Ganga Singh Dhillon
Harchand Singh Longowal was assassinated within a month of signing a Memorandum of Settlement with Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Ironically, it claimed, “This settlement brings to an end a period of confrontation and ushers in an era of amity, goodwill and cooperation, which will promote and strengthen the unity and integrity of India.” Akali Dal is a major Sikh political party. Longowal was the leader of one of its two major factions. But the accord could not “end (the) confrontation” because the confrontation was not with Longowal. During the last four years, a younger and more militant leadership had emerged in Punjab. Indian government’s confrontation was, and still is, with this group. It will not end until an accord is reached with this group. Unfortunately, Indian government has constantly tried to isolate this group and has been generally insincere in its overall approach to the Punjab problem.
One would have hoped that the bloodshed of 198384 and emergence of a new leadership in India would lead to a fresh and more sensible approach to solve the problem. But the Gandhi Longowal accord showed that window-dressing takes precedence over true statesmanship. No Sikh with any self-respect and common sense could have accepted this “settlement” which claimed to have “conceded” most Sikh demands. Did it, really?
In the 11article accord, four had nothing to do with the original Sikh demands. These pertained to events related to Indian army’s attack on Golden Temple (Darbar Saheb) and anti-Sikh violence after Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
Article II says, “All citizens . . . have the right to enroll in the Army and merit will remain the criterion of selection.” It is really a concession to Sikhs? Was “All Men are created equal,” a concession to Blacks?
In article V, government “agrees to consider the formulation of an All India Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship) Bill . . . in consultation with others concerned and after fulfilling all relevant constitutional requirements.” No time limit is set and it could be delayed indefinitely through legislative gimmicks.
Article X says, “Existing instructions regarding protection of (minority interests) will be recirculated to State Chief Ministers.’ Obviously, these states ignored these instructions in the past and a simple “recirculation” would not do any good. Also, according to article 25 of Indian Constitution, Sikhs (along with Buddhist and Jains) are declared part of Hindu religion. Since they are not recognized as a “minority,” how could they benefit from any laws for that purpose? If Blacks were declared “white,” who would benefit from affirmative action? It is also interesting that the constitution of a “secular” country attempts to tell religious minorities what their “‘actual religion” is.
Article XI says, “Central government may take some steps for the promotion of the Punjabi language.”’ And again, it may not. The language is not binding.
The memorandum is equally vague on three important Sikh demands which relate to territorial claims, center state religions and river water sharing.
Media reports flatly declare that Chandigarh Go in capital of Punjab and Haryana states) will go to Punjab. But article VII talks of dividing the city and transferring Hindi speaking areas to Haryana. A commission will determine who speaks Punjabi or Hindi.
Original Sikh demands for greater religious and political freedom were based on Anandpur Saheb Resolution of 1973. Indian government considered it secessionist. (Before coming to power, Rajiv Gandhi had said so on record.) Article VIII says, ‘‘Shiromani Akali Dal states (that resolution) is entirely within framework of Indian Constitution …” When an accord is signed by two parties, all references are considered “joint” unless one party is mentioned by name. By mentioning Akali Dal (Longowal) by name, Indian Government has disassociated itself from the statement. And if Rajiv Gandhi still considers the resolution ‘‘secessionist” how does he claim to have conceded” most of the demands contained in the resolution? An obvious contradiction.
Aspects of the Anandpur Saheb resolution are not “conceded” but referred to Sarkaria Commission with no time limit.
The ‘‘concession” on water sharing is the most outrageous. Punjab is a riparian state and should control Sutlej, Beas and Ravi rivers in accordance with international law and Indian constitution. Punjab claims that neighboring states of Rajasthan and Haryana are getting more water than they should at the expense of Punjab farmers.
Article IX says, “The farmers of Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan will continue to get water not less than what they are using from Beas Ravi system as on July 1, 1985. Waters used for consumptive purposes will also remain unaffected.”
Is it really a concession to Punjab? Actually, it is a reassurance to Haryana and Rajasthan that no matter what happens they will continue to receive existing quotas (already too much from Punjab point of view). The construction of Canal will also continue and completed by August 1986. This canal is being constructed (against Punjab objections) to give even more water to Haryana and Rajasthan.
After Haryana is assured of keeping existing water quotas “The claim of Punjab and Haryana … in their remaining waters will be referred to . . . a tribunal presided over by a Supreme Court judge.” Sikhs demanded that water issue should go to Supreme Court because it will have to act according to the constitution. Janta Government had done so but after returning to power Mrs. Gandhi withdrew the case. A judge in a tribunal can decide anything. It is arbitration and not a judicial process.
A “concession” means an acceptance of a demand. In this accord, everything is referred to a commission or is to be considered later on. Prime Minister Gandhi didn’t give away anything. Longowal signed away everything, putting the Sikh struggle back on square one The Hindu controlled Indian media hailed this accord and so did the ignorant international media.
Since 1929, Congress Party has been playing this game with the Sikh nation. It robs the Sikhs and insists that it has actually given them something. The feeling of frustration and political impotence has been building up for five decades. The current violence is most unfortunate but it is a natural result of government’s policy of fooling all the Sikhs all the time.
Many commentators have urged Sikhs to follow the tenants of Mohandas K. Gandhi the great advocate of nonviolence. In fact, the Sikhs are following his instructions. In March 1931, Gandhi said: “Sikh friends have no reason to fear that (Congress Party) will betray them. (If it does) Congress would not only thereby seal its own doom but that of the country too. Moreover, Sikhs are a great people. They know how to safeguard their rights by the exercise of arms if it should ever come to that.”
It has come to that and Sikhs of Punjab are doing what a great Indian leader expected them to do in case of betrayal.