Felt Along the Heart: The Politics of the Amritsar Tragedy
In a microcosm
Everything is about politics. Everything is about race/ caste. Everything is about gender or sexuality. Everything is about money. It just depends on what lens you happen to be looking through at a given point.
But it’s sickening beyond words when politics, class, caste and regionalism feed on the deaths of dozens in a totally avoidable accident, making sure we do not focus on the issue objectively so that such a tragedy never occurs again.
Here is an argument I had with an elite Jatt Sikh Punjabi Congress loyalist on the Amritsar Dassehra rail tragedy, and as you read it you will understand why I had to use the adjectives I have used, each one advisedly, to describe the friend I had the argument with.
Disclaimer: I myself am a sort of elite non Jatt Sikh Punjabi with no particular party affiliation, but with distinctly left of centre, largely liberal political leanings. I live in Bihar and have worked here for three decades, but was born in Amritsar and brought up in Punjab. Suffice it to say that both ways, for me it’s a tragedy and a tragic waste of lives, 'felt in the blood, and felt along the heart.'
And I have been an administrator, so can be accused of being sympathetic to the administrators’ dilemma in the situation, though in this case I’m actually pretty critical of their failures too.
Jatt Sikh Elite Congressiya Friend (JSECF): Mrs Navjot Kaur Sidhu is being targeted because she was the Chief Guest. Dirty politics by blaming Sidhu couple. Incidents can happen anywhere anytime...
Me: Take a look at this news item. The announcer for the organiser Mitthoo Madan is on videotape telling the chief guest Mrs Navjot Kaur Sidhu, ex-MLA and wife of celebrity Congress minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, and the audience over the loudspeaker that even if 500 trains were to cross the venue none in the audience would care or move before the celebrations had been completed.
That was active encouragement to people to defy the law and common sense, and the Chief Guest should have called it out there and then, and advised people to vacate the tracks and in fact called upon them to leave and herself left the venue.
EJSCF: It was just a statement to oblige the boss. Otherwise people were duly warned about train arrival. This was saddest thing to happen. Look at this clip.
Me: You call that a warning? Why did the organisers not keep people off the railway tracks? Sorry, my friend, I don’t agree with you. Navjot Kaur had no business presiding over a function without checking if it had full permission from the authorities, AND because it was in such an unsafe place.
It’s unbelievable that she herself did not get up and go away after hearing the warning, and did not people to leave knowing full well that people were sitting on railway tracks, with more people likely to retreat there after the effigies were set on fire, due to the heat smoke and the noise of firecrackers.
Don’t let politics overpower your common sense
EJSCF: I’m no fan of the Sidhus but they are being targeted and that's not right. She herself said that she was invited to six functions in that short span, it was difficult for her to attend all of them, she even talked to the organisers, you do the needful but the organiser did not agree.
Me: So why didn't she put her foot down and refuse to preside over this whole death-inviting, unlawful, immoral political enterprise? Was there any compulsion on her to attend so many functions when she could not pay proper attention to even one of them? Is that not putting personal political greed above the public interest?
I have no love for any political party. But I think the Amritsar district commissioner should have stopped the organisers. This is not an excuse for inaction, but it does become difficult for administration when political VIPs side with local goons and moneyspinners.
EJSCF: I think it’s just that this incident took place, that's why all this, otherwise how many care and who bothers?
Me: So you think people should continue to be put at risk just so that politicians can get cheap publicity? Would your reaction have been the same if you had lost a loved one in that accident?
EJSCF: Not at all, we as citizens have certain responsibilities. I think you are getting me wrong.
Me: Why is it so essential to protect the Sidhus when so many lost their lives? Why encourage them to go on behaving irresponsibly?
EJSCF: No one killed people deliberately.
Me: My dear friend, leaders are leaders because they are supposed to lead ignorant people in the right direction. Not encourage them to be suicidal just to get some publicity. We criticise the BJP everyday for that. So why not Congress leaders when they exploit people’s religious sentiments just to shore up political support?
EJSCF: This couple is helping people out of the way, from their own pocket, it's not about Congress or BJP, it's about politicians.
Me: How much can they help? Is it worth so many lives? Look, this is a democracy, not a feudal estate. People need their representatives to do their duty and fulfil their constitutional responsibilities, not to dole out charity. As a seasoned politician, herself an ex-MLA, Mrs Sidhu’s duty was to check the venue and permission from administration before accepting any invitation.
And once she got there, when she saw people sitting on the railway tracks or standing between them, and heard the announcers announcing about it, she should have got them off the tracks or called off further proceedings.
EJSCF: I don't think any politician would do that. It's not that the Sidhus killed them, it was an accident that took place.
Me: Wow! Do these lives not matter because they were poor people from UP and Bihar and not from elite Jatt Sikh families?
EJSCF: Of course every life matters.
Me: Then let’s all think and act like it does. There is no justification for the orgainsers, Mrs Sidhu, local police, local SDM, DM or Railways. They should not have organised/ patronised/ allowed such a public celebration, in such a dangerously crowded, patently unsafe location.
And ordinary Indians have to learn to look out sensibly for their own safety, security and best interests, like responsible law-abiding adults, not depend upon any pied pipers like religious or political leaders or a Mai-Baap Sarkar to look after them.
EJSCF: Ok, if you say so. I do see your point...