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  Opinion   Columnists  08 Jun 2019  Punjab’s secular ethos beat campaign of hate

Punjab’s secular ethos beat campaign of hate

Manish Tewari is a lawyer and a former Union minister. The views expressed are personal. Twitter handle @manishtewari
Published : Jun 9, 2019, 12:00 am IST
Updated : Jun 9, 2019, 2:45 am IST

The constituency is also home to the notable city of Chamkaur Sahib.

The Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib, situated here, is among the most revered places of worship for Sikhs. (Photo: Representational Image)
 The Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib, situated here, is among the most revered places of worship for Sikhs. (Photo: Representational Image)

The Indian National Congress decided to field me from the Sri Anandpur Sahib constituency in the recently-concluded Lok Sabha elections. The constituency borders Hamirpur and Shimla (reserved) parliamentary segments of Himachal Pradesh on its northern side. It is encircled by Punjab’s Hoshiarpur (reserved), Jallandhar (reserved) Fatehgarh Sahib (reserved) and Patiala parliamentary constituencies on various sides. It also shares a periphery with the Ambala (reserved) (in Haryana) and Chandigarh parliamentary constituencies. It came into existence post the delimitation exercise in 2009. Sri Anandpur Sahib is steeped in history.

The Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib, situated here, is among the most revered places of worship for Sikhs. On the day of Baisakhi, April 13, 1699, Guru Gobind Singh initiated his followers into the order of the Khalsa. The Guru requested those present to volunteer their heads to him. When five brave men, now known as the Panj Piare (five beloved), came forward to lay down their lives, the Guru baptised them with amrit (holy water) instead. The city of Anandpur Sahib began life as Chakk Nanaki, and was founded by Guru Tegh Bahadur in 1665. His son and the 10th master, Guru Gobind Singh, spent 25 years of his life in this city.


The constituency is also home to the notable city of Chamkaur Sahib. The Battle of Chamkaur Sahib was fought between the Khalsa army led by Guru Gobind Singh and the imperial Mughal forces commanded by Wazir Khan in 1704. It is here that Guru Gobind Singh's two elder sons, sahibzadas Ajit Singh and Jujhar Singh, respectively aged 18 and 14 years old, attained martyrdom while leading from the front.

Hindus and Sikhs alike revere the historic shrine of Naina Devi just 20 kilometres from Anandpur Sahib. Similarly, Khuralgarh Sahib is one of the most prominent places for the Ravidasia community. Situated in Garhshanker, Khuralgarh Sahib is also called Charan Choh Ganga Sri Guru Ravidas Ji. The constituency also houses the ancestral village of Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh — Khatkar Kalan where a memorial stands in his honour. The constituency is also the crucible of the mighty Bhakra Nangal dam that Pandit Nehru aptly described as a temple of modern India.


Into these rivetting currents of history and nationalism, I plunged headlong on the 15th of April, 2019, after paying obeisance at the birthplace of the Khalsa. Right from the word go, my opponents started running a very malicious and personalised campaign against me. The first attack was that I was an outsider, from Uttar Pradesh, since my surname, Tewari, is found more in UP than in Punjab, and, therefore, I had just no business of contesting from a Panthic seat. Tewari is as much a common surname in Punjab, as are Pathak, Awasthi and Shukla.  While the word Panthic has a pervasive, inclusive and all-embracing meaning, it is unfortunately colloquially used in a political context by sectarian forces to try and erroneously divide politics and political constituencies between Sikh and non-Sikhs.


What was conveniently swept aside was that this is Guru Gobind Singh's land who had distinctively said “manaskijatsabhe eke paihcanbo (recognise all of mankind as a single caste of humanity)”.

What was also ignored was that my late mother, Dr Amrit Kaur Tewari, a respected doctor, was a Jat Sikh, and my father, Late Dr V.N. Tewari a distinguished scholar of Punjabi and a nominated Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) who fell to the bullets of terrorists, was the standard-bearer of Punjab, Punjabi and Punjabiyat and had written a widely-quoted book in the late 1960s that had established that the pre-eminent language of Chandigarh is Punjabi. It was buried in the sands of amnesia that I had been a Member of Parliament from Ludhiana earlier and had represented Punjab in the Union Council of Ministers.


The next attack came in the form of a highly defamatory and insidious anonymous video that was circulated on social media platforms like Facebook, especially on WhatsApp. The sinister video alleged that the petrol to burn Sikhs in Delhi in November 1984 had come from my late father's petrol pump. The video went viral in the constituency and across the world.  The fact that my late father was assassinated on April 3, 1984, by terrorists at our residence in Chandigarh, a full seven months before the horrendous and macabre orgy of violence unfolded in New Delhi, and the fact that we have never ever owned a petrol pump in three generations did not stand in the way of my opponents spreading lies.  The police registered an FIR and arrested some disseminators of this malevolent video but the authors of it still remain at large.  


With defeat staring my opponents in the face they launched one final assault one day before polling. They faked my voice and put out another revolting video on social media platforms where I was ostensibly saying odious things about certain communities. I registered yet another FIR against the miscreants though the producers and disseminators of this video still remain at large at the time of writing. All through this sustained assault no social media platform took any responsibility for the dissemination of content on their platforms that could have brought my family and me to bodily harm in addition to whatever its political consequences could have been.


All through this bacchanalia of odium and hate I went about my campaign connecting with people by looking deep into their eyes. In the eyes of ordinary men and women, Sikh and non-Sikh alike, all I saw was love, care and compassion as I had seen during my earlier parliamentary campaigns in 2004 and 2009. They embraced me, blessed me as a human being, surmounting all prejudices of caste, creed, religion and other forms of bigotry that divide us. No repulsive propaganda seemed to have had any impact on them whatsoever.  

It once again reinforced what a Hindu father and a Jat Sikh mother had taught me and my younger sister in our growing up years in Chandigarh, that the essence of Punjab is —Punjab, Punjabi, and Punjabiyat. If there is truly a secular state in India it is Punjab and I am honoured to be among the torchbearers of our composite culture.


Tags: lok sabha elections, social media