Khalistan would be an anachronism in Nehruvian India but not in a majoritarian state ruled by the Hindutva doctrine
SEVERAL issues in the ongoing Canada-India spat over the murder of a pro-Khalistan Sikh man of Canadian citizenship require us to look beyond the fog of nationalist fervour that impedes a clear view of the fray.
To begin with, the idea of Khalistan has existed since the 17th century; it is much older than the idea of India as it evolved under British rule, and then since independence.
According to the summation of the Britannica, the declaration of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699 fired the Sikh imagination to pursue its God-given right to rule Punjab. In 1710, under the leadership of Banda Singh Bahadur, Sikh forces captured Sirhind, a major Mughal administrative centre between Delhi and Lahore, and established a capital in nearby Mukhlispur (‘city of the purified’).
They struck coins, designed an official seal, and issued letters of command invoking the authority of God and the Gurus. The notion that ‘the Khalsa shall rule’ (‘raj karega Khalsa’) has since been part of the Sikh liturgical prayer, and it remains an indivisible part of it today. The idea of Khalsa Raj under Banda Singh was realised in the early 19th century in the kingdom of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780–1839). The Khalsa Raj declined after Ranjit Singh, but the idea lived on.
In the complex negotiations before the partition of the Punjab in 1947, the idea of an independent Sikh state figured prominently. The Sikh population’s lack of numerical strength in relation to other residents of the Punjab made this an unviable proposition at the time. In the 1970s and 1980s, a violent secessionist movement for Khalistan paralysed Punjab for a decade. The movement crushed, the idea of the Khalsa lives on, invoked twice a day in gurdwara.
Khalistan in its essence is thus a religiously fired concept put into motion by devout and militant Sikhs. The idea is anathema to an India that was conceived as an inclusive and secular state embracing a cornucopia of cultures, languages, religions, or even those with no religion.
However, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s watch, the country has been hurtling towards becoming a majoritarian Hindu state, a Hindu rashtra, stalling the scope for censure of a minority community seeking a similarly grounded homeland of its own. Khalistan would be an anachronism in Nehru’s India, but less so in a majoritarian state governed by the doctrine of Hindutva.
Hindutva nationalists love to name their real or perceived challengers as Pakistani or Khalistani. There are, of course, proud Pakistanis and there are proud Khalistanis, but every Indian Sikh or Muslim may not like to be called by either name.
Protesting Sikh farmers who bravely and peacefully fought a successful yearlong battle against Mr Modi’s anti-farmer laws were branded Khalistani by TV anchors close to the government. It was like saying: ‘We don’t like you, so here’s a name for you.’
Hindu men and women who take principled positions against Hindutva’s aggression towards India’s minority communities are also not spared. They too are branded Pakistani. Communists were and are called Chinese agents without seeing how most Indian partisans mistrusted China and were close to the USSR, which stood with India in the 1962 border war.
Also, it was Kaifi Azmi, a communist poet, who wrote the evergreen patriotic songs for Haqeeqat, a movie that described the valour of Indian soldiers in the border war with China. Strands from this all-pervasive India collective contribute to the diaspora in Canada, as they do in other countries.
The other notable feature of the spat over the murder of Khalistani activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar is the doublespeak on both sides on the issue of sovereignty.
Canada is offended that Indian agents attached to the embassy in Ottawa violated its sovereignty by murdering Nijjar, a Canadian citizen, on Canadian soil. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau applauded Canada’s democratic tradition and regard for human rights as an element in his outrage against Nijjar’s murder by suspected Indian agents.
Canada, however, is a member of the Five Eyes group, a post-World War II cabal of five Anglo-Saxon nations that share intelligence and have violated the sovereignty of countless countries callously. These violations have included assassinations, coups, kidnapping and outright destruction of sovereign countries and their leaders. Above all, Canada indulges by its studied silence the daily abuse of the rights of Palestinians whose homeland stands usurped by its close ally, Israel.
Does India violate the sovereignty of other countries though? It has vehemently denied any role in the killing of Nijjar and a former spy chief claimed such operations could never be authorised.
An outcome of the diplomatic tiff over the murder could be that the fugitive Mumbai don Dawood Ibrahim gets a whiff of unexpected relief. That’s because India is telling the world it doesn’t have a policy to hunt wanted fugitives in foreign countries à la Israel.
The nouveau-riche middle-class hero worships Israel, though, for its predatory methods of vendetta killings abroad.
The India Today Group carried a remarkable interview with a former Indian home secretary some years ago, which, it claimed, “blew the lid off one of the most infamous chapters in India’s counterterrorism efforts”.
R.K. Singh, now a BJP minister, told India Today about a plot to kill Dawood Ibrahim in Dubai.
“I know that an attempt was made to eliminate Dawood Ibrahim. Some people had been selected for the job. They were being trained. Many cops in the Mumbai police were on Dawood Ibrahim’s pay role. I don’t know how word leaked, but the Mumbai police got information that so and so were being trained at such and such location. Mumbai cops reached that location armed with arrest warrants. Now, all gangsters have cases against them. But because of this action of the Mumbai police, the whole operation to eliminate Dawood fell apart.”
It seems unlikely that the Five Eyes haven’t taken note of the amazing interview.