by Shashwati Talukdar
The busy bus inter-state bus stop in Jalandhar has a tiny triangle of a park. Not very user friendly, it has a forlorn statue of Bhagat Singh in one corner. This statue shows him wearing a turban. Clearly, it marks him out as a Sikh. This is an interesting shift. Bhagat Singh is usually immortalized in the popular imagination as wearing a hat and sometimes holding a gun, or with a noose in the background. What could be the reason he was portrayed like this? Was it because a European accessory like a hat would make him too alien, and his Punjabi Sikh identity was what was necessary to assert here? A Sikh identity that was fused with the incontestable patriotism of a figure like Bhagat Singh.
The statue seems to have been installed in 2007 which is also the year Parkash Singh Badal came back to office as Chief Minister of Punjab. Given his connection to the Sikh clergy, which has been one of co-optation by him and thereby the blurring of lines between church and state, to benefit Badal and his family’s political ambitions, the installation of this statue is perhaps a perfect emblem to seal that connection in the Punjabi electorate. It is perhaps a reminder to the good Sikhs of Jalandhar, i.e. in order to be good Sikhs they need to be patriotic by supporting a person and party that seeks to identify itself as not only the secular leader of all Punjabis but also their spiritual leader and thus, by blurring the distinction between church and state. Or it could mean the exact opposite! A call to all true Sikhs to be like Bhagat Singh and rebel against an undemocratic government, that is, it was an oblique call to oppose the current government. It’s hard to know what the answer is without knowing the players in this particular local drama. However, the statue was certainly a clue as to what questions to ask.