense would dictate, therefore, that there must be not be any over-reaction to these attempts at reviving Bhindranwale's divisive appeal by some frustrated and marginalised forces anxious to gain political relevance. It would be more useful to allow the fuss to die down and bring about a closure to a potentially contentious issue. The message to be sent out now is that Bhindranwale and his disciples, as well as old Khalistani ideologues like Jagjit Singh Chauhan and the Wassan Singh Zaffarwal, belong to Punjab's past and not to its future.