Amritpal Singh, the newly elected Lok Sabha member from Khadoor Sahib constituency, was administered the oath of office on Friday alongside Sheikh Abdul Rashid Engineer who won the recent polls from Baramulla in Jammu and Kashmir.

While Singh was brought from Dibrugarh where he is imprisoned facing charges under the National Security Act (NSA), Engineer was brought from Tihar jail in Delhi where he lodged, facing charges under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Reports stated that the two independent MPs were administered the oath in the chamber of the Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla as they could not take the oath along with the other MPs on June 25 and 26.

Their parole orders reportedly stated that during their temporary release, they cannot speak to any media persons or address the media. Neither can their family members make any such statement.

Singh’’s oath taking was followed by a war of words on social media platforms. However, the political context of his victory needs to be understood. It calls for deciphering what it actually means for Punjab and on what path is the politics treading in Punjab. The underlying fact is that the two ‘radicals’ Amritpal and Sarabjeet Singh Khalsa who won from Faridkot Lok Sabha constituency, have been elected by the people through the constitutional exercise of voting.

Singh won with a resounding margin of more than 1,97,000 votes. This was the largest victory margin in Punjab.

Khalsa, is the son of Beant Singh who was one of the assassins of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The victory of these two radicals is being interpreted differently at different levels.

One opinion that is unanimous is that their election to the Lok Sabha is a major event in the contemporary political history of the state that shares an international border with Pakistan and where Sikhs are in majority.

Hard line elements in Punjab polity see their victory as the emergence of a new leadership in Punjab politics. They believe that the old parties who claim to be the representatives of the Panth have been rejected and that space has gone to these two independents.

“Their vote share is over and above the vote share of Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) that has been totally rejected. The people expect them to deliver on issues which other political parties do not even touch,” said Harpreet Singh of United Akali Dal (UAD).

Amritpal Singh is being trolled for taking the oath of the same Constitution that he was opposing. In fact, his detractors are posting his previous interviews where he is seen opposing the Indian Constitution.

“He did not have any other choice but to contest an election and return victorious. One has to keep in mind that he was booked under the NSA and not being allowed to defend himself in public. He was detained and no justice was being delivered in the case. In fact his victory and taking oath should be seen as something positive for democracy. But what is being reported is entirely the opposite,” Harpreet Singh said. He added that Amritpal Singh should be let out of prison.

The residents of Singhl’s constituency of Khadoor Sahib also say that he should be released and allowed to work for the constituency and deliver for what the people have elected him. The people are now questioning how long would their MP remain behind the bars.

They said that denying him space to work for the people would mean election of more such independents in the coming elections.

They agree that his using the holy Guru Granth Sahib as a shield at Ajnala was wrong and he should have been booked for the incident but they say that his actions did not call for the imposition of NSA against him.

“Amritpal is the only person who has worked and campaigned sincerely on the menace of drugs in the villages of the constituency. His powerful oratory has led to many hardcore substance users give up the consumption of drugs and alcohol and adopt the path of religion.

“No other party has done anything to curtail this menace. The people had even given the verdict in favour of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on the same issues of drugs and corruption but nothing came out of it,” Harbhal Singh, a resident of Tarn Taran, said.

On being asked the same question about Amritpal Singh taking the oath of the same Constitution that he had earlier rejected, he said, “What he was opposing was the rotten system. Journalists often provoked him to speak in favour of Khalistan.

“But if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ecosystem can talk about a Hindu Rashtra, why can’t people talk about Khalistan? He said or did nothing that called for the imposition of NSA against him.”

During the visit to Khadoor Sahib constituency in the run up to the elections, this reporter had come across Amritpal’s campaigners saying that a leader like him was needed in Punjab to address the issues of drugs and release of the Bandi Singhs (prisoners of the militancy era languishing in prisons).

They also say that was needed to fight for justice in the cases of sacrilege of holy texts in which the successive Congress and AAP governments have failed to deliver after the people had rejected the Akalis in 2017 Assembly polls. At the same time they had contended that protests and dharnas do not achieve anything and other means have to be resorted to for getting justice.

The whole issue was explained well in Punjab’s context by Dr Surjit, a Patiala based academic, keeping a keen watch on the political developments in the state. “The disenchantment and frustration of the people has led to the things gradually moving towards the rightist path in the state.

“The failure of the state to deliver on education, employment and economy has been leading to the offshoots in the form of gangster culture, menace of drugs and the growth of the right wing. The ‘Neela baana’ (blue attire normally associated with hard line Sikhs) that was on the decline has been witnessing an ascent.”

He further said, “It needs to be kept in mind that he has come through popular verdict. If he was not administered the oath, the situation would have worsened. One needs to recall that he did not have much of the people’s support when he was arrested.”

He pointed out that the disenchantment of the people with the prevailing set of affairs can also come out ‘violently’ in the form of voting as was the case with the landslide verdict given to the AAP in 2022 Assembly polls when the party won 92 of the total 117 seats.

At the same time he felt that such radical elements often lose steam and become irrelevant as was the case with the six MPs that had won in the 1989 polls from the Akali Dal (Amritsar) led by Simranjeet Singh Mann. They had failed to prioritise people’s real issues over the issues of religion and could not deliver.

Dr Surjit underlined that the state needs to address the people’s issues and concerns if the growth of right wing radicalism is to be checked.

On being asked if he saw issues like that of Bandi Singhs or other emotive ones taking the centre stage in Punjab politics once again, he explained that when the established political forces grow weak such issues raise their head and right now there is a fight to fill the space in the Panthic domain.