By Ilya Gerol

A sad military victory for Indian troops at the Golden Temple, the Sikhs’ sacred shrine, will not benefit the victors and will make the Sikh situation in Punjab even more acute.

Indira Gandhi, the most authoritarian and dangerous Prime Minister in the history of independent India — she was also the mother of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the daughter of the former Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru — made the Sikh problem almost unsolvable after she moved troops into Amritsar and masterminded a bloodbath in the shrine in 1984. The military justification for the operation had nothing to do with the political realities that she faced.

It’s true the Sikhs’ broad political spectrum included separatists. But this was hardly a justification for her action.

The Sikhs demand broad autonomy — religious, political and territorial. They are entitled to it, whether the government in New Delhi agrees or not. The pressure applied by India’s foreign service on the governments of Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United ‘States — the places of Sikh diaspora — can change the reality which is quite unequivocal: millions of Sikhs want autonomy and recognition as a distinct society.

Among all western countries, only Canada represented by External Affairs Minister, Joe Clark, took an antiSikh stand. The emotional and surprisingly childish Clark statement that accused some Sikh organizations, and indirectly insulted the whole Sikh community in Canada, possibly satisfied the foreign affairs ministry in New Delhi but it did not contribute to a solution to the problem. On the contrary, Clark’s undiplomatic behavior with regard to the Sikhs brought about a situation which experienced diplomacy, — letting the internal problems of a foreign country become a domestic problem at home.

Before 1970, nations friendly with Pakistan hesitate to help the regimes there to soften and to modify their approach to the plight of the Pakistani Bengalis. The result is well known. A new country, Bangladesh appeared on the map.

The West should finally break a taboo that doesn’t allow us to say bad things about India. Let’s apply a sport of glasnost to what happens in India, Let’s be fair: India has bad relations with every country she borders. There is almost always a state of war between India and Pakistan. There are endless tensions between India and Bangladesh. There is permanent no war no peace situation on the Sino Indian border. Nepal accuses New Delhi of involvement in its internal affairs. Indian troops are in Sri Lanka with the peacekeeping mission. While peace had not been established in the civil war torn island, the de-facto military presence of foreign troops makes Sri Lankans quite uneasy.

The developments in Punjab threaten to turn into a civil war, the outcome of which won’t at all be determined by the fact that India has 800 million people while Punjab no more than 20 million.

The Indian tanks at the Golden Temple and the stubborn refusal to negotiate with the Sikhs the autonomy they demand could finally make Khalistan — an independent Sikh state.

Misunderstood by world opinion, ostracized by India’s officialdom and sometimes insulted by the countries where they settle, the Sikhs’ aspirations and political visions deserve more respect and attention.

(Courtesy: The Ottawa Citizen)

Article extracted from this publication >> June 3, 1988