Col. Iqbal Singh
Having handled Kashmir insurgency and Pakistan intimately through the prism of my military career at various platforms, from field to the helm, I can foresee a grim period for Punjabis in general and Sikhs in particular, should the Referendum 2020, initiated by the Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) organisation, be given any credence. The impact will be felt by Sikhs and Punjabis residing in India and in many other parts of the world. The demand from the Punjab perspective is superficial and supposedly being engineered.
It may be true that some Sikhs are sensitive to the attempts of RSS to co-opt Sikhism into its fold of Hindutva. Also, there may be some other grievances. These issues need to be dealt with at a different platform, preferably by SGPC or the Sikh intelligentsia. Is the referendum a solution?
What is the purpose of this Referendum? Is it an attempt to create an independent state? For whatever reason, the Sikhs missed the bus of an independent state at the time of partition. And after the partition of India, the movement for Punjabi Suba (a kind of Khalistan from today’s perspective) was initiated to get a Sikh/Punjabi language predominant state, which eventually became a reality. Punjab was originally one of the leading States in India. Sadly, after the creation of a truncated State, it’s status and functioning deteriorated under its political stature.
To understand the liberation of Punjab under Sikh Misls and Maharaja Ranjit Singh, it is essential to understand the Sikh history. While Sikhs took up arms after the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev Ji in self-defence against the Mughals, it was Guru Gobind Singh Ji who created a viable force to fight unjust adversaries by uniting his followers under the banner of being ”Singhs.” When he was alive, he was fighting against both Mughals and Hindu Rajas. He was fighting such adversaries of his times who were committing atrocities in the name of religion and not against any religion. To the best of my knowledge, nowhere did he exhibit an urge for an independent Sikh state.
However, before he died, he appointed Banda Bahadur to uproot or fight the atrocities of Mughals. The eighteenth century was a period of considerable turbulence for Punjab. It began with the Mughal authority in full control of the area, and it terminated on the threshold of a return to firm rule under Maharaja Ranjit Singh. In fact, the success of Sikhs coincided with the downfall of Mughals after the death of Aurangzeb, in no small measure due to the Mughal authority getting badly shattered by the invading Afghans/Persian rulers Ahmed Shah Abdali and Nadir Shah.
Between these two periods, there were rebellions, invasions and political confusion. By the middle of the century, following the final collapse of effective Mughal power, there were emerging the celebrated Sikh Misls; autonomous armed bands each under an acknowledged chieftain, and each asserting control over an ill-defined portion of central Punjab. During the period of their emergence, a sense of unity was sustained, partly by the ties of a common allegiance to the Sikh faith but more effectively by the recurrent attacks of the Afghan invaders.
While Guru Gobind Singh Ji died in 1708, it took almost a century to form the ”Lahore Durbar;” some reports also mention it as ”Sarkar Khalsa Ji,” a secular rule where Hindus and Muslims participated actively under Sikh suzerainty. But before the formation of ”Lahore Durbar,” Sikh Misls had cleared the region from its external rulers. Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s empire, however, lasted barely forty-forty five years, a period considered a dot in the history of thousands or millions of years of civilization.
Sikhs were, thus, able to fill the vacuum of leadership. But today there is no similarity with the past era. Sadly, after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Sikhs were unable to provide any credible leadership and hence succumbed under the British pressure. Even now, there is no distinct leader capable of guiding the community.
India is currently strong, and there is no parallel to that of the Mughal decline. Hence, any anti-India movement is likely to be crushed like the insurgency in Kashmir, Punjab and some northeastern states. We all know that despite Pakistan and China’s tacit and active involvement in some Indian states, there is no hope of even an independent Kashmir until India is on a weak wicket.
India is still emerging and finding a slot for itself in global affairs. Even though Pakistan and China may try to weaken it, the global powers need a reasonably powerful India. An independent Sikh state is neither in the interest of India nor Pakistan. It may be more detrimental to Pakistan’s sovereignty. There is no world power supporting even the cause of an independent Kashmir leave aside Punjab. Also, despite the Dalai Lama having global influence and being treated as a respected religious leader worldwide, there is no tangible support for the liberation of Tibet so far. Nevertheless, their people are making a good impact in many countries.
The Sikh community will have to ponder over these issues and find the right direction for itself. More importantly, it will have to find a visionary leader or an institution capable of leading the community. It is because of this deficiency that issues like referendum 2020 and SFJ are cropping up.
More importantly, the non-resident community should leave the destiny of Sikhs of Punjab to themselves. They know how to handle their problems. Non-residents should focus their energies on the affairs of countries adopted now and spread the excellent message of their Gurus over there. Sikhs as a community should continue to follow the path shown by Guru Nanak and other Gurus.
(Author is a military veteran and a thought leader)