By Ram Jethmalani

The Chandigarh seminar was and will remain a luminous landmark on the road to peace and sanity in Punjab, Its urgency was dicated by the growing desensitization to daily news of killing of innocents, both by miscreants and the police in the guise of encounters, the widening social chasm, with its barely concealed communal divide and the secret agents of foreign enemies gleefully fishing in troubled waters. The Prime Minister and his minions, totally alienated from reality, glibly claim success for their operations.

The truth is that the number of militants has increased. Wrong “policies of the Government have only spawned militants with an increasing degree of determination to do or die. Even Bidar did not trouble anyone’s mind or conscience. Politicians concerned solely with vote banks have long ago stopped bothering or doing any fresh introspection. Intellectuals have nothing to offer in the way of positive action, short-range or long range. Traitors to the country are fermenting civil war by inciting Muslims and scheduled castes to gang up with the Sikhs against the rest of the nation. Intensified insurgency in Kashmir has had no impact on our so-called secular patriots. In this depressing scenario of despair something had to be done to arrest the creeping paralysis of the national will.

Evolving consensus

The seminar was the first step. The Bharat Mukti Morcha has a strong unit in Punjab. Impartial study of all shades and strands of attitude and opinion and evolving of the greatest possible consensus are difficult and time-consuming jobs. It took some months of labor. My colleagues produced a draft working paper. I suggested a few verbal changes but scrupulously refrained from interfering with its substance. The document must retain its authenticity.

Almost everyone known to have something to say was invited to participate. On the opening day I called for uninhibited and totally. Genuine expression of views and discussions of issues involved. In my own subtle way I set the tone of what was to follow. “I had not come to discuss the second partition of India but only to stop its further disintegration,” I declared. The nation had just scored a big victory by compelling the withdrawal of the notorious Defamation Bill. When the populace cries in unison it can bring down an edifice of arrogance and autocracy. Force and violence are neither necessary nor desirable. In fact they are counter-productive.

The latest reports seemed to indicate that the new Panthic Committee had also realized the folly and futility of killing innocent men, Women and children, kidnappings, extortion and robberies. Violence defeats the very cause it is intended to serve. The true path was the one indicated by Gandhi and earlier by the Sikh Gurus who sacrificed themselves and their children and wielded the sword only in defense of righteousness. The Sikh was a defender of India and Hinduism. He trusted the Hindu and threw in his lot with him. His a colorful flower in the Indian bouquet and I want him to bloom in every nook and corner of India nor waste its sweetness and beauty in a few districts of Punjab. If this is sedition to some, let it be and lam proud to be a seditionist. Only the mean-minded or the utterly insane can read into it advocacy of Khalistan or secession.

The quality of speeches and contributions of the participants were uniformly excellent, free from rancor and verbal violence of any sort, There was complete unanimity that police atrocities, including apathy when it came to dealing with those who committed grave crimes against Sikhs, were the main cause of Sikh humiliation and insecurity. The avoidable desecration of the Akal Takht was listed as the most painful wound to ‘Sikh sensibility. The very speaker who confessed that Sikhs were happy that Mrs. Gandhi was killed also admitted that unemployment and economic frustration were driving the Sikh boys into drugs and many an abominable crime. A not-too-friendly Pakistan was adding fuel to the fire.

Punjab instability

The Sikh in Punjab, mainly a farmer, felt unjustly treated in the matter of river waters. Settled law and equitable principles were not applied to him and his grievances. His role as the main producer of food in the country had earned little appreciation or reward. The theme was elaborated by the representatives of the Bharat Kisan Union and the Shetkari Sangathan. A Hindu participant argued that the corrupt Congress government does not want non-Congress parties to capture power anywhere. Manipulations were the cause of political instability in Punjab. Akali disunity was one more complication. All said and done, it was gratifying that no one considered the Punjab problem so intractable as to defy solution and none approved of violence and killings as an acceptable mode of action. Given justice and complete equality the Sikh would function within the Constitution.

No one mentioned Khalistan directly or indirectly. Prof. Sukhdayal Singh was the only one who spoke of Khalistan but even he was careful to put it inside the Indian Union. The proceedings of the seminar must make Mr. Rajiv Gandhi retrospectively ashamed of the calumnies he heaped upon the entire Sikh community during his 1984 election campaign:

Where do I stand on the issues raised at the seminar? I abhor a second partition of India, as much as I hated the first which was ushered in by power hungry politicians and communal fanatics, indoctrinated with the two-nation theory. Labor the idea of a nation merely based on religion though I recognize religion as an important component of national consciousness. I recognize that India is rightly a secular polity but I maintain that no genuine secularism has been preached or practiced in this country since the dawn of Independence. The ruling Congress has been the biggest beneficiary or religious dissension and communal strife. It has a vested interest in sustaining both. Therefore it deliberately enacted the Sant Bhindranwale phenomenon.

The core of secularism is only this: the manner in which a person seeks God or his spiritual salvation cannot be an obstacle to his economic and political progress and the full exercise of the rights of citizenship. The problem of India politics is not religious fundamentalism but religious superficiality or rather total extinction of the religious spirit in the pursuit of economic and political self-interest. 1am a Hindu fundamentalist because I understand fundamentals of the Hindu faith. Like every religion it has much that is both dispensable and disposable. In this sense only I respect fundamentalists but detest fanatics.

In my evidence written and oral before the Sarkaria Commission I have maintained that India is an indestructible union of units. They are areas of regional autonomy but not centers of parallel or conflicting loyalty which is owned only to one single entity, i.e., Bharat.

I have been the enemy of linguistic states but have maintained that when the Congress under Pandit Nehru’s weak leadership accepted the linguistic principle the Punjabi Suba should not have been delayed for more than a decade and then reluctantly set up in a moth-eaten and truncated form,

Those who spoke Punjabi and yet declared Hindi as their mother tongue were guilty of political treachery. They destroyed Punjabi identity and sowed the seeds of Hindu-Sikh disunity, the poisonous weeds of which became the main cause of Punjab unrest

Anandpur resolution

I believe that States must have more flexible sources of revenue and fuller control over their economic assets. The Central Government should not be allowed to starve and humiliate them and topple unpalatable State governments through hand-picked unscrupulous Governors. The Anandpur Sahib Resolution concedes that India needs a strong Centre but it argues that for that purpose it is not necessary to weaken the parts. Statesmanship requires that the resolution should be interpreted only in this manner and the Sikh masses are committed to this interpretation. Those who see secession in this resolution are themselves promoting the idea of secession and further balkanization of the country. They harbor some secret hostility against the Sikhs.

I believe that Hindus and Sikhs are one and any price must be paid to keep them so. During my speech I called Col. Pratap Singh a beard Hindu and myself an unbeard Sikh. Without Hindu-Sikh unity Punjab becomes vulnerable to aggression and India’s security is gravely jeopardized. I am determined to foil the machinations of the enemies of India calculated to throw India’s traditional defenders into their dangerous lap. I do not want a defeated, humiliated sulking Sikh I want a vibrant contented, proud Sikh who throws himself if necessary under the enemy by lotting a tank to save a few square yards of sacred Indian soil,

The working paper reflected what our Punjab unit believes to be in accord with the real desires of the Sikh masses and intellectuals. No rational solution can emerge if these are neither known nor analyzed. Despite the tragic happenings of the last few years the nation must be grateful that there has been no major communal conflagration in any part of the country. The Government’s White Paper issued after the Bluestar Operation conceded that no Sikh organization in India had asked for partition or an independent Khalistan. The slogan was heard outside and in some quarters inside India only after and because of the complications of that unfortunate ill-advised and ill-executed venture. Today the slogan is raised only by the Government’s favorites, the testimony of the Inspector General of Police who resigned his post, Mr. Charman Lal, is eloquent but I do not wish to spell out its full implications in public.

Delhi holocaust

The Sikh community has not forgotten the holocaust in Delhi nor indeed can it trust the law enforcement agencies of the present government, it is mainly this horrible memory and the equally horrible fear that produces the vague desire for a Sikh state, although within the Indian Union.

Only fools will dismiss this desire as seditious or illegitimate. Those who wish to displace this desire and convert it into a logging of their liking must openly speak up for suitable measures to obliterate the memory and eliminate the fear out of which the desire is born.

Few Sikhs and non-Sikhs have done their homework on the modalities of a Sikh state. It can only be possible by huddling the Sikhs into a few districts of Punjab and by destroying Sikh standing and preeminence in the rest of India. The Sikhs themselves will recoil from it once the implications are clearly but affectionately spelt out.

I dismissed the proposal as a quarrel over words. Ultimately that is what it amounts to: giving a few districts of Punjab a new name. This requires to be patiently but lovingly explained:

The new opposition party which I hope will soon come into power must set about assuring the Sikhs complete security, justice and dignity, State terrorism must forthwith stop and all black laws repealed. Governor Ray and policeman Ribeiro must be sent back where they belong.

The seminar passed no resolution of any kind. The participants got a better glimpse of the Sikh psyche. A clearer understanding of their thought processes will help to fashion effective prescriptions for unity strength and prosperity of Punjab and the rest of ~ India. My shoulders are strong enough to bear the attacks of mean ‘of low intelligence and still lower morals. What worries me is that they make a significant contribution to the rise of the Sikh state by the kind of abuse and intimidation that has come to displace dispassionate discussion.

Article extracted from this publication >> December 9, 1988