PUNJAB’S BATHINDA DISTRICT was abuzz with activity in December 2015. The Shiromani Akali Dal was in power in the state, with Parkash Singh Badal as chief minister. The fledgling Aam Aadmi Party was trying to break into national politics beyond its Delhi stronghold. The Congress, the main opposition party, was beginning its campaign for the 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections by organising a massive rally, a show of strength at the holy town of Talwandi Sabo. The newly anointed president of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee, Amarinder Singh, was to make a speech. The deputy chief minister, Sukhbir Singh Badal, had claimed a month earlier that the Congress leader would not be able to draw a crowd. Bathinda is a stronghold of the Badals.
The dais was crowded with Congress members jostling for space. Amarinder, standing at the centre, asked for water to wash his hands. Then, he called for a party colleague to hand over his copy of the Gutka Sahib, a holy book containing select hymns from Sikh scriptures. “Here is the Gutka Sahib,” he said, raising the blue hardcover in his left hand. “And over there, three kilometres away, is the Damdama Sahib”—one of the holy seats of Sikhism. Singh went on to make some spectacular promises.
“Chaar haftea’ch nashea da lakk tod ke chhaddu”—I will break the backbone of drug addiction in four weeks—he declared. The crowd erupted in cheers. He also said he would “finish corruption,” reduce youth unemployment and “cancel all FIRs registered against the Congress cadres” by the Badal government. “I have taken an oath in the name of our tenth guru to achieve all this,” he said, raising the Gutka Sahib once more. “If you ask how would I be able to achieve this, only time will tell.”