The Indian state’s response to New York- based Sikh advocacy group’ s controversial posters asking for the referendum for independent Sikh state in 2020 shows double standards.
The Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) is asking for the referendum in Punjab so that the Sikhs can decide their political future. The SFJ supports Khalistan, an imaginary Sikh homeland to be carved out in the northern India.
The posters have sprung up in different parts of Punjab and are giving sleepless nights to the Indian leadership and a section of the mainstream media. The critics of SFJ are accusing them of trying to disturb peace in the state that witnessed decade long bloody insurgency for Khalistan that started during mid 1980s and continued until mid 1990s. The movement had died partly due to police repression and partly because of losing popular support for the excesses committed by the extremists.
Both the ruling Congress party in Punjab and the opposition Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP)- a Hindu nationalist force have come out openly against these posters. Under these circumstances, the SFJ activists have been booked for sedition. Notably, the BJP has been calling for tearing them down and stringent police action. So much so, they had threatened to take them down on their own.
Not to be left behind, a section of the big media has tried to raise false alarm by blowing up the story out of proportion.
There is little doubt in the fact that the Khalistan movement does not enjoy big following in Punjab. The SFJ actions are mainly limited to propaganda which has lot of currency in Indian Diaspora but there are no takers for Khalistan in Punjab where voters have repeatedly rejected the pro Khalistan parties in elections. As things stand today, Khalistan movement of SFJ is more like a harmless group of people who are only making a noise through demonstrations and poster war.
What is more striking about the reaction of the Indian leadership is its deafening silence over growing threat of Hindu extremism in their country. Ever since the BJP came to power in India in 2014 under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the violence against religious minorities has grown. Modi who was earlier the Chief Minister of Gujarat is widely blamed for anti Muslim pogrom in 2002 that followed the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. The incident had left more than 50 people dead. The Modi government had accused Muslim fanatics of torching the train. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists and the BJP supporters had participated in the violence against Muslims with the complicity of the police.
Not surprisingly, a towering VHP leader Ashok Singhal had announced in 2015 that India will become a Hindu state by 2020. No big fuss was raised about it back then. If this was not enough, when Singhal died the same year he was given last respect by the ministers in the BJP government. Modi also paid tributes to the leader who was known for spewing venom against Muslims.
The BJP has no moral ground to denounce SFJ referendum in the first place. If the SFJ’s demand is dangerous and divisive so is their politics of turning secular India into a Hindu theocracy.
It seems the Congress which is running a government in Punjab also lacks will to take on the Hindu fanatics involved in anti minority activities. The Chief Minister Captain Amrinder Singh had also recently accused the Sikh ministers in Canadian government of being sympathizers of Khalistan. Clearly, he wants to misguide the urban Hindu voters for his political survival by creating a fear of revival of Khalistan in Punjab, whereas he should be going after the growth of Hindu extremism in the state. It’s a shame that he could not provide an alternative to the sectarian politics of BJP in Punjab so that people can seriously count on non BJP parties in future.
Consumed by nationalist politics, both parties keep on blaming Pakistan that shares border with Punjab for any untoward incident. In this case too, the two parties see a Pakistani hand behind pro Khalistan propaganda.
The problem is that the Congress too is not willing to see majoritarian extremism as real internal security threat, while the BJP is not going to accept it anyway. The opposition of SFJ therefore badly reflects on the Indian leadership whose take on separatism and violence is not just selective but also hypocritical. The mainstream media must also take some blame for raising a false alarm about Khalistan instead of spending more resources and time to cover Hindu extremism that is fuelling counter attacks by minority extremists because of their supremacist designs.
Gurpreet Singh is a Canada- based journalist who publishes Radical Desi- a monthly magazine that covers alternative politics.