The violence Delhi witnessed on 26 January 2021, must be unequivocally condemned and emphatically so. Nobody’s call or cause to protest includes the right to arson, vandalism or violence and most definitely not flying a religious flag on a national monument — where only one flag must fly representing all of India, which is the Tricolour.
The perpetrators of violence and vandalism must be prosecuted, as must the Delhi Police investigate their own — for excesses, and the colossal intelligence failure that this day was.
There is no room for apologists, ifs, buts, creative justifications, or the whataboutery emanating from someone having done it first or worse. This is an absolute position and best articulated by journalist Nalini Sharma – “Your political opinions should not determine how you feel about things like violence, police brutality, destruction of public property and a religious flag atop a national monument.”
Labelling Dissenters As ‘Urban Naxals’ Or ‘Anti-National’ Is A Disservice
The right to protest against the State is fundamental in a democracy, as fundamental as the right to disagree with those protesting to begin with. Except, now we have the added burden of proving our patriotism before we disagree with any decision of the democratically-elected Government of India; mind you, not to the government but those who in their support for the government become more loyal than the king.
Even if one must, how does one prove his or her patriotism in a complex web of bizarre binaries, half-truths, myths passing for fact, conspiracies and a healthy dose of abuse?
The clarion call to term those who disagree with the government as ‘anti-national’, ‘urban naxals’, members of an amorphous and fabled ‘Tukde Tukde Gang’ or whatever the latest flavour of the day is — including ‘sending them to Pakistan’ from geographically remote parts of India or demands of stripping them of their citizenship (apart from the logical fallacy that even a convicted felon is an Indian) — is the biggest disservice one citizen can do to another. That we do so belligerently, as a matter of regular discourse and without remorse is nothing to be proud of.
The Khalistan Bogey: An “Embarrassing Neurosis”
The farmers from Punjab, protesting against the three farm laws, are facing a similar quagmire with the Khalistan bogey. This is by no means a discussion on the merits or de-merits of the three farm laws, but something more basic — exploring a baseless narrative and contextualising it for what it actually is. The Khalistan drivel is the figment of the imagination of a few with no meaningful base in Punjab — except an irrelevant fringe which is romanticised overseas and exploited by India’s enemies.
A fringe cannot define a majority; an irrelevant fringe all the less so.
Khalistan is an idea whose time will never come, definitely not today, nor tomorrow nor ever. Pakistan’s dream of a de-hyphenated Indian-Sikh identity never got the kind of traction it hoped for even in the darkest of days, because Punjab chose India and put to bed a dark and bloody chapter in its history. To think that a stray poster or key chain of a dead terrorist implies a deeper rooted problem or sentiment in Punjab, that too in the year 2021, is reflective of an “embarrassing neurosis” – to quote Shekhar Gupta from his National Interest column back in 2019. Therefore, to repeatedly call into question the choices of a majority of Sikhs, who have and will continue to serve their country with pride, by labelling them as ‘separatists’ — is shameful.
It is evident that obfuscation and the desire to hijack important conversations lies at the centre of this divisive labelling.
Creating A Space For India’s Enemies To Exploit Fissures
On the other hand, what this obfuscation achieves is fodder for India’s enemies to exploit fissures, that they would only be more than happy to do so or rather are waiting for.
That such a misadventure shall undoubtedly fail, but has the potential to cause pain, has us coming a full circle back to where this started on patriotism. Who is the real patriot now ?
This notwithstanding, the moral complexity of protest demands — that the unions and farmers must unequivocally denounce the ‘fringe’ (as some have done) — ensure their platforms are not misused and remain cognisant of its ability to derail.
To conclude, like the majority of my generation from Punjab, let me leave you with the only identity I know — that I am an Indian and I am a Sikh, and that’s pretty much where it ends — and in that order.
(Sherbir Panag is a lawyer based in New Delhi, India. He can be reached on Twitter @Sherbir. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)