image caption: Gurmukh Singh OBE

Republic Day 26 January: Why the Sikh case continues to be a running-sore in India

     The Sikhs have always supported secular countries, united in their diversity of cultures. Countries in which all communities enjoy their freedom as equal citizens. The Panjab of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was such a state in the political milieu of the times. It was not a religion-based state but was guided by egalitarian values enshrined in Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the Model for interfaith harmony. By asserting their own independence as a theo-political people, the Sikhs have always asked for similar rights for others in a truly voluntary democratic union of diverse communities.

      Sikhs opposed the creation of an Islamic state of Pakistan and later started resisting the gradual move of the rest of India away from true secularism towards a Hindu rashtra. Sensing these moves and removal of Sikh safeguards in the Constitution, S. Hukam Singh and S. Bhupinder Singh Mann, the Sikh representatives in the Constituent Assembly, declined to put their signatures to the draft Constitution of India. Dr B R Ambedkar was appointed as the chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee on 28 August 1947. However, probably it was Valabhbhai Patel, the first Deputy Prime Minister of India, influential in the drafting of the Constitution, who excluded the pre-partition promises made to the Sikhs by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru in the final draft. The safeguards regarding the political rights of the Sikhs as a people were no longer there.

     The two drafts, one in Hindi and one in English, were signed by 308 members of the Constituent Assembly on 24 January 1950, and two days later on 26 January, 1950, came into effect. The day was celebrated nationwide as the Republic Day in India. That day, Sikhism was bracketed with the Hindu religion and the identity of the Sikhs as a distinct theo-political qaum, a people, was taken away from them. They would suffer the consequences in the years to come. According to one senior Sikh politician, Article 25 even denies Sikhism, the fifth largest faith in the world, separate recognition as a religion an affront that is widely seen as a deliberate act of suppression of the Sikhs.

     Even under the current Indian Constitution, the rights of Panjab, Panjabi and Panjabiat could have been safeguarded. The Panjabi Suba agitation and what followed, before and after 1984, could have been avoided. As noted in this column before, Sikhs in the diaspora will continue to oppose the injustices in India while showing solidarity with other Indian minorities. The Indian government reaction will be to accuse Sikhs of funding terrorism.

     UK visit by Prime Minister Modi in 2015 could have been a turning point for the Sikhs as claimed by a pragmatic interlocuter who seems to keep changing his mind. By his own admission: Three years later, apart from ping some names from an unconstitutional black list, things have indeed been going round and round. It is not surprising that Sikh frustration and resentment continues to find expression in different ways every few years. 

     Over 70 years after Indian independence, the colonial style administrative system has not changed and Indian minorities feel as insecure as ever.

Gurmukh Singh OBE