In Punjab, the clouds parted on May 16, and the sun shone and revealed the classic Parkash Singh Badal in action.
The Aam Aadmi Party, the newest entrant into the Punjab political arena – had organised its cadre to gherao the Shiromani Akali Dal chief minister’s home in Chandigarh, in protest against the Rs 12,000-crore grain scam.
As a precautionary measure, the government pressed nearly 35,000 out of about 75,000 policemen in Punjab on duty in Chandigarh alone, and imposed Section 144, prohibiting a gathering of more than five people. Police personnel in anti-riot gear were deployed in and around the Sector 2 residences of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son and deputy, Sukhbir Singh Badal. Security was also tightened around the entire VIP area including near the official residence of Haryana and Punjab governor Kaptan Singh Solanki.
Taming the Opposition
On the morning of May 16, the government put out advertisements in all leading dailies explaining its stance vis a vis the grain scam, claiming that there was a “conspiracy of anti-Punjab elements” to “defame” Punjab. It said that Opposition parties, for “political gains”, were raising the bogey of missing wheat. Badal had already announced that he had kept his day free to meet “any responsible political leader or representative for discussion on any issue concerning the people of the state”.
Chandigarh became a fortress.
There are many roads to enter the capital city. The road the protestors took from Punjab into Chandigarh was through Mohali, where the police stopped the 15,000 or more (reports vary) protesters. Like obedient children, the protesters took no other route to enter the city. They sat down in dharna on the road.
A few hours later, the police allowed AAP leaders, including its Punjab affairs in-charge Sanjay Singh, state convenor Sucha Singh Chottepur, and Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann, to reach the chief minister’s residence. They again sat on a dharna in front of Badal’s home. With great modesty, the octogenarian chief minister walked down to the gate to receive them. He escorted them in, offered them tea. Taken aback, the leaders became docile, even pleasing towards Badal. The anger, the tension, the protest disappeared, and the delegation seemed like schoolchildren requesting their headmaster for some extra marks on their class tests.
The lotus factor
This has been Parkash Singh Badal’s strategy for the last seven decades. He was elected sarpanch of his village in 1947. He has been chief minister of Punjab five times. He has been in the thick of every single political development in the state throughout these decades, but has never let any mud stick on him.
The BJP should not only partner with him in Punjab, but adopt him as their live icon – a lotus. For that is what he is.
For the longest time Badal remains behind the scenes – like he did during the farmer-worker rail-roko agitation last winter over the white fly infestation. Badal remained reluctant to meet the protestors, and when he did meet them, he projected his complete helplessness, blaming the central government for not extending help.
By the time the rail-roko agitation reached the sixth day, incidents of sacrilege of the Sikh holy book started taking place around Punjab. The protests against these incidents distracted everyone from the agrarian crises.
Later, in January, when, braving the cold and surprising the police, farmer-workers gathered in village Raike Kalan to march towards village Badal, the chief minister promptly admitted himself to hospital, citing chest congestion.
When finally confronted, like he was by AAP leaders, he makes you feel he is very simple, easy to access, aged, and innocent. He bows to you, but takes the sting out of your barbs. He makes you pause, because what can you say to an old man who projects himself to be so weak? That is what makes him so difficult to tackle for the Opposition, and what makes him difficult to deal with for the people in the state.
What’s there to hide?
Udta Punjab is not the first movie the Badals have tried to stop from being screened.
The bans against films started in 2013 with Sadda Haq, which was based on the Khalistan movement. In 2014, there was Kaum de Heere, based on Indira Gandhi’s assassins, and in 2015, Mastermind Jinda Sukha and Nanak Shah Fakir because Sikhs believe the Guru must not be depicted on screen. In 2016, it was Santa Banta Pvt Ltd, which was accused of mocking Sikhs.
One of the reasons the sacrilege issue became huge in Punjab last October was that it involved the Akal Takht's pardon, and subsequent revocation, to the head of the Dera Sacha Sauda, Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh, whose movie MSG 1 was banned in 2015 and MSG 2 was informally banned because distributors refused to show it in theatres, citing possible law and order problems. What passes are silly films like Singh is King and Singh is Bling.
However, this is the first time that Badal’s strategy did not work despite the efforts of Pahlaj Nihalani and the Central Board of Film Certification.
The defamation bogey
The reason the state wanted to suppress Udta Punjab and earlier movies – and this is not an argument for the quality of these movies – is that it has much to hide ever since the dark decade from the early 1980s to the early ’90s. That is why the government invokes terms such as defamation, conspiracy of anti-Punjab elements and insult to Punjab.
Take the case of Udta Punjab. Drugs are never the cause of the problem, they are the symptoms of what needs to be done but hasn’t. Now it is late, but hopefully not very late.
How hard is it to train the police and catch the kingpins of the drug rackets? Who are they? Doesn’t the man who has played the politics of Punjab for the last seven decades know it?
But politics is now dynasty. How can you not ensure a good future for your progeny? Yet, would even the progeny seek closure on the militancy movement, tackle the question of human rights violations by the state and address the question of Sikh narratives that tilt towards Khalistan, given that the Indian state narratives do not address the questions raised, solve the state’s agrarian and industrial crises and provide education and health care and jobs to the youth?
Punjab, even in its adversity, has a lot of self-respect. A healthy prosperous Punjab would find its own dignity. Finally, and this is the job of both governments and art: do not neglect, do not hide from issues, and do not demonise Punjab. After all, neglect by family and society and state systems is the primary prompt of an addict.
Amandeep Sandhu is writing a non-fiction book on Punjab.