Perils of mixing religion and politics

The attack on Nirankaris is a crime that must be investigated to identify and punish the culprits. At the same time, it is a sharp reminder that politics that plays fast and loose with constitutional morality threatens schism. BJP in Kerala, leading the charge against the Supreme Court order championing constitutional morality, and Congress, playing along, would do well to appreciate the point, and draw back.

On November 18, three people were killed and over 20 injured in a grenade attack on a Nirankari assembly near Amritsar. It disinters memories of attacks launched by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale’s fanatics, supported by the then-Akali government, through 1978-80. This peaked with the killing of Nirankari chief Gurbachan Singh in 1980, Khalistani terror, Operation Bluestar and the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984.


At its core is a tussle for religious legitimacy between Nirankaris, who believe in a living spiritual head, and Sikhs, who believe in only 10 gurus and an 11th one embodied in the Guru Granth Sahib. Through 2015-17, there were over 100 incidents of desecration of the Granth in Punjab. These were blamed on Punjab’s agrarian and environmental crises, unemployment and drug epidemic. It led to an electoral rout for the Akalis in 2017.

That Sikh-Nirankari conflict persists 40 years after it began, religious texts are defiled, and suspicion of foreign powers meddling in troubled waters refuses to die, shows one thing. Issues that should be addressed through judicial and constitutional principles crop up as strategy in toxic political games. The blame for Sunday’s attack is being randomly assigned to ‘neo-Khalistanis’, Pakistani jihadists, Kashmiri separatists and unidentified ‘terrorists’. It needs investigation and prosecution, not political grandstanding.

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This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.


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