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Amarinder: Old Flames, New Pitfalls


Tehelka, Jul. 9, 2005

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

Khalistan has ever lived only in the minds of a few men in the Sikh diaspora of Canada and the U.K. In the late 70s and the early 80s, in the manoeuvring for the 'Sikh' vote the Congress and the moderate Akalis pushed Punjab to the brink, virtually handing over power in the state to a lunatic fringe, who clearly never expected to be in this position. And riding on their shoulders on the strength of the money they poured in, the Khalistanis took centrestage. As is obvious today, they never had a constituency in Punjab. But even as they remain a minority in the diaspora, their desire for power in Punjab has not ebbed.

In this they have the support of much of the radical fringe of Sikh politics in Punjab, not because such a position is politically credible but because it brings enormous financial rewards.

Men like Simranjit Singh Mann, or even a host of former Akal Takht jathedars [head priests] well known in Punjab, depend on their annual visit to Khalistani shrines in Canada and the U.K. to fund their activities in India. The success of these trips depends on the views they espouse in these gurdwaras; the more extreme the views the more remunerative the trip. Such is the result of this perverted system that men like Mann play to their constituency abroad rather than worry about the politics of Punjab.

In turn, for the Khalistanis, the money they pour in is a salve to their conscience, their way of relating to their faith. These men - and we must remember they are a minority even where they are - may have left India but still claim a Sikh identity. They want to divorce their faith from any association with this country. It is an impossible expectation. Sikhism shorn of its Indian context is an empty shell, but then they know little of their faith or of India.

In this context, it makes little sense for Amarinder Singh to play the same game. Certainly he does not need the money. But he clearly ventured into a Khalistani gurdwara knowing the consequences. The rueful conclusion must be that the Congress never learns from its past. The politics of expediency runs in its blood. Congress leaders unable to face an electorate have always preferred cynical gambles to retain power. Amarinder seems to have figured that if he can divide the 'Sikh' vote, the state is his for keeps. He seems to have forgotten that some honest work in the agricultural sector would have achieved this with far more certainty. This same misguided calculation had ensured that Indira Gandhi and the moderate Akalis, her foes through the Emergency, gifted the Punjab problem to the nation. The people of Punjab never wanted a part of it then, they do not want it now, but for the first time in a decade the Khalistanis must be smiling.