Wednesday, Sep 28, 2022
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Punjab

Comic Relief: Why Punjab Stood Behind Bhagwant Mann

The assembly poll outcome in Punjab signifies a catharsis that the state has been desperately waiting for since early 1980s

A place in Punjab (2011) by Orijit Sen, permanent mural at Virasat-e-Khalsa Museum, Anandpur Sahib
A place in Punjab (2011) by Orijit Sen, permanent mural at Virasat-e-Khalsa Museum, Anandpur Sahib

An excited cheer of a new beginning in Punjab reminds me of an ending, mulling over a tragic episode but brimming with hope. Legendary Punjabi novelist Jaswant Singh Kanwal concludes his classic treatise, Lahoo Di Lau (The Blood Incandescent), a profound reflection on the Punjabi radical tradition while contemplating the tragic end of Naxalite movement in Punjab—“Punjab is indomitably spirited, my dear! Its thunder is in the wind. Sodden in soil this spilled blood has fermented into gunpowder. Sometimes all that’s missing is the charge to light the fuse.” Published abroad during the Emergency and smuggled to India, this novel has become a rage since. Movements, political parties and episodic resistance since the mid-1970s spawned a score of false dawns in Punjab, but a constant has been the spirit of Punjabis. Shaped by the lyricism of Baba Farid, Kabir and Guru Nanak, an ethic of struggle, solidarity and will informs the Punjabi self.

Results in UP, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur show a further deepening and expansion of the Hindutva vision succeeding in finding new adherents to beat anti-incumbency whereas in Punjab, trends amply reveal that the AAP got votes of all the castes and communities; rural and urban dwellers; men and women; the poor-middle class-upper class continuum. It is easy to lose head in this heady storm of popular goodwill and robust support. But we need to pause here and remind ourselves that the urge and will to send packing the conventional parties matured in the late ’80s–early ’90s. Punjab’s society had been incessantly striving to break the pincer formation since the 1980s, with an equally resounding mandate in the 1989 general elections to people related to victims of State oppression winning 11 out of 13 parliamentary seats. The decision to take a ceremonial sword into the Parliament for the oath-taking ceremony snowballed into a boycott of Parliament proceedings altogether. The next such occasion was the 1991 assembly elections when, allegedly alarmed over the possibility of militants sweeping the polls, the Election Commission postponed the elections and let ali­enation strike deep roots in Punjabi society. The rescheduled elections in 1992 witnessed a befuddling call for a poll boycott by militants against the popular sentiment at that point in time.

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