image caption: Gurmukh Singh OBE

Why Indian Intellectuals Should Not Wish for Return of Another Beant Singh or K P S Gill in Panjab

 Swaminathan S A Aiyar is a popular Indian columnist and TV commentator and is regarded as a leading economic journalist in India. He wrote an article with the title, Khalistan: An old script but a fresh headache in Punjab (The Times of India 4 March, 2023). This was following the Ajnala police station incident on 23 February.

Sadly and most remarkably, he concluded by suggesting that again Punjab needs another Beant Singh or K P S Gill. He wrote: Khalistanis imposed a reign of terror in the state from the 1980s and early 1990s. At the same time he admitted that Beant Singh and KPS Gill used extra-judicial methods to suppress Sikh unrest. That Central rule and martial law failed to quell militancy. So, he concluded that terrorism was crushed by a Sikh chief minister (Beant Singh) and Sikh police chief (KPS Gill) using extra-judicial means that would not have been tolerated from Hindus. Sikh militancy could not have been crushed from outside.

Lessons have to be learnt from 1984 massacre of Sikhs and the years of extra-judicial killings which took place in the following decade. Aiyar thinks that because there is no Beant Singh or KPS Gill in view, therefore, matters in Punjab will get much worse before they get better.

That is a very short-sighted and even dangerous conclusion. If Indian intellectuals and political strategists think like Aiyar that the need is for a repeat of the same methods used by Beant Singh and KPS Gill when Sikhs in power were killing other Sikhs, then there is little hope for the future of Punjab. The possibility is that history would not only repeat itself but the Panjab situation can get worse because genuine Sikh grievances will keep piling up, encouraging more political radicalism.

The need is for rule of law above communal politics. Justice should be seen to be impartial. Sometimes, those like Aiyar forget that by challenging Delhi rule when there is injustice in the country, the Sikhs are doing no more than following in the footsteps of Guru Tegh Bahadur. Meanwhile, Sikh issues can be discussed under relevant headings in the light of human rights and international law.

History shows that those longing for the return of officials and politicians guilty of extra-judicial killings, cannot stifle open debate in a democracy but only provoke a negative reaction from all right-thinking people.

From the Sikh side, one sensible approach expressed by a Sikh intellectual is that many vulnerable segments of the Indian society continue to struggle for space and social justice exactly as they did during the British colonial rule. Battling injustice is not only an important issue for the Sikhs, it is an article of their faith which was founded three centuries ago in the name of justice for all humanity.

From a Sikhi ideological perspective, the temporal (socio-political) objective is Khalsa Raj in which no-one inflicts misery or pain on another. The rule should be by those who emulate (Nirbhao-Nirvair) God qualities in their daily lives. It refers to collective impersonal just regime in which minorities and diversity are safe.

Otherwise, the view that the State is absolutely supreme and incapable of doing wrong is misconceived and dangerous. (German writer, Schulse quoted by late Sirdar Kapur Singh)

Gurmukh Singh OBE

Principal Civil Servant Retd.