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Khalistan Referendum 2020: Why Punjab will be watching London this Sunday

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 9 August 2018, 18:06 IST

With the issue of 'Referendum 2020' for self-determination of Sikhs taking centre-stage, all eyes are on the proposed 'London Declaration' rally at Trafalgar Square on 12 August. The proposed Referendum planned by hardline Sikhs living abroad has started stirring the politics in Punjab with the parties and politicians latching on to the issue to score brownie points. At present it is an illusionary bubble on which the masses are quiet and the politicians are out to score political goals. The idea of Khalistan is dead in Indian Punjab and only a section of Sikhs abroad have been keeping it alive.

There are reports that the British government is going to reject the demand of the Indian government to ban the London event. Reports also say that the latter has even approached the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the issue. The matter got further complicated with United Kingdom's UK’s left-leaning Green Party reportedly endorsing the event. At the same time it is learnt that efforts are afoot to counter the event with a congregation of Sikhs who are opposed to the 'Referendum 2020'. The whole is issue is also being interpreted in the light of Britain deciding to enlist Sikhs as a separate ethnic entity in 2021 census.

The issue has kept the pot of politics in Punjab simmering over the last several months. In India it is the Dal Khalsa that is the prime party espousing the goal of self-determination by Sikhs. This once-militant group that was the first to internationalise the demand for Khalistan. It is now pursuing the goal in a democratic away while keeping the issue alive. Along with the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), it had recently posed a series of questions to the organisers of Referendum 2020 and the forthcoming London event.

Dal Khalsa plans to hold a conference on August 13 in Chandigarh to celebrate 40 years of its committed journey to 'rekindle the spirit of sovereignty' among the Sikh people through peaceful means and the right to self determination.

The party president HS Cheema recently said the group will observe 13 August as 'Azaadi Sankalp Divas' as it feels that history has been unkind to Sikhs because while Hindus got Hindustan (India), Muslims got Pakistan, the Sikhs missed the bus in 1947. He claimed the painful and bloody events of last seven decades leave no one in doubt that Sikh leaders made a mistake by agreeing to remain in India during Partition.

Playing up the gal of self determination, he said that in the present world scenario, self-determination has been peaceful and political way to resolve conflicts.

Saying that the aspirations of the diaspora for a sovereign country are alive and kicking, the former Dal
Khalsa head HS Dhami said that the conference will spell out the true nature of sovereignty referendum under the aegis of the United Nations, leading to self-determination of the Sikhs and Punjabis.

According to the party spokesperson Kanwar Pal Singh, “The conference will re-evaluate our pitfalls in the past and the lessons we have learnt will be shared. While functioning as a political party in Punjab in the last 20 years, we have achieved a lot and equally we have missed a lot. The balance-sheet of achievements and failures will also be placed before the audience to get feedback with the motive to streamline our functioning and build Dal Khalsa a stronger and more focused organisation articulating the cause of Sikh nationalism.”

The issue of Referendum 2020 has had its implications on the rookie Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab as the support for it was one of the reasons for removal of Sukhpal Khaira as Leader of the Opposition. The clarifications issued by Khaira could not prevent his opponents from vilifying him.
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh has repeatedly denounced the proposed Referendum 2020 underlining that those supporting it do not have any sense of the history of Punjab or any realisation of the possible consequences. He has said that Punjab and its people had suffered for years due to the secessionist and separatist movement unleashed by the radicals. Attacking Khaira for his reported support to the proposed Referendum, he had recently pointed that anyone supporting the controversial Referendum, which is clearly designed to destroy India’s harmony, could not be a supporter of the country’s unity.

In June this year a United States based Khalistani group had reportedly issued a video threat to Punjab's jail minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa for his opposition to the Referendum after he had said the people who are “pitching for Khalistan from their cosy confines are playing with the sentiments of innocent Sikhs in India and they have no knowledge of the reality in Punjab”.

The issue has assumed a new dimension amidst reports that the Pakistani agency ISI is trying to give a boost to both the London Declaration event as well as the proposed Referendum.

Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) leader Dr Daljit Singh Cheema told Catch, “We have always denounced anti India forces and those who want to create trouble in Punjab. The ISI has always tried to foment trouble in the state. Whatever little support the Referendum 2020 has in Punjab is from the Congress supported Jathedars.”

The blame game is only expected to get shriller in the days to come as the Lok Sabha polls approach. What transpires in London on Sunday will decide the new narrative on the issue.

First published: 9 August 2018, 18:06 IST