By Zafar Aafaq

Communal violence tore through Punjab as the subcontinent was partitioned in the summer of 1947 into India and Pakistan. But there was one place that usually remained calm. Malerkotla, an erstwhile state dominated by Muslims near the city of Ludhiana, did not see even a single incident of communal violence. The place continues to be a bright-spot when the country is in the grip of communal polarisation from the last few years fueled by Hindutva ideology of Sangh Parivar.

Now, on the eve of Eid as the Punjab government announced the area as 23rd district of the state it has not gone down well with Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath has come out blatantly opposing the development with no regard to how soever the issue is local in the larger national politics. The obvious reason is that Malerkotla is Muslim dominated.

Adityanath called the move an act of “distinction on the basis of belief and religion”. Invoking the spirit of the constitution, he said on Saturday that the formation of Malerkotla as district is a reflection of divisive policy of the Congress.
While Uttar Pradesh CM’s comments were clearly made with intent, he also used it as an opportunity to launch barbs against ruling party in Punjab as the assembly elections are just months away.

Responding to Adityanath’s comments, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amrinder Singh accused him of trying to incite communal hatred in the state. He said the attempts to create a communal wedge between peace loving people of Punjab will backfire.

“What does he (Yogi Adityanath) know of Punjab’s ethos or the history of Malerkotla, whose relationship with Sikhism and its Gurus was known to every Punjabi? And what does he understand of the Indian Constitution, which is being brazenly trampled every day by his own government in UP?” the Punjab chief minister asked in a press statement, which his office shared with Clarion India. “The whole world knows of the communally divisive policies of the BJP, and particularly the Yogi Adityanath government in UP,” Singh added, suggesting Adityanath to focus on the Covid-19 situation in his own state.

He said Adityanath is “hellbent on destroying” Uttar Pradesh facing lawlessness, communal and caste divisions, and lack of governance, along with insensitive handling of the Covid situation by a government which files criminal cases against those pleading for help to save their loved ones.”

He also reminded the UP CM of Punjab’s rich history of unity of communities. “Many of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Ministers were Muslims and Hindus. Faquir Azizud-din and his brothers, Nurud-din and Imamud-din were Ministers in Ranjit Singh’s court. His Commander-in-Chief was a Hindu, Dewan Mohkam Chand; his artillery was also manned by Muslims and no other community was part of his artillery,” CM Singh pointed out.

Meanwhile, people in Malerkotla welcomed the new move saying that the area will now see development and they would not have to travel farther to cities and towns for administrative and official work. They also rejected the comments of the UP chief minister.

Azhair Munim who is head of a local NGO that ran a Langar stall at the ongoing farmers’ protests at Singhu, the Delhi-Haryana border, said making Malerkotla a district was our long pending demand and we welcome the announcement. “It is the wish of people of all communities that our area should progress. There is nothing Muslim about it. We have lived in communal harmony here for ages,” Munim said. “We exchanged gifts with our Sikh and Hindu neighbours on Eid.”

Another civil society member of Malerkotla Abdul Shakoor who is associated with Jamaat-e-Islami Hind said that by elevating the status of Malerkotla to the district the area will see an all-round development. “Malerkotla is a historical city and making it a district was long overdue.” Abdul Shakoor said they welcome the move. he said Adityanath should not worry about Malerkotla and instead focus on Uttar Pradesh battling with covid-19 crisis. “CM Yogi should be worried about the dead bodies washing up in river Ganga,” Shakoor said. “We have communal harmony in Punjab.”

While people are delighted at the announcement, they, however, said that it should not ring hollow but be translated into practical changes on the ground.

Khizr Alam Khan, a youth activist in Malerkotla, sees the announcement with a sceptical eye. He talked about how the area has been neglected despite repeated promises made by the government. “Razia Sultana, the current transport minister who was earlier PWD minister, comes from here but our roads are full of ditches.” Khan lamented.

He said that the government should set up basic infrastructure in the area at a fast pace as they have only a few months before the next election. “They should start work on projects as soon as possible to lend credence to the announcement,” Khan said.

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