No more you hear the enrapturing folklore flowing in plaintive numbers from amidst the vast expanses of overwhelmingly rich and smiling crops, no more you hear the scintillating chorus of the girls singing to herald a new season or to prepare for an approaching wedding, no more you hear the vibrating echo of the drum accompanying the vigorous bhangra dance. Panjab, today, presents a pathetic spectacle and as one moves around, at each step, one grows increasingly aware of the stern martial law dictatorship reflected in the continuous patrolling of the grim faced army units, as also in the unconcealed hatred of the local Sikh population for the arrogant occupation force. The unspoken but disturbing hostility between the Sikhs and the army jawans stands in sharp contrast to the enthusiasm, trust and mutual confidence displayed by both sides during the two Indo-Pak wars.
Today, people go about attending to their daily ‘chores in a quiet mechanical manner. The Verve, the boisterousness and the infectious joviality that are popularly associated with Panjabi character seem to have made way for secretiveness and suspicion. The communal harmony which had remained unaffected throughout the course of the long drawn out Akali Morcha and the officially engineered atmosphere of violence stands fractured.
There is a tangible and disquieting separateness between the two major communities a clear and logical consequence of the army invasion and subsequently of indiscriminate killing of Sikhs in Delhi and other cities. An undercurrent of anger, a pall of seriousness and a defiant determination can all be palpably felt.
It is in such an atmosphere that the Centre has once again switched on its fairly worn out recording, talking of initiating a dialogue with the Akalies.
With estranged Sikhs, nursing a serious grouse, Rajiv can’t hope to have relaxed moments. His anxiety to tackle the ticklish problem expeditiously is understandable. But the old coterie surrounding him won’t relish undoing of what they have so painstakingly accomplished in making India a veritable Hindu Rashtra. The coterie would exert all its influence and artfulness to defeat any proposal to dispense justice to Panjab. They seem to be well entrenched as is evident from the complexion of the committee which will be headed by Narsimah Rao who is reportedly responsible for holding back the army when rioters were having a heyday in killing, burning and looting Sikhs in Delhi. His bonafides, therefore, would always remain suspect with the Sikhs.
With Narsimah Rao heading the committee, the exercise of solving the Panjab problem would not stretch beyond a few moves that would be subjected to such a vicious rigmarole as to inevitably get bogged down and die its natural death. Once again the situation would revert to square one. Rajiv would, then, be persuaded to make a unilateral announcement perhaps by prior arrangement with some (identifiable) Akali leaders, conceding some of the Sikh demands. The event would be followed by a considerable fanfare and propaganda blitz. A closer examination of the announcement; however, will tell a different story. The river waters issue would be referred to some dubious tribunal, a boundary commission with tricky terms of reference would be appointed, issue of autonomy would be diluted through verbal jugglery and left to be tackled later. Instead of enacting an All India Gurudwara Act, a move would be initiated to repeal the existing Act in order to put the Sikhs on the defensive. Panjabi won’t be given 2nd language status in any state. Akali leaders will be released and elections to the State Assembly announced. Army will stay put.
The familiar farce will continue to be enacted and re-enacted till all the edges of the Sikh identity are rounded off to become an indistinguishable part of the majority community.
Visualizing such a scene does not need prophetic vision or knowledge of occult sciences. The plain experience of the past and transparent intentions of the ruling party unmistakably point VU (VRAIN UAvAV ER URS UNS long practiced fraud against the Sikhs. How serious the government is in solving the issues will become clear from what gesture it makes. If the government were to first release all Sikhs, withdraw all cases, repeal draconian laws, withdraw the army and restore civil liberties, it would be indicative of a new and positive thinking. Will Rajiv opt for a positive course? Is he capable of taking an independent view? Is he gifted with necessary foresight and statesmanship to disassociate himself from the ugly chapter of communal politics? Only time will tell.
Article extracted from this publication >> January 11 1985