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Amarinder: Flirting With Disaster


Tehelka, Chandigarh, Jul. 9, 2005

Photo: Brinkmanship: Amarinder at Dixie; the writing on the wall behind him reads, 'Khalistan Zindabad' (Victory to Khalistan)

Should Amarinder Singh sharing the dais with pro-Khalistan Sikhs really surprise anyone?

'I never saw the 'Khalistan Zindabad' banner on the wall behind me. I do not have eyes at the back of my head. Next time I give a speech, I shall first read the banners. I learnt of the banner later when press reports were faxed from India to us.' - Chief Minister Amarinder Singh

The implication of the claims of the Punjab C.M. is that had he noticed the offending slogan inscribed in bold brass letters at the Dixie Gurdwara in Ontario, Canada, he would not have delivered a speech to the large congregation from that platform. But Amarinder's own Principal Secretary Suresh Kumar has stated that he had brought the slogan to the notice of the C.M.

Kumar told Tehelka: 'I told the C.M. before the speech that the slogan on the wall in the congregation hall would cause trouble back home.' Asked whether the leaders missed the slogan, Kumar snorted at the idea. 'Do you think the C.M. did not see it? It was so boldly written right across. Nobody could have missed it. Anybody who reads Punjabi cannot but have noticed it,' said Kumar. The principal secretary also said that he took action after the C.M. started his speech. 'I went to the stage and asked the security officers, D.I.G. [Deputy Inspector General] Parag Jain and Khubi Ram, to try and cover the slogan as we did not want its coverage,' he said.

When Tehelka asked Amarinder about Kumar's presence on the stage, he cryptically remarked: 'He had come to give me some papers.'

While the Punjab government has acknowledged that the gurdwara was a nerve centre of separatists earlier, Amarinder told a press conference that it was now run by 'moderates.' This contention, however, is not borne out by the facts.

In fact Dixie Gurdwara administrators don't hide their support to the cause of Khalistan. Avtar Singh Punia, chairman of the Ontario Khalsa Darbar, which runs the Dixie Gurdwara, told Tehelka: 'We want Khalistan. We are fully supporting Khalistan. However, we have never participated in killings and want to achieve the goal through democratic means. For us, we see no difference between Shaheed Bhagat Singh and Khalistanis.'

Amarinder admits he visited the langar [community kitchen] hall of the gurdwara. What Amarinder could not have failed to see were photographs of gun-toting militants and Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. The gurdwara has many slogans of Khalistan inscribed all over.

Says Puneet Singh Lamba, editor of The Sikh Times, who has visited the Dixie Gurdwara: 'I can tell you that the pictures of Bhindranwale, [Bhai] Amrik Singh, Sukha/Jinda, and many other gun-wielding Sikh militants adorn the walls of the langar hall. Amarinder could not have missed these pictures.'

A report by Robert Matas in The Globe and Mail of March 17, 2005, states that the reporter saw visible signs of the demand for Khalistan in the gurdwara. The report draws attention to the slogan 'We Love Khalistan' on the wall at the front of a prayer room, while another sign 'Sikh Homeland Khalistan' hangs prominently on the walls of another prayer room at the gurdwara. Canadian media reports also stated that Amarinder had promised to intervene with the central government to revoke its blacklist of 300 Sikhs settled in the West.

To observers back home, Amarinder's latest dalliance with the politics of Sikh solidarity is nothing new. In Punjab, he has been accused of running with the secular hares and hunting with the communal hounds in his effort to emerge as the leader of the Sikhs.

The politics of divide and rule in the Akali camps played by the Congress under the late Giani Zail Singh in the early 1980s are reflected in Amarinder's posturing, with Assembly polls due in the state in a year-and-half.

While more wily practitioners of such cynical politics brought the state to ruin earlier, Amarinder's duplicitous approach is akin to playing with fire in a state already wrecked by economic turmoil. Tracing Amarinder's political history is revealing.

In 1984, he resigned from the Congress in protest against Operation Blue Star. He joined the Akalis and was a minister in the S.S. Barnala government in 1987. In the 1992 Assembly polls, Amarinder went against the Akali boycott but fought against the Congress on the Akali Dal (Panthak) platform. In 1994, he signed the Amritsar Declaration along with Simranjit Singh Mann, Barnala and Jagdev Singh Talwandi and threatened a struggle for Khalistan. The declaration echoes Jinnah's demand in the 1940s for a confederation of states with a corridor between Punjab and Bengal.

It stated: 'The Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), while professing and staying within the democratic sphere and based on the principles of the holy Guru Granth Sahib that provide direction to the Sikh community and to its rich Punjabi culture . . . announces its decision to renew the struggle for the creation and demand of a separate Sikh state . . . If the Hindustan government does not accept this demand . . . then S.A.D. will be left with no option but to announce its demand for a separate and independent Sikh State.'

Even after joining the Congress, Amarinder has not dropped his Panthic agenda. His reign as C.M. kicked off with the infamous intervention in the November 2002 S.G.P.C. elections, when the police were used to browbeat the Parkash Singh Badal-led S.A.D., helping marginalised and anti-Badal Akalis like Ravi Inder Singh and G.S. Tohra. Amarinder's rule has seen the government lend its weight to a host of religious celebrations like the 500th birth anniversary of Guru Angad Dev, 300th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Sahibzadas, 300th anniversary of the Guru Granth Sahib's installation et al. Amarinder's pursuit of the Wagah-Nankana Sahib highway and the termination of the Sutlej river water agreement also shed light on his thinly disguised ambitions that are based on communal solidarity.