Chandigarh : The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Akali Dal's coalition partner in the two-month-old Punjab government, Monday cautioned Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal that he would be held responsible if Tuesday's statewide shutdown called by Sikh leaders turned violent.
The warning came hours before the one-day strike called by the Akal Takht – the highest temporal seat of Sikhism – to protest the actions of religious leader Gurmit Ram Rahim of the Dera Sacha Sauda that have offended the sensibilities of the Sikhs.
The BJP warned the government that "it would not hesitate to initiate stern steps to save the state from disaster" if the situation got out of hand during and after the shutdown.
The BJP holds the key to power in the state with its 19 legislators against the Akalis' 49 in the 117-member assembly. The Congress has 44 legislators.
In a statement issued here, state BJP president Rajinder Bhandari made no bones about his party being upset with the manner in which the widespread protests against the sect head had been handled last week.
The state saw widespread violence by Sikh activists and dera followers after the sect chief attired himself like the 10th Sikh guru Gobind Singh.
An upset Bhandari reminded the government that it was the responsibility of the chief minister to maintain law and order and protect the lives of the people.
The BJP has reasons to worry. It not only won majority of its assembly seats in the February elections from Punjab's urban areas but also has a substantial support base among traders.
Trade and industry in the state has suffered due to last week's religious violence.
The central government also issued a fresh advisory to Punjab authorities asking them to take all necessary steps to maintain law and order during Tuesday's shutdown.
Earlier Monday, Badal clearly indicated that his Akali Dal supported the call for the shutdown while his senior party colleagues prepared to make the strike a complete success.
He also asked the dera chief to apologise to the Sikh community for his actions to defuse the tension.
"No one is big or small. He should realise his mistake and apologise to the Sikh community. This will help defuse the tense situation," Badal told reporters here.
The chief minister also stated that since a case had been registered against Gurmit Ram Rahim for hurting religious sentiments of the Sikh community, his arrest would only be a natural step.
The dera, on the other hand, maintained that its chief had committed no mistake and there was, therefore, no question of tendering an apology.
"We have already regretted the entire episode that might have hurt feelings of the Sikh community," dera spokesman Aditya Insaan said in Sirsa, 300 km from here.
The dera spokesman reminded Badal of his "raj dharm", or ruler's duty. Badal was quick to react saying that he knew his responsibilities and that it was for the sect to follow the "dera dharm" (sect's duties).
The chief minister said his government was fully geared for the shutdown, adding: "Anyone going against the law will be firmly dealt with. Maintaining law and order is our responsibility. Carrying weapons other than kirpans and firearms will not be permitted during the bandh."
Asked about the measures that would be taken if attempts were made to forcibly close the dera campuses, Badal said his government would deal with the situation as it arose.
"Our government is determined to maintain law and order in the state," the chief minister maintained.