Bhojpuri speaking population, and why just Bhojpuri, anyone speaking UP-Bihar wali Hindi is addressed as Bhaiya because they address everyone else as ‘Bhaiya’. Bhaiya or big brother is a word of respect, which they naturally give to anyone and everyone around.

Trouble starts when politicians and other people with vested interests name people from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar as Bhaiyas, just as a derogatory remark. One such occasion was there when such controversy occurred which, otherwise, could have been easily avoided. On Tuesday, Feb 15, the Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi, while addressing an election rally in Rupnagar (formerly Ropar) made an objectionable remark about people from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. As if it was not enough, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi, standing near the chief minister, applauded his remark by clapping.

The video clip that went viral showed the chief minister, telling voters in Punjabi, “Priyanka Gandhi is the ‘bahu’ of Punjab. She belongs to Punjab. All Punjabis must join together to oust those ‘Bhaiyas’ from UP, Bihar, and Delhi who want to come here and rule. Do not allow them to come here. Jo Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal.” Priyanka clapped in approval over this remark.

This chauvinistic utterance by non-other than Chief minister of a state was ridiculed by all the political rivals. It was not clear whom Channi was trying to target, but analysts say, his target was Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. In Punjab, Congress is trying hard to retain power but has been facing an uphill task because of the infighting within the party and the emergence of AAP in the state. Even its former CM Captain Amarinder Singh has joined hands with the BJP.

Kejriwal, who was in Mohali, was the first to react. He said, “Channi is an Accidental Chief Minister, he does not know what he is saying, and why he is saying. Channi’s remark is shameful. If one goes by Channi, even Priyanka does not belong to Punjab. If Channi has an allergy towards outsiders, why is he inviting them to speak?”

Shiromani Akali Dal leader Sukhbir Singh Badal described Channi’s remark as ‘disruptive’ (vibhajankari). “It exposes the mindset and character of Congress. Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi must explain whether they support Channi’s remark or not. Punjab belongs to all (Indians) and we welcome all with an open heart. The people of Punjab protect and respect all (Indians). My party offers guarantee to protect people of all religions and states.”

With the poll campaign in full throttle across UP, the BJP soon took this up as an emotive issue among UP voters. Since Priyanka Gandhi is in charge of the Congress campaign in UP, BJP leaders started asking how Priyanka would now seek votes in UP, after applauding Channi’s remark.

The UP BJP official Twitter handle started a raging debate with the hashtag #ShameOnCongress. BJP followers made fun of Priyanka’s slogan “Ladki Hoon, Ladh Sakti Hoon” (I am a girl, I can fight). UP BJP tweeted, “Priyanka Vadra hoon, koi UP ke logon ko gaali de, toh hans sakti hoon” (I am Priyanka Vadra, if somebody abuses people of UP, I can laugh). Another UP BJP tweet said, “” Bhai-behen ki jodi gazab ki hai, UP ke baahar jayenge, toh UP ko badnaam karenge, Bharat ke baahar jayenge, toh Bharat ko badnaam karengey” (What a pair of siblings. When they go out of UP, they defame UP, when they go out of India, they defame India).

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, in an exclusive interview to India TV, described Channi’s remark as unfortunate. Rajnath Singh said, “Whether it is the Punjab CM or any other leader from Congress, such a remark from Congress leaders is not unexpected. Congress has always been following the ‘divide and rule’ policy, so this is no surprise. But such remarks are unfortunate and leaders should avoid making such remarks. The people will reply to this at the time of polling.”

UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, who was doing a roadshow in Jhansi, told India TV reporter, “Congress has given so many wounds (to the people of India). They have given us the wounds of casteism, regionalism, linguistic parochialism, terrorism, Naxalism. This is the ‘sanskar’ (tradition) of Congress. That is why the people of India are teaching lessons to Congress frequently. Had they learned the lesson, Shriman Channi, who had come to Kashi, would not have said that? They should also learn from the teachings of Sant Ravidas, who advocated the need for a clean mind. Man changaa, toh kathauti me ganga.”

In Lucknow, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal lashed out at the Congress alleging that the party leaders have frequently insulted and made fun of the people of UP and Bihar. He also alleged that it was Congress that forced migrant labourers from UP and Bihar to leave their workplaces during Covid lockdown.

What chief minister Channi said should be seen as a corollary to what Priyanka Gandhi had been saying in her rallies in Punjab. Priyanka had described PM Narendra Modi and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal as outsiders in Punjab. She had told voters, “Use your mind judiciously. It is election time. There must be no scope for a long talk. My brothers and sisters of Punjab, identify who are your true leaders. …. Punjab belongs to Punjabis, and Punjabis will rule Punjab. Outsiders cannot rule Punjab. Form your own government. Those who come here from outside, explain to them what Punjabiyat means.” While making such remarks Priyanka Gandhi forgets that she has been married to the family of ‘bhaiyyas’ from UP.

BJP MP Manoj Tiwari said, “those who are speaking about forcing out people of Bihar and UP from Punjab, must know that Guru Gobind Singh was born in Patna, on the soil of Bihar…What sort of a daughter of UP is Priyanka, who laughs when somebody remarks people of UP and Bihar.” Bihar cabinet minister Shahnawaz Hussain said the people of UP will surely punish those who have made fun of them in Punjab.

According to data from the Punjab industries department, out of more than 14 lakh migrant workers in the state, more than 10 lakhs come from Bihar, UP, and Jharkhand. If workers from Bihar and UP are prevented from working in Punjab, more than 2.5 lakh industrial units in this state will suffer. The world-famous textile industry of Ludhiana, and more than 80 auto parts manufacturing units in Jalandhar having a turnover of Rs 750 crore, will suffer if migrant workers from Bihar and UP stop coming to Punjab. Migrant workers from Bihar and UP are the backbone of the thriving agriculture farms of Punjab. 

Leaders in Punjab should be careful when they speak about their brethren from other states, and stop describing them as ‘outsiders’. All of us in India are Indian first. People from different states are like beautiful flowers in the bouquet, called India, that is Bharat.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi today issued a strong reaction to Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi’s controversial remarks, where he said that “Bhaiyas who come from Uttar Pradesh and Punjab won’t be allowed to rule Punjab”.

Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a swipe at Congress over the issue and said the 10th Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, and Guru Ravidas, a 15th-century social reformer and a Dalit icon revered in Punjab, were born in Bihar’s Patna and Uttar Pradesh’s Varanasi, “so would he also be called an outsider in Punjab”.

He asked if the two Gurus would be barred from entering Punjab by the Congress.

It was because of the crores of followers of Sant Ravidas in Punjab, that the polling date had to be shifted by the Election Commission. It was Channi who went to Kashi to pay obeisance at the birthplace of Sant Ravidas, who spread his immortal teachings on love and brotherhood. Channi should at least learn from Sant Ravidas’ teachings and speak about unity instead of dividing people into regional lines.

Channi’s controversial statement comes at a time when Priyanka Gandhi is out of the roads of Uttar Pradesh to muster voters. 

Opposition parties including Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) were quick enough to hit out at Congress over the Punjab CM’s remark, forcing him to issue a clarification.

“My statement is being misconstrued. All migrant workers who came to Punjab till date, have toiled and taken it on a development path. We have only love for them, nobody can change it,” news agency ANI quoted him as saying.

“I was talking about people who come from outside and create disruptions here. Punjab is as much of the people of UP-Bihar, Rajasthan, and elsewhere, who come here and work, as much as it is ours. So, it is not right to present it in any other manner,” he added.