Observations of last Governor General of India, Mountbatten on the future of Sikh minority in India seems to be sounding prophetic now. Mountbatten had acquired a deep understanding of the political scene of 1940s and grip over political players in Indian subcontinent. That is why, he advanced the ‘transferred the power’ from the British to dominant and loyal political outfits in Indian subcontinent —the Congress and Muslim League — by around one year. The Empire was on the road to a fast collapse as the World War two ended in1945. And, the British wanted to leave their stamp on future policies of ‘free India’ through smooth ‘transfer of power’ to the collaborators before any rising effervesce could disturb their plans.
Zoya Hasan, former JNU professor has aptly described the Modi phenomenon as “politics without minorities’ in India. Rightly she dissected the ongoing ruling politics : “ Modi is in total command of his government and BJP party and focuses on template of majoritarianism—based on Sangh’s principle belief that ‘India is a Hindu nation’”.
When the Sikh leadership (Akali Dal leaders) met Mountbatten in early 1948, requesting him to force Nehru and Patel to fulfill pledges made to the Sikhs like arranging the building of a ‘Cultural Home of the Sikhs’ in east Indian Punjab. Mountbatten clearly knew the Sikh leaders were trapped by the glib talks and airy promises of the Congress leaders. Unlike Jinnah who had thoroughly understood the Congress leaders’ designs, the Akalis failed to see through the political vision of Gandhi-Nehru-Patel combine directed towards establishing a Hindu majoritarian rule India.
Mountbatten was fully aware about the thinking of the Congress leaders. The reality of the Sikhs being duped by phony promises, made Mountbatten full of foreboding and he wrote down his thoughts in a memorandum in February 1948: “The Sikhs as part of Pakistan would have retained a measure of IDENTITY. But as part of Hindustan, they feared economic absorption by the Hindus; also religious absorption. In short, they feared, probably correctly, virtual extinction as a POLITICAL FORCE, and survival only as a rapidly dwindling religious sect of Hinduism……” (The Sikhs in India, Mountbatten Collection)
Contextualizing what Mountbatten had visualized 65 years ago against today’s political scene under total grip of Modi-RSS regime, the Sikh minority’s political space seems to be fast shrinking in India. Other Indian minorities—Muslims and Christians — for that matter — too have lost their political clout and space. Zoya Hasan, former JNU professor has aptly described the Modi phenomenon as “politics without minorities’ in India. Rightly she dissected the ongoing ruling politics : “ Modi is in total command of his government and BJP party and focuses on template of majoritarianism—based on Sangh’s principle belief that ‘India is a Hindu nation’”. Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptulla too endorsed it saying “there is nothing wrong in calling Indians Hindus”, though she later denied. Even as Modi is keeping mum over all this, the way Yogi Adiyanath, a saffron MP got ‘table thumping response’ in Parliament (Lok Sabha) from the BJP members for his vigorous invocation that “Hindutva is a symbol of Indian nationalism” was ample proof the BJP’s ruling agenda.
Indian Left failed to comprehend the Hindu-hegemony in the building of Indian ‘national identity’. Eminent left thinker Perry Anderson is right in his observation that “the marginalization of the (Indian) Left has been a structural effect of the dominance of the hegemonic religion in the national identity”. Coming back to largest Indian Muslim minority which accounts for 15 per cent of the total population, its younger generation has been accusing Jinnah for leaving them as ‘hostages’ in the hostile Hindu majority India through the creation of Pakistan which took away the Muslim elite leaving behind scattered minority as ‘leaderless’.
The Sikh intellectuals have, too, been accusing the pre-Partition Akali leadership for its lack of statesmanship and foresight as they had failed to visualize ‘how a tiny minority could survive in the future India’s election-based-governance system based on headcounts ’. It is not just ‘crying over the spilt milk’ but meant to understand the root cause which culminated into the present day’s sordid Sikh affairs.
Right from Nehru days, the Congress leaders have been skeptical about the Sikh politics and its player party Akali Dal . They deliberately projected, openly or otherwise, that ‘Sikh politics is separatist and poses a threat to territorial unity’ and raised ‘Unity and Integrity’ to a CULT level through the pandering and romanticizing of mythology of Mahabharata and Ramayana , and also the Western Indologists’ perceptions of “Golden Vedic Era’ in India . Such political skepticism of New Delhi supported by ‘hegemonic narrative’ was behind the whole-sale repression of the Sikhs in 1980s which effected Operation Blue Star, November 1984 pogrom and a decade-old bloodshed of the Sikh youth in the state-terrorism. Thereafter, the Akali dal was rolled on to the track of fitting ‘Sikh politics’ into the ‘mainstream Indian political frame work’.
The Akali Dal (Badal) openly went in for merging the Sikh politics’ into the mainstream politics (read as: Indian nationalistic politics) at its Moga conference in mid 1990s and resolved that ‘now onward Hindus will be the part of Akali Dal’, which hitherto been a party exclusively of the Sikh minority since its inception in 1920s. The Akali Dal virtually donned a ‘Punjabi party’ clothing and went on to give ‘unconditional support’ to the BJP parented by RSS, having an open agenda of creating a “Hindu Rashtra”. For RSS, the Sikhs do not deserve to be a separate ‘IDENTITY ’and they constitute a sect of Hindus’.
Practically, the Punjabi Hindus are having their duly representation in Congress, firmly from 1936 when Punjab Hindu Mahasabha had merged itself in the Congress party. And , later, BJP has been eager to enlist their support. But, the Sikhs have lost their ONLY ONE Political platform— Akali Dal—which has been fighting for securing due space and share in state power and governance for the Sikhs. With the New Delhi blessings (both during UPA and NDA rule) the Badals have become alternate rulers of Punjab with Congress party and nipped in the bud other Akali factions or Sikh militant outfits which attempted to spring up as ‘political rival’ to the Badals . Thus, the Badals controlled the SGPC all through and influenced the Akal Takht, temporal seat among the Sikhs.
It is recent known history that the BJP and Congress had joined hand for decimating the Sikh dissent and allowed survival and flourishing of that Akali Dal faction which openly supported the system and symbols of state suppression as ordained by New Delhi.
Affirmation of such policies by the Akali Dal (Badal) becomes palpably clear on the perusal of the leadership of the newly organized party structure. Izhar Alam, a Muslim and Munnawar Masih a Christian are the vice presidents along with Parkash Chand Garg, Chaudhary Nand Lal, Bhagwan Dass Juneja and Hans Raj Hans with naming of Narsh Gujral as spokesman. Sukhbir Badal has announced all urban Akali Dal units in towns and cities of Punjab will have Hindus as their chiefs.
By raising Sumedh Saini to the office of Punjab police chief and offering a position to former DGP (Jails) Izhar Alam into party hierarchy – both Police officers are accused of severe atrocities on innocent Sikhs–the Badals have endorsed and approved New Delhi’s ultra-nationalistic policies that are directed to pulp the Sikhs into the ‘mainstream’ without making any pretensions for the recognition of their democratic, civil and human rights of as citizens. Izhar Alam was the first police officer in Punjab to raise a private army, a ‘killer squad’ known as ‘Alam Sena which as Dal Khalsa said “killed scores of innocent Sikhs and left hundreds physically impaired”. The Badals also controls the SGPC and capable of influencing the Akal Takht as per their political requirements.
The Badals seem to have a loud message for the Sikhs as what Najma Heptulla has given to the Indian Muslims –‘What is wrong if RSS describes the Sikhs as a Hindus?’ ‘Why not stop talking about getting justice for the Sikhs suffered during the counter-terrorism operation which brought peace in Punjab?’ And ‘why not think about development of Punjab under the Modi rule?’
Jaspal Singh Sidhu retired as Special Correspondent with UNI, New Delhi and writing on social, political and economic affairs. He could be reached at e-mail : email@example.com