CHANDIGARH: The Punjab government found itself in its worst-ever crisis in 2015, grappling with holy book desecration incidents, issues related to Akal Takht and SGPC, an agrarian crisis and a pesticides scam.
Amid stalled industrialisation, a mounting drug problem, protests over lack of jobs, high inflation and absence of law and order, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal sought to pride himself on the claim that his government had ensured peace and harmony in the state despite unrest in neighbouring Jammu and Kashmir and the shared border with Pakistan.
There was widespread outrage in May over the alleged molestation and death of a minor girl in a moving bus owned by the Badal family. The Badal family was under attack from all quarters and the incident created a political storm in the state.
Before the desecration incidents, the Akal Takht - the top temporal seat of Sikhs - gave pardon to Dera Sacha Sauda head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, accused of blasphemy for allegedly dressing up like Guru Gobind Singh some years ago. As Sikhs reacted angrily to the pardon, the decision was seen as dictated by the Akalis, eyeing votes of Ram Rahim's followers.
The Takht chiefs continued to defend the pardon, and it was only when Sikh anger showed no signs of abating that the Sikh high priests in an unprecedented move revoked the pardon. However, by then the damage to both the Badals and SGPC had been done.
Since October, a day after two protesters died in police firing, several SGPC members have quit. The clamour for the resignations of Sikh high priests got louder. The BJP, an ally of SAD, had been a beneficiary of Dera Sacha Sauda support during the Haryana Assembly polls in 2014 and the impact of the pardon is not lost on the party. The BJP tried to expand its base in the state with the Akalis feeling the heat in their rural areas.
To add to the embarrassment of the SGPC, the Panj Pyaras (the five beloved of Gurus) even summoned the Sikh high priests to clarify the pardon to the Dera head. While they were suspended in return, the Panj Pyaras refused to sit back, directing the SGPC to terminate the services of the chiefs of all the five Takhts.
As protests refused to let the Akalis to maintain hold, the Opposition sensed its chance. Senior Congress leaders such as Amarinder Singh, Partap Singh Bajwa as well as AAP's Punjab convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur extended support. But Congress had its problems too. Rather than playing the role of a strong and united Opposition, the party saw its leaders organise own shows of strength.
Akalis realised that the ground is slipping beneath their feet. Protests continued, as police found it difficult to get a hold on the situation. Desecration of the holy book at several places in Punjab led to statewide protests. Wanton killing of two youths by police was viewed by the community as an attempt to ride roughshod over their right to protest.
Police's claim of nabbing the culprits of sacrilege incidents also backfired. They failed to pacify the protesters who felt that the police had framed two innocent baptised Sikhs in order to cover up its failure. Sikhs felt that there was a need to restore the independence of Panthic institutions like SGPC and Akal Takht.
Congress alleged that Badal became a chief minister captive in the hands of political masters in New Delhi, who often pat him on the back by decorating him with a Padma Vibhushan or out of the way comparing him with a selfless leader like Nelson Mandela.
After dithering for long, Congress central leadership gave in to pressure from former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on the vexed issue of leadership change in the state.
State Congress chief Bajwa and legislature party chief Sunil Jakhar resigned from their posts at the direction of the high command to enable an elaborate reshuffle a year ahead of the Assembly polls. Amarinder, also a former PCC chief, had been spearheading a rebellion against Bajwa, who was appointed by party Vice President Rahul Gandhi. However, Amarinder was given the reins of the party by the high command.
With Punjab on the boil, Akali Dal President and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir, who kept an uncharacteristically low profile throughout the crisis, accused Congress of stoking communal tension and colluding with anti-national forces to disturb peace in the state.He alleged that Congress leaders shared the stage with radicals at a religious congregation near Amritsar in which demand for 'Khalistan' was raised.
Congress sitting MLA from Khadoor Sahib, Ramanjit Singh Sikki, resigned as legislator due to his hurt sentiments. While the incidents of sacrilege were handed over to CBI by the government, Badal sought an apology for the unrest, inviting condemnation from Congress.
Diwali was a low-key affair in the state in view of incidents of sacrilege as Golden Temple was not lit up, making it a 'dark festival'. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi preferred to celebrate Diwali with soldiers on borders of the state, taking everyone by surprise.
Several Sikhs congregated for what they called 'Sarbat Khalsa' against Takht heads for allegedly functioning under the influence of Badals. Sikh hardliners appointed Jagtar Singh Hawara, a convict in former Chief Minister Beant Singh's assassination case, the new 'Jathedar' of Akal Takht, replacing Gurbachan Singh. Radicals Amrik Singh and Baljit Singh Daduwal were appointed heads of Takht Keshgarh Sahib and Damdama Sahib, respectively. However, SGPC rejected the decision of 'Sarbat Khalsa', which was turned down by SAD as well.
'Sarbat Khalsa' also declared Lt Gen K S Brar and K P S Gill as "tankhaiya" (guilty of religious misconduct). Rahul Gandhi visited families of the two Sikhs killed in police firing at Behbal Kalan in Faridkot. He also went to Badal family bastion Bathinda and met farmers' families and sent a message that Congress is united in the state.
In a setback to SAD, its MP Balwant Singh Ramoowalia took oath as minister in the Akhilesh Yadav Cabinet in UP. Against the backdrop of unrest among Sikhs, controversial cop Sumedh Singh Saini was asked to make way for Suresh Arora.
Farmers were up in arms, blocking railway lines in the state as they demanded compensation for whitefly attack on cotton crop. The whitefly attack resulted in arrest of Agriculture director Mangal Sandhu for alleged spurious pesticide scandal. Faced with 60 per cent loss to cotton crop in the Malwa region, Punjab government cleared a Rs 600-crore compensation package for the affected farmers.
In the month of August, the BJP, which has been hitherto confronting its coalition partner and long-term ally SAD on terror links and drugs, was caught on the wrong foot with its leader getting booked in similar cases. State BJP chief Kamal Sharma, too, passed through rough times as one of his associates was booked in a drug case.
The month of July shocked the entire nation, as three militants disguised in Army fatigues and suspected to be members of Pakistan based Lashkar-e-Taiba sprayed bullets at a moving bus and then stormed Dinanagar police station in Gurdaspur district of the state before being killed after a 12-hour-long operation. Amidst odds against it, AAP failed to set up base in the state. To quell rebellion in its Punjab unit, AAP expelled its state disciplinary committee chairman and state executive member Daljit Singh for allegedly engaging in anti-party activities.
Of its four MPs, the party also expelled Dharamvira Gandhi and Harinder Khalsa for not toeing the party line. Punjab's drug problem remained a sore point between the alliance partners SAD and BJP as the latter alleged that the state had the highest drug abuse ratio, a charge vehemently denied by the former.
In another low in the education sector, some 80,278 of the 3,78,628 class tenth government-school students flunked in an English examination in the state. Satnam Singh from Barnala district brought much-needed cheer to the state when he became the first Indian basketball player to be drafted in the NBA league.