Chandigarh, Oct 12: With general election, scheduled in April-May 2019, which is just months away, Religion has once again returned to the centre stage of Punjab's politics which will dominate the political discourse.
It can be recalled, that back in 2015, less than 18 months before Assembly polls in the State, the sacrilege cases mysteriously increased. The incidents led to protests and the government of the day - of the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) alliance, which had been in power since 2007 - reacted to these. The result was violence and police action which left two persons dead and many others injured. The Opposition Congress took full advantage of the simmering situation to nail the Akali Dal. The Congress romped home in the Assembly polls with 77 seats in the 117-member Assembly (the Congress strength now is 78 seats after winning another by-election).
Similar thing happened weeks ago, seeking to politically outdo each other in Punjab, the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal held rallies in each other's bastions. But a protest march organised by a group of religious organisations was taken out from Kotkapura to Bargari demanding action against those involved in sacrilege stole both their thunder.
It is not for the first time that religious matters are dictating electoral politics in the State. Religion has always been the dominant theme of Punjab's politics ever since the report of the Ranjit Singh Commission was leaked, and later tabled in the Assembly, in August. The report on sacrilege incidents of religious scriptures in 2015, is being seen as a major setback for the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The report has indicted then chief minister Parkash Singh Badal in a matter attached to the sentiments of Sikhs in Punjab.
The report may prove to be ammunition for the ruling Congress as well as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is struggling to revive its identity in Punjab, against the SAD-BJP alliance before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The Akalis are themselves master players in this as their control of Sikh organisations, particularly the cash-rich SGPC, that have control over Sikh religious affairs.
The Congress has tried several times in the past to break the stranglehold of the Akalis on the SGPC and other organisations but has largely remained unsuccessful.
The AAP too has tried its hand at mixing religion with politics in Punjab by aligning itself before the February 2017 Assembly polls with radical elements. Of course, the move backfired and the AAP, which at one stage was expecting to win the assembly elections and form the government, had to contend with being in the opposition.
It looks imminent that issues pertaining to religion will dominate the political discourse in the state in the months to come, while the real issues of drug menace, farmer suicides, unemployment, etc will once again take a back seat.