Of all the states going to polls in 2017, Punjab offers the Indian National Congress the best opportunity to arrest its slide and bounce back after the recent defeats in Assam and Kerala. After nearly a decade of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) being in power in the state, issues of corruption, unemployment, farmer suicides and drug addiction have contributed to an intense anti-incumbency sentiment. While the Congress will be hoping to capitalise on this, the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is proving to be a thorn in its flesh.
AAP has positioned itself as a fresh alternative to both established parties in Punjab, and the Huffpost-CVoter opinion poll, which suggests that AAP may win 94-100 seats out of 117 next year, testifies to AAP’s popularity. Even Prashant Kishor, the campaign strategist working with the Congress in Punjab, recently acknowledged the threat that AAP posed when he said “the fight in Punjab is between the Congress and AAP, the Akalis are out”.
Against the backdrop of this power tussle, one Congress MLA has been fighting his own battle. Born into a non-practising Muslim family, Mohammad Sadiq belongs to the Doom Scheduled Caste. After a successful career as a folk singer, Sadiq contested elections from the reserved constituency of Bhadaur in Barnala district in 2012, defeating SAD’s Darbara Singh Guru. In March 2012, Guru filed a case in the Punjab and Haryana High Court alleging that Sadiq, being a Muslim, was not eligible to fight elections from a reserved constituency. Sadiq argued that he had grown up as a Muslim and not a Sikh, and that he had converted to Sikhism in 2006.
However, in April 2015, the HC ruled in Guru’s favour and disqualified Sadiq from the state assembly, saying he had failed to prove he was a Sikh. Later that month, Sadiq appealed to the Supreme Court and on April 29, 2016 the apex court overturned the HC decision, reinstating Sadiq as the MLA from Bhadaur. In its verdict, the SC had noted that “a person can change his religion or faith but not the caste to which he belongs to, as caste has linkage to birth”.
Fresh off his Supreme Court victory, Sadiq spoke to Newslaundry about a wide range of issues – from growing up in a Muslim family closely involved with the Sikh faith, to being subjected to untouchability as a child. He also shed light on the practice of caste-based discrimination in Islam and Sikhism, saying “It is only in theory that Sikhs and Muslims don’t believe in caste”. While the SC verdict has paved the way for Sadiq to re-contest his Bhadaur seat, he isn’t willing to commit just yet. “It all depends on the party,” he said. “If the party says so, I’ll fight the election.”
Sadiq’s is a fascinating case of how caste has polluted religions that claim to not even recognise such hierarchies. Even those looking to free themselves from the shackles of caste by converting to other faiths have to contend with the fact that their caste identity is attached to them forever – for better or for worse.
Watch the entire conversation with Mohammad Sadiq here: