image caption: Gurmukh Singh OBE and International Leaders with Sikhs

June 1984: The Turning Point

    The bold heading of a report by a Sikh journalist on 20 May, 2018 read: Winter is coming: Why Sikhs need to prepare for the imminent storm. Sikhs in the diaspora need to get ready. From what little I know about the journalist, the report did come as a surprise and as a sign of the times.

Sikh writers and reporters who manage to get their items published in the mainstream media (even with anglicised or English names) do have professional level skills. They speak the language of the establishment which requires a certain flow and balance to show impartiality. Paradoxically, it is that need for high level written skill and often contrived balance of mainstream journalism, which creates a slot for amateur community journalists who then become the real voice of the grassroots. Often, they are not heard by the establishment but they do provide internal communication and have good or bad influence within the community. Ideally, mainstream journalists should work more closely with the community. The Sikh Press Association is a good initiative.

In the post 1984 period, Sikhs were not heard in the West and their cries of anguish were ignored. That is, until recently. The well-earned prosperity of the hard-working Sikhs was bound to influence the politics of the diaspora countries, followed by Sikh success in politics.

Many accounts have been written about the 1984 blunder made by the Indian communal politics. That was the year when the Indian democracy lost its moorings and stability and alienated the most loyal of Indian communities. The spotlight now is on the open conflict between Hindutva politics of India touted by many Indian organisations abroad while diaspora Sikhs continue to score successes in politics.

Sunny Hundal, the Sikh journalist who wrote the report mentioned at the beginning, predicts that tensions between Sikhs and the Indian government will grow again. He has given some useful pointers about the Sikh response through improved infrastructure, effective internal conflict resolution and better communication and media management.

Regrettably, part of the Indian establishment under the influence of Hindutva, continues to misread the signs. For example, it may be argued that the visit by the Canadian PM Justin Trudeau to India was a missed opportunity for India and a political success for him bearing in mind that he faces Sikh political competition in Canada and would like to win over Sikh voters. Trudeau won the hearts of the Sikhs in Punjab and in the diaspora.

India fails to understand that self-determination is a legal right of a people in the West and that politicians respect that right while they also need Sikh votes. It should not surprise India that senior politicians in the West will be seen with Sikh leaders of all hues in the media images. Ultimately, pressure on Western governments through trade deals to suppress Sikh activism will not work, nor would tactics to please gullible Sikhs.

India should review its policy towards the Sikhs by starting with the causes of the conflict to find the cure.


Gurmukh Singh OBE