Why the 'dead' idea of Khalistan is being resurrected
Although it is almost a dead idea in Punjab, the idea of a sovereign Sikh homeland and the right to self determination continue to dot the political narrative in the state as well as among the Sikh diaspora.
Once a militant organisation, the Dal Khalsa is now resorting to democratic means. It has chosen the occasion of its 40th anniversary on Monday to announce the continuation of the struggle for 'Sikh sovereignty to the formation of a secular and liberal Sikh state, through peaceful and democratic means'. The announcement came at the 'Azaadi Sankalp Divas' congregation at Chandigarh from where the demand for Khalistan had first been aired four decades ago.
This announcement to take the movement forward through peaceful and democratic means comes a day after the London rally organised on Sunday by separatist Sikhs living abroad who are playing up the proposed 'Referendum 2020' for self-determination. After its requests to Britain to ban the event failed, the Indian establishment worked behind the scenes to get the Indian origin Britons to hold counter demonstrations to send home the message that the ally by the Sikhs had fizzled out. The Indian media played to the 'nationalist' tune and did the rest.
Political parties in Punjab, particularly the Captain Amarinder Singh-led Congress government has gone hammer and tongs to denounce the attempts by separatist elements abroad for a cause that is nowhere to be seen on the ground.
But the story for Dal Khalsa remains different as it is at trying its best to keep at least the idea of Khalistan alive among the people. This was evident at the Chandigarh event where one of the speakers – human rights activist Jagmohan Singh – said, "Referendums don't happen in thin air. They follow either a determined armed resistance struggle in the homeland to protect genuine and legitimate rights of a people through United Nations intervention or where there are mature democracies like United Kingdom and Canada which allow full play of democratic self-determination to those who desire."
He called for a 'Lok Lehar' (people's movement) to take the idea of self determination forward pointing that the movement has to be not only in the political domain but in the social and cultural ones as well, something that has been missing in Punjab.
Underlining that achieving the goal through democratic means is very difficult but not impossible, he told those present, “The first struggle is to convince the Indian establishment that ours is a political issue and not that of law and order. We have to ask ourselves whether we are ready for a limited referendum. Are we ready to understand it. This is to be followed by garnering support from friends both in India as well outside.” He asked those present to start engaging with the Indian state specifically on self-determination. He underlined that this is the only path available.
In his speech he gave interesting insights into the Sikh struggle over the last 40 years stating that the points being raised by those organizing Referendum 2020 had all been raised by the Sikhs in India in a memorandum handed over to former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali during his visit to India in the last decade of the last century.
Earlier opening the conference Dal Khalsa spokesperson Kanwarpal Singh, “We have revived our movement on political lines in 1998 for the right to self-determination and through it, to rekindle the spirit of freedom of the Sikhs. We launched our youth wing, the Sikh Youth of Punjab with the clear objective of rejuvenating the Khalsa and passing on the buck to the next generation.”
Senior party Harcharanjit Singh Dhami while referring to Sunday's London Declaration rally said,“Our doubts regarding the feasibility and possibility of the referendum remain. Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) and its leader has not offered anything new in the London Declaration, except fixing the time of November 2020. Unless the misgivings are addressed 2020 will be a fiasco and will hurt the freedom movement of the Sikhs."
It is being said that as it has come about, the SFJ call is nothing but an opinion poll whose results the organisers propose to take to the United Nations. Sadly, at the Trafalgar Square meet, absence of any Sikh activist from homeland Punjab showing a clear disconnect between Punjab and the body which claims to campaign for freedom of Punjab.
Dal Khalsa president Harpal Singh Cheema said, “We will launch a new phase of consistent democratic engagement with the government of India and the United Nations, urging them to set up a mechanism to allow the people of Punjab to exercise the right to self determination.”
A message was read from All India Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani who said, “My dear partners in freedom struggle, the minorities, in the vast ocean of majority populace of India have been subjected to the worst treatment”.
The event was also attended by Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) leader Simranjit Singh Mann who said that a 'buffer' state of Khalistan is required between 'Islamic' Pakistan, 'Hindu' India and 'Communist' China. “The fact that all these are nuclear powers cannot be ignored and a balance of power has to be struck to ensure peace in South Asia,” he said.
Meanwhile Amarinder has debunked the London rally saying it has exposed the total lack of ground support for the Referendum 2020 even outside India. He has dismissed it as a futile exercise by a sham organization to create trouble in India, particularly Punjab.
He said the SJF are just a group of fringe elements playing into the hands of Pakistan’s ISI to divide India, but they have failed, and will continue to fail in their nefarious designs. He added that the presence of Pakistani politicians at the rally confirms that it was out and out an ISI plot.
The Punjab chief minister said that as expected, it turned out to be a damp squib, participated by a handful of elements. He, however, felt the UK government should have put its foot down and not allowed its soil to be used to propagate anti-India campaign. Further castigating the UK government, Amarinder said that by allowing the protestors to use Trafalgar Square, instead of the usual Hyde Park that’s generally used for such purposes, it had shown its total complacency in the issue.
He also said that some of Kashmiris were forced to wear turbans to make them look like Sikhs at the event. Describing the SFJ fringe elements as mere 'social media tigers' trying to create a hype even when they have no support, both in India and abroad, Amarinder said the Sikhs are a patriotic community who have always stood for the unity and integrity of the country. He pointed that as many as 90,000 Sikhs are serving in the Indian army, defending the country’s borders.