In times of peace, we tend to forget conflicts; we tend to brush aside grievances till they morph into bigger and scarier avatars. It is time the Government of India tries to solve the grievances of the Sikhs with regard to a) Punishment to the 1984 propagators b) the water dispute and Chandigarh dispute with Haryana.
A look at the Khalistan imbroglio is necessary to understand the need for resolution.
- 1947 – Partition of India. The Sikhs as a separate nation before British rule, chose to join India by choice. The ensuing violence of partition however affected Sikhs the most who were kicked out of their lands in areas that went to Pakistan. Independence of India was not a joyful event for Sikhs and the scars of partition left Sikhs in a lot of discontentment with regard to their traditional lands being lost to Pakistan; and the truncated Eastern Punjab being dominated by a non-punjabi speaking majority.
- Punjabi Suba movement – A movement was initiated in 1955 seeking re-organisation of Punjab along linguist lines, seeking division of the state into Punjabi and non-Punjabi speaking areas. However, the division acquired communal overtones, with Sikhs voting for Punjabi as mother-tongue (even if they spoke Hindi) and Hindus voting for Hindi as mother-tongue (even if they spoke Punjabi). The movement resulted in trifurcation of Punjab into Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. The trifurcation though created two major disputes between Haryana and Punjab; disputes that again took communal overtones
- Chandigarh – which state would have the state capital
- Sharing of waters of Ravi-Beas and Sutlej between the two states.
- Anandpur Sahib Resolutions: the ignored pro-India sentiments – The disputes of Chandigarh and Water sharing were the foundation on which the Khalistan dispute was created. Discontentment of Sikhs after trifurcation of Punjab were initially enumerated by Sikhs and presented to Indian Government in the form of the Anandpur Sahib resolutions It was a resolution that called for more autonomy to states under a Federal Structure. Sample these extracts of the resolution
- “ The Shiromani Akali Dal realizes that India is a federal and republican geographical entity of different languages, religions and cultures. To safeguard the fundamental rights of the religious and linguistic minorities, to fulfill the demands of the democratic traditions and to pave the way for economic progress, it has become imperative that the Indian constitutional infrastructure should be given a real federal shape…”
- “..…emphatically urges upon the Janata Government to take cognizance of the different linguistic and cultural sections, religious minorities as also the voice of millions of people and recast the constitutional structure of the country on real and meaningful federal principles to obviate the possibility of any danger to the unity and integrity of the country and, further, to enable the states to play a useful role for the progress and prosperity of the Indian people in their respective areas by a meaningful exercise of their powers.”
- This momentous meeting of the Shiromani Akali Dal calls upon the Government of India to examine carefully the long tale of the excesses, wrongs, illegal actions committed [against the Sikhs] by the previous Congress Government, more particularly during the Emergency, and try to find an early solution to the following problems:
- Chandigarh originally raised as a Capital for Punjab should be handed over to Punjab.
- The long-standing demand of the Shiromani Akali Dal for the merger in Punjab of the Punjabi-speaking areas, to be identified by linguistic experts with village as a unit, should be conceded.
- The control of headworks should continue to be vested in Punjab and, if need be, the Reorganization Act should be amended.
- The arbitrary and unjust Award given by Mrs. Indira Gandhi during the Emergency on the distributions of Ravi-Beas waters should be revised on the universally accepted norms and principles, and justice be done to Punjab.
- Keeping in view the special aptitude and martial qualities of the Sikhs, the present ratio of their strength in the Army should be maintained.
- The excesses being committed on the settlers in the Tarai region of the Uttar Pradesh in the name of Land Reforms should be vacated by making suitable amendments in the ceiling law on the Central guideline
- Political Tug of War
- There was intense political rivalry between Congress Party and the Akali Dal.
- Akali Dal was gradually gaining ground as the political representative of the Sikh community and the Congress tried to divide the Akalis by propping up diverse groups of people within the Akali Dal. Giani Zail Singh, then the CM of Punjab propped up Bhindrawale as a counter-weight to Tohra and Longowal.
- The growing Akali movement was sought to be cowed down by propping up political clout of Deras like the Nirankaris.
EMERGENCE OF THE KHALISTAN MOVEMENT
- The idea of Khalistan was an idea first created in 1940s, remained idle but was revived by an NRI called Jagjit Singh Chohan, seeking a seperate homeland for Sikhs.
- The disputes of Chandigarh, water sharing and the victimisation of Punjab in all decisions regarding trifurcation of the state gave rise to wide-spread discontentment amongst Sikhs.
- The straw on the camel’s back was when Indira Gandhi tried to prop up deras of Nirankaris to counter the SGPC’s growing political clout. Nirankari Gurus desecrated the Sikh scriptures and were allowed to do it under police protection. In a major altercation, 8 Sikhs were murdered by Nirankaris while they were protesting the desecration. This was the incident that created call for taking up arms against the Nirankaris, and thereof against the government if it protected them.
- Bhindrawale, initially Indira Gandhi’s man against SGPC, stopped towing her line of action. Bhindrawale was initially not in support of Khalistan and he is known to have said that he wanted solution within India. However, it is not clear how and when he became the main ideologue of the Khalistan movement, fed on arms under the patronage of Pakistan’s ISI who was seeking revenge for creation of Bangladesh.
- In early 1980s, the movement had emerged as a major separatist movement, fed mostly by Government’s support to Nirankaris and bias of Indian Government against Punjab in the case of Chandigarh and sharing of Ravi-Beas waters.
- Bhindrawale emerged as the extremist voice of Sikhs, over-ruling the moderate voices of leaders like Longowal. Bhindrawale declared himself as the protector and arbiter of Sikh rights and acquired arms.. He is said to have conducted terror operations, directing the killing of people through an infamous hit-list of people who were perceived by him as being anti-panth. The killing of DIG Atwal on the steps of the sacred complex was a turning point.
- Operation Bluestar – Bhindrawale with his limited following fortified the Harmandir Sahib complex and refused to tow the line of the government. The government of India conducted the Operation Bluestar to capture Bhindrawale; a high-handed operation that destroyed the Akal Takht and alienated more Sikhs than ever. By all accounts of contemporary journalists like Mark Tully, the Bluestar was a major tactical blunder; using a proverbial sword to swat a fly, cutting India’s nose in the instance.
- Indira Gandhi’s killing and 1984 riots – Bluestar resulted in a strong anti-India sentiment. Indira Gandhi was seen as an enemy of the Sikhs and two Sikh guards of her killed her in 1984. Her killing was followed by wide-spread riots against the Sikhs across India. The genocide of Sikhs across India fuelled more anti-India sentiment.
- Wide-spread terrorism – the lost decade of Punjab – From early 1980s to early 1990s, Punjab went through a phase of wide-spread terrorism. Manifold extremist groups like the Khalistan Liberation Force, Khalistan Commando Force, Babbar Khalsa and umpteen others gained prominence and roamed around freely across Punjab. Almost all of Punjab was under an undeclared night-time curfew for about three years from 1987 to 1991; the writ of the terrorists run large with them being the arbitrators on social as well as political issues. It grew rapidly up to the early 1990s; CRPF and several companies of the army could not do much to control it. The ideological struggle though deteriorated into a band of goons and extortionists roaming around freely in the garb of a panthic struggle. Many innocents were killed, and anyone opposing their extremist ideology was killed; people like Longowal.
DECLINE OF THE MOVEMENT
Thankfully, Sikhs being a patriotic group if citizens saw through the ills of a protracted terrorist struggle and chose to side with the Indian nation. Punjab Police under the leadership of KPS Gill succeeded in defeating the movement, albeit not without its share of human rights violations and high-handedness.
CURRENT STATUSt the present, Khalistan movement is a dormant movement in India. It does not hold much traction in the urban or local populace of Punjab. But it is not dead, discontentment simmers below the surface. A majority of the Indian Sikhs love India and see themselves as proud Indians, willing to lay down their lives for the nation.
- India also on its part has been benevolent to Sikhs. Since 1984, India has had a Sikh Prime-Minister; has had several Generals, Air-chiefs, Admirals, Chief Election Commissioner, heads of CBI, Chief Justices et. al. Sikhs have wide presence in the public administration, defence and business community. Sikh poets, singers and actors have thrived across India. India as a society, and successive Indian governments have not displayed any systematic antipathy to Sikhs; rather it is evident that 1984 was an aberration in India’s journey as a nation.
- There are some Sikhs in Punjab, however, that still dream of a separate homeland for Sikhs. The movement gets ideological support from Sikhs living in Canada, UK or USA. They pump money, ideological support to the struggle, while bloating perceived discrimination out of proportion. ISI of Pakistan is still pumping money and effort in reviving the movement.
- Discontent simmers due to following main grievances:
- The Chandigarh Issue: “The Capital Project Area of Chandigarh will go to Punjab. Some adjoining areas which were previously part of Hindi or the Punjabi regions were included in the Union Territory. With the capital region going to Punjab the areas which were added to the Union Territory from the Punjabi region of the erstwhile state of Punjab will be transferred to Punjab and those from Hindi region to Haryana. The entire Sukhna lake will be kept as part of the Chandigarh and will thus go to Punjab…… The actual transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab and areas in lieu thereof to Haryana will take place simultaneously on 26th January, 1986″ …The above lines are not fantasy, the above is an extract of a document signed by Rajiv Gandhi, Prime Minister of the Republic of India, signed on July 24, 1985. The Rajiv-Longowal accord. No attempt is being made to solve the Chandigarh issue
- Punishment to 1984 perpetrators: The massacre of Sikhs in 1984 was a blot on India. No one has been punished for it. Lack of justice for 1984 villains is a major rallying point for Khalistanis.
- Sutlej Yamuna Link Canal: Nowhere in the world does an Agrarian region in a river basin share the waters with a region which is not even in the downstream basin of the rivers. Haryana is laying claim to Punjab waters while none of its areas falls on the rivers path. It already has Yamuna passing through it and now wants a share in the waters of the Sutlej. It is beyond the common Punjabi’s understanding on the claim of Haryana. If claims of Haryana on Sutlej waters is justified, Punjab too should get a share in Yamuna waters.
- Jokes on Sardars: Portraying Sikhs as morons has assumed mammoth proportion and is a major rallying point for Khalistanis.
CONCLUSION – THE WAY FORWARD
- Pro-active solution to the pending issues of the dispute – The Khalistan movement derives strength from multilateral pressure groups, and is dependent on the ideological debate of victimhood. There is little support for the movement amongst the Sikhs living in India; same cannot be said about NRI Sikhs. The basic grievances of Sikhs must be addressed in times of peace, i.e. now.
- 1984 genocide is now the main rallying point of disgruntled elements. India needs to bring the culprits of 1984 genocide to book. The long arm of the Indian law must catch hold of the leaders of that carnage.
- The basic grievances of the Sikh community with regard to Anandpur Sahib resolutions and Rajiv-Longowal accord must be addressed, so that such issues may not assume mammoth proportions again. Issues like Chandigarh, SYL etcetera must be dealt timely in times of relative peace; and must be dealt sensitively without rousing passions.
- The only way out is ‘truth and reconciliation’ by both parties. To reconcile with the barbarity and move on in peace.
- The truth must come out and lessons must be learnt. Beating the drums of war and illogical separatist demands will bring only pain and suffering for the Sikhs living across the Indian nation.
- Sikhs are pragmatic people and follow the example of their gurus. Atrocities by a few must not be the reason for illogical enmity and hatred towards India and Indians as a whole, for all times to come. There must be a finishing date for such historical antipathies. Sikhs must follow the examples of Guru Gobind Singh, who displayed no enmity to the Mughal rulers even after the brutal killings of his sons, even after the Sirhind killings, he chose to politically engage with Aurangzeb’s son and accompany him in his deccan campaign. To blame all India for 1984 seems to be ill-advised and just an attempt by the Pakistani ISI to foment trouble in India.
- The onus for reconciliation must begin with the Indian state and the majority Hindus, who must take steps to address the long-time demands of the Sikh community. After all, Sikhs joined India by choice, when they had a chance to go independent in 1947.
Do all this before enemies of India take advantage of the situation, stitch in time, saves nine.