New Delhi: The Congress has dubbed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of observing 26 December as ‘Veer Baal Diwas’ — meant to be a tribute to Sikh leader Guru Gobind Singh’s sons — an attempt “to divide the country” and create a “Punjabi vs non-Punjabi” narrative.
Guru Gobind Singh was the 10th guru of the Sikhs, and his four sons (referred to as the four ‘sahibzade’) were martyred in separate incidents during a battle between the Sikhs and the Mughals, between 21 and 27 December 1704.
Modi’s announcement to mark 26 December as Veer Baal Diwas came Sunday, on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh and is being seen as an attempt at wooing the electorate in Punjab ahead of the assembly elections that are scheduled to be held in the state on 14 February.
The observance of 26 December as Veer Baal Diwas will be a “fitting tribute to the courage of the sahibzades”, Modi tweeted Sunday.
Today, on the auspicious occasion of the Parkash Purab of Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji, I am honoured to share that starting this year, 26th December shall be marked as ‘Veer Baal Diwas.’ This is a fitting tribute to the courage of the Sahibzades and their quest for justice.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) January 9, 2022
BJP members and legislators have been raising demands for this since 2018, a year after the last Punjab elections.
While there is unease in the Congress camp with many leaders sensing a subtle attempt by the ruling party to overshadow the Baal Diwas or Children’s Day that’s celebrated on former PM Jawaharlal Nehru’s birth anniversary (on 14 November), the Opposition party is circumspect in its reaction to PM Modi’s announcement.
‘Faith not a matter of politics,’ says Congress
The Congress party has called the BJP’s move divisive, questioning its intent ahead of the Punjab polls.
Speaking to ThePrint, Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate said the Congress had “no issue” with the announcement, but the fact that the BJP was always looking to “dwarf PM Nehru” betrayed their own “insecurity”.
“Religion and faith are not a matter of politics. I don’t want to comment on faith. Whether it is Guru Gobind Singh Saheb ji or his sahibzades, they should be celebrated in every possible manner and revered. We (the Congress party) have no issue with that at all,” she said.
“But this constant attempt to dwarf Pandit Nehru shows the BJP’s insecurity. He’s the architect of modern India and laid the foundation for its robust democracy. He’s far too big for Mr Modi and his troll army to undermine him,” she added.
Shrinate also said the BJP “can offer no hope in the state or at the Centre, which is why they’re having to resort to making this about the Punjabis vs non-Punjabis”.
Party spokesperson Pawan Khera added that everything was “always either/or for the BJP”.
“Why does the BJP look at everything from an either/or paradigm? This country thinks as ‘us’. BJP always seeks to divide it into ‘us vs them’,” said Khera.
‘State unit to take a call based on ground response’
In terms of its electoral strategy in light of the announcement, a senior Congress leader said the party has decided to let its state unit in Punjab deal with the issue if it snowballs electorally.
“They’ve been talking about this for a while, but have made this announcement right before the elections as a strategy to elicit a response from us,” the leader added. “We have decided to let the Punjab leaders of the Congress deal with this based on the response from the ground.”
The Delhi leadership, the leader said, will “likely stay out of this unless they need to talk about it”.
A party MP from Punjab also said that the issue is “emotive” and that the announcement will “find resonance” with the people ahead of the polls.
A long-standing demand
In April 2018, it was reported that 60 BJP MPs had written to PM Modi to designate 26 December as ‘Children’s Day’, instead of 14 November.
The letter was written by West Delhi MP Parvesh Sahib Singh Verma and signed by 59 others.
“14 November can be attributed as ‘Uncle Day’ or ‘Chacha Diwas’ instead of Children’s Day, as Jawaharlal Nehru was fondly known as ‘Chacha Nehru’,” Verma had said.
In 2019, the same demand was raised by BJP MP Manoj Tiwari, who also wrote to the Prime Minister on the subject. In his letter, Tiwari accused the Congress of trying to “suppress the history of the brave people of the nation”.
The same demand was made again by Verma in December 2021.
“The rightful owner of ‘Children’s Day’ is the four sahibzade of Guru Gobind Singh ji who sacrificed their lives at a young age to protect the religion,” he tweeted.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)