The party, whose national president had, in his Lok Sabha speech, supported the Citizenship Amendment Bill, no longer wishes to alienate Muslims. Anilesh S. Mahajan
Amid protests in various parts of the country, a statement from the Akal Takht jathedar (head priest) Giani Harpreet Singh favoured the inclusion of Muslim community in the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Akal Takht is the highest temporal seat among Sikhs and is equivalent to the stature of the pope among Christians. The statement from their chief was reason for concern for the Shiromani Akali Dal, whose MPs had supported the bill in the parliament. The SAD national president, Sukhbir Singh Badal, had, however, in his speech in Lok Sabha, demanded the inclusion of sects within Islam which face persecution within the Muslim community in Pakistan, like the Ahmadiyya sect.
In Punjab, chief minister Capt. Amarinder Singh was already opposing the Citizen Amendment Bill (CAB), like other Congress chief ministers, committed to not implementing the exercise of formulating a National Register of Citizens (NRC). “While we welcome the inclusion of Sikh and Hindu refugees, we don’t want to alienate the Muslim community,” says Badal in a conversation with India Today.
But what led to SAD’s U-Turn and subsequent broadening of their stance for all sects of Muslims? There are two reasons. Despite their population size of 1.93 per cent of the state population, Muslims in Punjab are swing voters and, secondly, the temporal seat of Ahmadiyya Muslims is in Qadian, in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district.
Meanwhile, Badal, says: “there are Muslims who are living in India for more than three decades, it could be a futile exercise to disenfranchise them.” Apart from the SAD chief, other NDA allies and friendly parties are sidestepping from committing to the NRC exercise, including Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, and Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik, among others. “The sikhs cannot differentiate against anyone on the basis of religion and caste. So, there was no need to keep the Muslims out,” says Akal Takht jathedar Singh, adding that the Muslims might be a majority in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, but are a minority in India and must not be alienated.
In Punjab, there is a sizeable settlement of Pakistani Hindus and the Sikh refugees from Afghanisthan and Pakistan in Jalandhar, Amritsar and Ludhiana and there are Sikh refugees living in several urban, middle-class areas of the state and in Delhi. “There are very few ‘refugees’ among Ahmadiyyas in India or Punjab. There are families who have married across the border and are seeking Indian citizenship,” a community leader, who wished to not be named, told India Today INDIA TODAY. There are roughly 1.5 million Ahmadiyyas in India. Apart from Qadian, they have sizeable population in Delhi, Mumbai and Chandigarh and are mostly affluent. Most Ahmadiyya “refugees” have moved to the UK to take refuge. The observers believe that the inclusion of this particular sect would only have added strategic brownie points. “There are not many Ahmadiyya refugees, but their inclusion would help India strategically,” says a top official dealing with India’s strategic affairs to India Today, on condition of anonymity.
There is politics too in the SAD’s stance. The rigid stance of party leadership would have pushed the Muslim population towards Congress. After touching 0.5 per cent of the state’s population post the 1947 Partition and the subsequent violence, the 1961 census showed that Muslims constituted 0.8 per cent (largely in Qadian and Malerkotla principality) of the state’s population, and this number went up to 1.93 per cent by the 2011 Census. In six out of Punjab’s 22 districts, more than two per cent of the population is made up by the Muslim community, with Sangrur topping the list with 10 per cent. The major increase happened in the last two decades, when there was an influx of industrial labour in the urban centres.
The political parties worry that these districts might have a sizable population of refugees from Bangladesh. Apart from Malerkotla assembly segment, where Muslim voters are in majority, there are 18 seats were the swing votes can dent the results. SAD, which is facing a crisis of depletion of its core vote bank of rural Sikhs, can ill-afford to lease this vote block to Congress.
Those who understand Punjab’s demography and history will further tell you that both the Sikh and Hindu communities in the state have soft corner for Ahmaddiyas. In 1984, Pakistan outlawed the sect, declaring them as non-Muslims and since then they have been through several rounds of religious atrocities. It is a criminal offence for Ahmadiyyas to practice Islam or claim to be Muslims. If they do, they stand to face the probability of capital punishment. In fact, in the summer of 1999, Mirza Masroor Ahmad-who went on to be the fifth (and current) caliph and worldwide leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community-was imprisoned for 11 days in Lahore jail and later released without charge. Because of such atrocities, both Mirza Masroor Ahmad and their global headquarter moved from Rabwah in Pakistan to London. The township was developed after Ahmad’s family moved from Qadia to Rabwah because of partition. In 1999, the Pakistani Punjab’s provincial assembly passed resolution without discussion to change the name of Rabwah to Chenab Nagar to wipe out their memories.
Unfortunately, the persecution of the Ahmadiyyas has continued in Pakistan. The SAD’s request to include them among the other religions might just be the thing that saves SAD’s vote bank.