"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

Badal had failed everyone on human rights Featured


Gurpreet Singh  

The passing away of the former Chief Minister of Punjab is being seen as the end of an era, and rightfully so.  

Parkash Singh Badal, who died at the age of 95, leaves behind the legacy of one of the longest serving CMs in India. He was the towering leader of the Akali Dal, a regional Sikh party of Punjab, which has been in the forefront of many struggles, including the freedom movement in British India. 

Not only is he credited for leading many pro-people agitations, he will always be known as someone who made bridges between Punjab and the central government of India, especially under the regimes of  the right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP, which currently governs India with a brute majority. Badal was therefore despised by Sikh hardliners, who believe in religious and political autonomy, rather than living under the shackles of Hindu supremacy.  

Making compromises in electoral politics isn’t unusual. But in Badal’s case, he went to the extent of giving up on the core values of Akali Dal to share power with the BJP, which aspires to turn India into a Hindu theocracy. So much so, he let down everyone on the contentious issue of human rights.  

Badal and his party got aligned with the BJP following the bloody events of the 1980s.  

Back then, Akali Dal was fighting peacefully for extra territorial and religious rights for the Sikh minority, while the then-ruling Congress party (which claims to be a secular alternative to the BJP) adamantly used high-handed means to suppress their movement and polarize the Hindu majority.  

This culminated in the launching of a parallel armed struggle by Sikh militants, and the subsequent invasion  in June, 1984, of the Golden Temple complex, the holiest Sikh shrine in Amritsar. The ill-conceived military operation, aimed at garnering Hindu votes in the impending general election, left many innocent worshippers dead. This galvanized the demand for an independent Sikh homeland of Khalistan. If this was not enough, the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, who were seeking revenge for the army attack on their spiritual center, was followed by the state sponsored massacre of Sikhs across India. 

These circumstances brought Akali Dal closer to the BJP, which was seen by many as an ally to challenge the Congress party. The fact that the BJP was a far more divisive and outright Hindu nationalist force was conveniently overlooked for the sake of short term gains, which the Akali Dal eventually made both in Punjab and in New Delhi by sharing power with them.  

For the record, BJP folks believe in  a Hindu India where all other minorities will be treated as second class citizens and cannot expect special rights. While they consider Islam and Christianity as foreign religions, they treat Sikhism and Buddhism, which were created to counter the discriminatory caste system within Hinduism, as part of the Hindu fold. This doctrine has been long opposed by the Sikh scholars. For them, Sikhism is not a branch of Hinduism but an independent faith.  

The undercurrent remained also because of the BJP’s doublespeak on the events of 1984. They had not only justified the attack on the Golden Temple Complex, but had been complicit in the anti-Sikh massacre that paid rich dividends to the Congress party in the election after Indira Gandhi’s death.  

Yet Badal and company looked away. So much so, they backtracked on the promise to punish the Punjab police officers, who had been instrumental behind crushing Sikh militancy by using extra judicial means and allowing large scale abuse of human rights, under pressure from the BJP that represented the interest of Hindu majority all over the country. In fact, Badal openly patronized several controversial police officers who were known for their ruthlessness.  

As a reporter with Indian Express during late 1990s, I had an opportunity to ask Badal when he was the Chief Minister about the growing demand for a people’s commission to look into the allegations of police barbarity. He curtly replied that no such commission was needed. The next day, the Indian Express displayed a front page headline quoting Badal saying exactly that.  

It was very disheartening, but not surprising, considering his previous record. 

During the late 1970s, when Badal was the Chief Minister, his government gave police a free hand to eliminate those associated with the revolutionary communist movement. Among them was 82-year-old Bujha Singh, who had previously participated in the freedom struggle. Badal had on his hand the blood of someone who deserved to be treated respectfully.  

In 2017, when a protester hurled a shoe at Badal, I was baffled to see many showing their solidarity with him and criticizing the demonstrator, rather than calling out Badal for his political opportunism. Even some moderate leftists called Badal a “gentleman”. I then took to Facebook to question, why does a leader who was responsible for the cold blooded murder of a senior like Bujha Singh remain unpunished and get undue attention and sympathy, and what’s the big deal if a protester hurled a shoe at a tyrant? I was severely criticized by many. Some people even tried to make a complaint against me to senior members of BC’s NDP, as my wife Rachna Singh was running as a party candidate in the provincial election that year. The incident only shows how far the apologists of the Indian state can go, to try to interfere in Canadian elections. Fortunately, the NDP folks ignored this, citing that those were my views and have nothing to do with the party.  

People who have a great respect for Badal for whatever reasons have every right to their opinion, but history will always judge him for his misdeeds.  

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Gurpreet Singh

Cofounder and Director of Radical Desi


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