You would perhaps be asked to travel get your head examined for even asking that question. Of course, it understands politics better than any others in India by a distance, the maximum amount because the gap between 303 and 52 Lok Sabha seats.
Then, you finesse the question. How well does the BJP understand the politics of Punjab? the solution are going to be , i’m afraid, very poorly. Definitely the Modi-Shah BJP doesn’t understand Punjab, Punjabis, their politics, or maybe more specifically, the Sikhs. Or, they wouldn’t have dug themselves into such a hole (pun intended) over their handling of the Punjab farmers’ protests.
They’ve continued to dig it deeper instead of extricate themselves over what are, altogether honesty, a fine set of reformist new laws on agricultural economics.
Before we dive into a number of the more complex issues involved here, let’s inspect some basics. Punjab was the outlier that defied the Modi magic within the north. Even when Narendra Modi himself was in contention, as within the general elections of 2014 and 2019, the Punjabis weren’t impressed. This, despite the BJP having a formidable ally, Shiromani Akali Dal, the pre-eminent Sikh party.
For evidence, watch how in both elections, the BJP did not get two stellar candidates, Arun Jaitley and Hardeep Singh Puri, respectively, elected from Amritsar despite Akali support. it’s also the sole state within the north where the Modi wave was stopped in both elections. And no, the Punjabis didn’t even need to dig moats within the highways, throw boulders or raise barricades to prevent it.
Election after election, with the 2017 state assembly polls thrown in, Modi addressed rallies wearing saffron turbans. But it failed in Punjab while he dominated next-door Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.
If three reversals of their almighty waves over five years haven’t convinced Modi and Shah of the necessity for a rethink, the shambles over this farmers’ protest should. And if even this doesn’t, then it shows a scarcity of political intellect, also as humility.
The BJP dismisses its critics because the deracinated, English-medium Lutyens-wallahs, and takes pride in its native smarts. It should then learn from that oldest heartland wisdom: you can’t snatch a sugarcane from the sector of a farmer (Jat), but can easily charm him into gifting you a full slab of jaggery (gud). With an enormous smile, a hug, and should be some lassi too. you only need to begin together with your head bowed, not in submission, but politeness and friendship. On the farm bills, this BJP has done the other .
The Modi-Shah BJP’s fundamental politics runs on four wheels: Modi’s personal popularity, polarisation (Hindutva), non-corrupt image and nationalism. Why has it failed in Punjab?
Even on the farm bills, there’s few buzz within the other major farming states. Maharashtra, with massive agricultural population and a longtime record of farmer politics and protests, is calm. Why’s Punjab angry? Because the state is different, as are the Sikhs.
One of the four wheels of the BJP’s juggernaut is polarisation. Now, that option is missing in Punjab within the conventional, Hindu-Muslim sense. this is often difficult to elucidate to a BJP/RSS mind, but the fear of the Muslim among the Sikhs is nothing compared to what you would possibly find, or be ready to build, in Uttar Pradesh , Gujarat, the Brahmaputra Valley or north Bengal.
The few Muslims who sleep in Punjab, within the tiny enclave of Malerkotla, have enjoyed the Sikhs’ affection and protection since the days of the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, because the nawab here tried to guard the Guru’s sons from Aurangzeb. It isn’t just revenge that the Sikhs have an extended memory for. it’s also for gratitude.
Traditionally, the RSS and therefore the BJP, therein order, have seen Sikhs as fellow Hindus, although clothed differently. That the Gurus fought and sacrificed their lives to guard Hindus, that the Punjabi saying that Hindus and Sikhs are inseparable parts of 1 body like fingers and nails, which Punjab is that the sword arm of India, are all correct. Yet, Sikhs aren’t Hindus. they’re not impressed by Hindutva. If they were, they might not have rejected Modi at his peak thrice.
We learnt this in Bhindranwale’s heyday. The RSS then wouldn’t believe that the Sikhs could activate Hindus in Punjab. Balasaheb Deoras, then Sarsanghchalak, made a press release that there was no difference or dispute between Hindus and Sikhs, who were, after all, keshdhari (hair-bearing) Hindus.
Some of us journalists happened to be sitting in Bhindranwale’s durbar at the Golden Temple, as was customary. He said, with a smirk the width of the Sutlej flooding , if that “knicker-dhari” says we Sikhs are keshdhari Hindus, what is going to he call the Muslims? Sunnat-dhari (circumcised) Hindus?
To understand how complex and different Punjab is, stick with me. Bhindranwale and his people now demanded distinct minority status and a separate personal law for Sikhs. A delegation of the richest Sikhs came to his durbar with folded hands. “Don’t do that , Sant ji,” they pleaded. “We shouldn’t lose our tax benefits under HUF (Hindu Undivided Family).”
The Sikh-Hindu divide was deepened during the Akalis’ Punjabi Suba movement within the 1960s, when the RSS/Bharatiya Jana Sangh opposed it. the primary time the 2 sides came on the brink of one another was when Gandhi locked them up within the same jails during the Emergency. After 1977, the Akalis and therefore the former Jana Sangh elements (then within the Janata Party) joined hands. But the breakup came in time , on linguistic, cultural and non secular lines. Then followed the last decade of terror. The RSS/BJP were among the targets.
The resurgent BJP under Vajpayee and Advani understood that the sole solution to stabilising Punjab, and to also make the BJP grow there, was to bring the Hindus and Sikhs together again. They picked up the thread from their conversations in jail with Akali leaders of comparable thinking, now chastened by the Bhindranwale shock.
That is how the SAD-BJP alliance came up. The BJP was happy to be the junior partner. In national politics and therefore the Union cabinet, the Akalis, especially Parkash Singh Badal, got the pride of place. Madan Lal Khurana was specifically assigned to stay the connection smooth. This BJP has arrogantly broken that bond.
Rather than be a respectful partner, this BJP has attended patronise Punjab and therefore the Sikhs. This involves many errors of judgement. One, Punjab isn’t a monolith. Second, nor are the Sikhs. they need their divisions of caste and clan. In fact, most of the prominent Sikhs you see within the BJP’s ranks aren’t from the Jat (or Jatt because the Punjabis say) community, which dominates the land-owning peasantry and can defy all cordons and moats to succeed in where it wishes. And third, Sikhs aren’t Hindus. Not just like the Hindus in Vadodara, Varanasi or Vidarbha.
The Sikh peasantry, especially Jatts, also enjoy agitation. This goes back to the ‘Pagdi Sambhal Jatta’ movement within the early 20th century, launched by Sardar Ajit Singh. Its slogan also became the anthem of his nephew’s incredibly brave revolution. The nephew was Shaheed Bhagat Singh, whom everybody swears by, Left, Right and Centre. During the Emergency, the most important contingent in jail after the RSS’ was the Akalis’.
The Sikhs love an honest fight, and that’s what the Modi government has given them. It won’t work. you’ve got to reason with the Punjabis. they’re entrepreneurial, they could see the merit of those reforms. But if you would like to thrust it down their throats, see you at the barricades.
Editorial: Punjab isn’t a part of the Hindi/Hindu heartland. Your usual Hindu-Muslim polarisation isn’t available as a technique here. you’ll polarise though, again on Hindu-Sikh lines. Nobody should want it. But, if you do, continue with the canard the farmers are influenced by Khalistanis. Go ahead, paint the devil on the wall.