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Flogging A Dead Horse

Old, overworked pro-Khalistan arguments in new form

Flogging A Dead Horse
Ethnic Conflict In India
By Gurharpal Singh
Macmillan, London Rs 465, Pgs: 231
Are Sikhs a nation apart from other Indians? The answer is a thundering no: they never were, they are not today. They are ethnically the same race as other people of northern India. They speak the same language as others of the state and the Punjabi part of Pakistan, eat the same kind of food and their way of living is much the same. The only dividing line was religion. Sikhism's differences with Islam are much sharper than with Hinduism. A century ago Sikhs were regarded as the militant arm of Hinduism; they observed all Hindu festivals, inter-married with them and many Hindu families brought up at least one of their sons as a Sikh.

Sikh separatism from Hindus began and was encouraged by the British. By the time they left India in 1947, both communities were identifiably different. But when the country was divided, the Sikhs migrated en masse out of Muslim Pakistan to India. The loss of communal privileges they enjoyed during British rule made them an aggrieved community. The danger of their re-absorption into Hinduism gave birth to a fresh assertiveness that they were a separate community: Ham Hindu Nahin Hai. It found expression in the eruption of anti-Hindu bigots like J.S. Bhindranwale, anti-Hindu terrorism and the demand for the sovereign state of Khalistan. There was nothing ethnic about these developments; they were exploited by politicians, the state and central governments and Pakistan.

Many books have been published on the Punjab and Sikh problems. Most cover the new communal equations in post-Partition Punjab, the prosperity of the Green Revolution, accumulation of Sikh grievances, the rise of militancy, Operations Blue Star, Wild Rose, Black Thunder, Longowal-Rajiv Gandhi accord, end of terrorism and return of peace. Few explain that at no time did Khalistan receive the support of the Sikh masses. Both militancy and the demand for Khalistan were sustained by Sikh emigre groups in England, Canada and the US. Their leaders were men of little credit. Khalistan, never a major issue for the Sikhs, is dead as the Dodo.

Unfortunately few Indian writings have analysed the emotional and psychological factors underlying these changes of attitudes. This aspect of Punjab-Sikh history has been monopolised by foreign scholars and their Indian proteges. Their pedantic pronouncements make it clear that they do not have their hand on the pulse of the Punjabis.

Professor Gurharpal Singh subscribes to this brand of scholarly writing. He does his best to conceal his own pro-Khalistan views but quoting nutcases like Simranjeet Singh Mann, an outspoken proponent of Khalistan, and Joyce Pettigrew, an admirer of Bhindranwale and Sikh militancy, reduce his pretensions of objectivity to a sham. The learned professor's thesis might have provided food for thought but his language is so convoluted that it is hard to understand what he is driving at in the end.

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