Vote Catcher: SAD Sprucing up Golden Temple With Eye on 2017 

SAD’s insecurities come to fore with its desperation to inaugurate the revamped Golden Temple, writes Vipin Pubby.

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Vote Catcher: SAD Sprucing up Golden Temple With Eye on 2017 
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For the last three months, there has been feverish activity around the Golden Temple, the holiest of the holy Sikh shrine, with a huge labour force working round-the-clock to complete the prestigious Rs 83 crore beautification project in the sprawling complex.

The district administration and the contractors are being egged on by none other than the deputy chief minister and Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal, who has been paying frequent visits to check the progress of the ongoing project. He has been cracking the whip to speed up the work for the project's formal inauguration today.

Also Read: Baisakhi: When a Festival Becomes An Excuse For an Election Rally

Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal during Sangat Darshan, in Pathankot on 21 October 2016. (Photo: IANS)

Appeasing the ‘Panthic’ Support Base

His frequent visits, at times twice a week, are causing major disruption of traffic in the holy city, much to the chagrin of the local residents. Everyone is, however, talking about the clear signs of desperation to inaugurate the refurbished complex and the reason for this is the government's worst-kept secret. With the Election Commission gearing up for the Assembly elections in just about three months, there is no guarantee when it may announce the schedule and enforce the Model Code of Conduct.

The SAD-led coalition government, seeking a hat-trick in the ensuing election, cannot let go such an opportunity to please its core panthic support base. Another reason cited for the hurry is the desire to open the new complex before Diwali, when the entire complex is lit and lakhs of devotees from across the state visit the temple to pray and celebrate the festival.

The project to remodel the entrance and carve out a sprawling plaza was initially planned towards the end of the first term of the coalition government. However, a concerted effort to speed up and complete the project was taken up only last year. It was around the time when the Akali-led government was going through one of its biggest setbacks in the wake of a series of incidents of sacrilege involving the holy Guru Granth Sahib. It had led to a strong wave of protests from the very core constituency of the Akalis – the panthic voters.

Also Read: Punjab on Religious-Political Brink: Is Badal Govt Losing Grip?

The illuminated Golden Temple on the occasion of the 482nd birth anniversary of the fourth Guru Ramdasji in Amritsar, 17 October 2016. (Photo: PTI)

SAD in Damage-Control Mode

The statewide protests had initially started after the Sikh clergy, controlled by the Badals, granted a pardon to Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh for his alleged acts of blasphemy. The clergy had to finally revoke the pardon but a series of incidents of sacrilege had put the government on the back foot. Two protesting farmers were also killed in the police firing. A section of Sikhs then called for a traditional Sarbat Khalsa (congregation of the Sikhs) to condemn the government.

The SAD-led government, which had always banked on the support of panthic or religious voters, then took up a series of steps to retain its support base. These steps included setting up of memorials dedicated to Sikh history as well as taking up contentious issues like the SYL canal by unilaterally cancelling the waters agreement with Haryana and returning the land acquired for the canal back to the farmers. It also ensured an amendment to the Sikh Gurdwara Act to provide for voting rights only for Amritdhari or baptised Sikhs to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC).

But the Akali leaders were aware that nothing can please the Sikhs more than sewa at the Golden Temple. The shrine is visited by lakhs of devotees and the number of visitors at the shrine each day are much more than those visiting the famed Taj Mahal.

Puducherry Governor Kiran Bedi, Punjab Deputy Chief Minsiter Sukhbir Singh Badal at a function in Amritsar, on 23 September 2016. (Photo: IANS)

Dalit Vote Bank

Besides strengthening and retaining its vote bank among the devout Sikhs, the refurbished complex would also have a huge statue of the Dalit leader and father of the Indian Constitution, Babasaheb Ambedkar, just outside the main entrance of the complex. The Dalit community is another section that the Akalis were wooing assiduously. Dalits account for 32 per cent of the voters in Punjab, the highest percentage in any state of the country.

Besides, a 45-feet-high statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Lion of Punjab, and that of two of his greatest generals and warriors – Hari Singh Nalwa and Akali Phoola Singh, who later also became the jathedar of the Akal Takht, would be installed.

The SAD leaders believe that such steps to please its core voters would provide the alliance an edge over the rivals Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). It looks like a tall order but there is no way the Akalis would like to lose their support.


(The writer is a senior journalist based in Chandigarh. He can be reached @vipinpubby. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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