Chandigarh: In a
country where secularism is enshrined in the constitution, mixing
religion with politics may be a big no-no for many political
parties. But, in Punjab, the two things go quite hand in hand.
The mix is all too evident -- from the political stages at Sikh
religious congregations to the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal openly
contesting and dominating the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak
Committee (SGPC), the mini parliament of Sikh religion that
controls all gurdwaras in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.
The state, which goes to the polls Jan 30 to fill its 117 assembly
seats, is seeing heightened political activity from major players
- be it the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, its alliance partner
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or the opposition Congress, the newly
floated People's Party of Punjab (PPP) or others.
At congregations of the Sikh religion, one day is set apart for
political rallies. The latest one was held Tuesday (Dec 27) at the
Shaheedi Jor Mela at the holy town of Fatehgarh Sahib, which is
associated with the martyrdom of two sons of the tenth Sikh
master, Guru Gobind Singh.
While parties want to take advantage of the readymade audience of
tens of thousands of people who converge to the congregations,
people too do not mind attending them after having completed the
"Having political stages at the religious congregations is an
accepted and decades-old practice in Punjab. The main parties also
don't mind because they can get so many people to listen to them
at one place," Jagmohan Singh, a trader from Mohali who attended
the Saheedi Jor Mela at Fatehgarh Sahib last week, told IANS.
This time, the ruling Akali Dal held a big rally at Fatehgarh
Sahib. The Congress too held its political stage, but its main
leaders, including state Congress chief and former chief minister
Amarinder Singh, were missing from the event as they were in Delhi
to finalise party candidates for next month's assembly poll.
All eyes are now on the Maghi Mela in Muktsar district, the home
district of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his politically
estranged nephew and PPP chief Manpreet Singh Badal. It will be
held Jan 14, a time when campaigning for the Punjab assembly poll
will be at its peak.
The Muktsar religious congregation is held annually to pay tribute
to 40 Sikh warriors killed in the Battle of Muktsar against Mughal
forces in 1705.
The turnout at PPP's political conference at the Maghi Mela
earlier this year - former finance minister Manpreet Badal's first
big political event after leaving the Akali Dal Oct last year -
made the Akali Dal and Congress leadership sit up and acknowledge
him as a potential third force in state politics.
The other main religious congregations are held annually at the
Baisakhi Jor Mela at Damdama Sahib at Talwandi Sabo in Bathinda
district in April and the Hola Mohalla celebrations at Keshgarh
Sahib gurdwara in Anandpur Sahib in Ropar district in March every
"The religious congregations are an important part of the Sikh
calendar. The political stages are also an accepted norm at these
congregations for decades," SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar said.
In fact, the SGPC leadership actively campaigns for Akali Dal
candidates during all elections.
The Election Commission this week said that gurdwaras and other
religious places should not be used by parties and candidates to
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at email@example.com)