Just a few months ahead of the state elections, on September 18, Captain Amarinder Singh submitted his resignation to the Governor of Punjab Banwarilal Purohi. Informing the reporters about his resignation at Raj Bhavan, Amarinder said: “I feel humiliated.. this is the third meeting of MLAs. I have resigned. I spoke to the Congress president today morning and said I will resign today.”
In 24 hours, political turmoil transcended in Punjab, culminating in the appointment of the first Dalit chief minister in Punjab, Charanjit Singh Channi.
The feud over the congress leadership between Captain Amarinder Singh and cricketer turned politician Navjiot Singh Sidhu has led to the Punjab congress dividing it into two factions. But one of the issues that Sidhu used to attack Amarinder time and again is the sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib.
Amarinder Singh has promised to provide justice to the Sikh community.
What is the sacrilege incident?
According to the explained report by Navjeevan Gopal in the Indian Express, there are three incidents under the spotlight. On June 1, 2015, a copy of the holiest of the scriptures of Sikhs, the Guru Granth Sahib, was stolen from Burj Jawahar Singh Wala village in Faridkot district; this was the first case. Justice Ranjit Singh (retd) Commission of Inquiry instituted by Congress government described the theft as “an incident of unprecedented nature” in its report. The report described the theft at the “unattended gurdwara” as “unimaginable, unthinkable and unexpected”.
An excerpt from the report said, “One can say without fear of contradiction that such incidents may not have happened even during Mughal Rule when there was price over the heads of Sikhs. This incident ought to have sent alarm bells for everyone in the highest echelon of the Government… It was certainly not a routine crime to be dealt with in a routine manner.”
Two abusive posters targeting Sikhs and a couple of Sikh preachers were found pasted in a samadh near the same Burj Jawahar Singh Wala village on September 25, 2015. This is the second case. The posters expressed anger over not releasing Dera Sacha Sauda chief’s ‘Messenger God’. The commission noted in its probe report that the posters threatened to throw the Holy Guru Granth Sahib in the streets.
On October 12, torn pages (angs) of Guru Granth Sahib, revered as living Guru by the Sikhs, were found scattered in front of the Bargari village gurdwara and on the nearby street early in the morning. This is the third case.
On October 14, 2015, the state police under the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP government opened fire on a crowd in Bargari village who had been protesting incidents of ‘sacrilege’. On that day, the protest had grown so large that the state police fired upon it and killed two people.
The current status of the cases is that IG Surinder Singh Parmar-led SIT arrested six Dera followers in connection with the sacrilege cases in May 2021.
They are in judicial custody now. However, On July 4, 2019, the CBI filed a closure report. The case was handed over to the Akali government who were in power. Before the closure report, one of the prime suspects, dera follower Mohinderpal Bittu, was killed in Nabha jail in June 2019.
The unforeseen turn of events shook the core of the state’s politics and is considered one of the primary reasons behind ruling Shiromani Akali Dal’s (SAD) worst electoral defeat in the 2017 assembly polls.
The Congress which benefited from this got an astounding victory with a two-thirds of majority. Captain Amarinder Singh promised to put behind bars all those responsible for the incident, including Akali leaders.
On May 23, 2021, the Punjab and Haryana high court quashed the probe reports submitted by the state government’s special investigation team (SIT) into a police firing case in Kotkapura town five years ago. The judgment emboldened Sidhu’s criticism against Amarinder Singh’s leadership, which also led to several cabinet members turning against Amarinder.
In a tweet on May 19, Sidhu attacked Amarinder Singh by accusing him of not fulfilling his promise. He said that there had been no action on drugs, no action on sacrilege, no white paper on the power purchase agreement and no action on the mafia raj.
“His only action was against his party colleagues to protect the Badals and Majithia,” Sidhu said.
Even after six years, sacrilege is used as a weapon to shift the political dynamics in the state. There are other prominent reasons behind Amarinder’s resignation, but the issue that gave him a glorious victory has a role in his losing his power.