Those incensed with the hoisting of a Sikh flag on Red Fort should actually be angry over the tableau of Ram temple in Republic Day parade of a secular nation
The ongoing farmers’ agitation in India took a dramatic turn on January 26, when some protesters stormed the iconic heritage Red Fort building in New Delhi and raised Nishan Sahib to make a point.
It being Republic Day of India, the incident left many political leaders outraged, while a section of the media has gone to the extent of describing those carrying the Sikh flag to the Red Fort as extremists.
The farmers from mainly Sikh-dominated Punjab have been camping outside the national capital for weeks to protest against controversial farming laws brought by the right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government.
The farmers complain that the laws which have been passed without debate and consultations are going to affect their livelihood. The movement has attracted the support of farmers from other regions of the country as well.
They had resolved to enter New Delhi on Republic Day to take out a tractor rally. But a section of the protestors broke away from the planned demonstration to go and raise the Sikh religious flag or Nishan Sahib on Red Fort. Even though Nishan Sahib is not the same as the flag of Khalistan, an imaginary Sikh homeland, the right wing media has accused these people of acting at the behest of Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), a separatist group banned by the Indian state.
With no huge following in Punjab, which has already seen the demise of an armed insurgency for Khalistan movement, SFJ often indulged in gimmickry and had announced a monetary reward to those who could hoist a Khalistan flag on Red Fort on January 26.
And yet the right wing media commentators have tried to club the two flags together, while the BJP leaders have described these people as extremists.
The BJP apologists in the Indian film industry, such as Kangana Ranautm have branded the supporters of agitating farmers as “terrorists.”
The hysteria caused by this episode has also gripped the mood of many in the opposition and the frontline leadership of the farmers’ agitation.
The farmers’ leaders have distanced themselves from the events at Red Fort, but a senior leader of the so called secular Congress party, Shashi Tharoor, has condemned the incident, saying that the Indian tricolour is the only flag that should be raised on Red Fort.
Most opposition leaders have blamed the BJP government for allowing the situation to deteriorate by failing to listen to the farmers and refusing to roll back the problematic farming laws, but the Red Fort incident has captured the headlines.
What could be more hypocritical than the fact that there was no outrage over the tableau of a Ram temple in the annual Republic Day parade? It was the grand model of an upcoming Hindu temple on a disputed site in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh.
An ancient mosque once stood on the same spot. In December, 1992, BJP supporters demolished it, claiming that it was built by a Muslim emperor after destroying a Hindu temple at the birthplace of Lord Ram. The incident, which followed months of conspiracy with the connivance of the establishment, had vitiated communal harmony in the country. The Red Fort incident of a symbolic protest was nothing in comparison to what happened in Ayodhya. Many violent incidents and anti-Muslim pogroms followed the demolition of the mosque while the BJP remained adamant to build a Hindu temple at the same place. Finally, under the current regime, the Indian Supreme Court gave its verdict in favour of the Hindu temple while refusing to restore the land back to the aggrieved Muslim community.
The demolition of the mosque was an outright assault on the Indian constitution that guarantees religious freedom and equality, but by including a tableau of the Ram temple that is being built on the dead bodies of Muslims in the Republic Day parade, the present government has formally buried the future of an inclusive and secular India.
The media and the opposition, which conveniently overlook this reality by squarely focussing on the Red Fort incident, also need to be held accountable for allowing majoritarianism to thrive under the garb of secularism and democracy, making life suffocating for everyone. Rather than investing more time and resources on questioning and weakening the continued growth of Hindu extremism, they are going after a perceived threat of Khalistan movement, which has lost its charm and poses a negligible threat to the security of the country. While SFJ was outlawed for merely asking for a right to referendum on Khalistan, Hindu extremist groups have been allowed to function openly and spread hatred and violence against minorities.
If hoisting of Nishan Sahib from Red Fort is against Indian values, then why there is a silence about the display of Ram temple model in a national day parade? The Nishan Sahib, which was the flag of the Sikh warrior Banda Singh Bahadur, who had given the slogan of land to the tiller, should not alarm us, while the tableau of Ram temple, which reminds us of bloodshed, should.
Gurpreet Singh is a journalist