March 30, 2015 | By Jaspal Singh Sidhu
The Sikhs are a tiny minority constituting 2 per cent of India’s 1200 million people. But they have a spectacular and distinct historical contribution to the social, economic and political fields. Since the beginning of 18th century the Sikhs played a pivotal role in moulding the Indian subcontinent that reached to its present shape. The Sikhs fought against Mogul rulers, stopped the marauding invaders from north-west, waged a protracted bloody battle for ‘self-rule’ which culminated into a sovereign state of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and made untold sacrifices in the freedom struggle against the British Empire.
Recognizing the political and social input of the Sikhs in history, eminent historian Hari Ram Gupta makes a notable observation, “In their operational areas of north-west India, the Sikhs had laid down more than two lakh lives fighting against invaders and their viceroys in Lahore. Had the Sikhs not made such sacrifices, Punjab would have been a province of Afghanistan. Punjab is a gift of the Sikhs to India”. Gupta’s remarks should also be examined in context of the recent history of north-west which underlines that Afghanistan had been part of the Persian Empire till Ahmed Shah Abdali carved it out a separate country under his rule in mid-18th century. And Abdali’s successors’ (his grand son) attempts to capture Punjab and merge it with Afghanistan successfully rebuffed by the Sikhs.
Another observation about the Sikhs relating Indian freedom struggle was recently made by an eminent political analyst Bhabani Sen Gupta. He eulogized the Sikhs that their siding with India helped in truncating territorial claims made by the Muslim League in 1940s. “By standing firmly with the Congress, the Sikhs made a seminal contribution to the creation of the Indian state as it sands today. They helped the Congress leaders isolating the Muslim League, and reducing substantially its political bargaining position. They helped the Congress to kill the sovereign aspirations of at least half-a dozen Indian princes. The Sikhs became a shining example of India’s secularism”.
Countless sacrifices the Sikhs made for ‘self-rule’, during the freedom struggle and for defending their faith, social and cultural moorings in the history have got entrenched in their ‘collective memory’. In free India, the Sikhs expected the unrestricted realization and promotion of distinct religious, social and cultural entity. But it happened otherwise. Rather, they experienced suffocating environment on political and social fronts and have been fearing religious assimilation in the majority’s ethos enjoying patronage of Indian state.
It is not a mere perception that puts the Sikhs in unique predicament in post-Independence era. Practically what is happening on the ground is that for New Delhi, the Sikhs are Indian subjects as others and expect them of behaving like other citizens. But the Sikhs’ pulsating ‘collective memory’ has been taking expression in various shapes of dissent, revolt and aggression, invariably, to be suppressed by the Indian state. It chose to describe the Sikhs recurring ‘trouble’ in the area where they are in majority as ‘law and order’ and ‘Punjab problem’, thereby, denying political nature and specificity of the Sikh dissent.
To the bane of the Sikh minority, the nation-state project as taken upon by the Congress rulers immediately after the British quit and to be followed down to the Nerendra Modi regime has been steamrolling the country’s pluralism and distinct cultural and historical entities into a large relgio-ethnic and cultural identity of the majority population. This politico-cultural process has further been bucked up by the present election system, known as ‘first-past-the post’, which require keeping the majority in good humour to reach corridors of power. Hence, the majoritarian rule has become an essence of the Indian democracy reducing the Sikhs as ‘faceless voters’, substitutable to other Indians .
How this intractable dichotomy faced by the Sikhs like other minorities and ethnic entities in free India has come about, needs to be examined in a historical perspective.
The Sikh religion: The Sikh religion founded by Guru Nanak in late fifteen century to be followed by his nine successor gurus, spanning over a period of more than two centuries preached a different ‘world view’ than that of the then warring two social and religious communities-Hindus and Muslims. Gurus initiated a third ‘panth’ with a unique Sikh identity.
The Hindu identity got embroiled in the caste, ritual, social corruption and dominance of the elite. Guru Nanak called for abandoning of the symbolism of the Hindu faith and himself refused to wear ‘janeu’ (sacred thread) as a mark of ‘upper caste’- thereby rejecting the ‘varna ashram’ and un-questionability of revealed knowledge of Vedas and their regime of rituals. His God, as an ultimate truth of existence in both creative and transcendental aspects, was free from all anthropomorphic attributes (having form and qualities of man). Guru Nanak reduced the religious practice for a Sikh (a learner) to three simple commandments—kirt karo, naam japo and vand chhako- work hard, remember God through the Name and practice sharing. As an antidote to evil of the caste-system and to impart an egalitarian twist to man’s day-to-day life, he made obligatory ‘guru ka langar (community kitchen) to be attached to the Sikh centres of worship (gurdwaras). Lower rungs of the society joined the new religious order with fervor.
Baba Nanak opposed the bigotry prevailed among Muslims too and counseled them,“ Muslim to make kindness of his mosque in which he should spread the prayer mat of faith. Modesty should be his circumcision and gentle acts his fasts. The reward of good deeds be his kaaba and Truth his preceptor”.
Guru Nanak, however, had a deep regard for Muslim mystic traditions and had a close association with Muslim mystics. The principle Sikh scripture, Guru Granth Sahib, incorporates 112 hymns of Sheikh Farid and those composed by other Indian mystics born as untouchables, including Ravidas, Namdev, Kabir, Madana, Dhanna Jatt and nine others. And the Guru Granth Sahib is being worshipped as the living guru. Guru Nanak and his successor nine gurus remained householder opposing the Hindu practice of ascetics renouncing the world. Fifth guru, Arjun Dev prepared ‘Gurumukhi script’ for Punjabi language prevailing in the area and complied the Guru Granth Sahib in local language discarding ‘Sanskrit’, popularly known as language of ‘devtas’ and Vedas.. Guru Ram Das constructed Harimandir (the Abode of God) encircled by ‘sarovar’ (tank) with a gate on all the four sides, symbolizing that people from all classes and creed could enter. And the foundation stone of Harimandir was laid by Sufi saint, Mir Mohammad or Hazrat Mian Mir as he was popularly known. All this shows that on theology and practice level the Sikh religion has a clear departure from the Hindu theology and Vedic traditions.
The sixth Guru Hargobind built Akal Takht (an eternal seat of temporal power) in the Harimandir Sahib complex as counterpoint to seat of Mogul power in Delhi and wore two swords of ‘miri and piri’ – symbolizing temporal and spiritual powers. This was the beginning of the Sikh religion’s direct confrontation with Mogul rulers which saw the execution of Guru Teg Bahadur at Delhi opposing Islamic bigotry and for upholding the freedom of conscience. Tenth Guru, Gobind Singh created ‘Khalsa’ order with five new converts came from lower castes. The guru was engaged in battle with Mogul army assisted by the Hindu chieftains which saw his two elder sons and many of his associates fell fighting and his two younger sons being bricked alive. And the Guru’s mother breathed her last in that torturous environ.
Missionary work of Sikh Gurus and subsequent fight by followers of the faith has aptly been described as a ‘Sikh movement’ which was not only an egalitarian social revolution, it was a plebian political revolution as well. Guru Gobind Singh follower Banda Bahadur was also the first one in world history to effect ‘land to tiller’ policy in Punjab much before the yearning for ‘freedom and equality’ found expression in French Revolution of 1785-1815.( Jagjit Singh ).
Always a minority, the Sikhs never crossed a threshold of six-seven per cent of population in Punjab even during rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. But they successfully dented the ‘Delhi seat of power’ and fought against invaders from Central Asia. Punjab’s majority Muslim population to be followed by 35 per cent Hindus did not fight against the invaders from the north-west and their elite remained loyal to the ‘power-structure’ of the day.
Earlier, the Hindu Rajput rulers who had held their sway in north –west began beating retreat in 9th century from the Kabul capital following onslaught of Muslim invaders. Delhi was captured by Mahmmud Gaznavi in 1007 which saw the Rajputs warriors, with a sole exception of Maharana Pratap, going into a complete submission before the Muslim rulers .
Viewing against this background, the Sikhs waged a persistent fight for social and political autonomy and suffered countless atrocities and killings as Mogul emperors fixed a price of the Sikhs as early as in 1710 and continued their head-hunting till 1780. Ejected from their homes the Sikhs, however, became experts in guerrilla warfare. Ahmad Shah Abdali, the general of Nadar Shah desecrated and demolished the Golden Temple Amritsar twice in 1762 and 1764. But, the Sikhs emerged stronger thereafter and established their ‘misls’ (confederacies) controlling a large part of Punjab and adjoining areas between Ganges and Yamuna rivers.
Historians estimate that during their fight for autonomy and self-rule, at least 2 lakh Sikh fighters lost their lives and more than this number women and children got perished. Ultimately, Maharaja Ranjit singh occupied Lahore in 1799, established the most liberal and secular state in the subcontinent – the first South Asian sovereign kingdom of the era that spread from north western frontier of Afghanistan to Satluj and from Kashmir to the deserts of Sindh. About 800 year after the Hindu Rajput kings’ retreated from the Attock fort in 1007, Maharaja Ranjit Singh unfurled ‘kesri flag’ there in 1813.
All this prove, over the history, the Sikh faith produced a unique socio-religious community of mentally emancipated people distinct from that of the Hindus and Muslims’. In this context, the observation of eminent writer V.S Naipal is notable that unlike the Hindus, the Sikh mind is not susceptible to dictatorship and said. “The Sikh idea is that God is the only true sovereign and that the governments have mandate to govern on the condition that they do justice”.
Annexation of Punjab by the British in 1849 after the demise of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the beginning of a different story for the Sikhs. The British administration in Lahore went in for demobilizing the Khalsa army, dismissing 40,000 soldiers and seizing ‘jagirs’ of Sikh chiefs. But, soon the British’s policy took a ‘U’ turn in Punjab and sought co-option of the Sikhs in the British rule. Recruiting the Sikhs in the Indian army began at a big way after the 1857 uprising in Delhi and other parts. During 1875-1914 composition of the Indian army changed with three-fifth Punjabis, among whom half were Sikhs.
After settling down in the Indian sub-continent, the British implemented a policy of what Prof Mehmood Mamdani of Columbia university puts as ‘define and rule’ (not divide and rule as generally projected ) and went for resurrecting “the glory that was Hindu India” which was their requirement to justify the destruction of the Mogul India. The joint Indologist and Orientalists projects led by the English and European scholars and funded by East India company popularized the terms like Aryan race, ancient Aryan culture, Vedas and Sanskrit texts giving birth to a legend of ‘the wonder that was India’. And Indian Orientalism was seductive and collaborative as took the form of Indo-Europeanism, overlooking the collusive role played by the native privileged groups (Said).
Historian Romilla Thapar describes the ‘ancient India’ projection as “Syndicated Hinduism’ created with majority community identities in the colonial period in contrast to ‘Muslim’ or minority which is an amalgamation of Brahmanic and Sanskritic ornamentation with invocations of humanism from shramanic religions like Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, bits of Islamic egalitarianism, Christian catholicity to enhance its universal appeal and attraction (Braj Ranjan Mani) . They created a hard-hitting critique of the Islamic world describing the Muslim rule as spoiler of ‘ancient Indian lore”. The RSS and its ideology of exclusivist ultra-nationalism has its roots in the perceptions of Indologists and Orientalists.
The British also commissioned the study of Guru Granth Sahib by German Indologist Ernest Trumpp who depending on the Brahminic sources suggested “Sikhism was a kind of pantheism and degenerated Hinduism” which became the basis of the Arya Samaj’ campaign of ‘vilification against the Sikh religion in Punjab. Singh Sabha movement awoke to the challenge of the Arya Samaj, particularly to the latter’s ‘suddhi’ (purification) campaign aimed at reconverting the poor untouchable Sikhs back to the Hindu fold.
As a consequent to tensions in Hindu-Sikh relation, after exactly 400 years after Guru Nanak’s first statement, Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha, a scholar of Sikh religious resurgence wrote a long tract in 1899 to categorically clarify that ‘Hum Hindu Nahin’—(we (Sikhs) are not Hindus).
The rise of Hindu nationalism in the first quarter of 20th century saw worsening of the Hindu-Sikh tensions. The Sikh reformers removed all Hindu idols from the Golden Temple precincts in 1905 and liberated the Golden Temple and other gurdwaras from the control of Udasi abbots ( Udasi is Hindu sect) who had been siding with the British rulers and had restricted the entry of untouchables in the Sikh shrines.
But acquiring of DISTINCT official status for the Sikh religion with formation of the SGPC in 1920 was not to the liking of Congress leaders, including Gandhi and they became hostile to the Sikh leaders. Nehru wrote to a friend in April 1924 “Their (the Sikhs) movement is largely a SEPARATIST MOVEMENT, as far as religion concerned, and this has naturally reacted in the social and political sphere”.
Soon Gandhi began writing letters to the Sikh leaders, questioning their claim of DISTICTION, “I personally do not see any difference between the Sikhism and Hinduism…..It is wrong to make difference between the Hindus and the Sikhs….. The Guru Granth Sahib is full of the teachings of the Vedas. Hinduism is like a mighty ocean, which receives and absorbs all religious truths”.
Urban-educated class in Punjab got organized on the platform of Hindu Mahasabha in 1926 and opposed the ‘Relief of Indebtedness Bill’ of 1940 which was introduced to free the farmers (rural peasants mostly Sikhs and Muslims) from swelling indebtedness which had made them lose away their cultivable lands. The Hindu-Sikh divide, thus, traversed from religious to economic and social areas.
The Hindu Mahashaba with Lala Lajpat Rai as its top leader, wrote series of articles in the Tribune in 1924 suggesting division of Punjab between the Muslim majority and Hindu-Sikh areas. The Hindu Mahasabha , later, merged in Congress in December 1936 to oppose communal award giving weight-age to Muslim and Sikh minorities in the shape of ‘separate electorates’. Thus, the Congress party in Punjab absorbed the Hindu parochialism and communal stringency, which had previously given sap to Arya Samaj.
The ‘Idea of India’ projected and theorized by Indologists and Orientalists was further chiseled into a shape with the invocation of religious imagery of ‘Bharat Mata’ and ‘Bande Mataram’ (hail to thee Mother) for Indian nationalism by the Bengali intelligentsia, the first to come in contact with the British rulers ruling from Calcutta capital. Swami Vivekananda, Bankimchandra Chatterjee and Aurbindo Ghosh gave religious colour to nationalism in “callous disregard to the feelings of Muslims”. An editorial of The Tribune, published from Lahore and edited by Bengali journalists offers an instance how the ‘Idea of India’ was being given a political and teritorial shape by the nationalists. In its editorial on 19 March, 1881 , it said , “ We do not believe in the theory that India is an assemblage of countries and that her people are assemblage of countries and nations, the vast continent from Himalayas to Cape Comorin and from Brahmaputra to the Indus , form one great country”. But, the adoption of ‘Bande Mataram’ song by Congress ministries in provincial power in 1937 was highly resented by the Muslim League, terming the song as “ anti-Islamic and idolatrous in its inspiration and ideas”. The song symptomatic of Hindu religious domination of the Congress proved “subversive to the growth of genuine nationalism in India”.
Mahatma Gandhi, too, becoming a Hindu faqir and utilizing all symbols of Hindu mythology saturated the Congress party’s appeal with a Hindu imaginary and initiated a political process that would eventually led to Partition. (Perry). Gandhi remained ambivalent calling on Muslims to defend the Calif in the same breath as Hindus to restore the Golden age of Rama” and abjured his Hind Swaraj (1909) thesis that ruled out identifying the nation with any religion: “If the Hindus believe that India should be peopled only by Hindus, they are living in dreamland. In no part of the world are one nationality and one religion synonymous terms; nor has it ever been so in India.”
In mid-thirties, Congress as a party was close to ‘monolithically Hindu party’—just three per cent of its membership was Muslim who , otherwise formed 25 per cent of the Indian population.
The Muslim minority, still hankering after the lost glory of 800-year-long rule , was not willing to accept the majority rule. Then, the first-ever election to provinces in 1937 when Congress refused to enter into a coalition partnership rule came as final an irreconcilable departure between two political outfits and, thus, prepared a ground for Partition. Later, Nehru admitted in October 1939, “There is no doubt that we have been unable to check the growth of communalism and anti-Congress feelings among the masses.”
But the die for Partition was already set with Congress and Muslim League leaders had failed to agree on mode of struggle for achieving ‘swaraj’ (self-rule) forcing Jinnah to quit Congress at its December session at Karachi in 1920. Later, they engaged in open confrontation with their leaders’ respective rhetoric flared frenzy of communal clashes between Hindus and Muslims from Multan to Malabar deep down in South in 1930s. The natural corollary to such communalized environment was the demand for Pakistan raised in March 1940.
An added factor to Partition was provided by Lord Mountbatten who reached India with a mandate of the British Labour government for effecting “transfer of power’’ in India by June 1948. Mountbatten seemed to be in hurry. Within days after arriving in New Delhi on 22 March 1947 he made Congress leaders demanding ‘Swaraj’ (self-rule) since past three decades, ready for accepting ‘dominion status’ under the Empire and Partition if the power was transferred to them immediately.
“Among the deals precipitated moral and physical perversions of 1947, the most astounding was the Congress working committee’s March resolution accept India’s partition and seek the League’s cooperation in dividing Punjab into Muslim and non-Muslim provinces”( Patwant Singh). In his radio broadcast on June 1947, Nehru appealed to the nation to accept the Partition plan saying, “ It may be that in this way we shall reach that united India sooner than otherwise and then she will have a stronger and more secure foundation”.
Evidences, later, confirmed that accepting Partition was a calculated game of Nehru-Patel to slice away the Muslim majority areas for retaining a demographic majority which could easily be moulded into a nation-state political dispensation. According to Aga Khan, Jinnah had not expected the Muslim League to have its separate nation- state, Pakistan as late as in 1946. To compensate Pakistan for partition of Punjab and Bengal , Nehru persuaded the North-Western Frontier Province to revise its earlier decision of joining India and merge into Jinnah’s nation.
Caught in the nation-state paradigm, both the Congress and Muslim League seemed to be in hurry to utilize their newly inherited state power in building their respective states and mobilized their people around vortex of nationalism. Ethnic-religious cleansing of Hindus-Sikhs in West and Muslims in East Punjab with covert involvement of RSS, spread rapidly and got intensified with Congress adopting the 1947 Partition Resolution. It scotched the possibility of peaceful transition of power from the Raj.
The march of two competitive ‘nationalisms’ donning armoury of religion, thus, snuffed the life of one million people, causing untold humiliations and miseries to three lakh women besides uprooting the homes of 8-9 millions on both sides of the Radcliff line, dividing India and Pakistan . Thus, the world was witness to the biggest migration in the history.
Two major developments took place in the Indian sub-continent with its colonization by the British Empire (the Raj) in 19th century. First, it imparted a unity to India that had never been of even under historically known big empires of Ashoka, Gupta and Akbar. Thus, the Raj provided a ‘geographical area’ to the ‘Idea of India’. Secondly, the Raj replicated the Western-style nation-state and system of governance in the sub-continent, beginning with setting up an Imperial Legislative Council through an Act of 1892 for nomination of unofficial members on it to the providing ‘self-rule’ in phases through a mode elections to civil bodies and provincial bodies with ‘partial to larger participation to locals.
Most of Congress and League leaders involved in the struggle for Independence were English educated or studied in Europe, had grasped the Western political system and modernization as ‘panacea for all Indian ills’.
Concept of nationalism as pursued by Nehru was more emotional and of romantic variety as he underlined in his book ‘ The Discovery of India’ that the India sub-continent has ‘ something unique’ about its antiquity … having “tremendous impress of oneness’….. making its inhabitants ‘ throughout the ages distinctively Indian, with the same national heritage and same set of moral and mental qualities…. a dream of unity has occupied the mind of India since the dawn of civilization”. Such patriotic imagery of Nehru left a little space for pluralism and diversity particularly for the Muslim minority even as India had the second largest world’s Muslim population. (Perry)
“Nationalism is an ideology”, says Prof Eqbal Ahmed “glorifies you with (your) expanded and solidified identity…and darken the picture of other side….. It distorts (rather) bound to distort the history to construct an identity …. nationalism always have the Other”.
Rabindranath Tagore makes a clear distinction between ‘ samaj; (society) and ‘rashtra’ (nation) . In his ‘Selected Writings on Education and Nationalism’ Tagore condemned the Western nationhood for creating ‘ delusion that you are free,’ while fetish nationalism makes you to sacrifice your freedom everyday. “The national machinery of commerce and politics turns out neatly compressed bales of humanity which have their use and high market value but they are bound in iron hoops, labeled and separated off with scientific care and precision” . Evidently, no Congress leader had bothered about the pithy opposition to Indian nationalism came only from Tagore.
With West nationalism in mind, Nehru was not for devolution of political power from the Center to the provincial governments which was the guiding principles of India’s democratic progress under the British Empire. Nehru had also rejected the Cabinet Mission of 1946 that had brought a ‘confederation sort of vision’ for free India.
Keeping its umbilical chord attached to the outgoing Raj Congress adopted Westminster ‘undiluted’ model lines for the Indian Constitution picking up 250 of the 395 articles ‘word by word’ from the British Government of India Act passed by the Baldwin cabinet in 1935. The Congress elite studied election systems of England, Canada, USA and Ireland and chose the ‘first-past-the post’ one instead of ‘ proportional representation’ to which ensured better manipulation from the top. Surely, this electoral system paid rich dividends as Congress ruled the country continuously for three decades with 30 to 35 per cent vote share and recently Nerendra Modi’s gaining of 31 percent voted in May 2014 Lok Sabha polls was hailed as ‘resounding victory’.
Post Independence Era and the Sikhs: Nehru and Patel, during pre-independence days, had acquired a grip over the Sikh politicians and used them in rejecting the Cabinet Mission to emasculate the Mission’s suggested Muslim Federation. Congress leaders also made Akali leaders -Master Tara Singh and Baldev Singh– to raise the demand of ‘Sikh Homeland’ to counter Jinnah’s Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan. Congress leaders offered Defense Ministry to Baldev Singh (an elevation for him from his being a minister in Punjab) in the Interim Government in 1946 “on the condition that he would keep the Sikhs rolling on the tracks of Hindu India”. Pendral Moon and Major Short— heavyweight British officers known as ‘friends of Punjab’- vainly attempted to persuade the Sikh leaders to break out the Congress stranglehold and explore keeping the unity of Punjab by negotiating terms with the Muslim League.
The Sikhs were the biggest losers of the Partition as they suffered huge casualties besides losing large tracts of fertile land in canal colonies and got in lieu in east Punjab an undeveloped and lesser acreage of land as compared to what they left in west Punjab. The Sikhs lost Guru Nanak’s birth place, Nanakana Sahib and other historical Sikh shrines located across the border in Pakistan.
The Sikh leaders were coaxed to accept the Partition (by Congress leaders) on the basis of promise that the “Congress will help them to arrange east Punjab that it may become the CULTURAL HOME to the Sikhs…. as one Sikh leader informed Pendral Moon in June 1947”.
Soon after Independence, Congress leaders showed their real colour and began cold-shouldering the Sikh leaders who had joined the Indian federation on their own will. The Sikh leaders, latter, felt robbed and cheated but they been party in breaking the scheme of independence under the Cabinet Mission Plan which had given all powers of administration of provinces barring three: Foreign Affairs, defense and communications. Ironically, the same Plan was to become the basis of Akali Dal’s Anandpur Sahib Resolution for autonomy of states in 1970s.
After one year, the same Sikh leaders approached Mountbatten (first Governor General of free India) in 1948 to beseech him to prevail upon Nehru and Patel to keep their pledges with the Sikhs. Mountbatten himself was full of foreboding on the future of the Sikhs and penned down in February 1948: “The Sikhs as part of Pakistan would have retained a measure of political identity. But as part of Hindustan, they feared economic absorption by the Hindus; also religious absorption. In short, they feared, probably correctly, virtual extinction as a political force and survival only a rapidly dwindling religious sect of Hinduism”.
Running helter-skelter for some political rectification Sikh leaders launched the agitation for Punjabi speaking state. But the 19-year- long period of the Sikh agitation for a Punjabi suba saw denial of mother tongue by a section of non-Sikh Punjabis and main opposition from the Congress party and leaders of Arya Samaj . Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri conceded Punjabi suba following a unofficial secret deal when the Akali leaders promised to help India (on the brink of a war with Pakistan in 1965) in crushing the threat from across the border. Even new Punjab state created in 1966 was denied the due share in river waters, Chandigarh capital and a large expanse of Punjabi speaking areas.
Nehru’s ‘nation-state’ building project coupled with mirage of socialism and planned development had an implicit requirement of a strong centre and centralized economy. Centralized Indian polity reached its pinnacle during the regime Indira Gandhi. Between 1970-1974, nineteen provincial governments were toppled, Emergency was clamped in 1975 and Tamil Nadu government was removed for not implementing the central directive of censuring the press and to jail the anti-Emergency activists. The Akalis also opposed the centralized polity and launched a ‘morcha against Emergency.
At this critical juncture the Akalis drafted the Anandpur Sahib resolution seeking constitutional re-look on center-state relations which later, became the basis of the Akali Dal agitation began in August 1982.Courting of more than three lakh arrests by Akalis during their peaceful ‘satyagrah’ a protest mode successfully used by Gandhi to win freedom for the country did not result in the settlement of their demands. Ruling Congress rather, used the Akali protest as an opportunity to politicize the majority for twin goals – immediate one consolidating vote-bank and long-term one for strengthening ‘nation-state’.
The New Delhi Establishment , threw away the shibboleth of constitutional democracy and transformed from the ‘secular democratic state’ into majoritarian rule dubbing the Sikhs demands and Anandpur Sahib Resolution as ‘separatist and seditious’. This was the politics behind the military attack on the Golden Temple of Amritsar, the Sikh Vatican, in June 1984 and again the organized massacre of Sikhs in Delhi and other places following assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 31 October 1984.
Political dissent of the Sikhs rooted in their sense of distinct historical and cultural identity, thus, came into direct conflict with Indian state upholding the ‘majoritarian model of patriotism and nationalism’. And what noted young historian Ananya Vajpeyi says, “a sort of second and ‘shadow nation’ that functions as a MILITARY STATE rather than an electoral democracy” came into action.
Referring to recurring and perennial violence against minorities in nation-states, eminent sociologist Shiv Visvanathan has documented 14 major massacres of 20th century involving the killings of at least 60 million people—more loss of lives than that of two world wars put together.
Unearthing finer nuances of ‘nation-states’ functioning Michael Mann goes further, “ (Empirically) Nation-state requires ethnic cleansing. Liberal democracies have also committed cleansing—amounting to Genocide… wherever democracy triumphed, it has often tinged with ethnic cleansing as liberal democracies (find it) easy to play it out. And homogeneity and stability of these democracies was creation of violence and it goes to (question general perception) authoritarian states go in for genocide”.
Sikh leaders of pre-Independence period failed to realize what the fate awaiting the tiny minority a western democracy in which power is structured on head count. Prof Puran Singh said an election system could not benefit a minority that places donkey and horse on the same pedestal. And in free India, too, Sikh intellectuals failed to comprehend the depredations of a ‘nation-state’ regime where a majority invariably rules.
The Sikhs are never tired of repeating that they are ‘distinct people’ a ‘separate political entity’ and go to the extent of says a ‘nation without a state’ while India is being built up as a ‘nation-state’ based on majority’s culture and ethos. Facing such predicament, the Sikhs were conveniently branded as ‘enemies’ of India and Indians and were robbed of their citizenship too while Indian state subjected them to November 84 genocide and manoeuvring their leaders to withdraw dharm-yudh’ morcha without accepting their single demand and in larger ‘national interests.
Leave aside their claims to the contrary, the Sikhs have been politically marginalised and the Akalis are now playing defeatist and collaborative politics for ‘loaves of power’. The Sikhs’ predicament tends to become more acute and complex as ‘majoritarian rule has come to stay in India.
About author: S. Jaspal Singh Sidhu is a senior journalist, UNI (retired). He may be reached at: jaspal.sdh (at) gmail (dot) com.
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