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Amaan Bali: Sirsa And The Politics Of Opportunity
Many are not so optimistic about his chances in navigating the realities of the BJP and the needs of the Sikh community
December 3, 2021 | 3.5 min. read | Opinion
I was driving when the news of Manjinder Singh Sirsa joining the BJP reached me. My WhatsApp groups and Twitter began blowing up immediately with criticism of his decision.
There have been many takes on what happened and how people feel already. Most, if not all, of these takes have come from Sikhs who feel disappointed with Sirsa’s move. Understandably so.
“Traitor”, “betrayal”, “opportunistic”, were some of the words used to describe his move. Others shared that they were not surprised at all, considering Sirsa’s historic connection to the BJP was always known.
The thing about Sirsa is that he has always been an astute and clever politician.
His stint as the president of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) saw many important milestones for the community. Although he lost during the recent DSGMC election, he remained a popular and respected leader.
His contributions towards the Farmers’ Protest due to his position in the DSGMC are worth mentioning and remembering. While his ability to support the movement came as a result of his position, he used it well. Most notably to defend hundreds of detained farmers that were arbitrarily arrested, and to push back against anti-Sikh state and godi media narratives.
Sirsa has always been in the proximity of power and those around it. Although he could be mistaken as an activist over the last year, he has always been a politician - one largely driven to challenge the Congress.
The BJP has tried to connect with the Sikh community through the likes of Hardeep Singh Puri and R.P. Singh but these actors never earned traction amongst Sikhs. Sirsa’s quick responses to acts against Sikhs around the world, including in parts of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, placed him in a position that many other Sikhs in the BJP cannot command.
An important aspect of Sirsa’s new innings is the Shiromani Akali Dal’s relationship, historic and recent, with the BJP.
The Akali Dal has maintained in its statement that Sirsa was intimidated into joining the BJP. Jail or Modi, is the alleged options provided to Sirsa. Sukhbir Badal has echoed similar rumours, that it was “threats” which caused his party to lose its top leader in Delhi.
Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh went as far as to suggest that people’s conscience is always tested and that Sirsa should have passed that test considering all the love he received from the Delhi Sangat.
The BJP has become a toxic brand in Punjab. Historically they had softened their brand through a coalition with the Akali Dal, but the Farmers’ Protest broke that. They have been attempting to mend the relationship with Sikhs since.
The BJP’s new leadership has felt that the Akalis used the BJP to bolster their reputation with the Hindu community of Punjab, but did nothing to improve the BJP’s credibility or image in return.
BJP, in its bid to touch alienated Sikhs in Punjab, has even gone to the extent of including former AISSF member Harinder Kahlon. The BJP has finally found their man in Sirsa, though. He is a hardworking politician who understands the camera and the social media game.
However, attempting to improve the BJP’s position amongst Sikhs during an all-time low may be too much of a hill to climb even Sirsa.
Critiques of Sirsa’s move have come from all sections of the Sikh world, with some even comparing him to Longowal. Notably, Longowal after his accord with Rajiv Gandhi was criticized by many in the community, including the Akali Dal.
The main criticism against Sirsa, however, is coming from farmers, who had at points felt he was one of their own. The goodwill he generated almost entirely evaporated overnight.
Sirsa has said that his goal is to continue serving the community as he has in the past.
However, it remains to be seen how Sirsa can operate in a party that is part of the Sangh Parivar, and connected with the RSS and its goals of assimilating Sikhs into the Hindu fold. Many are not so optimistic about his chances in navigating the realities of the BJP and the needs of the Sikh community.
Unfortunately for Sirsa, they may be right.
Amaan Bali is born and raised in Kashmir. He is an entrepreneur and author of the upcoming book, “Growing up on the right side of Kashmir History”. You can find him on Twitter at @amaanbali.
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