Egg on face, Badal government finally wakes up at night!

Chandigarh, May 18 (IANS) After being in deep slumber for four days over the deteriorating law and order situation in Punjab’s fight over faith that left one dead and nearly 20 injured, the Akali Dal government led by Parkash Singh Badal finally woke up Thursday night to take action against militant rival followers who were heading towards a civil war situation.

By the time the 80-plus chief minister, sitting in his plush office at the Punjab secretariat here, started ordering the state administration and police to restore normalcy, Punjab was Thursday evening on the brink of a virtual human disaster.

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Tens of thousands of Sikhs had come face to face with equally determined followers of the Dera Sacha Sauda, a heretical sect, at various places in the state – particularly the cotton-rich Malwa belt in south Punjab.

The Sikhs were protesting and seeking arrest of sect guru Gurmit Ram Rahim for blaspheming their religion by attiring himself like the 10 th Sikh guru, Gobind Singh.

The night left one Sikh activist dead and nearly 20 injured after both sides clashed in Suman town of Sangrur district, 180 km from here. The siege of the Salabatpura campus of the sect – housing nearly 50,000 sect followers in 150 acres – by nearly 30,000 Sikhs armed with traditional weapons, bricks and sticks, passed off peacefully after hundreds of police personnel were rushed there.

But it is the politics played by the ruling Akali Dal government – that is upset with the sect leader for siding with the Congress in the recent assembly polls that led to Akalis losing nearly 20 seats in the Malwa belt – that is now being seen as the reason why Punjab came on the brim of a major bloodshed this week.

Badal, who took over as chief minister for the fourth time March this year, has a poor record in managing religious crisis situations.

In 1978, it was the inept handling by his Akali Dal government that led to the violent clash between Sikhs and the Nirankari sect, leaving many dead and scores injured. This clash sowed the seeds of terrorism in Punjab that bled the state between 1982-95.

This time too, Badal did not take command Monday itself when the fight over faith between the Sikhs and sect followers started. The state police remained a mute spectator till Thursday – clearly indicating that not to do anything orders were coming from the top.

The attempt by the Badal government to embarrass the sect godman and his followers in the entire episode and teach them a lesson left his government with egg on its face with demands being made Thursday that President’s rule (federal rule) be imposed as the government had failed to maintain law and order.

The central government had to intervene late Thursday night by rushing 42 companies of central security forces to Punjab to maintain law and order.

Interestingly, Badal’s son and Akali Dal working president Sukhbir Badal did nothing except for making one feeble appeal for peace during these four days.