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Struggle for Khalistan & 40 Years of Dal Khalsa: WSN Editor’s Interview with Kanwarpal Singh

August 9, 2018 | By

World Sikh News (WSN) editor Sirdar Jagmohan Singh has talked to Dal Khalsa spokesperson Kanwarpal Singh about the organisation’s goals and activities and future course. Sikh Siyasat News (SSN) is thankful to World Sikh News (WSN) for sharing this interview to enable us to publish it for SSN readers – EDITOR.

Kanwarpal Singh Bittu (Dal Khalsa) and Jagmohan Singh Toni [File Photo]

As Dal Khalsa announced celebrations of its 40-year struggle for Sikh sovereignty, Jagmohan Singh, the editor of The World Sikh News catches up with the sheet anchor of the Dal Khalsa organisation –Kanwarpal Singh, who since the last two decades has given a new facelift to the organisation and spread the ideology of Sikh freedom across the state of Punjab. This interview with the spokesperson of the body takes a deep look into its past, analyzes the present and provides a glance at the future of the organization as well as the struggle for Sikh nationhood as perceived by the Dal Khalsa.

WSN: What is Dal Khalsa up to nowadays?

Kanwarpal Singh: We will celebrate 40 years of our formation. The decision to form the Dal Khalsa –the nomenclature given by Bhai Sahib Sirdar Kapur Singh to the founders –was taken on 6 August 1978 and it was formally announced on 13 August 1978 in Chandigarh. Dal Khalsa will hold a conference on 13 August 2018 in the city where it was formed amidst key individuals who have made a significant contribution to the Sikh struggle for independence and our Dal Khalsa cadres. On 15 August 2018, we will protest the Indian Independence day and observe it as Black Day in Moga.

After merger of Shiromani Akali Dal Amritsar (Panch Pardhani) and the Dal Khalsa, Bhai Harpal Singh Cheema was selected as new president of Dal Khalsa on May 20, 2016

WSN: How do you look back at your 40-year journey?

Kanwarpal Singh: We look back at our journey with satisfaction. We have sustained the spirit of Sikh freedom despite state onslaught, harassment, detentions, and deaths. We have overcome the stigma of being called names and created a respectable position amongst the Sikh nation, society in general and even among those who oppose our ideology.

We know our pitfalls and weaknesses. Maybe we were unable to achieve as much as we wanted, but we know that with the power of the free media, the reach of the global Sikh community, we will move forward and it will not be easy for the Indian state to crush the Sikh sovereignty movement, whose flag we have kept flying.

WSN: Who have been the guiding forces of Dal Khalsa?

Kanwarpal Singh: The “Nirmal Panth” of the founder of the Sikh faith –Guru Nanak and the “Teesra Panth” of Guru Gobind Singh were the guiding lights for Sikh activists Gajinder Singh, Satnam Singh Paonta Sahib, Tejinder Singh, Harsimran Singh, Jaswant Singh Thekedar and Manmohan Singh Khalsa, when they formed the Dal Khalsa on 6 August 1978. The exemplary contribution of revolutionary poet Gajinder Singh, presently in exile and the consistent activism of Satnam Singh Paonta Sahib, despite his illness and age, have guided the body through thick and thin.

In recent times, Bhai Daljit Singh, Harcharanjit Singh Dhami, and our present president Harpal Singh Cheema continue to enable us to traverse the difficult terrain. Young activists, writers and professional youth like Sarabjit Singh Ghuman and many others are compatriots on this path. The coming together of Dal Khalsa and Shiromani Akali Dal (Panch Pardhani) has given us a much-needed boost in Punjab and the Diaspora.

When I had re-launched the body on 6 August 1998, the encouragement of Simranjit Singh Mann, Prof. Jagmohan Singh, Prof. Sukhjinder Singh and Bhai Narain Singh enabled me and the new youth who then joined us under difficult circumstances.

The pro-freedom Sikh group shares the concerns and pain of other struggling nations of the Indian peninsula

WSN: Yours is the only organized group that was the first to raise the slogan for Khalistan in India. Some people say that the people of Punjab rejected it. However, you continue to raise that slogan. Why?

Kanwarpal Singh: Yes, we are proud that our founding fathers raised this slogan way back in 1978 when they clearly understood the machinations of the Indian state manifested through the various acts of omission and commission since 1947. The visionary leaders were not only focused on the long litany of grievances and injustices but were inspired by the ideological position of the “third nation” outlined by Guru Gobind Singh. They reminisced the exemplary period of Sikh self-rule of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur and Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Notwithstanding the present facile peace, we are steeped in the yearning for Sikh sovereignty and we do not think that the Sikh masses, as such, have been given a free and fair opportunity to share their views about Sikh freedom. In an indirect manner, Sikh masses have expressed overwhelming support in the past. We believe that given an unfettered and unhindered opportunity, the Sikhs will bounce back to not only uphold Sikh freedom but work hard and even die, to demonstrate to the world the type of secularism, fairness, and equality, practised by the Sikhs and as enshrined in the Sikh ethos.

WSN: No slogan can be translated into reality without mass support. Your organization does not have that kind of connect with the Sikh masses.

Kanwarpal Singh: Dal Khalsa believes that our base with the Sikh masses has depended upon the scale of activities of the organization from time to time. We have had to face periods of ban and harassment.

The reality, a little less understood and deliberately ignored, is that the idea of a sovereign Sikh country has never been very far from the Sikh mind. Sikhs take legitimate and true pride at having established an egalitarian sovereign rule in the past.

We have revived our movement for the right to self-determination and through it, to rekindle the spirit of freedom of the Sikhs. We have no illusions that we are swimming against the tide.

Dal Khalsa advocate establishment of sovereign Sikh state called Khalistan

WSN: Do you really think that Sikhs like the notion of a Sikh state?

Kanwarpal Singh: Scratch beneath the surface of any Sikh, of whatever following, male or female and you will find Sikh pride of being “the sovereign person of God”.  The regular repetition of the “Raj Karega Khalsa” litany in every Gurdwara –morning and evening and in every Sikh congregation is a reiteration of the resolve for the establishment of the Commonwealth of the Khalsa.

Though it may not be reflected in the political swing and tide of Punjab politics, the deep sense of alienation among all Sikhs after the attack on Darbar Sahib in June 1984, followed by the emotion that “we do not belong to India” and “India is not our fatherland” has captured the minds of the majority of the Sikhs in the homeland, in the Diaspora within India and the international Sikh Diaspora.

WSN: Has your leadership ever analyzed the performance of your organization over these 40 years?

Kanwarpal Singh: Frankly, we have analyzed our performance regularly over the last 20 years. This has resulted in many sovereignty-related publications, novel programs and specific intervention in Panthic causes like the implementation of the Nanakshahi calendar.

We launched our student wing the Sikh Youth of Punjab with the clear objective of rejuvenating the Khalsa and passing on the buck to the next generation. We are proud to say that a large cross-section of the Dal Khalsa leadership is young.  Through every baby-step, we have furthered the agenda of Sikh freedom and sovereignty.

WSN: Apart from upholding the slogan of separatism, what would you rate as your most significant contributions?

Kanwarpal Singh: The first gigantic public protest of Dal Khalsa was to seek the release of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who had been illegally detained in 1982. Dal Khalsa sees itself as the co-inheritor of the legacy of this hero, who rejuvenated the Khalsa and fought the Indian state tooth and nail.

Dal Khalsa published the first directory of martyrs who died fighting along with Sant Jarnail Singh during the Indo-Sikh Battle of June 1984 in Amritsar. We campaigned to bust the myth that Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was alive.  Dal Khalsa played a stellar role in pushing the Akali Dal leadership to counter the opposition of the government and set-up a memorial for June 1984 martyrs within Darbar Sahib Complex. The total shutdown in Amritsar on 6 June every year since the last few years has been a huge success leading to people’s participation.

To further our agenda and mission, we have made effective use of democratic methods of protests –from street sit-ins, rallies to seminars and conventions. Since the last decade or more, we are the only Sikh organization in the homeland to denounce the 26 January Indian Republic Day and 15 August Indian Independence Day celebrations calling them anti-Sikh and urging people of Punjab to boycott as these days symbolize India’s imperialistic hold over Punjab.

We have built an understanding with like-minded ethnic groups and struggling peoples, who like the Sikhs, seek the right to self-determination.  We are proud to be friends with Kashmiris, Nagas, Manipuris, and Tamils who all hold their nationalism as the key to the satisfaction of their rightful aspirations.

WSN: What is your agenda under the present situation when the Indian state has emerged stronger and more centralized as compared to the eighties?

Kanwarpal Singh: Undoubtedly, India is more powerful than ever before. It is a world power with a gigantic market potential and a towering image of being a non-violent and peaceful country. On the other hand, it has a huge trust deficit with its peoples, particularly the minorities, Dalits and regional identities.

We want that marginalized communities, minorities and regional identities come together and unitedly defeat the pejorative and majoritarian design to foist Hindu hegemony.  India must be made answerable to the world community.

Dal Khalsa leaders unflur the Khalsa flag at Gurdwara Sahib, B Block, Amritsar on January 26, 2005. They were books with sedition by the Indian state for this but were later discharged by the Punjab and Haryana High Court

WSN: At the political level, the dominant political discourse is getting dominated by pseudo-nationalism that is anti-minorities. How you place your agenda in this framework?

Kanwarpal Singh: In India and worldwide, parochialism is gaining ground to the detriment of inclusiveness and multiculturalism. This is a dangerous trend which has led to hatred towards many, especially Muslims and Sikhs, even in developed countries.

We believe that our agenda based on the all-encompassing tolerant approach and call for Sarbat da Bhala -welfare for all, of Sikhism will be the principles on which our fight for statehood would be based.

WSN: How are you going about connecting with the people?

Kanwarpal Singh: Person to person contact in villages, student to student contact in colleges and universities. We have a rock-solid base of people who have opposed the state and are ever-willing to join our endeavours, now and in future.

We will expand our ground to include other communities living in Punjab persuading them to be part of the struggle for all Punjabis.

WSN: Your organization takes up hardly any issue that directly concerns the people

Kanwarpal Singh: I agree that we have not taken up many issues that directly concern the day to day lives of people.  We are aware of our limitations of finance and manpower. Someone has to rise above daily happenings and look at the bigger picture. However, I must add that when the cases of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib in 2015 came up, Dal Khalsa was in the forefront.

Given the present situation in the state, we will soon take up key concerns of people like prevention of drug abuse, consolidation of affinity with Dalits, protection of natural resources and spread of basic and higher education in Punjab.

WSN: The issue of referendum 2020 has surfaced in the Sikh Diaspora political discourse. However, it is not the issue with the Sikhs in Punjab. Your comment?

Kanwarpal Singh: The talk of referendum per se is credible. The flipside is that there is a lack of clarity on the conduct of such non-binding referendum only in the Diaspora with no such activity in homeland Punjab. Therefore, it carries a huge baggage of doubt about its practical possibility and impact.  Dal Khalsa desires that someday soon, under the aegis of the United Nations, a sovereignty referendum be conducted in Punjab.

WSN: Do you think that people raising such issues on behalf of the Sikhs should return to Punjab to mobilize them?

Kanwarpal Singh: Whoever is convinced about the possibility of peaceful transition of power through self-determination must acknowledge that such an exercise has to happen in the homeland of the Sikhs – Punjab. If they can manage to empower the people of Punjab from foreign shores, it is praiseworthy, but to foster a movement on the ground, participation in Punjab is imperative.

WSN: There are Sikhs outside Punjab, and their issues are different, not Khalistan or referendum.

Kanwarpal Singh: We realize that. We also know that referendum is not an issue for them. We only want to say that in case a referendum takes place under the patronage of the United Nations, even they will get an opportunity to have their say. It is always to be borne in mind that Sikhs in the Diaspora always look towards Amritsar for succour and support. Be it the Sikhs in Shillong, Delhi or even Canada, UK and the US, they all look up to Punjab for resolution of religio-political conflicts in exactly the same was as nationalities of other countries living away from their homeland do. The supremacy of the Akal Takht Sahib and the various trans-national bodies of the Sikhs is not lost on them. Whenever a global plan for Sikh destiny will be prepared and implemented, the interests of all Sikhs, everywhere will be watched and protected.

Though to many people, it appears that the Diaspora Sikhs will stay away from an exercise like a referendum, given a free and fair opportunity, we believe, that the results may be alarming and surprising to many. If Gujaratis living in Mumbai, cannot forget their Des Gujarat, surely the Sikhs beyond Punjab always itch to be part of their roots –Des Punjab.

WSN: What would you appeal to India in the present circumstances?

Kanwarpal Singh: People cannot be forced to stay together using force, repression and anti-people laws. India must allow a full play of democracy, respect international instruments of peace, UN conventions, covenants, and treaties and follow commonwealth countries like Canada and UK by allowing peaceful and democratic resolution of political conflicts. It will do India and the world good to understand that, “A Sikh is either a sovereign or a rebel. There is no other choice.”

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