Poll : what next?

It is necessary to go into the background of the Punjab situation before analyzing post-election prospects. Mrs. Indira Gandhi deliberately allowed the Punjab situation to deterio for four years so that she could enact the operation “blue st: and win Hindu support on that basis to perpetuate her class, herself and her family in power. After her death on October 1984, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi took over ordered and won election firs: to the Lok Sabha and then to certain State Assemblies. It was the obvious that he would relax restrictions in Punjab not only because it was time to do so but also to correct certain grave side effects of the Punjab action.

Power in ‘safe hands’ ?

But restoration of democratic rights in Punjab was made conditional on political power being passed in “safe hands” to prevent exposure of criminalization of policy by Congress (I). So the late Sant Longowal and his lieutenants engaged in business were cultivated to the extent that the latter became willing even to sign what essentially was intended to be a unilateral announcement on Punjab issues. A powerful propaganda campaign projected Longowal and his associates as “heroes” and the Accord as a great concession to Sikhs and Punjab. Since the Accord met with opposition from rural masses and intelligentsia, the Centre Akali (L) combine with vast money power in their hands rushed for election with the aim of projecting the accord’s “acceptability” to the people of Punjab and thus misleading the world that the Punjab problem had, essentially, been solved but for trouble created by a small minority of extremists and terrorists.

It should, however, be admitted that Sikh masses have yet to acquire political maturity. Most Sikhs do not understand the real intentions of the Centre and its surrogates in Punjab. This is so largely due to the fact that Sikhs do not have enlightened leadership. The evil, anti-Punjab strategy of the Centre and its surrogates could have been defeated had Sikhs set up candidates with certain commitments and sacrifices to their credit. Instead, Baba Joginder Singh called for a poll boycott with its limited appeal and impact. It is a pity that most Sikhs regarded the election of Giani Zail Singh in 1982 as President of India a great “victory” for the Panth. In the same manner are projected the election victories of Akali Dal (L). But just as Giani Zail Singh’s elevation was an illusion, the Congress (I)Dal (L) combine’s performance will not take things far in satisfying Sikhs and meeting Punjab’s legitimate regional aspirations.

Patchwork won’t work

Dramatic gestures backed by a powerful propaganda machine cannot solve the Punjab problem. It is essentially a socioeconomic problem. Certain powerful new super structural factors such as hurt and humiliation caused to Sikh psyche threaten to create a totally different political scenario. The most complicating factor is the internationalization of the Punjab problem and the election outcome cannot undo that situation. For the first time foreign powers are taking a hand in Punjab. There appears to be a race between those who are bent upon establishing it. Who wins eventually depends on whether Sikhs in Punjab are satisfied or not.

We have all along pleaded for a drastic rethinking on the part of Delhi. A patchwork approach will not do. What is needed is grant of full-scale autonomy to Punjab by redrafting the Constitution. This means that all encroachments on Punjab’s powers under the existing Constitution should be undone immediately. Any other course such as digging of the S.Y.L. canal and retention of the BhakraBeas Management Board to illegally control Punjab’s water and power wealth is suicidal for Delhi.

But before meaningful negotiations on the autonomy question are conducted, Sikhs should be allowed to settle the leadership question. That can be done by holding S.G.P.C. election. Delhi’s surrogates cannot deliver the goods. There should be complete amnesty. Even those involved in Mrs. Gandhi’s murder should be sent free. It was a political murder and not ordinary crime. The Prime Minister should rise above personal considerations. Country’s future should be more important for him.

We are fully conscious of the fact, however, that our moderate views will evince no response from powers that be. Power drunk politicians in Delhi, boisterously backed by the majority community, will not listen to us. The situation is thus bound to deteriorate in the weeks and months ahead to make things even more uncertain for Punjab and India. The election outcome in Punjab will become irrelevant before long.

(By arrangement with Dignity, Chandigarh)

Article extracted from this publication >>  October 25, 1985