A person can either praise Mahatma Gandhi or can hail Nathu Ram Godse. One can criticize Gandhi and can also find Godse’s act abominable but praising both or keeping both on side seems unthinkable. But then, politics is the art of making impossible possible and reconciling contradictions. The BJP and Sangh Parivar in the last over six years epitomize this reconciliation of contradictions. The Prime Minister and other top BJP leaders pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi but some BJP leaders and scores of supporters – both of the ruling party and the Sangh Parivar and both off-line and online – regularly hail Godse and ensure Godse’s name and praise trend on Twitter on Gandhi Jayanti itself. Interestingly, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat recently released a book on the ‘Hindu patriot’ Mahatma Gandhi, who was assassinated by another ‘Hindu patriot’.
Something similar appears to be happening with the farmers’ agitation and more specifically the Sikh factor in it. Notwithstanding the fact that the farmer unions are being largely controlled by Left or ultra-left groups, the agitation is being identified with Sikh face and its ethos even as farmers from Haryana, Western UP are also participating enthusiastically and those from other states are speaking up in support. Even Punjabis, cutting across religions, communities and professions, are supporting the agitation. Visual illustration of the farmers’ movement is also of Sikh farmer/s facing police lathis & water cannons, protesting or serving langar. Predominant participation is of Sikh farmers from Punjab and the community from across the country and diaspora is identifying with those sitting at Delhi border.
BJP’s propaganda machinery – from its IT cell to “committed” TV anchors – initially tried to brand the protesting farmers as Khalistanis or insinuated that the latter are guiding the protest. This branding started from BJP IT cell head Amit Malviya who first pointed at “radical elements” in the farmers’ agitation on November 27 and then directly wrote, “But now that the Khalistanis and Maoists have stepped in to oppose” BJP leader Tajinderpal Singh Bagga also mentioned the “K” word in his tweet on November 27 itself as he tried to discredit the farmers’ agitation.
While Malviya could still be considered somewhat careful in choosing the width of his black brush, there was no such requirement for scores of committed Twitterati who follow him, Facebook users and then the TV anchors who went all out to unleash propaganda of calling the protesters Khalistanis or as drivers of this agitation.
For some ‘firebrand’ netizens, this became an occasion to remind “the lesson” of 1984 to the Sikhs. They chipped in with all kinds of pejoratives for Sikhs and all sorts of ‘theses’ against the community members. A Punjab resident, from ‘cow belt’, also gleefully reminded in his Facebook post of what had happened on the streets of Delhi in November 1984, which was endorsed by several others. However, he did not take time in apologizing in abject terms after Punjabi netizens tracked him and alerted Punjab Police about his “problematic” post and shared it widely.
The propaganda ‘only against’ Khalistanis had started turning into propaganda against the entire community. Of course, once you unleash propaganda about a community, it can’t remain controlled especially when the masked soldiers of the digital world remain charged with ‘josh.’
On November 30, information and broadcasting minister Parkash Javadekar and minister for civil aviation and housing and urban affairs Hardeep Singh Puri released a book, “PM Modi And His Government’s Special Relationship With Sikhs” in Punjabi, Hindi and English. The government also ensured that it reached maximum Sikhs and was sent to around two crore people on email and Indian missions abroad also sent it to Punjabi and Sikh NRIs.
Around the same time, Facebook posts by known sympathizers of the ruling dispensation at the Centre also started appearing with posts recalling glorious history of Sikhs and how their relationship with Hindus was very important and they started advising people to differentiate between the general Sikh community and “some Khalistanis.”
Then came Human Rights Day on December 10. As organizers of the farmers’ protest at Tikri border held pictures of intellectuals and activists, branded “urban naxals” and demanded their release, the ruling party’s supporters found another opportunity and propaganda took a sharp Left turn. No less than railway minister Piyush Goyal alleged that Maoists and anti-national elements had hijacked the farmers’ protest. Most TV channels also claimed so and omitted an important point, apparently deliberately, that the pictures were displayed at a protest site by one union only while around 30 other unions collectively holding the fort at Singhu border did not raise the demand even though several of them are also from the Left spectrum.
Realizing the negative impact on the collective Sikh psyche, which was clear from the way the community reacted to the narratives, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Gurdwara Rakab Ganj on December 20. It could be seen as a message to the community that he wanted to have peace with them, though his critics read it otherwise. Sources within the Sangh Parivar also highlight serious concern about antagonizing the Sikhs.
However, the propaganda continued and then came some nursing comments from defence minister Rajnath Singh on December 30, just before the sixth round of talks between the government and the unions. Describing farmers as ‘annadatas,’ he regretted the use of labels such as ‘Khalistanis or Naxals for them.
What was more noticeable, though he was not asked about the Sikhs Rajnath made it a point to specifically eulogize the community and mentioned their contributions and sacrifices to save the ‘sanskriti’ and self-esteem of the country. Rajnath was not speaking just for himself, apparently this realization had dawned on others in the government, party and the Parivar. This was seen as a damage control exercise.
What Rajnath said should have been the last word on the issue. However, explanations about “asal khel” (real game) behind the farmers’ movement described as the agenda of Khalistan and Naxalites, continue to do the rounds.
There is nothing new in this ‘hurt and nurse’ policy. With the opening of Kartarpur Corridor, the Union government took credit, rightly so, but negative propaganda was also unleashed with all sorts of conspiracy theories. The mix became murkier with Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s comments and apprehensions. His police chief, DGP Dinkar Gupta’s remarks, which he later withdrew, too highlighted the duality in the government quarters over the corridor – to claim credit and at the same time attempt to discredit.
When the farmers’ agitation was in full steam in Punjab, in October all Indian embassies and consulates across the world started seeking and collecting details of the Sikh diaspora in their areas, particularly in the countries where presence of the Sikh community is substantial. This was revealed when an email from the office of the Consul-General of India in Hamburg, Germany, seeking details of the Sikh diaspora in the country became public. However, when the issue came out in the public domain, the ministry of external affairs (MEA) claimed the collection of the data was a “reach out effort worldwide” to help the Sikh community as there have been complaints of persecution of the Sikh minorities in some countries. At least none among the Sikhs, who were supposed to be the recipients of this benevolence, believed this explanation.
Now Information and Broadcasting ministry has released revised edition of the booklet ‘PM Modi and his government’s relationship with Sikhs’, after adding more chapters to it.
After pursuing hurt and nurse policy can now there be a revision in this dual approach too, making it simple and straight and what has been expressed in letters in the books is shown in spirit also?
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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