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How Punjab Was Won

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
How Punjab was won

Inder Malhotra - Mon May 17 2010

While language as the basis for redrawing India’s political map was accepted generally — even if it was enforced belatedly in the case of Maharashtra and Gujarat (IE, May 3) — Punjab remained a conspicuous exception to the rule. Since Partition in 1947, it had been a tri-lingual state, embracing what are now Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, and so it remained in 1956, in accordance with the recommendations of the States Reorganisation Commission that had rejected the demand for a Punjabi Suba (Punjabi-speaking state), backed by a vigorous, often virulent, agitation by its sponsors. There was, however, a powerful reason for the SRCs, and even more Jawaharlal Nehru’s, refusal to accept it.

For, this was the only case in which language was inextricably mixed with religion. The demand was confined to the Akali Dal, a party only of the Sikhs that claimed to be the "sole spokesman" all Sikhs even though a large number of them, especially those converts from the Scheduled Castes, called Mazhabis, supported the Congress which had no difficulty in defeating the Akalis at the polls. On the other hand, the Akali party and its towering leader, Master Tara Singh, had an impressive hold on the caste of Jats, dominating the Sikh community. No less formidable was their unshakeable control of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee that runs all the Sikh shrines with their vast income. Before 1947, the Akali doctrine was that the danger to the Sikh faith was from Muslims. After 1947, the Hindus became the main threat to the Sikh Panth.

As his frustration increased, Tara Singh upped the ante. His movement became more and more violent, even militant. And then he gave it unabashedly secessionist overtones, confirming the opinion of those who had always said that Punjabi Suba was but a cover for a Sikh-majority state as a prelude to an "independent Sikh state". However, if Akali communalists were inflammatory, Hindu communalists (largely though not entirely belonging to the Jan Sangh, the forerunner of the BJP), also acted irresponsibly and accentuated the communal divide. To undercut the demand for a Punjabi-speaking state, they persuaded the Hindu Punjabis to declare Hindi their mother tongue in the 1961 census — an issue complicated by complete disagreement between the two communities over the use of gurmukhi script.

After the bifurcation of bilingual Bombay in 1960, Akali fury escalated. Many others also felt that Punjab’s exclusion from the pattern prevalent in the rest of the country was unfair. Ajoy Ghosh, the last general secretary of the undivided Communist Party of India, went to see the prime minister and argued that the denial of a Punjabi-speaking state "smacked of discrimination". "I envy you, Ajoy", replied Nehru. "You don’t have to run the country and keep it in one piece. It is my responsibility to do so. Sikhs are a fine people but they are led by separatists and fanatics. I can’t hand over a state to them on Pakistan’s border. But such things are not permanent. As national integration proceeds, we will surely have a Punjabi-speaking state". (Source: Ghosh to Nikhil Chakravartty, Nikhilda to this writer.)

It was clear that Nehru had decided to dig his heels in even while Tara Singh and other extremist Akali leaders were fuelling Sikh discontent and anger. The prime minister was happy that in Pratap Singh Kairon he had a chief minister in Punjab who was both competent and secular and thus able to contain the Akalis, if necessary by coming down heavily on them. By the start of the Sixties, however, Kairon had started losing his shine because of the greed and high-handedness of his sons (a blight that has felled many a politician in the subcontinent). Nehru earned some opprobrium for his constant defence of Kairon but eventually had to order a judicial inquiry against his favourite chief minister. Soon after Nehru’s death, Kairon had to resign because of the inquiry commission’s findings against him. The consequent political chaos in Punjab was the Akalis’ opportunity.

As it happened, another crucial change was also taking place in Punjab around the same time. From 1931 until then Master Tara Singh had been the uncontested, incontestable leader of the Akalis and, at one remove, of the Sikhs. No one could flourish in Akali politics without his patronage. Intriguingly, few of the protégés survived for long, though it usually remained debatable whether the follower had rebelled against Tara Singh or Masterji had cut him to size. In the early years of the Sixties, a new figure appeared on the Akali firmament that was different. As usual, he began as Tara Singh’s devoted disciple (the two went on alternate fasts for Punjabi Suba), later claimed near-equality with him and eventually replaced the redoubtable Master. His name was Sant Fateh Singh.

In 1965, Fateh Singh sent shock waves across the country by announcing that if Punjabi Suba were not conceded by a certain date, he would burn himself to death in the precincts of the Golden Temple. Well before the appointed date, the India-Pakistan War of that year loomed. Fateh Singh was persuaded to abandon his resolve. In return, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Nehru’s successor, appointed a cabinet committee to re-examine the issue, with Indira Gandhi as its chairperson. There is plenty of evidence to show that her mind was already made up in favour of accepting a Punjabi-speaking state. She appointed B.S. Raghavan secretary of the cabinet committee only after, in reply to her question, he had argued that the Sikh demand be accepted. Before the committee could complete its work Shastri died at Tashkent. As prime minister, Indira lost no time in deciding to trifurcate Punjab. She was much praised for her "boldness" and "maturity". But the problem of dream city Chandigarh’s future remained.

She ruled that it would be the joint capital of both Punjab and Haryana, and itself be a Union territory. This was also welcomed as a "shrewd move". In fact, it was to become one of the most explosive ingredients in the tragedy that overtook Punjab in the Eighties, and eventually took her life. Twenty-five years after her death the problem of Chandigarh persists.

The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator

source: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/how-punjab-was-won/619763/


Jun 30, 2009
Sikhs would have gotten autonomous state if it wasnt for Master Tara Singhs love for Congress leader Nehru. Master Tara Singh alongwith three other leaders went to London to discuss about it and the Crown was willing to give a large land to Sikhs but Master came back with 'arms in arms' with Nehru. He also failed to see through the advises of opportunist Sikhs who placed personal gains over larger community gains. Akalis were not fanatics or extremists, as Congress lovers would like to paint them, but many were and are opportuntists but certainly better than our own 'bhibhishans' !

The treatment given to Sikhs is legendary and it is well recorded how a brave and respectful community who had earlier served others selflessly was humiliated and reduced to nothing by the Govt of India. And dont forget it was under Nehrus patronage that the first mosque in independant India was demolished in Gujrat to pave way for mandir under the pretext that 'there were no longer any muslim left in the area to look after it it after creation of Pakistan'.

It obviously baffles a lot of people the rising strides of Sikhs without losing the dynamic religious traditions in this age...again.


Jun 30, 2009
The Trust Betrayed: The Sikh Ethnic Minority and the Indian State, (1946-1966)
* 57/1, Padda Pukur Road, Kolkata 700 020. [Emphasis and para headings our - Ed. SR]
OF ALL THE RACES IN THE INDIAN sub-continent, the Sikhs were the last to surrender to the British. The tales of their bravery rattled the nerves of the British, indeed Sir Charles Metcalfe stopped at the Sutlej in 1809 as he watched Maharaja Ranjit Singh advancing on his career of conquest further towards the north-west into the heart of Afghanistan. It was only due to the dissensions that followed in the Sikh kingdom after the Maharaja‟s death that the British could finally annex Punjab during the minority of Maharaja Dalip Singh. The Regency Council of Eight Sardars, however, made over their charge to the British as an amanat, or trust, during the treaty of Bhairowal (1846). The Sikhs could therefore legitimately expect the British to restore their independence before their departure from the sub-continent. The example of the Muslims had fired their imagination and they too were yearning to assert their nationhood. Unlike the Muslims, however, the Sikhs were not able to claim a compact block of territory. Their settlements were dispersed all over Punjab so they they did not have a majority in a single district. This made it difficult for the British to award them a just settlement of their demand. The Sikhs, however, were offered a choice between the two new states arising out of the erstwhile British Empire. While the issue was still being debated by the Sikhs, the reassuring statements of the Indian leaders kindled the hopes of the Sikhs in the new dispensation where they could become part of a larger union without impairing their autonomy in any way.
Power Brokers:
But once the Sikhs had cast their lot with the Indian Union, their hopes were rudely dashed to the ground. The power-brokers in the newly born state had now surprisingly changed their earlier stand on the question of the Sikhs. The Lahore Congress of 1929 had given an explicit assurance that no political arrangement was to be effected in future without making provision for the special interests of the Sikhs. In all subsequent negotiations with the British during the Round Table Conference of 1931, during the Cabinet Mission proposals of 1946, and during the transfer of power negotiations Gandhi, Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had championed the cause of the Sikhs as a pressure weapon against the Pakistan proposals. When this bargain-hunting phase had come to a dose after independence the erstwhile protagonists of the Sikhs began to feel impatient about the aspirations of the Sikhs to have a territory of their own where they could freely pursue their way of life. Minority status, special weightage, scheduled caste status for the backward section of the Sikhs, even the right to have Punjabi as the medium of instruction began to be denied to them.
Although the formation of provinces on the basis of languages had long been on the agenda of the Indian National Congress during the freedom struggle, Nehru revised his stand after independence. During the 1951 census non-Sikh Punjabis
denied that Punjabi was their mother tongue, and recorded themselves as Hindi-speaking, to knock the bottom out of the case for the Punjab Suba. The search for the Punjabi Suba ultimately culminated in the second partition of the Punjab in 1966 and the loss of exclusive control of the capital city of Chandigarh. Expressions of Sikh disappointment and their minimum expectations were incorporated in the Charter of demands called the Anandpur Sahib Resolution. Attempts of the Sikhs to draw international attention to their grievances by use of diasporic influence brought charges of secessionism and conspiracy with foreign agencies against them. While the Indian state tried repression with a strong hand, the Sikh answer to this state violence was endemic and escalating militancy. Viewed against the repeated reassurances of the Congress leaders to the Sikhs at crucial junctures, the subsequent actions of the Indian state appeared to the Sikhs to be nothing but acts of betrayal.
The necessity to fend for themselves was understood by the Sikhs quite early in the days of the anti-colonial struggle. The Sikhs had mainly been agriculturists, the bulk of their income deriving from land. Hindus in the Punjab were mostly traders and moneylenders, slowly trying to spread their dominance to education and administrative jobs. From the very outset Sikh-Hindu relationship in the Punjab was marred by a basic cleavage between “agriculturists and non-agriculturists, feudal landed interests and incipient capitalists which further coincided with rural vs. urban, caste Hindus vs. rural dominant castes, and finally a weak class conflict between landlord and tenant, but a stronger conflict between the peasant and finance capitalist”.1 The Punjab provincial branch of the Indian National Congress had become a vehicle of Hindu commercial and industrial interests in which the Sikhs had little concern. The Lahore session of the Congress in 1900 was packed by Arya Samajists. The purpose of this Congress session was to resist the Punjab Land Alienation Bill of 1900 which had proposed to stop the entry of non-agricultural interests into land ownership and prevent the transfer of agricultural land to moneylenders and urban investors.2 Although the Act was intended to benefit the thriftless martial tribes of north-west Punjab who formed the backbone of the British Indian army, yet it also protected the Sikh small holder of central Punjab who had some financial transaction with the village sahukars with vertical links with some urban based financiers.3 Arya congress invective against this pro-agriculturist bill, therefore, often ran counter to the prevailing mood among the Sikh rank and file.4
Congress-Sikh cooperation reached its climax during Mahatma Gandhi‟s close association with the Gurdwara movement during 1920-25 and his attempt to link it up with his non-co-operation movement. The Akalis took a leaf out of the Gandhian tactics of Satyagraha. But Gandhi‟s sudden withdrawal from the non-co-operation movement left the Sikhs to fight it alone with the British.5
During the various phases of the freedom struggle Congress leaders had always found it politic to be able to use the Sikh card for exerting pressure on the colonial government. They hastened to mollify the Sikh annoyance at the proposal to withdraw minority constituencies in the Nehru Report of 1928 by promises in the Lahore Congress of 1929 “never to effect any constitutional changes without special provision for the Sikhs.” During the Round Table Conference of 1931, Ujjal Singh, the representative of the Sikh community, had suggested that the Sikhs would not
need communal weightage or separate constituencies if the existing boundaries could be redrawn and Muslim dominated western districts could be detached. In the reconstituted province, the Sikhs could have a greater say.6 Ujjal Singh‟s proposal had been a ploy to counterbalance the Nehru Report‟s suggestion for abolition of separate electorates and it was forgotten as the Nehru report gathered dust and was not put into practice.
The Pakistan Resolution of 1940 raised the spectre of Muslim domination of the Punjab as Muslims constituted 52.88% of Punjab‟s population while the Sikhs had risen to only 14.62% at the 1941 census from a meagre 8.22% in 1881. The passiveness of the Congress in the face of the Pakistan Resolution of 1940, the C.R (Chakravarti Rajagopalachari) formula of 1944 to back up the Pakistan demand in return for Muslim League support of the demand for immediate withdrawal of the British and the continuous Gandhi-Jinnah talks of September 1944 for joining hands against the British in a national government- convinced the Sikhs of the divergence of Sikh interests from that of mainstream politicians. The Sikhs now began to think of a separate province for themselves. Dr. V.S. Bhatti of Ludhiana published a brochure titled “Khalistan” in which he proposed an independent Sikh state to act as a buffer between the future Pakistan and an independent India. This Khalistan was to include Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Ambala, Ferozepur, Lahore, Amritsar, Lyallpur, Gujranwala, Sheikhupura, Montgomery, Hissar, Rohtak and Karnal. It was also to include the cis-Sutlej state of Nabha, Patiala, Faridkot, Kalsia and Malerkotla or the Simla Group of States. The head of the state was to be the Maharaja of Patiala7. But at that time it was opposed by Master Tara Singh who spelt out Swaraj to be the ultimate solution of the country‟s vassalage. It was thought that the idea of the Sikh Raj taken up by Baba Gurdit Singh and Ranjodh Singh Tarsikka was a ploy to use the Congress platform to scuttle the Pakistan scheme. Instead Shiromani Akali Dal took up the demand for an Azad Punjab and unfurled the Sikh flag at an All India Akali Congress at Lahore on October 14, 19448.
By 1944 Pakistan was becoming a distinct possibility on the horizon. Jinnah was trying to pressurize Sikandar Hayat Khan‟s weak successor Khizr Tiwana into converting the secular Unionist government into a Muslim League Coalition Ministry. When Khizr refused to yield, the Muslim members of the unionist government joined the League en masse. The election of 1946 (results published on 24 February, 1946) saw the return of these men to the Punjab Assembly as Muslim Leaguers. The Unionists were reduced to a rump of nine and Khizr succeeded in keeping the Muslim League out of power by a coalition with 51 Congressmen and 23 Sikh members9.
The British government sent three Cabinet Ministers at this time (March 1946) to India to work out the details of an interim government and a Constituent Assembly. Although the members of the Cabinet Mission had opposed Pakistan in theory, yet their proposals of April 27, 1946 had given an indirect recognition to the principle of forming Pakistan by bunching together the Muslim majority states on the north-west and had included Punjab in this hypothetical group. Gandhi prompted the Sikhs to come out of this forcible grouping. “Are the Sikhs, for whom the Punjab is the only home in India”, he asked in the columns of his paper Harijan, “to consider themselves, against their will as part of the section which takes in Sind, Baluchistan
and the Frontier province?”10. Akali negotiation with the Muslim League led by Giani Kartar Singh for a possible Akali Muslim League Cabinet had come to a dead end over Akali intransigence regarding the idea of Pakistan11. The pro-Congress Niranjan Singh, Principal of Sikh National College, Lahore, then came to the forefront of Sikh politics. Since 1944 Savarkar and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee had been urging the Sikhs to put up a common front with the Hindus in resisting the idea of Pakistan12. The threat of Pakistan left few options. The Sikhs claimed a state in which they would not be subjected to a perpetual domination, or safeguards in any other arrangement. There was an All Parties Sikh Conference at Amritsar on 9-10 June attended by all except the Central Akali Dal and the Communists13. Communist support for the Pakistan demand as the Muslims’ right of self-determination had alienated the Akalis from the Communists14. The Akalis now set up a Council of Action and a Panthic Advisory Board with an ex-INA officer as Panthic leader. Niranajan Singh Gill made a trip to Delhi, met AICC leaders and returned on June 18 with Congress assurance for the Sikh cause. This gave a new twist to all India politics; Jinnah who had so far been enthusiastic about an interim government and a Constituent Assembly, now backed out of it due to Congress insistence on the sanctity of the rights of the Sikhs in the Punjab. League withdrawal from the process of formation of an interim government rather expedited the formation of such a government. Nehru could now request his man Pratap Singh Kairon to try and get the Akali boycott of the interim government lifted and to assure Master Tara Singh and Baldev Singh on his behalf that Sikh interests would never be violated15.
During the Cabinet Mission proposals of 1946, the Sikhs took great alarm as they found some of their most precious canal colonies in Montgomery and Lyallpur, along with important shrines and gurdwaras, including Gurdwara Nankana Sahib, grouped with the western states. Even when Pakistan had become almost a reality, they continued insisting that the Chenab would be the frontier dividing the Indian from the Western Punjab. Only after the Multan and Rawalpindi riots of March 1947 were they convinced that the Chenab frontier would remain a chimera16.
The other alternative tried by the Sikhs led by the Akali group of Giani Kartar Singh was to negotiate a union with Pakistan. Negotiations with Liaqat Ali Khan proceeded till the eleventh hours of partition. But recent memories of the Multan and Rawalpindi riots vitiated the mutual relations of the Sikhs and Muslims. The Sikhs demanded the right of secession from the proposed Pakistan as a pre-condition of their accession to it. Jinnah‟s refusal to concede such demands ultimately led the Sikhs to join the Indian union17.
Duplicity: Nehru had great admiration for Ranjit Singh and in the Glimpses of World History, he had spoken of Ranjit‟s kingdom as „a Great Sikh state‟. But this administration began to wane later and in The Discovery of India, he called Ranjit Singh‟s kingdom “a marginal state not affective in the real struggle for supremacy against the British”. During the Nabha agitation, he had declared during his arrest and trial in court that he was rejoicing that he was being tried for a cause which “the Sikhs have made their own”.18. However, a little later on April 2, 1924, he wrote in a private letter to K.M. Panikkar that the Akali movement was “largely a separatist movement so far as religion is concerned” and spoke anxiously of its reaction in the social and political sphere and also of the “general belief amongst the Hindus that the Akalis are arrogant and in their pride do not care for the feelings and sentiments
of the Hindus”19. In 1946, when the Cabinet Mission was encouraging the Sikhs to throw their lot with the Muslims, Nehru was said to have told a press conference in Calcutta in July 1946, “The brave Sikhs of the Punjab are entitled to special consideration. I see nothing wrong in an area and a set up in the north where the Sikhs can also freely experience the glow of freedom”20. The political compulsion of the end-games of the empire drove the Congress and the Sikhs in each other‟s arms in the years immediately before independence. But disillusionment was soon to follow.
Gandhian Antagonism: Sikhs had opted for India rather than remain with Pakistan and, as a result, had to leave behind vast flourishing stretches of land in the canal colonies of Montgomery, Lyallpur and Sheikhupura, made fertile through the investments of their own labour and capital. Murder, rape and arson hounded them out of their settlements. But in India they were greeted with blames for violence against Muslims in India. Gandhi sought the help of Suhrawardy to boost up the flagging morale of the Muslim inhabitants of northern India (sometimes known as the cow belt) so that there was not a mass migration from either side of the border. But the main hindrance to such an object, according to Gandhi, was the violence practiced by the Sikh refugees in India. His prayer meetings were marked by regular tirades against Sikhs and the Sikh religious practice of carrying kirpans was dubbed by Gandhi as “an act of barbarians”. As the carrying of kirpans was a part of the symbols of the Khalsa, embraced by Guru Gobind Singh, Gandhi would even ask the Sikhs to go back to the teachings of Guru Nanak in its pristine form. Such thoughtless comments were often found offensive and hurtful to the Sikh psyche, provoking one Sikh historian to call Gandhi “intolerant, capricious and a hard core fanatic, who worked for the annihilation of Sikhism” and “worse than Aurangzeb”.21
The denial of weightage for minorities was yet another blow to the Sikhs. The circulation of the draft Constitution in February, 1948 made it known that there was to be no such weightage for minorities. In November, 1948 a ten member sub-committee of the Constituent Assembly recommended reservation of seats in the legislature for religious minorities in East Punjab, with weightage for Sikhs. But this proposal was turned down by the Minority committee of the Constituent Assembly (which included Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajendraprashad and Ambedkar). The Sikh members of the Constituent Assembly demanded certain safeguards for the Sikhs, failing which a new province of seven districts should be formed. These demands were called Thirteen Demands and were later compared to Jinnah‟s Fourteen Points of 1927, which was an unfair comparison of Muslim demand for a separate state with the demand for a Sikh province within the Indian Union.22
Rubbing salt in wounds: The denial of scheduled caste status to the Sikh backward classes was construed to be another attempt of Indian politicians to strike at the solidarity of the Sikh community. Only four of the thirty one backward classes- Mazhbis, Kabirpanthis, Ramdasis and Sikliigars – were listed as scheduled castes. When questioned about the decision, Patel replied in the Constituent Assembly on May 25, 1949 that “untouchability or any classification or difference of classes” was absent in the Sikh religion and the presence of backward classes amongst the Sikhs merely indicated some cases of forcible conversion of the weaker sections of
society. Patel‟s characterisation of Sikhs as “the reformed community of Hindus” was taken as a direct affront by the Sikh community. The Sikhs were fearful of the curious powers of “accommodation and domination” characteristic of Hinduism, which had over centuries engulfed Buddhism and Jainism back in its huge fold, according Buddha and Mahavira the place of two great and revered incarnations in its long list of godheads. Ainslie T. Embree calls it the “endurance and persistence” of Hinduism, and the Sikh leaders had to be very watchful lest there was some such encroachment on their boundaries.23
Mother-Tongue Disowned: The conflict came out into the open over the issue of the Punjabi language. In the 1921 and 1941 census in pre-independence Punjab 9655 and 9988 persons out of every 10000 had returned Punjabi as their mother tongue. But in February 1948, the Jalandhar Municipal Committee, with encouragement from the Indian National Congress, decided to introduce Hindi as the medium of instruction in schools maintained by the Committee. The District Board of Jalandhar tried to undo the mischief in March 1948 by allowing education in Punjabi. East Punjab government headed by Gopi Chand Bhargava allowed the option of Hindi or Punjabi from class I and the other language (Hindi or Punjabi) from class III. But on 9 June, 1949 Punjab University Senate rejected Punjabi as medium of instruction although Sikh members were willing to accept Devnagri besides Gurumukhi as its script24. Punjab now became distinctly divided on the issue of language-Punjabi in the Gurumukhi script was now identified as the language of the Sikhs, while Hindi in the Devnagri script was identified as the language of the Hindus. Bitterness over the issue reached such serious proportions that Punjab was divided into two different zones, one Hindi speaking and the other Punjabi speaking. For each of these regions, there was to be a regional committee consisting of members of the Assembly belonging to the region and government business in each of these zones was to be conducted in the concerned language. The formula was known as the „regional formula‟ and was the work of Bhim Sen Sachar, who had succeeded in a firm crystallistion of the demand for the disseminating and survival of a distinct Punjabi culture, a development which Nehru‟s men in Punjab had been feverishly trying to contain.25
The language issue, more than any other, exposed the insecurity of the Sikhs in post-partition India. When the Punjab construction committee had asked Master Tara Singh, while settling the refugees, if the Sikhs wanted a state of their own, Master Tara Singh had replied that “ Hindus and Sikhs will rise and fall together. Their fates are inextricably linked”. But by February 1948, the same Master Tara Singh had become so disillusioned with the goings-on in post-independence India, that he was forced to come out with the statement that “we have a culture different from the Hindus. Our culture is Gurmukhi culture and our literature is also in the Gurmukhi script”. and he would now “want to have a province where we can safeguard our culture and our tradition”.26 This cry of exclusionism was wrenched out of the hearts of the Sikhs as they watched the ruling party (the Indian National Congress) at the centre shamelessly going back on its pledges during the days of the freedom struggle.
Ever since the partition of Bengal in 1905 the Congress was committed to the principle of linguistic provinces. “If a province has to educate itself and do its daily work through the medium of its own language”, the Nehru Committee Report of 1928
had remarked, “it must necessarily be a linguistic area”. Again, in 1937 the AICC had resolved that “The main purpose of the creation of linguistic states is that the culture, language and script of the minorities shall be preserved”.27 The trauma of partition and migration had brought one good thing in its wake. For the first time in the history of the Sikhs they were in the majority in six Sikh „states‟ and eight districts of the Jalandhar Division as a result of the settlement of the refugees from Pakistan (from Lyallpur, Montgomery and Sheikhupura) in the places from where they had originally migrated. They were in a majority in an area of nearly fifty thousand square miles, prompting B.R. Ambedkar to call them „the greatest gainers politically”. However, in the entire province of Patiala and East Punjab States Union (formed on March 5, 1948) the Sikhs were in a minority. They resented the way the vernacular press in the Punjab bragged about Punjab becoming a Hindu majority province for the first time in history. All their hopes lay in the deliberations of the States Reorganisation Committee (headed by S. K. Dhar, a retired Judge of the Allahabad High Court) which, the Sikhs expected, would stick to the principle of accepting language to be the basis of the states in new India.
Somersault: However, the Congress had totally changed its stand on this question since independence. Before independence, Nehru‟s main concern had been to garner the support of the entire people against colonial domination and he had probably gone out of his way to allay the fears of the minorities regarding their share in a new India. In the context of the impending partition of India it was important to be able to enlist the membership of the virile and vigorous Sikh community in the new Indian state. Sikhs within India were a potent source of strength. Sikhs gone over to Pakistan meant, on the other hand, a big threat to the security of India. With this calculation in mind Indian politicians had been very carefully handling the Sikhs and pretended to be the champion of their interests. The idea of Khalistan, Sikhistan and Azad Punjab had been instigated by men like Patel to counterbalance the demand for Pakistan. Yet in the years immediately after the partition, the vernacular press in the Punjab made much of those ideas to raise the bogey of Sikh separation. This probably frightened Nehru and Gandhi and they became intent upon closing all avenues of a revival of the ideas of Sikh independence in future. And the best way of launching upon such a scheme was to begin a course of assimilating all that was distinct about the Sikhs in the majoritarian way of life. This probably explains Gandhi and Nehru’s changed perspective on the Sikhs. “First things must come first”. Judith Brown quotes Nehru as saying. “and the first thing is the security and stability of India. Before we can undertake any major schemes, we must have a strong state and a smoothly running governmental machinery……If India is enfeebled, all her component elements grow weak”.28 Nehru had his differences with Patel and Pattabhi Sitaramayya, but he joined them in an AICC committee to throw its entire weight before the Dhar Commission to prevent any change in provincial boundaries until at least the new constitution had come into force. The whole issue was politicized when during the census of 1951 the Hindus in the Punjab recorded themselves to be Hindi speaking so that the case for the Punjabi suba was weakened. Nehru’s identification of the Punjabi language as the language exclusively of the Sikhs was obvious from his substitution of the word “Gurumukhi” for Punjabi when he tried to downplay the importance of this language by calling it the language of some sacred literature.29 In 1956 the
States Reorganisation Commission, therefore, refused to acknowledge the existence of any real problem at all as Hindi and Punjabi were akin to each other and were understood by all sections of the state‟s population.
The disowning of the Punjabi language by the majority community was symptomatic of the injustice and deprivations in various other forms to which the Sikhs were subjected in new India. The Punjabi suba was not conceded till 1966 and when finally it did become a reality, its capital Chandigarh was made a union territory as Haryana had not succeeded in building a capital of its own. The basic contradictions between the peasant background of the Sikhs and the predominance of traders, moneylenders and shopkeepers among the Hindus persisted even after independence. Punjabi Hindus represented rising merchants and industrialists in post-partition Punjab. These urban Hindu businessmen feared the formation of a Sikh controlled province and therefore opposed the formation of a Punjabi speaking province.30
The Akali Dal continued to organise morchas or demonstrations on the Punjabi suba issue, but as long as the refugee Sikh intellectuals were in leadership, the idea of the formation of Punjabi suba was vigorously resisted. Nehru even threatened them with communal outbreaks against Sikhs in other Indian provinces.31 The rise of moderate Jat leaders like Sant Fatteh Singh won over certain sections of the Hindu leaders in favour of a linguistic province and a new state of Punjab could be worked out on the basis of language. But the underlying contradiction between the interests of a majoritarian community trying to divert the nation‟s resources towards the path of capitalist development, to the detriment of the agricultural sector, raised its head to thwart the resolution of the problem of the Sikhs.32 As the gains of the Green Revolution began to consolidate in the Punjab countryside, the big capitalist farmers of Punjab became yet more articulate and threw up their demands in the form of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution of 1973.
A careful reading of the much talked about Anandpur Sahib Resolution reveals it to be “an expression of the opposition of the capitalist farmers to traders and monopolists”. It demanded an increase in land-ceiling from 17.5 to 30 standard acres. It expressed resentment at the exploitation by producers of basic consumer goods and wanted such industries to be nationalised. Nationalisation of key industries with assets worth more than a crore of rupees was also one of their demands. They wanted nationalisation of trade in food grains and unrestricted movement of food grains throughout the country so that they did not have to be exploited by private traders in foodgrains and get unremunerative prices for their produce. In the buyers‟ market also they sought advantages in the form of cheap agricultural inputs and abolition of excise duty on tractors. Thus the demand for regional autonomy covered a demand for the “more effective pursuit of the interests of „capitalists farmers‟ in a political unit where their own political representatives would be in power”.33
In order to highlight their grievances against an unfriendly government the Akalis had probably to emphasize their distinct ethnic entity and to create an “emotional legitimacy”34 for their palpably economic demands. The majority of Sikhs, even when they were not politically aligned to the Akali Dal, were sympathetic to its aims. The Akalis were distinctly successful in their aim of mobilising the cultural heritage of the
Sikhs to strengthen the belief in the urgency of a political unit to preserve the distinct entity of the Sikh nation.
The terrorism that haunted Punjab from the 1980s, the stockpiling of arms in gurdwaras, the assassination of high officials, like that of the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984, or Chief Minister Beant Singh in 1995, or the government‟s answer to them in the Operation Blue Star, Operation Woodrose and Operation Black Thunder, which swept away a generation of Sikh youth, demonstrated the Central Government‟s failure in the art of “governmentality” (to use a phrase of Michele Foucault). Instead of trying to resolve the Punjab crisis by coming to some settlement with the Akalis, they tried to divide the Sikhs by encouraging fundamentalists of which Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale of the Damdama Taksal was only an extreme specimen. Congress (I) tactics were probably to introduce violent and terrorist elements in the Sikh movement in order to be able to give it a bad name and kill it. The general feeling among the Sikhs today is one of a deep sense of betrayal. Gandhi and Nehru‟s constant espousal of their cause since 1929 had roused high hopes in them and they had tied their destiny with India, instead of opting for Pakistan or pursuing Khalistan. The hopes have subsequently been dashed to the ground leaving the Sikhs to waver between insurgency and a revival of the demand for Khalistan.
1. Harish k.Puri, „The Akali Agitation: An Analysis of Socio-Economic Bases of Protest‟ EPW Vol XVII, No. 4, 22 Jan, 1983, pp 113-118.
2. G.A. Heeger, „The growth of the Congress Movement in the Punjab 1920-1940‟. Journal of Asian Studies, 32 1(1972); N.G. Barrier, „The Arya Samaj and Congress Politics in the Punjab 1894-1908‟ Journal of Asian Studies, 31, 1971.
3. N.G. Barrier, The Punjab Alienation of Land Bill of 1900 (Duke University, 1966).
4. N.G. Barrier, The Arya Samaj and Congress Politics in the Punjab 1894-1908 ibid.
5. J.P.S Uberoi, Religion Civil Society and the State : A Study of Sikhism (O.U.P 1996) pp 114-115.
6. Tan Tai Yong, „Prolude to Partition : Sikh Responses to the Demand for Pakistan, 1940-47 International Journal for Punjab Studies, 1,2 (1994) pp 167 – 195.
7. Sukhamani Riar, „Khalistan : The Origins of the Demand and its Pursuit Prior to Independence, 1940-45‟ Pritam Singh and Shinder Singh Thandi (eds), Punjabi Identity in a Global Context (O.U.P 1999) p 233-244.
8. Op. at. Tan Tai Yong.
9. Ian Talbot, Khizr Tiwana : The Punjab Unionist Party and the Partition of India (Cruzon press, 1996), Ian Talbot, „The 1946 Punjab Elections‟ in Modern Asian Studies, 14, 1 (1980) p 65-91.
10. Penderet Moon, Divide and Quit (Chatto and Windus).
11. Provincial Fornightly Reports for Punjab, First Half of May 1944. in Home Political Series, National Archives of India, New Delhi.
12. Provincial Fornightly Reports for Punjab, second half of August 1944 in Home Political, N.A.I.
13. Ibid.
14. People‟s War, 1944.
15. Microfilm Records brought from India office Records and Library on Cabinet Mission in N.A.I.
16. „The Sikhs in Action‟ prepared from the Chief Secretary‟s Fortnightly Report for the Punjab in collies papers Microfilm Box 2 No. 1 in Cambridge South Asia Achieves (CSAA)
17. Kirpal Singh, The Partition of the Punjab (Patiala, 1972)
18. Mohinder Singh, The Akali Struggle : A Retrospect (New Delhi, 1988)
19. Quoted in K. J. Akbar, Nehru: The Making of India (Penguin 1989) P181
20. Harji Malik, „The Historical Legacy‟, Punjab in Indian Politics: Issues and Trends Amrik Singh (Delhi: Ajanta Publications, 1985), K.J. Akbar, India: The Siege Within : Challenges to a Nation’s Unity (Penguin, 1985) p 157
21. Sangat Singh, The Sikhs in History (Uncommon books, 1995) p 255
22. Ibid.
23. „The Question of Hindu Tolerance‟ in Ainsile T. Embree, Utopias in Conflict, Religion and Nationalism in Modern India (O.U.P. Delhi, 1992).
24. Op. cit Sangat Singh, The Sikhs in History.
25. Joyce Pettigrew, Robber Noblemen A Study of the Political System of the Sikh Jats ( Routledge and Kegan Paul, London and Boston, 1975)
26. Op. cit. Sangat Singh, The Sikhs in History
27. Op. cit. Joyce Pettigrew, Robber Noblemen
28. Judith M. Brown, Nehru: A Political Life (O.U.P 2004 p 215
29. Op. cit. Tewjant S. Gill, „Jawarharlal Nehru and the Punjab, “Pritam Singh and Shinder Singh Thandi (eds) Punjabi Identity in a Global Context (O.U.P 1999) pp 333-340
30. Op. cit. Joyce Pettigrew, Robber Noblemen
31. Ibid.
32. Harish K Puri, „The Akali Agitatioin‟ op.cit. 33 Paul R. Brass, Ethnicity and Nationalism (New Delhi, 1991)
33. Benedit Anderson, Imagined Communities (London 1991).
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