Gurpreet Singh: Capt. Amarinder Singh—what about the 50 Sikh soldiers killed by the mobs in 1984?

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      The February 14 suicide attack in Indian-administered Kashmir that left more than 40 paramilitary soldiers dead has not only invited an angry response from the ruling right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). It has also provoked a similar response from hawkish leaders within the opposition Congress that claims to be a secular alternative to the BJP. 

      The slain soldiers were from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), whose security personnel are deployed in Kashmir where an armed insurgency for independence has been going on for years. The Indian leadership has frequently accused Pakistan of patronizing Kashmiri separatists. The bomber involved in the latest attack was associated with a Pakistan-based Islamic extremist group.

      Ever since the incident, many BJP and Congress supporters have been calling for revenge and even war.

      This shouldn’t surprise anyone as both are major political parties of the country and have mostly been on the same page on foreign policy and national security. Thus, the two parties have never left any opportunity to play aggressive politics on the issue of terrorism and the foreign threat to internal peace. If anything binds them together, it's jingoism and majoritarian nationalism in a Hindu-dominated India.

      Under these circumstances, Punjab Chief Minister and senior Congress leader Capt. Amarinder Singh has made the provocative statement of asking for the killing of 82 Pakistani soldiers in retaliation for the deaths of 41 CRPF soldiers. His anger is partly due to ome of the slain soldiers being from his state. This is despite the fact that the direct involvement of the Pakistani government has not been established.

      In fact, Pakistani soldiers are also frequently targeted by Islamic extremists. That the soil of Pakistan could have been used by those who planned and executed the attack cannot be ruled out. Yet such a statement coming from a towering Indian politician from the opposition camp cannot be ignored.

      His reaction cannot be seen in isolation from the politically charged environment of India, where calls for "Blood for Blood" are openly made. However it reflects the doublespeak of the Indian leadership. Such anger was missing when at least 50 Sikh soldiers of the Indian army were brutally murdered during mob violence in the first week of November 1984.

      The bloodshed followed the assassination of the then Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards who wanted to avenge a June 1984 military attack on the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest Sikh shrine. The army invasion was ordered to deal with religious extremists who had stockpiled weapons inside the place of worship.

      The military attack left many devotees dead and the buildings inside the complex destroyed. This act of sacrilege also alienated most Sikhs from the Indian mainstream. Notably, Capt. Amarinder Singh resigned from Gandhi’s Congress party in protest at the time only to rejoin it years later.

      Congress leaders were seen inciting mobs, which included BJP supporters, to kill innocent Sikhs to avenge the murder of Gandhi. During this well-orchestrated pogrom against Sikhs all over India, 50 Sikh soldiers were also lynched. Some of them were in their uniforms and were either travelling back home or going to their duties. A few who were high-ranking officers, whereas most of those killed were junior soldiers.

      Years have passed but this injustice has never been acknowledged—leave aside the thought that any outrage has been shown over their deaths by the Indian leadership. 

      This memorial at a gurdwara in Delhi lists the names of 50 Sikh soldiers who were killed by mobs in the wake of the assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi.

      If Capt. Amarinder Singh, who is himself a former army officer, is so keen to get instant justice for the murdered CRPF soldiers, why doesn’t he dare seek revenge from his own party bosses who instigated the killings of Sikh soldiers like dogs? Were the dignity and lives of those soldiers less important? Why such selectivity?

      It has been a general trend that killings of soldiers by enemies, both real and imaginary, have often been politicized by the BJP and the Congress, while in other instances they have preferred to look the other way. For instance, over 100 soldiers committed suicide in 2018, according to the figures of the Indian defence department, but these deaths caused none of the hysteria that followed the February 14 attack.

      Not very long ago, in 2016 when a so-called low caste CRPF soldier died in a similar attack in Kashmir, the upper-caste residents of his village denied land for his funeral. How come such a humiliation of a slain soldier was pocketed by the entire nation, which is now up on its feet asking for tit for tat?  The brutal caste system is sanctioned by the orthodox Hindus and continues to exist in India in spite of tall claims of development and progress.

      All this only reveals that the excitement over the unfortunate deaths of more than 40 soldiers is nothing but an attempt to polarize the voters in the name of nationalism. It's being done with an eye to the upcoming general election in May and to reassure the Hindu right of its sense of security and supremacy.

      Gurpreet Singh is cofounder of Radical Desi magazine and Indians Abroad for Pluralist India.