For years, I have read and admired Shekhar Gupta’s National Interest columns. There is so much to learn.
As always, the column published on 23 September on Sikhs and Khalistan was insightful. But the jarring note was in blaming Hindus, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or the Sangh Parivar for Sikh anger and sorrows. This needs to be countered.
At the outset, I must state that I was born Punjabi with Nankas in Abohar. Our home temple had a picture of Guru Nanak Dev (Ma’s Nani and Dadi were Sikhs) till Sikh terrorists started killing innocent Hindus.
I worked in Punjab for nearly three years — 1988-1990. In 2016, I wrote a mini book titled . Since then, I have been writing on Punjab.
Here is a response to some of the points made by Gupta along with some background. It is followed by what is actually the problem in Punjab.
1. Sikhs have ruled Punjab ever since the state was formed in 1966.
Like any state government, Sikhs had the power to decide the future of resident Punjabis. If they are in a bad state today, are not the Sikhs responsible?
Sikhs were declared a minority some time post-1980, but the word minority is undefined.
2. Are Sikhs a majority or minority in the state of Punjab?
A 2007 judgement of the Punjab and Haryana High Court held that Sikhs were not a minority when, by population, they were in a majority and have been ruling the state since inception. The matter is in the Supreme Court since 2016, according to this report.
However, Sikhs are considered Hindus under the Income-Tax Act and a minority for utilising government schemes. Thus, Sikhs claim benefits available to a HUF (Hindu Undivided Family). For an example read this 2016 Business Standard report. (Also read How are minorities allowed tax benefits under HUF?
3. Here is what this BJP government has done for the Sikh pant since 2014.
a. Opening of Kartarpur Corridor in 2019
Kartarpur in Pakistan is where Guru Nanak Dev spent the last 18 years of his life. It is a visa-free corridor, meaning Indians can cross over into Pakistan through a dedicated corridor, do darshan and return.
b. Declaration of December 26 as Veer Bal Diwas
On this day we pay homage to the courage and martyrdom of the sons of Guru Govind Singhji, the last Sikh Guru.
c. Golden Temple has been given approval to receive foreign contributions under the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act.
d. The government brought back the swaroop of Guru Granth Sahib from war-torn Afghanistan.
e. On 1984 violence, a special investigation team (SIT) was set up and after 33 years culprits were given life imprisonment (Outlook).
In an interview with ANI, J S Thekedar (founder of the Dal Khalsa and a pro-Khalistan leader) said, “Our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has done a lot for Sikhs and Sikhism. He loves our community. He has done a lot — ended the blacklists etc.).” Business Standard
If Sikhs are still angry, is the central government to blame?
Sacrilege is a law and order issue that comes within the domain of the state government, always headed by a Sikh!
4. Has the Sikh panth apologised to the Hindu community for the killings of innocent Hindus by Sikh terrorists all through the 1980s-early 1990s.
Internal security expert Ajai Sahni wrote in The Tribune, “A total of 21,532 persons were killed between 1981 and 1995 in connection with Khalistani terror. About 65 percent of all civilians killed by the Khalistanis were Sikhs, the community the terrorists claimed to be fighting for.”
The balance 35 per cent adds up to 7,500 Hindus killed. What wrong had the Hindus done for them to be killed in such large numbers?
5. If Sikhs see themselves as marginalised, especially after the BJP-Akali breakup, who is responsible?
It is the Akali Dal that broke relations with the BJP when the farm laws were introduced. It is not as if Sikhs are not represented in Delhi.
Hardeep Singh Puri, a Khatri Sikh, is doing a fine job as Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas and Housing and Urban Affairs. One hopes that most leaders in the SGPC consider the respected Puriji a Sikh.
It is a myth that the Akali Dal represents all Sikhs.
6. Casteism amongst Sikhs pants is rampant.
Sadly, one has not seen social reform movements like in Maharashtra. (Read Caste in Sikhs).
Dalit activist and advocate Dr S L Virdi wrote in ThePrint, “Dalit Sikhs and Jat Sikhs have separate gurdwaras. The discrimination might not be as visible as in UP, Bihar or Haryana in that Jats may allow Dalits to enter gurdwaras but they won’t allow them to make prasad.”
For various reasons the Ravidasias, followers of Sant Ravidas, whose student was Rajput Queen Mirabai, do not consider themselves as Sikhs. According to Sikhnet.com, “They have also released a separate religious granth 'Amrit Bani Guru Ravidass' which will replace Guru Granth Sahib in all Ravidass temples.”
It is due to the Jat domination of Sikh affairs that backward classes in North India have flocked to Deras who made the poor feel secure, cared for, loved and provided a support system with no caste bias.
It is for the same reason that Bahujan Samaj Party founder Kanshi Ram, a Ramdasia Sikh, chose to pursue a social revolution in Uttar Pradesh. (Read Why Dera Sacha Sauda draws followers)
Surely, Sikhs might be angry with this. They should reform and become inclusive to prevent conversions to Christianity, instead of blaming others for their woes.
7. Over the last 120-and-odd years Sikhs have been more obsessed with emphasising that they are not Hindus.
Whilst the decision on whether a Punjabi is a Sikh or not is a personal one, Sikhs should not forget what Khushwant Singh wrote in the 29 March issue of Outlook, “While the Adi (first) Granth is essentially a distillation of the Vedanta in Punjabi, the Dasam (10th) is a compilation of tales of valour of Hindu goddesses. There is a new breed of Sikh scholars who bend backwards to prove Sikhism has taken little or nothing from Hinduism. All they need to be told is that of the 15,028 names of God that appear in the Adi Granth, Hari occurs over 8,000 times, Ram 2,533 times, followed by Prabhu, Gopal Govind, Parbrahm and other Hindu nomenclature for the Divine. The purely Sikh coinage 'Wahe Guru' appears only 16 times.” (Also read Is Modern day Sikhism a Colonial Construct?)
Sikhs should not forget that Maharaja Ranjit Singh donated gold to three temples, namely Hari Mandir (now Golden Temple), Kashi Vishwanath and Jwalamukhi in Himachal Pradesh. “The Lion of Punjab wished to donate the Koh-i-noor diamond to the Jagannath temple, Puri.” (Source)
Note that one of the founders of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in 1964 was Master Tara Singh, a leading Sikh leader of the Independence Movement. (Source)
The Hindu community is repeatedly criticised in the media, especially by people who do not understand Sanatana Dharma. But do Hindus get angry and alienated? Sikhs need not be so touchy.
No Bharatiya would ask them for a certificate of patriotism. However, if Sikhs say they saved Hinduism it is wrong. (Read Did Sikhs Save Hindus?)
8. Gupta wrote: “If people can talk of a Hindu Rashtra, why get so upset if others talk of a Sikh Nation?”
The term 'Hindu Rashtra' is used often. Translated into English it means Hindu Nation. It sounds as if its proponents are suggesting some monolith, theocratic nation like what exists in Europe and West Asia. The concept of nation comes from the Westphalian model of nationhood. It is a European construct and alien to India.
We are a Dharmic nation with each aspect of our governance already codified. Actually, Dharmic culture is at the root of Indian nationhood. No wonder the Supreme Court logo is Yato Dharmastato Jayah — Where there is righteousness and moral duty (dharma), there is victory (jayah). (Read Mottos in logos of government institutions)
A senior journalist, Sandhya Jain, reiterated this in a Daily Pioneer article: “Former President Pranab Mukherji asserted that India was a state long before the European Nation State rose after 1648, based on the notion of a defined territory, single language, shared religion and a common enemy. Indian nationhood rests on the universal philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (world is family) and Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah, Sarve Santu Niramayah (may all be healthy and happy). The Hindu meaning is that which is applicable or can be adopted voluntarily by all (e.g. Yoga, mutual coexistence etc.). The monotheist concept is that which should be imposed upon all (religion, culture, thinking, et al).” (Read: What is Hindu Rastra)
And there is a consistent attempt to deny the importance of Sanatana Dharma in Bharat, which is like saying that the origin of Yoga is Greece.
Sri Aurobindo said in 1909, “When it is said that India shall be great, it is the Sanatan Dharma that shall be great. When it is said that India shall expand and extend herself, it is the Sanatan Dharma that shall expand and extend itself over the world. It is for the Dharma and by the Dharma that India exists….”
9. Unlike Congress governments in the past, this BJP government has not used force against the Sikh community in spite of major provocations. In contrast, the Haryana Police killed 30 followers of the Dera Sacha Sauda during the violence that broke out post his conviction in 2017. (Hindustan Times)
10. Gupta wrote: “Punjab is caught in an agrarian trap while many other big ones have broken out with growing industry and services, particularly IT-enabled services.”
More about the self-made agrarian trap later.
It is not necessary for every state to excel in all areas. Gujarat has capitalised on being a port state and infrastructure. It has not focused on IT-enabled services. Every region and its people have competencies. One should focus on what you are good at and prosper.
11. Gupta wrote: “Remittances from Canada from the nearly 10 lakh Punjabis (eight lakh of them Sikh) to their homeland ranked at number 12, behind Hong Kong.”
How is the BJP/RSS or the central government to blame? Remittances are a function of income which depends on skill-sets possessed. No one has stopped the Sikhs from pursuing higher education. Being a minority, they get government scholarships. One should look at the cause, more than the effect. (Read: Foreign Remittances into India from the Gulf are falling and U.S. rising)
When remittances from the Gulf were the highest, did it affect the self-esteem or morale of Hindus?
12. Gupta wrote: “What Sikhs see as victimisation of the Muslim minority has had a deep influence on the mood in Punjab.”
This Sikh-Muslim affection is of recent origin. The move is political. The SGPC is trying hard to portray the Sikh Panth as a one-book faith like Abrahamic religions when in reality modern day Sikhism is a colonial construct. The SGPC is trying to become a Sikh Vatican.
The alleged victimisation of Indian Muslims would require a separate article. One hopes Gupta compares their state with Muslims elsewhere, including Pakistan. (Read: Rights of Minorities in India – Thank you Barrack Obama)
The Sikhs are respected everywhere which is why "ji" is added to the word Sardar by almost all Indians (ie, Sardarji).
So what is the problem in Punjab? Why is there no peace dividend?
One, is the intertwining of religion with politics. Two, falling ground water levels, due to increasing paddy production, threaten Punjab’s prosperity.
The intertwining of religion and politics concerns Jat Sikhs. They got prominence with the advent of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule and victories against the Afghans. Further, the British were grateful to the Sikh princes for assistance received during the mutiny of 1857. Seeing the bravery of the Sikh armies, they realised that they could be an effective buffer between Afghanistan and India.
Thereafter, the British wooed the Sikhs, made caste the basis of land ownership, and tacitly supported the division of Punjab into Sikh and Hindu. (Read: How the British Divided Punjab into Hindu and Sikh)
The Akalis entered into a dispute with the British over control of Sikh gurudwaras. In 1925, the Sikh Gurudwaras Act was passed, which gave Sikhs (primarily Jat Sikhs) control over all the gurudwaras in undivided Punjab. By virtue of its control over gurdwara affairs and revenue, SGPC became an important body. The Akalis are yet to relinquish control since 1925.
Thereafter, control of Sikh religious affairs became the key to political power in Punjab.
Until religion and politics are delinked, Punjabi society and politics will not be at peace.
Since farmers are predominantly Jat Sikh and the community politically powerful, the state government has wooed them repeatedly. For example, the Akali-BJP government declared free power to farmers in 1997-98. In FY20-21, free power is expected to cost Rs 8,275 crore, leaving lesser resources for needy programmes in an agrarian state.
Free power has hurt Punjab’s agriculture, depleted water resources by encouraging paddy cultivation, added to farmers’ production costs by forcing the installation of submersible pumps and curtailed industrial activity during the paddy season.
Free power and guaranteed procurement of paddy by the Food Corporation of India at minimum support price (MSP) have promoted paddy cultivation in Punjab and discouraged cross diversification.
As a result, the area under paddy grew by 30 per cent between 1990-91 and 2000-01, and 51 per cent between 1990-91 and 2016-17 (E).
We Punjabis are not rice eaters. Rajma and kadhi chawal are two favourites, period. But, was Punjab always a rice producer?
Area Under Paddy In Punjab (Source)
In 1961, the area under paddy was only 2.27 lakh hectares against 30.46 in 2016-17. Earlier farmers cultivated bajra, sugarcane, jowar, etc. Actually till “about hundred years ago, rice was grown largely in eastern and southern India, where rainfall was high and water plentiful.” The Green Revolution changed that.
Jat Sikh farmers showed great resolve, willingness to change and entrepreneurship in adopting new technology and increased the production of rice and wheat significantly. But that was in the 1960s.
The causes of Punjab's economic problems are over-exploitation of groundwater, over-use of pesticides, intensive farming and a damaged ecosystem. Fifty-plus years of MSPs have created vested interests that want status quo.
Punjab needs a leader who thinks beyond vote-bank politics and stops farmer appeasement whilst addressing their genuine concerns. If Punjab fails, it would be a sad day for Punjabis worldwide, a community that successfully rebuilt its life post-partition.
It is easy to blame others but difficult to look within, reflect and change.
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