These days, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government are busy projecting themselves as great supporters of the Sikh community. The last significant event to promote this image took place on April 21, the day of the 400th anniversary of the birth of the ninth guru of the Sikhs, Guru Tegh Bahadur, when Modi addressed a special program held at the Red Fort and issued a commemorative coin and stamp. This program was jointly organized by the central government and the Delhi Gurdwara Management Committee.
Similarly, on April 29, the Prime Minister met at his residence with a Sikh delegation consisting mainly of overseas Indian Sikhs. Modi told this delegation: “Without the contribution of the Sikh community, the history of India would not be complete and neither will India. The Sikh tradition is the best example of “Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat”. In his 15-minute speech, the Prime Minister referred to Indian Sikhs overseas as “India’s National Ambassadors”. He claimed a personal affinity with the Sikh brotherhood and said that visiting gurdwaras, langars (communal meals) and living with Sikh families were a natural part of his life.
As the media spread this news, many Sikh scholars viewed Modi’s “Sikh love” as a source of suspicion. It also reminded many of the old anti-Sikh nature of the Prime Minister’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Famous Sikh thinker and senior journalist Jaspal Singh Sidhu said: “The main reason why the Modi government is celebrating the 400th anniversary of the birth of Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji at the Red Fort in Delhi is to strengthen the anti-Muslim narrative under the regime. of the BJP. It was from the Red Fort that the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb ordered the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur. The Modi government is doing this to make the Sikhs, a minority community, stand against the Muslim community.
“However, Sikhs who met Modi at his home have no special place in Sikh society. On the day Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji’s birthday was celebrated at Red Fort, turbaned youths of the BJP held placards saying, “Aurangzeb martyred our Guru, but why are towns named after Aurangzeb and his descendants in the country?” after the Muslims.
Professor Bawa Singh, former vice-president of the National Commission for Minorities, has an in-depth knowledge of Sikh politics. He says: “The RSS and the BJP have anti-minority beliefs. If they consider Islam as their main enemy, they also want to eliminate Sikhism ideologically. Therefore, sometimes they portray Sikhism as part of the Hindu religion, and sometimes they portray the sacrifices and battles for humanity that the Sikh Gurus fought as anti-Muslim battles. In fact, it is the proximity of Sikhs and Muslims that worries the Hindutva government, as it is only from Punjab that the voices of Kashmiris have been raised on a large scale. He points out that even when the citizenship law was passed in 2019, the Sikh brotherhood stood with Muslims. Punjabis and Sikhs abroad also oppose Modi during his overseas visits. The BJP and the Sangh [RSS outfits] are also trying to tighten their grip on Sikh religious institutions. The prime minister wants to include the Sikh brotherhood in his anti-Hindu and anti-Muslim agenda. “The Sangh government has created a small group of Sikhs who spread hatred and propaganda against Muslims. Although this group with the Sangh mindset is still very weak, every Sikh who believes in what the Gurus have said must You must beware of them,” he says.
Remember that even before the Punjab Legislative Assembly election, the BJP had inducted many Sikh ‘faces’. Most were of Akali Dal or panthik origin. These include Manjinder Singh Sirsa, former chairman of the Delhi Gurdwara Committee (which contested and won the Assembly election on the BJP symbol during the BJP-Akali Dal alliance) and the head of Damdami Taksal, Professor Sarchand Singh and others. In recent years, the BJP has started integrating Sikh faces (especially Jatt Sikhs) into the party to strengthen its base in rural Punjab.
About two years ago, the BJP government promised action on many Sikh issues, such as removing overseas Sikhs from a ‘blacklist’, justice for victims of the 1984 massacre and the release of Sikh prisoners who have served their sentences, but these issues remain unresolved as before. Professor Bawa Singh said: “In the program held at the Red Fort on April 21 and in addressing Sikh delegates at his residence on April 29, Modi added a so-called nationalism and a saffron tinge to his speech. In his speeches, he used words like “Maa Bharati” and “Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat”. The sacrifices that Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji made for humanity were presented as sacrifices for the Indian nation when the modern concept of an Indian nation had not come into existence. In their speeches at different places that day, other BJP leaders also limited the marvelous sacrifice of Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji to one for ‘save hinduism‘.” Similarly, he said, in his speech on April 29, Modi linked the Sikh tradition to his thought ‘Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat – One India Strong India.’ for saying these things,” says Bawa Singh.
According to Gurpreet Singh, a journalist of Punjabi origin living in Canada, the Modi government wants to build its credibility with Sikh migrants by displaying a false affinity. “It’s because they live in every corner of the world, they have status in their country and with their help, the Modi government wants to project a liberal image of itself in the world,” says- he. According to him, some overseas Sikhs see themselves as community leaders. Their voices match what the Indian Embassy and the current Indian government believe. “These so-called Sikh leaders have their own interests. For example, when Indian journalist Rana Ayyub visited Canada in 2017, she was not allowed to speak at the historic Gurdwara in Surrey due to pressure from Indian authorities, who argued that her speech would threaten mutual brotherhood and goodwill. While Narendra Modi was warmly welcomed in this gurudwara in 2015,” he says.
“There are many examples of the anti-Sikh past of the BJP and the Sangh, whether it is the role of the ‘Punjabi Suba’ movement, whether it is supporting organizations that call for the opening of tobacco, beedi, and gutka shops near the Darbar Sahib in Amritsar,” says Gurpreet. “Or the case of Harbans Lal Khanna, the state-level BJP leader who broke the Darbar Saheb model, the RSS and BJP pressuring the government to carry out Operation Blue Star or the role of the BJP and the Sangh in the 1984 Sikh massacre,” he explains.
The question, he says, is whether the prime minister, who calls himself a true Sikh sympathizer, can live up to his claims. For example, in Gujarat, his government introduced a bill to grab land from Sikh farmers who had been living in the Kutch and Bhuj regions for years. When the law was overturned by the High Court, the Modi-led state government took the case to the Supreme Court. Surendra Singh Bhullar, a Punjabi farmer leader who settled in Gujarat, says, “Now the local BJP leaders are playing hooliganism with us to drive us out of here. In fact, Modi is not only against Muslims but against all minorities. Bhullar further explains that most Gujarati Sikhs had voted for the BJP, hoping that Modi would raise their concerns, but he “showed us his true views when he blamed us.”
There are approximately 20,000 Sikh votes in The Bhullar region. “When we raised our concerns with Modi during the Gujarat Assembly election in 2012, he told us that he does not need our votes and if we have any problems we can stop farming. At that time, the BJP candidate had not even come to solicit the votes of Sikhs,” Bhullar explains.
Also, many remember how Modi, as Chief Minister of Gujarat, insulted the Sikh community under the guise of jibing the first Sikh Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh. Modi used to call Manmohan Singh”Shikhandiand once made a rude reference to “noon” when referring to him. This beard aroused strong opposition from the Sikh community. The current Modi government still uses the term Sikh terrorism in official documents. According to a report published in The Caravan magazine in May 2019, the “Standing Focus Group of Terror Financing” aims to “work on Islamic and Sikh terrorism”. In an article, “Moment of Soul Searching”, Nanaji Deshmukh, awarded the Bharat Ratna by the Modi government, praises Indira Gandhi for the military action carried out in the Darbar Sahib and justifies the 1984 Sikh massacre by calling it the result of the errors of Sikh leaders. Many BJP leaders have publicly made controversial statements about Sikhs. About three years ago, Haryana government minister Anil Vij also abused the community. During the farmers’ movement, the BJP, Sangh leaders, pro-Modi figures, including government ministers, and pro-government media defamed Sikh farmers by calling them Khalistan and other derogatory remarks. Modi never questioned that.
In January, Punjabi residents watched as Modi raised concerns about his “safety” in Punjab by defaming the image of Punjabi farmers and Sikhs. Seen in the rearview mirror, the BJP and the Sangh do not appear as friends of the Sikhs. The Sangh has always denied the independence of Sikhism and considered it part of Hinduism. In fact, Modi’s avowed love for Sikhs is a political slogan – jumla – under which he wants to hide the anti-Sikh history of BJP and Sangh Parivar.
The author is a freelance journalist. Opinions are personal.