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The Sikhs Losing ‘Political Identity’ in India (OP-ED)

September 7, 2014 | By

author: S. Jaspal Singh Sidhu

author: S. Jaspal Singh Sidhu

Observations of last Governor General of India, Mountbatten on the future of Sikh minority in India seem to be sounding prophetic now. Mountbatten had acquired a deep understanding of the political scene of 1940s and also a tight grip over political players in Indian subcontinent. That is why, he advanced the ‘transferred the power’ from the British to loyal political outfits —the Congress and Muslim League- by around one year.

The Imperial Power was on the road to a fast collapse as the World War two ended in1945. And, the British wanted to leave their stamp on future policies of ‘free India’ through smooth ‘transfer of power’ to their collaborators before any popular effervesce arose to disturb their plans.

Jawahar Lal Nehru (L) and Vallabhbhai Patel (R) [File Photo]

Jawahar Lal Nehru (L) and Vallabhbhai Patel (R) [File Photo]

Nehru and Patel had managed firm grip on the Akali leadership through Baldev Singh, elevated to Defense Minister in the interim government in Delhi. The Congress used the Sikh leaders as counterbalance to Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan. Soon after achieving Independence, Nehru- Patel stopped cozying with the Sikh leaders. Frustrated Akali Dal leaders met Mountbatten in early 1948, requesting him to force Nehru and Patel to fulfill pledges made to them like arranging a ‘Cultural Home of the Sikhs ’in east Indian Punjab. Mountbatten clearly knew: ‘the Sikh leaders have been trapped by the glib talks and airy promises by the Congress leaders’. Unlike Jinnah the Akalis had failed to see through the political design of Gandhi-Nehru-Patel combine directed towards establishing a Hindu majoritarian rule India.

The reality known Mountbatten made him full of foreboding and he wrote down his thoughts in a memorandum in February 1948:

“The Sikhs as part of Pakistan would have retained a measure of 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 as a rapidly dwindling religious sect of Hinduism……” (The Sikhs in India, Mountbatten Collection).

Contextualizing what Mountbatten had visualized 65 years ago against the Sikhs’ present predicament under the Modi-RSS regime, the things are stark clear; like Indian Muslims, the Sikh minority’s political space seems to be fast shrinking in India. Zoya Hasan, former JNU professor has aptly described the Modi phenomenon as “politics without minorities’ in India. Rightly she dissects the ongoing ruling politics as: “ Modi is in total command of his government and BJP party and focuses on template of majoritarianism—based on Sangh’s principle belief that ‘India is a Hindu nation’”. Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptulla too endorsed it saying “‘there is nothing wrong in calling Indians Hindus”, though she later denied. Evan as Modi has been keeping mum over all this, but the way Yogi Adiyanath, a saffron MP got ‘table thumping response’ in Parliament (Lok Sabha) from the BJP members for his vigorous invocation that “Hindutva is a symbol of Indian nationalism” is an ample proof the BJP’s ruling agenda.

It is bitter irony, Indian Left leaders, whom Ambedkar used call as ‘old Brahmin boys’, failed to recognize the predominance of Hindu-hegemony in the building of Indian ‘national identity’. Eminent left thinker Perry Anderson is right in his observation that “the marginalization of the (Indian) Left has been a structural effect of the dominance of the hegemonic religion in the national identity”. Coming back, the largest Indian Muslim minority accounting for 15 per cent of the total Indian population, the younger generation of which has been accusing Jinnah for leaving them as ‘hostages’ in the hostile Hindu majority India by creating Pakistan which took away the Muslim elite leaving behind scattered Indian minority as ‘leaderless.’

The Sikh intellectuals have, too, been accusing the pre-Partition Akali leadership of ‘lack of statesmanship and foresight’ as it had failed to visualize ‘how a tiny minority could survive in India going to adopt an election-based-governance system based on headcounts.’ It is not just ‘crying over spilt milk’ but meant to understand the root cause which culminated into the present day’s sordid Sikh affairs.

Right from Nehru days, the Congress leaders obsessed with the Hindu-India project have naturally been skeptical and hostile to the Sikh politics and its player party Akali Dal . Faced with peripheral dissensions and pursing a design of killing the pre-independence discourse of ‘a federal set-up for India’, the Congress ( read as New Delhi Establishment) deliberately raised ‘Unity and Integrity’ perceptions to a CULT level through the pandering and romanticizing of mythology of Mahabharata and Ramayana , and using Western Indologists’ construct of “Golden Vedic Era’ . ‘Hegemonic narrative’ thus built up over a period came handy to New Delhi in unleashing whole-sale repression on the Sikhs in 1980s by effecting Operation Blue Star, November 1984 pogrom and a decade-old state-terrorism in Punjab. All these developments subjugate the Akali dal to New Delhi Establishment politics and became ready for rolling on to the track of fitting ‘Sikh politics’ into the ‘mainstream Indian political frame work’.

Since Moga conference of mid-1990s  Akali Dal became  a ‘Punjabi party’ and vouched ‘unconditional support’ to the BJP parented by RSS.

Since Moga conference of mid-1990s Akali Dal became a ‘Punjabi party’ and vouched ‘unconditional support’ to the BJP parented by RSS.

The Moga conference of Akali Dal (Badal) in mid-1990s should viewed in this context where the Badals resolved to open the party to Punjabi Hindus. It meant the Dal ceased to be a party exclusively of the Sikh minority since its inception in 1920s. Since then, The Akali Dal became a ‘Punjabi party’ and vouched ‘unconditional support’ to the BJP parented by RSS, having an agenda of creating a “Hindu Rashtra”. For RSS, the Sikhs do not deserve to harp on ‘a separate IDENTITY as they constitute a sect of Hindus’.

Practically, the Punjabi Hindus are having their dully representation and protection from the Congress, firmly from 1936 when Punjab Hindu Mahasabha had merged itself in the Nehru-Patel party. Like Indian Muslims who had lost their exclusive political platform, Muslim League after Partition, the Sikhs, too ,have lost their political protection and ‘share in power’ which they exclusively got through the Akali Dal all along. With the New Delhi Establishment blessings (both during UPA and NDA rule) the Badals have become alternate rulers of Punjab with Congress and eased out other Akali factions or Sikh militant outfits attempting to spring up as ‘political rival’ to the Badals . Thus, the Badals have been controlling the SGPC and through it influencing the Akal Takht, temporal seat among the Sikhs.

It is well-known shedding pretensions of India being a democratic country and the Sikhs being its citizens , the BJP and Congress were together in bucking up the New Delhi Establishment in its campaign for decimation of the Sikh dissent in 1980s. Now, the Badals have openly supported that campaign along with upholding all ‘symbols of state suppression’ in public domain.

Further affirmation, in this context, comes from the newly organized party structure of the Akali Dal (Badal). It included Izhar Alam, a Muslim and Munnawar Masih a Christian as vice presidents along with Parkash Chand Garg, Chaudhary Nand Lal, Bhagwan Dass Juneja and Hans Raj Hans besides naming of Naresh Gujral as spokesman. Last week, Sukhbir Badal announced that all urban Akali Dal units in towns and cities of Punjab will have Hindus as their chiefs.

Sumedh Saini (R) with Punjab Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal (L)

Sumedh Saini (R) with Punjab Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal (L) [File Photo]

Izhar Alam (L) and Parkash Singh Badal (R)

Izhar Alam (L) and Parkash Singh Badal (R)

Present Punjab DGP Sumedh Saini and for DGP (jails) Izhar Alam are known in Punjab as ‘operating hands of state-repression’ on the Sikhs along with KPS Gill. The Badals elevated Saini to the office of current DGP and offered vice-president office to Izhar Alam in the party hierarchy. Izhar Alam was the first police officer in Punjab to raise a private army, a ‘killer squad’ known as ‘Alam Sena in 1980s and his squad’s name also figured in the US cables exposed by the Wiki leaks. In recent statement Dal Khalsa says about Alam: “ He killed scores of innocent Sikhs and left hundreds physically impaired”.

The Badals seem to have a loud message for the Sikhs as what Najma Heptulla has for the Indian Muslims –‘What is wrong if RSS describes the Sikhs as a Hindus?’ ‘Why not stop talking about getting justice for the Sikhs suffered during the counter-terrorism operation, bringing peace in Punjab?’ And ‘why not think about development of Punjab under the Modi rule?’

*About Author: Jaspal Singh Sidhu retired as a Special Correspondent with United News of India (UNI) at its New Delhi Headquarters in 2008. Since then, have been working as free-lance journalist and writing on Agriculture, Human rights and political affairs. He can be reached at: jaspal (dot) sdh (at) gmail (dot) com

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