The recent return to power of the Shiromani Akali Dal Government remains the talk of the day in Punjab as well as amongst people concerned about Punjab in different corners of the world. The swearing-in of the Government took place at a historic monument site which depicts the valour and great sacrifice of the honourable Baba Banda Singh Bahadur and the Khalsa of his day. Memorials like this were raised to guide generation after generation about the selfless sacrifice of our great leader-warriors who set us the example of how life should be lived, and if need be that life can be sacrificed to safeguard coming generations. Present day leaders and there manner of governance can be well judged against the significance of those in whose name these memorials exist. The legacy of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur for all humanity and not just the Sikhs, brings the returning Akali Govt sharply into focus.
Memorials in Punjab tell us that homes and lives can be rebuilt, but that trust in fellow human beings once lost or reduced is hard to regain. Sikhs have always stood up to oppression and worked for the good of people. But the present day governance of both our elected and other leaders is rapidly leading the people to conclude that trust in humanity is an elusive and false goal. As a people, Punjabis are losing the little emotional bond we have left with these memorials, which can be found dotted in every corner of Punjab. Just as these memorials are in deep distress and suffering from neglect, so are the Sikhs and the Punjabi public in general feeling a sense of hopelessness because of our leadership. We have been taken away from a sense of belonging in this land by our leaders and Government, as can be seen by the huge numbers of people who want to move away from this once glorious land to the safer corners of the western world. The fabric of family life, society and the very meaning of our identity has been diluted. These memorials represent standing up for a dignified way of living, taking pride in your well being, and they helped to create a sense of liberty and freedom of expression which is under deep threat.
Today in Punjab, one of the Akali Government’s first steps was the appointment of a new police chief who boasts of having taken so many young and old brave Sikhs from their homes who then vanished without trace. This from an Akali party who have chosen to start governance from the site of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur’s memorial, the Khalsa general who sacrificed his everything to stand up against the tyrannies of his times. Look at the difference: now the known destroyers of humanity itself are being glorified by those who want us to believe they are the successors of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur. To create an illusion, the present day rulers of Punjab have chosen this great memorial which stands for liberty, respect and freedom of expression to begin there new term, but in doing so they are giving a new meaning to this site and other sites standing barren in Punjab.
The Anglo-Sikh memorials are an important link to our more recent past. They are in a state of shambles and some have even become hard to locate. Elsewhere, a memorial in Anandpur Sahib, the Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji Museum located within a short distance of the new Khalsa heritage site created by this Government has been off-limits to the public for almost two years because of it’s poor state of upkeep. It has many things which link us with our glorious past. The significance of these sites is being changed to fit the culture that is being imposed on us. The coming to power of the present government on the basis of infrastructure has been at the cost of neglecting basic Punjabi demands such as a capital city, High Court, control over river waters, power generation dams and other basic rights which create a sense of belonging. Instead we are sold malls and stadiums that depict the aloofness of our leaders and the non-concern they have for the electorate. This is in contrast to what is happening in the Arab world today, where people are choosing to live with a sense of liberty, rather than bridges and roads which take us nowhere.
The second innings of this Akali Government is a matter for concern and depicts the depth of hopelessness in Punjab. As we see, new memorials are being created next to the old significant memorials which are left to wear themselves out and become mere rotten structures of no significance. Many people are surprised by the poor showing of the other Badal namely Manpreet Singh who chose to ride with the left front, overly signifying the achievements of shaheed Bhagat Singh, whilst not mentioning the glorious history of so many other Punjabis and mainly Sikhs. In my experience under the present system, standing up for peoples right to dignity is a grave sin and it makes you an unwanted personality even in your own family. I am monitored always and treated suspiciously, so terrified and vilified our surroundings have become. This lack of concern by our leadership and now the people, will create for us and coming generations a new meaning for life based on personal greed and promotion of your own kin. The cost will be our surroundings and other basic rights, and an end to what has long been a fearless and dignified society.