//Pankaj Vohra : In the eye of a storm

Pankaj Vohra : In the eye of a storm

Pankaj Vohra, Hindustan Times, July 2, 2006

Former Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh and senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj have come in for a lot of flak on what is being termed as ‘their attempts at rewriting history’. Another former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi’s political advisor Makhan Lal Fotedar have trained their guns on Singh. They have described his reference to them in the controversial book released last week as “total falsehood”. On his part, Singh has stuck to his position though he has been unable to defend his views on Vajpayee and Fotedar convincingly.

Sushma Swaraj’s plight is no better since her views on Diwan Chandu Shah, who every Sikh believes to be, besides Emperor Jahangir, the man responsible for the martyrdom of the fifth Sikh Guru Arjan Dev, have kicked up a controversy that may cost the BJP and its electoral partner, the Shiromani Akali Dal, very dearly in the forthcoming Punjab assembly polls. Swaraj is reported to have stated that Jahangir alone was to be blamed for Guru Arjan Dev’s martyrdom and not Chandu Shah, a courtier. Perhaps she was guided by the BJP’s old policy of attacking Muslims in order to consolidate the others (Hindus and Sikhs). But this seems to have backfired.

The views were expressed in Tarn Taran at an Akali platform in the course of a meeting of the Istree Dal organised by Surinder Kaur Badal, convened to commemorate 400 years of the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev. Among others, even Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje attended. Matters took a turn for the worse when Darshan Singh Raagi, former chief of the Akal Takht, speaking at a Punjab government function two days later, made repeated digs at both the BJP leader and the Akalis for distorting history.

Raagi, who now lives in Canada, criticised Swaraj and said that Chandu was both the instigator and, later, also the executor of Guru Arjan Dev. He had instigated the emperor to order the guru’s execution on the plea that he was working against the interests of the Hindus and Muslims. Subsequently, he carried out the execution. According to Sikh scholars, the real reason was that the guru had been pressurised by a Sikh gathering to break the marriage of his son, Guru Hargobind (who later became the sixth guru) to Chandu’s close relative after the latter made unsavoury remarks. Chandu had then taken his revenge and had used all kinds of torturous methods that led to Guru Arjan Dev’s martyrdom.

While identifying the line between the instigator and the executor, Raagi did not end the BJP’s criticism. He said that the BJP had also instigated Indira Gandhi to act against the Sikhs. When Operation Blue Star was ordered, some of its leaders praised the late Prime Minister. But subsequently, they distanced themselves from the Congress stance and were critical of the party’s actions against the Sikhs.

Now Sushma Swaraj is being accused of trying to distort Sikh history in order to absolve Chandu. It’s being argued that if Sushma is right, which she stoutly maintains, then was the sixth Sikh guru, Guru Hargobind, who took custody of Chandu, leading to the latter’s punishment (being clobbered to death by the same implements that Chandu had used to pour hot sand over the head of his father, Guru Arjan Dev) wrong? How could she be allowed to get away with this distortion of facts?

The controversy raging at the gurdwara level may force the BJP to issue a clarification to assuage the hurt feelings of the Sikhs. The Congress, on its part, has been ignorant of the Sikhs’ anger with the BJP. It is yet to exploit the issue to its advantage in Punjab where a battle royale is waiting to be fought early next year. The Akalis who had criticised Raagi for speaking from the Punjab government’s stage had no answer when the former Akal Takht chief said that he could go anywhere where the holy book (Guru Granth Saheb) could go.

In fact, the 400th year of the martyrdom has also thrown up some other issues which do not seem to be flattering for the Congress party either. The Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Committee management had wanted Manmohan Singh to preside over a function which was to be held at the Vigyan Bhawan to mark the event. He did not agree and is yet to send a message for the occasion, knowing fully well that it would help his party. Congressmen often wonder whether Singh has at any time had the interests of his party in mind or is he too image-conscious to get identified with one community.

The second point which could embarrass the government and the BJP is that the Pakistan government has already gone ahead and issued a commemorative stamp on Guru Arjan Dev. Nothing of the sort has been done here.

As for rewriting history, VP Singh may end up having a lot to explain on what has been written in the book, whose author Ram Bahadur Rai is known for his well-researched articles. Rai must’ve been privy to a lot of goings-on within the BJP, because of his proximity to the Sangh parivar at that point in time.

Although Vajpayee has denied the references to his quitting, the matter can be corroborated, or denied, by those in the know. A similar story about Vajpayee’s quitting had done the rounds in the early Nineties, when LK Advani was made the leader of the Opposition. Two prominent Delhi leaders had persuaded the then RSS chief to resolve the matter.

On Fotedar, Singh may have erred badly. Fotedar doesn’t engage in loose talk. Thus the remarks attributed to him appear unbelievable. He had met VP Singh along with Natwar Singh who must be knowing what transpired. He has neither endorsed nor denied entries in the book. But in the backdrop of all this is the story that during his tenure with Rajiv Gandhi, Fotedar had been asked to secure the resignations of two persons. One was VP Singh and the other Amitabh Bachchan. Could it be Singh’s revenge on Fotedar when he is perceived to be down?

The saga of rewriting of history has not ended. In the coming weeks, many more things may come to light which would shed light on what is the truth. Between us.