Dark ominous clouds once again hang over the impending Punjab Assembly elections. The bomb explosion in Ludhiana, coupled with a sacrilegious incident at Harmandar Sahib, brought back painful memories of the Maur explosion and the Baragari incident in the run-up to the 2017 elections. the complexity of other incidents of lynching, which one seeks to pass off as beadbi (sacrilege), which has become the new tool for cognitive electoral manipulation. The main difference this time around is that the blame game has shifted from Dera to Khalistanis and elements across the border. However, the upsurge in incidents and the timing of them have given rise to conspiracy theories.
The K2 (Kashmir and Khalistan) are perennial terrorist instruments of the Pakistani ISI. Activism in Punjab originated in the 1980s and predates the ongoing proxy war in the valley. It caused around 20,000 senseless deaths, including the then Prime Minister, former ministers in the sitting government. Sadly, the dividing lines have been shaped by scheming and cunning politicians. They unleashed Frankenstein in disguise as a saint, who like a proverbial genius refused to pay attention to the facilitators.
The strategically important Punjab will always remain on Pakistan’s radar as the unrest here has the potential to destroy the agricultural economy and vital national food security. By nature, the Punjabis remain fiercely independent, resulting in opposition to the bar for an extended period. Compulsive contrarianism (euphemistically referred to as Panga’s hold) is a natural instinct and the ISI seeks to exploit it to shape centrifugal forces.
The rules and tips for emotions are about reaching out and dealing with sensitivities, bullying just doesn’t work. Religion and politics are dangerously mixed, dotted with a large number of deras, engaged in selfish activities that divide. Most have even acquired their own militias. Riparian land, drugs and arms trafficking form a complex pattern for crime in border areas. Drones and tunnels have added a third dimension, offsetting, albeit to a limited extent, the currently suspended rail and road transit.
Punjab and Mizoram are two isolated examples of success in our dark matrix of conflict resolution. It is also relevant that the public-backed state police overcame the nefarious conception of proxy warfare. Unfortunately, very few tell this success story. Each time I complimented the Punjabis on this account, hateful messages followed. Many large regional parties have encouraged the glorification of terrorists.
Pakistan has made efforts to extend the arc of terrorism from Jammu-Katha-Samba to neighboring areas of Punjab. This is part of a stubborn ploy to keep the concept of the labor frontier alive. Multiple attacks took place in Samba, followed by incidents in Dinanagar (Gurdaspur) and Pathankot.
In Dinanagar, the military consciously allowed the state police to take credit for it, although an army machine gunner was the main catalyst for the successful elimination of three terrorists. Despite the recovery of the GPS, which was not handled professionally (according to media reports), there can be no real closure on the entrance road and the number of terrorists.
The Pathankot incident highlighted Salwinder’s complicity, the dismissal of SP and the possibility of a “diamonds for drugs” racketeering. The taxi driver’s mansion in his village and the involvement of a jeweler raised serious doubts about a well-organized link with a supply chain. Sadly, cops like Salwinder and Devinder (notorious at Srinagar Airport) are fed and given responsibilities far beyond their competence, neglecting documented red flags and shady transactions.
A rough check of the staffing profile of the border districts from Jammu to Ferozpur in 2014-16 revealed few facts of concern. First, the IAS and IPS agents are conspicuous by their absence. Second, state service agents linked to politicians are stationed in the border area, on several terms. Third, most are linked to local crime syndicates. Fourth, the return of the ball follows after each incident. Intelligence agencies are reporting widespread warnings, accusing police of ignoring them. BSF and the police exchange charges. Finally, the NIA and SIT intervene but never reach the fence. Almost all cases of sacrilege and explosion remain unsolved, eroding trust and fueling unwanted speculation.
Two builders of trust in citizens, central agencies and the top police hierarchy have become completely politicized. Most placements are based on suitability (read flexibility) and affiliations, ignoring domain competence. Having served with outstanding officers in Khaki, including central agencies, the desire for reform is natural.
When the Ludhiana explosion happened, I was in Hoshiarpur, addressing a big youth party. Almost everyone blamed the stakeholders and the agencies. This will require serious and concerted work on the part of the parties and agencies to dispel the prevailing idea and regain their credibility.
It sparked another disturbing realization that unfortunately young people now believe all is fair in the polls. Friendship and tolerance seem to give way to hatred and binaries. Ignoring the standards, polls and campaigns crumble into a sort of unrestricted war.
In short, a nuanced federalism, as enshrined in the Indian Constitution, is essential in border states. Stubborn disputes like the agitation of farmers are creating loopholes. Police and administration in border areas must be reorganized, on the model of the former Indian Frontier Administrative Service (IFAS). Investigations should be time-bound and conclusions shared. All parties should lower the electoral temperature. As an eternal optimist, I am convinced that the “Punjabiyat” and “Nanak Naam Lewa” traditions will defeat evil plots.