One state where the Narendra Modi-led government’s move to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and divide it into two Union Territories has received widespread condemnation, is Punjab. The criticism has come from several sections: from the Akal Takht and the state’s political leadership to intellectuals, retired civil servants, student and farmer outfits.
On Friday, Giani Harpreet Singh, the acting Jatehdar of the Akal Takht, issued a statement urging Sikhs to protect Kashmiri women. He said some politicians and people in a religious attire have made some comments against the honour of Kashmiri women. Sikh women were attacked by people of the same mentality in 1984 and no Sikh will let this happen to Kashmiri women.
It is extremely significant that the head of highest temporal body for Sikhs has issued such a strong statement.
Even Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who has taken hawkish positions on matters of national security in the past, slammed the move as “unconstitutional”.
Aam Aadmi Party, which voted in favour of the government’s decision in the Rajya Sabha on 5 August, took a different position in Punjab.
AAP MLA from Kharar Kanwar Sandhu said that the government’s decision is an assault on the federal structure of the Constitution. He tweeted that instead of bringing peace, the government’s move might achieve just the opposite.
Curiously, AAP’s sole MP in the Lok Sabha Bhagwant Mann, who represents Sangrur in Punjab, skipped the entire debate on the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status despite his party’s public support for the move.
A war of words took place between Captain Amarinder Singh and Kanwar Sandhu, with the former reminding AAP of its party Convener Arvind Kejriwal’s support for the Modi government’s decision while the MLA countered the chief minister on Twitter by listing out Congress leaders who had taken the same position.
However, opposition to the Modi government’s move wasn’t restricted to the corridors of power. There were protests in different parts of Punjab, mostly by Left-wing and Panthic outfits.
For instance, outfits like Lok Sangram Manch, Kirti Kisan Union, Punjab Students’ Union, Inqlabi Lok Morcha, Inqlabi Kendar and Association for Democratic Rights carried out protests in Bathinda, Moga and other cities. Dal Khalsa also held demonstrations expressing solidarity the people of Kashmir.
A group of Sikh intellectuals and eminent citizens held a press conference in Chandigarh on Tuesday.
At the press conference, Professor Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon, a renowned scholar of Sikh history said, “On one hand, 80 lakh people have been imprisoned in their own land, they are being subjected to the worst kind of oppression. On the other hand, people are dancing on the streets in celebration. What kind of people are these? Is this their faith? Is this their nationalism? It is shameful”.
Retired IAS officer Gurtej Singh said, “Hindutva forces are out to destroy the nation. Every institution is under attack.”
Leading a protest at the Panjab University campus, the Students’ Union President Kanupriya said, “The BJP’s entire politics is about Hindi-Hindu-Hindutva. This is why they have denied rights to the people of Kashmir”.
Amandeep Singh of the Punjab Students Union (Lalkar) said, “Kashmir is the world’s most militarised zone. People’s rights have already been trampled upon. Now, whatever special protection they had has also been destroyed. This won’t stop with Kashmir, this may be repeated in Punjab and the Northeast”.
1984 Trauma Recalled
Many Punjabis were reminded of the trauma Punjab faced in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly during Operation Blue Star and its aftermath.
Journalist and writer Amandeep Sandhu wrote on Facebook, “As Kashmir is cordoned off, no Internet, no landline, no news coming in and out, I am reminded of a similar clampdown on Panjab summer of 1984 – Operation Blue Star. A wound on the nation's conscience that has still not healed. Then we had 1990 Kashmir and now. We have learnt nothing. As a nation and as Indians, we have all failed Kashmir”.
Veteran journalist Jagtar Singh had a similar view and said that majority triumphalism was manifest after the revocation of Article 370.
According to another senior journalist Jaspal Singh Sidhu, “The project of majoritarian takeover that began in 1984 is being continued. This is part of the Hindutva takeover of institutions”.
“The manner in which the entire state was placed under curfew, people were arrested, all means of communications suspended, it is exactly like what happened before the attack on Darbar Sahib (in 1984),” he said at the same press conference as Professor Dhillon.
Professor Dhillon said that India has become a “Republic of Fear”.
“The state was dismembered without asking people who live there. The people were put under siege using the Army. We don’t know what conditions people there are living in, whether they are alive or dead, whether they have access to basic facilities and medicines. This reminded all of us what happened in 1984,” he said.
Akalis, Kejriwal Slammed for ‘Betraying’ Federalism
The BJP’s ally, Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) is facing flack for supporting the government’s decision to bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories.
In a blog post, journalist Jagtar Singh targeted SAD (Badal)‘s leader Sukhbir Badal, who spoke in favour of the Bills in the Parliament.
“The Akali Dal contested the 1967 election on the demand for Sikhstan on Jammu and Kashmir (special status) pattern. Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal should at least have basic knowledge of his party’s history and valiant struggles”.
Jagtar Singh attributed the SAD’s stand to how the Akali Dal’s character has changed under the leadership of Parkash Singh Badal.
Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon was even more harsh. At the press conference, he said, “By taking a stand that goes against federalism, the so-called Akali Dal has betrayed its own history, it has betrayed Punjab and it has betrayed Sikhs. They have given Sikhs a bad name.”
Dhilon said that like the Akalis, AAP convenor Arvind Kejriwal had also been “exposed” with his support for the government’s decisions.
Jagtar Singh said that Kejriwal had made a mockery of himself by having different stands for Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir.
Support from Sikh Diaspora
But it isn’t just Sikhs in Punjab who expressed their anger over the lockdown in Kashmir. Support for Kashmiris poured in from the Sikh diaspora as well.
Ravi Singh, the Founder and CEO of Khalsa Aid wrote on his Facebook wall, “As human beings we must all be concerned at the lockdown of Kashmir by India. Those who are celebrating are lacking humanity! Every Kashmiri ( Muslim, Sikh , Hindu etc ) is a human being first, this lockdown is deeply concerning”.
In a Facebook live video, Ravi Singh also compared the deployment of military in Kashmir and the lockdown to what happened in 1984.
“Before the attack on Darbar Sahib, Punjab was sealed. The army cordoned everything off,” he said.
Responding to the hate comments he was receiving, the Khalsa Aid founder said, “We are doing Ardaas (prayer) for Kashmiris. Those who are telling me not to help them (Kashmiris), calling them terrorists and threatening me that they will stop donating to Khalsa Aid, I want to tell them that we don’t want their money. If your donations are based on hatred, we don’t want it”.
Britain-based journalist Sunny Hundal accused the Modi government of “ripping apart” the Constitution as well as destroying the basis of Kashmir’s accession to India.
Clearly, the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and the ongoing lockdown in the erstwhile state has sparked fear and anger among Punjab’s Sikh community as well as the Sikh diaspora. There are fears that what has happened in Kashmir might happen in Punjab and that the Hindutva march could eventually harm the Sikhs as well.
The lockdown in Kashmir has also brought back memories of the ghastly violence against the Sikhs in the 1980s and 1990s and the attack on Harmander Sahib in Amritsar, a yet unhealed wound for many in the community.
Another concern in the community is that the worsening of ties between India and Pakistan can put the Kartarpur Sahib corridor project in jeopardy.