New Delhi :
For many devout Sikhs, the defining moment of 2018 was the groundbreaking ceremony of the Kartarpur corridor, which will finally provide access to a revered shrine across the border in Pakistan. But others were riveted to the sideshow as Kartarpur Sahib brought the simmering tension between Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and his flamboyant minister Navjot Singh Sidhu out in the open. The year will also be remembered for a blurry video of a horrific accident on Dussehra. As Ravana went up in flames, people watching the spectacle from elevated tracks are mowed down by a train. About 60 are killed.
The state’s Congress government sparred with opposition Shiromani Akali Dal over desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib in 2015, and also over “inaccuracies” in school history books. The Aam Aadmi Party and SAD faced revolts within their ranks. Two grenade attacks triggered fears over revival of militancy.
The Kartarpur corridor drama began with a hug. Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Sidhu came in for much flak after he embraced Pakistan Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa at the swearing-in of Imran Khan as that country’s new prime minister. Even CM Amarinder Singh disapproved.
Sidhu defended the hug in Islamabad, saying he got emotional after Bajwa told him about plans to open a corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur to Kartarpur Sahib, the shrine in Pakistan which marks the location where Sikhism’s founder Guru Nanak Dev spent the last 18 years of his life.
A few weeks later, Amarinder Singh, a former Army officer, declined the Pakistani invitation to attend the groundbreaking ceremony. But ignoring his CM’s advice, Sidhu went ahead.
The Amritsar train tragedy provided opposition parties the ammunition to target the Sidhus. A magisterial probe later blamed the gateman at a railway crossing and organisers of the Dussehra event, giving a clean chit to the minister’s politician-wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu, who was the chief guest.
Earlier in the year, 28 men who had left for greener pastures abroad, returned home in caskets, their bodies exhumed from a mass grave in war-hit. Ten more, abducted and killed by the IS, were from other states.
Two grenade blasts, one at the Nirankari Bhawan in Amritsar that killed two people and another at Maqsudan police station in Jalandhar, triggered concern among the security forces that ISI-inspired terrorists were trying to foment trouble in the state.
In August, a report by the Justice Ranjit Singh Commission into the desecration of religious texts in 2015, when the SAD-BJP combine was in power, came as a big setback for the Akalis at a time they were trying to resurrect themselves after the assembly election defeat.
The report not only blamed the police for using “unprovoked” force on protesters at Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan in Faridkot but also said the then chief minister Parkash Singh Badal was aware of the proposed police action.
The protests had erupted in 2015 after pages from the holy book were reportedly found torn and scattered. As the clamour for action against the Badals picked up, the opposition SAD suffered another blow. Senior leader Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa quit party posts.
The Taksalis (or the old guard) like Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, Rattan Singh Ajnala and Sewa Singh Sekhwan also revolted against the leadership of the Badals. Pushed to the corner on the “sacrilege” issue, the entire Akali leadership made a surprise move in December. It decided to seek atonement from the Akal Takht, the supreme temporal seat of the Sikhs, for unspecified “mistakes” committed “inadvertently” in the past.
The main opposition Aam Aadmi Party also faced a revolt following the unceremonious ousting of Sukhpal Singh Khaira from the post of the Leader of Opposition in Punjab Assembly. Rebels MLAs held their own public meetings, virtually daring the party to take action against them.
There were some tough times for the ruling Congress as well. A consistent opposition attack forced the resignation of minister Rana Gurjit Singh, accused of illegally bagging sand-mining contracts.
As nine new cabinet ministers were inducted in the Amarinder Singh government in April, some Congress MLAs, including Surjit Singh Dhiman and Sangat Singh Gilzian, quit their party positions, upset over being overlooked.
A rift in the top brass of Punjab Police too came out in the open. A DGP-rank officer, Siddharth Chattopadhyaya, accused Punjab DGP Suresh Arora and another senior officer of trying to scuttle a probe into an SSP’s alleged role in a drug trafficking case.
Also, in 2018, school teachers went on strike over pay cuts. Dead fish floated on the Beas after spillage of molasses from a factory, triggering environmental concerns. The SAD objected to how Sikh history is taught in Punjab schools. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Amritsar, underscoring the importance of the Punjabi diaspora.