ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Realpolitik in the Khalistan Movement

Several explanations have been put forward to explain the rise of the Khalistan movement, from economic grievances, the Sikh fear of being absorbed into the Hindu fold, to dubious policy decisions made by the central and Punjab state governments. The discourses of political machinations and tussles for power—the realpolitik—behind the movement are analysed. The realpolitik factors of “over-centralisation” of power from New Delhi, the policies and behaviour of the Congress (I), the policies and behaviour of the Shiromani Akali Dal, and the role of Pakistan are interrogated.

It is often difficult to ascribe a precise date of origin to the rise of a particular secessionist movement. This is especially so when many of its protagonists contend that their demands for separate nationhood are rooted in and legitimised by entrenched “historical realities.” Nevertheless many scholars in attempting to place a fixed time frame around the Sikh separatist movement for Khalistan in North India tend to commence their chronology of events from 1981 and end in 1993. This is because it was during this time period that Punjab endured a “heightened” level of religious militancy with an estimated death toll of over 25,000 resulting from the associated violence (Puri et al 1999: 10). It was only the second insurgency movement—the first being the Naga movement in North East India —that the postcolonial, post-partition, Indian state had to deal with insurgency. The latter was also the more testing of the two.

The roots of Sikh separatism are long and contested, although it is clear that plans for an independent Sikh state did exist in the final years of British rule over the subcontinent. However, these plans emerged as a reaction to the Pakistan resolution of 1940, and were not, for the majority of the Sikh leadership at least, their first preference for a postcolonial settlement. Sikh separatism continued almost immediately after partition through the demand for a Punjabi suba or linguistic state, which Master Tara Singh, a veteran leader of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), had allegedly conceded was merely an acceptable cover for what his community and he were truly seeking, namely a Sikh majority political entity (Singh 1992: 40). After the Punjabi suba was eventually conceded in 1966, further grievances vis-à-vis New Delhi began to emerge, including the status of Chandigarh, the distribution of river water flowing through Punjab, the alleged religious discrimination of Sikhs, and undue encroachment by the state into their religious affairs. Such grievances found their way into the SAD’s Anandpur Sahib Resolution of 1973, which went to form the bedrock of demands for the early portion of the militant movement that emerged at the beginning of the following decade (1980s), and was supported by the likes of Amritdhari Damdami Taksal preacher Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.

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Updated On : 8th Feb, 2019

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