Sarbdeep Singh Virk joins BJP

Former Punjab Police Chief’s entry in BJP shows people’s lack of will to challenge majoritarian Hindu extremism  

Sarbdeep Singh Virk

The news of Sarbdeep Singh Virk joining the ruling right-wing Hindutva nationalist party of India is disheartening.  

The BJP aspires to turn India into Hindu theocracy. Under its seven year rule, attacks on religious minorities have spiked since 2014.  

With an eye on winning the upcoming assembly election in Punjab, where Sikhs form a majority, the BJP is trying to rope in as many Sikhs as possible. Virk is the latest prominent Sikh face to join their bandwagon.  

Though he isn’t the only well-known Sikh to do so or the first former Sikh police officer to join the BJP, what is so unique and disturbing about this, is that he once set an example while showing exceptional courage by coming out openly against growing Hindutva terrorism in India. 

Virk had joined the Maharashtra cadre of the Indian Police Service in 1970 after passing civil-service examinations. He was dispatched to Punjab during the 1980s when this state in northwest India was facing a growing security threat from Sikh separatists. 

Though a Sikh himself, Virk was determined to take on the challenge and was even injured during a fight with the militants in 1988. He eventually rose to become director general of police. 

This was a time when Sikh militants ran a parallel administration in Punjab and were fighting an armed struggle for a separate homeland of Khalistan. The movement was ultimately brought to an end by the mid 1990s by police who relied on repressive measures and who eliminated many extremist leaders in fake encounters. 

Due to internal departmental rivalries and political interference, Virk was charged with corruption and suspended. This was overturned by the Central Administrative Tribunal, then he was rescued by the Maharashtra government. He was not only repatriated to Maharashtra, but ended up becoming the police chief of the state until his retirement in 2009. 

He was back in the limelight in 2019 after he wrote a column critical of Hindutva terror in Indian Express. This was in reaction to the nomination of Sadhvi Pragya Thakur as a candidate for the BJP from Bhopal. Thakur, a highly controversial ascetic, was charged for her involvement in a bomb blast in 2008 that claimed six lives and injured 100 people. The target of the attack was a Muslim-dominated area. She is associated with a group that believes in political Hinduism—also known as Hindutva—and wants to turn India into an official Hindu state through violent means. She’s currently out on bail and now sits as an MP in the lower house of the Parliament.   

Thakur’s arrest was followed by an investigation by a police officer, the late Hemant Karkare, who served as the chief of the Maharashtra police antiterrorism squad. Karkare came under attack for smashing cell of a Hindutva terrorist network. 

Even the current prime minister, Narendra Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat back then, publicly insulted Karkare. The police officer was called anti-national and anti-Hindu by BJP supporters. This was despite the fact that Karkare was a practising Hindu and had never compromised himself in dealing firmly with Muslim extremists.  

In November, 2008, he died fighting with Muslim extremists who launched coordinated attacks in Mumbai. Ironically, Karkare was turned into a martyr overnight, even by Hindutva groups. Modi later offered a huge monetary award to his widow, Kavita Karkare, who refused to accept it. Kavita Karkare later died later, of a brain hemorrhage. Many believe it was linked to the emotional stress she had been dealing with ever since right-wing extremists began hounding her husband.   

Modi has not only been instrumental in ensuring that Thakur has been nominated to run for the Indian Parliament, he has shamelessly defended her. In fact, the prime minister had claimed that the previous centrist Congress government brought the case against Thakur to give Hindus a bad name. Emboldened by these gestures by the Modi government, Thakur went to the extent of saying that she had cursed Karkare, which led to his death. 

These developments disturbed Virk. He had heard firsthand from Karkare about his dispassionate and honest investigation into the growing threat of Hindutva terrorism. Virk then decided to write a column to defend his colleague whose professional integrity had come under question. He pulled no punches in criticising those who were patronising Thakur.  

With him joining the BJP, the hopes for a sustained campaign against Hindutva are eclipsed and only likely to strengthen the hands of its ideologues in power. How can he now defend himself on the question of Thakur when he himself has become part of her gang?  

Virk has only proved that he and others like him may have had strong will to decimate Sikh radicals who represented merely two percent Sikh population in India, but they lack spine to stand up against majoritarian extremism that continues to enjoy the backing of the Indian establishment under Modi.    


* Views expressed are the author’s own.


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