Punjab before elections; Nobel rhetoric sans substance

Chandigarh : Imagine Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal in the august company of the likes of Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Barack Obama, Aung San Suu Kyi and Jimmy Carter – all Nobel Peace Prize laureates? A minister in the Punjab government would like that to happen.

Tikshan Sud, who is a minister in the Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance government in Punjab headed by Badal, has gone public and demanded that the Nobel Peace Prize committee bestow the award for 2012 on the chief minister.

In fact, last week saw Badal courting controversy on account of not one but two proposals to honour him.

While one was Sud’s demand for a Nobel peace prize, the other was the move by the Sikh clergy to give Badal the Sikh ‘Panth Rattan’ (jewel of the religion) for the completion of the ‘Virasat-e-Khalsa’ complex, showcasing the Sikh religion and culture uniquely, at the city of Anandpur Sahib.

Sud, who is state industries and local bodies minister and the BJP’s main face in the alliance government, has stretched the level of sycophancy to a new ‘high’ (read low!). The Nobel prize demand by Sud was made for Badal’s “constant efforts for the welfare of humanity, integrity and world peace throughout his political career”.

The minister emphasised that the welfare of mankind was the soul of Badal’s entire political career of five decades and he selflessly fought for the well-being of humanity despite so many hurdles.

During the emergency imposed by the Congress in 1975, Badal spent a long time of his life in jail to protect the human rights and interests of people and was the only person who spent a longer time in jail in the public interest after former South African president Nelson Mandela, he said.

Sud said Badal has made “unparalleled efforts” to maintain communal harmony among all religions, including Hinduism and Sikhism.

The opposition Congress was quick to react to the demand. “There cannot be anything more belittling for these awards than seeking these for a person like Badal. He had orchestrated this campaign through the people who owed their positions to his discretion,” former Punjab chief minister and state Congress president Amarinder Singh said.

Amarinder Singh at a recent rally asked Sud and the Akal Takht jathedar (head) Gurbachan Singh: “What is his (Badal’s) contribution to world peace and the panth that he deserves these two awards.”

“Yes, Badal should get the Nobel prize, but for corruption.”

“While I can only say that nothing can be more belittling for the Nobel peace prize than somebody suggesting it for Badal, Panth Rattan is only decided posthumously and not by the person who controls the SGPC,” Amarinder Singh said, accusing Badal of virtually engineering the demands for these honours.

Even some of the radical Sikh organisations like the All India Sikh Students Federation (AISSF) and Dal Khalsa have objected to the move to confer the Panth Rattan on the chief minister. He himself has remained silent on the issue and the controversy generated by it.

At a time when Punjab is heading for assembly elections, likely to be held in February-March next year, the rhetoric from both sides on such matters is only likely to get shriller – without much substance .

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