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How Referendum 2020 is facing flak from within the pro-Khalistan lobby

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 28 July 2018, 17:33 IST

The bogey of Khalistan has been raising its head time and again in Indian politics by various forces trying to milch dividends, political or otherwise. At present it is the issue pertaining to the proposed 'Referendum 2020' by the separatist overseas lobby that has come to the centrestage of Sikh politics. While there is a clear divide among Sikhs on the issues of self-determination and separate homeland, even those who have been championing the cause of self-determination stand vertically split. The general perception in Indian Punjab is that Khalistan is a dead idea while there are forces that are 'democratically' pursuing the goal of self-determination.

It has been the overseas organisation Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) that has been espousing the unofficial referendum on the lines of that held earlier in Catalonia and by the Kurds. But there are several questions that surround the proposed exercise. The common man is pretty confused over the efforts by overseas elements and wants to know where exactly they want to set up a homeland while majority of the supporters of the concept are sitting scattered across the globe.

Recently it as been the two main faces of the political movement for a sovereign Punjab or Khalistan, as it is popularly known, the Dal Khalsa and Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) that have urged the SFJ to clear all vagueness and ambiguity on its Referendum 2020 proposal.

They have sent a joint letter to SFJ coordinator Gurpatwant Singh Pannu in which their leaders Harpal Singh Cheema and Simranjeet Singh Mann respectively have pointed, “People of Punjab want to know how much feasible and practical your proposal is."

Pointing out that politics is the art of the possible, they have said that whatever has to be done for the Sikh nation to come out of the present crisis has to be within the realm of reality after thorough and sincere preparedness.

Clarifying that both Dal Khalsa and SAD (Amritsar) are committed to the concept and creation of an independent Punjab or a sovereign Sikh state through peaceful and democratic means with the support and monitoring of an effective United Nations committee especially constituted for the purpose, the two leaders have underlined that both the organisations have presented the Sikh case at national and international fora number of times to seek the rightful demand for referendum for Punjab under the aegis of United Nations (UN). Members. They pointed that leaders of both the organisations have faced Indian state's wrath marked by plethora of cases ranging from sedition to Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 and served long detentions in Indian and foreign jails.

Both Mann and Cheema have stated that the Referendum 2020 proposal has build a public perception that Khalistan would be a reality in 2020 and such perception does not match with reality and creates a false hope among an already confused and disheartened populace.

“Nearer home, take a look at the Kashmir case. Despite commitment at the UN, India has so far reneged to call for a plebiscite and despite thousands dying and Kashmir virtually occupied by the Indian army, the UN too is guilty of not holding India to book and calling for an unilateral referendum in Kashmir. Pressure from the Kashmiri Diaspora, Pakistan and other Islamic nations has been completely ignored. In such a scenario without much on the ground, raising false hopes is not a good idea and can be counter-productive,” the letter says.

The letter while pointing to the vagueness of the proposed move says that recently there have been sovereignty referendums in Catalonia, Iraqi Kurdistan, Scotland, Quebec and Puerto Rico. “We are conscious that worldwide there has been an increase in self determination movements in the world for reasons ranging from injustice to language to gross and systematic use of human rights,” it says.
They ave pointed that it is visible that unilateral secession referendums are hardly implemented.

“The Sikh case is further complicated that so far no political body in Punjab is talking of any unilateral secession referendum and there is no thought or mechanism in place regarding involving the Sikh diaspora. In such a situation, the talk of online voting by you is far-fetched and unworkable even if it is unofficial and non binding. With internet penetration among the community quite minimal especially in rural areas, the whole notion can backfire setting more frustration and gloom that we are already in,” the letter says.

Both Mann and Cheema have posed a series of questions to the organisers of the Referendum 2020 following a discussion they held at Fatehgarh Sahib recently.

The questions posed by them are :

*Can you clarify as to how Referendum 2020 will be done in Punjab? Who will do it?

*The term referendum is a misnomer. Referendum is always carried it out under the guidance or order or monitoring of the United Nations, which is not the case in the present scenario.

* In view of the above, it is fraudulent to propagate or allow this kind of propagation to spread and grow that a separate Sikh state will come into existence soon after the Referendum in 2020.

* Will the referendum whenever held, be for limited for Sikhs or will be for all Punjabis?

* How will it be determined as to who is an authentic voter?

* Who will have the authority to decide who will be the voter? On what basis will the decision be made? What would be the authority and legitimacy of the individual or organization who will decide so?

* Any such task will attract the wrath of the state in Punjab and India. What mechanism is in place to protect the electorate in general and the volunteers in particular?

* Who will lead the movement in Punjab?
The campaign for the Referendum 2020 is being carried out with full force both online and otherwise. There have been instances of hoardings coming up at various places in Punjab in the recent past with the authorities taking the required action.

The issue has also had its political bearings with politicians indulging in mudslinging and the game of allegations and counter allegations. The “support” to the Referendum 2020 by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira is one of the factors being quoted for his removal as Leader of Opposition in the Punjab assembly. No amount of clarifications by Khaira on how he is no votary of Sikhs seeking a separate homeland and all that he wants is that issues related to the injustice to the community need to be addressed have served any purpose.

The campaign for 'Referendum 2020' is also now being seen in a new light with Britain reportedly moving towards listing Sikhs as a separate ethnic group in 2021 census.

Amid these developments all eyes are now set on the August 12 rally being planned n London that is expected to give a further fillip to Referendum 2020 campaign.

First published: 28 July 2018, 17:33 IST