Alex Sangha: A new vision for Punjab’s future

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      Recently, I wrote an article that floated the idea of Punjab becoming a sovereign state within India, similar to how Scotland and Wales are separate countries but still a part of the United Kingdom.

      Punjab is dependent on India and India is dependent on Punjab. Punjab’s future rests with closer integration and a new federal arrangement within India and increased cooperation with adjacent Indian states and Pakistan.

      Some segments of the Sikh population feel outright independence from India and preferably a separate Sikh state is the only solution. Despite the historical reasons and merits of this proposal, I do not feel it is compatible with a modern-day Punjab and India.

      First of all, there are approximately nine million Hindus living in Punjab and smaller populations of Christians, Jains, Buddhists, and Muslims. Why would they agree to live in a Sikh-dominated state? Why would they want to live in a religious state based on Sikhism when they currently benefit from all the rights, freedoms, protections, and opportunities provided in a secular, democratic, growing regional-if-not-world power in India.

      Furthermore, Punjab is a landlocked state with severe shortages of water and electricity. Punjab does not even have control over its dams. This is a major problem. The solution is to work cooperatively with India to resolve this issue. For instance, I don’t see why India cannot harness fresh mountain water, whether by melting ice or collecting rain water from the Himalayas, and distribute it throughout northern India. Who knows how toxic water has become in Punjab already due to the use of fertilizers, chemicals, and sprays for agricultural production, all of which are leaching into the shrinking ground water tables?

      Punjab also needs a state-of-the-art high-speed train and transportation routes connecting major cities in the area, such as from Delhi, Chandigarh, Amritsar, Lahore, and Islamabad. This will facilitate trade and tourism. Punjab needs to work cooperatively with India and Pakistan to better industrialize and develop its economy, and new transportation routes can facilitate the moving of new goods and people to new markets.

      There are a number of other major issues. For example, Punjab has been partitioned many times and does not even have its own state capital or high court, I believe. These issues need to be resolved as a state capital and court system are part of the necessary institutional development of a final political arrangement with India.

      But why should India negotiate with Punjab? The central government has not shown a major interest in decentralization or a renewed federalism. Well, times have changed. India even has a Sikh prime minister now. It’s in Punjab’s and India’s mutual interest for social development and political peace to move forward.

      Furthermore, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohandas Gandhi both promised Sikhs a degree of self-determination and sovereignty. It’s time for India to live up to its promises. In 1930, Nehru stated that “the brave Sikhs of Punjab are entitled to special considerations. I see nothing wrong in an area set up in the north of India wherein, the Sikhs can also experience the glow of freedom.”

      It is also important to note that both historically and legally that the leaders of Punjab never surrendered their territory to the British or India, to my knowledge. At partition the British simply handed over Punjab to India. Punjab at one time was a separate country prior to British colonial rule under Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Punjab is unceded territory, and the citizens of Punjab have a rightful claim for a final settlement agreement with the government of India. An agreement of this sort will only provide political stability in the region and settle historical wrongs.

      However, Punjab becoming a sovereign state within India will have a huge practical and psychological benefit as well. The people of Punjab will feel more safe and secure in the development and protection of their land, culture, language, religion, religious shrines, and people. There is an important national healing that has to occur between the Sikhs and Punjabis and the rest of the citizens of India.

      Giving each other the freedom and flexibility to develop each other’s land, people, and society and live in harmony with each other cooperatively as part of a unified country would be one big step forward toward a final reconciliation.

      Alex Sangha is a registered social worker in British Columbia and the author of the social-discussion book The Modern Thinker. He has an MSc in public administration and public policy from the department of government at the London School of Economics. He resides in suburban Vancouver.

      Comments

      15 Comments

      Harv

      Apr 18, 2012 at 12:16pm

      This is a great article. Its nice to read someone proposing real ideas and solutions that are mutually beneficial for all parties. The Sikhs have suffered a lot throughout history at the hands of many. I agree with the writer that is it time to move forward and negotiate a settlement and begin the process of reconciliation.

      in the community

      Apr 18, 2012 at 1:17pm

      A lot of the reasons you present are in fact reasons why Punjab should seek self determination.

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      Jason

      Apr 18, 2012 at 1:23pm

      Real logical and full of common sense. Its about time Sikhs and Hindus put their fighting aside and cooperated to solve issues. I dont agree with the creation of a religious state or theocracy. This can just lead to further nationalism, racism, oppression, and discrimination against minorities who do not form part of the majority. A secular democracy is the way to go. Everyone should be treated equally for a change! Wow, what a concept!

      Micheal Jackson

      Apr 18, 2012 at 2:10pm

      Where did you get the crazy idea that Sikhs in Punjab enjoy benefits from all the rights, freedoms, protections of Hindustan?

      It was only last week after more than a hundred years of a long-standing-demand that Sikhs got their own Marriage act, before that Sikhs were classifed under Hindus who got married.

      And even in today's date Section 25 of the Indian Constitution shows all Sikhs are Hindus, thus clearly denying them freedom from declaring them self Sikhs in India legally.

      And for as Dr.Manmohan Singh- PM of India, he is generally thought as puppet-on-a-string pulled by Sonia Gandhi. His approval ratings within Sikh community in India now are extremely low. And remember having a turban and growing a beard doesnt make you a Sikh.

      And Punjab,even though land locked has the worlds most sophisticated irrigation networks, mostly made by the British, thus it can sustain it self if it were an independent nation.

      Last but not least , It is a Myth Alex, to believe that an independent nation of Sikhs (Khaliztan) would not thrive due to its geographically land locked status, you can give the Sikhs the most arid,land-locked,middle of sub saharan Africa or the arctic land and you will see them sprout. Because at the end of the day a Sikh nation under the doctrine of the Guru Granth Sahib will florish undeterred by anything except the truth-God.

      Peace
      Go Canucks Go!!

      Jason

      Apr 18, 2012 at 3:05pm

      Re Micheal Jackson

      The writer did not say that Sikhs benefit from protections from Hindustan. Re-read the article. He said the following:

      "First of all, there are approximately nine million Hindus living in Punjab and smaller populations of Christians, Jains, Buddhists, and Muslims. Why would they agree to live in a Sikh-dominated state? Why would they want to live in a religious state based on Sikhism when they currently benefit from all the rights, freedoms, protections, and opportunities provided in a secular, democratic, growing regional-if-not-world power in India."

      The writer is advocating for increased autonomy for Punjab within India for some of the reasons you mention. I support the writers overall message of increased autonomy within India and cooperation.

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      John Johnson

      Apr 18, 2012 at 3:10pm

      I agree with some of your ideas but my understanding of Nehru in his biography written after independence he wrote he 'disliked topknots'. Is this not racism by the founding father of India? Also no justice for Sikhs in any indian state sponsered genocide is this not racism or cold blooded massacres? I must ask these Sikhs are they content with being treated like dogs in a Indian state when they did so much for this state. I remember a speech by all india sikh student federation head and he stated when he went to Haridwar he saw shops and toilets on top of a piece of land where a gurdwara once sat of baba Nanak and a pandit went up to him have sikhs gone scared? With articles like this I am beginning to think of this as the case...

      Rupinder

      Apr 18, 2012 at 3:31pm

      @John Johnson

      Sikhs have not gotten scared. Sikhs have been fighting for Khalistan for decades. Thousands of innocent people have been killed. The status quo is not working. What do you suggest Sikhs do to fight for their rights? Do you think India is just going to hand them Khalistan. Dialogue and a peaceful resolution is a smart response for the long term. If you have any solutions why dont you propose some instead of branding Sikhs as "gone scared."

      Tegs

      Apr 18, 2012 at 3:54pm

      Here is the answer to some of the myths in this article and the propaganda by vested interests that Sikhs can not survive without India. In fact the reverse is almost true.
      Myth Number ONE >>> First of all, there are approximately nine million Hindus living in Punjab and smaller populations of Christians, Jains, Buddhists, and Muslims. Why would they agree to live in a Sikh-dominated state? Why would they want to live in a religious state based on Sikhism when they currently benefit from all the rights, freedoms, protections, and opportunities provided in a secular, democratic, growing regional-if-not-world power in India.<<<
      So the killing of tens of thousands of Sikhs and many other minorities by state sponsored massacres by Hindu dominated Government is what Alex Sangha thinks is the freedoms, protections and stature that Sikhs enjoy in a "democratic and secular Hindu state? And why would any one in his right mind wi conjure up visions of a "theocratic" Sikh state? So Maharaja Ranjit Singh's Sikh state where a Muslim was a Chief justice, a Hindu was Prime Minister and various Europeans were officers in Sikh army was a theocratic Sikh state??
      Myth #2 Punjab is a landlocked state with severe water and power shortage.
      Well Punjab has enough power and water from natural sources bu it is being stolen by Indian state which is occupying Sikh homeland. The Indian Government is responsible for the agriculture cycle of wheat and rice and for excessive use of pesticides which has caused water pollution and depletion of water table. Indian state has stolen Punjab's water and electricity worth hundreds of billions of dollars and has now allowed the agriculture produce to find private markets world wide for its produce by banning its exports and by monopoly buying at dirt cheap rates.
      The turbaned minions occupying various high posts in India can not wield any power and have only symbolic meaning for Sikh nation. During 1984 attack on Golden Temple by Indian army, its commander in chief was a symbolic Sikh called Zail Singh

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      Jazz

      Apr 18, 2012 at 6:08pm

      Interesting article. Some of the ideas I agree with. I dont feel Alex Sangha was saying that Sikhs in Punjab and India benefit from rights, freedoms in a secular democracy. I think it is actually because of the lack of these fundamental rights that Alex Sangha is advocating for increased autonomy for Punjab. It is a sensible proposal worthy of discussion and debate. We are lucky we have free speech and can discuss these issues freely. In some countries you would be branded a terrorist and killed.

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      Bikramjit Singh

      Apr 19, 2012 at 12:30am

      This is an interesting article but the plan that it espouses is a non-starter for a number of reasons. (1) The Indian government which is one of the most paranoid in the world which would never agree to even a small concession to a state will never agree to such a transfer of powers. (2) The example of Scotland shows that the plan would in the end just be a stop-gap solution. In Scotland the SNP are on the verge of breaking away from the UK. This shows that even if the central government is willing to give away more and more autonomy to the states, in the end the states will want to go the whole hog and have complete independence. (3) The Sikh demands prior to 1984 were demands which would have benefited the whole of Punjab and not just the Sikhs but the Hindus did not make common cause with the Sikhs and sabotaged their struggle. At the end of the day if the Hindu Punjabis who in the 1950s went so far as the deny their mother tongue in the census in order to subvert the creation of a Punjabi state then one cannot fault the Sikhs if as a majority their demands and now geared more towards a theocratic Sikh state. Having been in Punjab during the recent Punjab Bandh and seen the arrogance of the Punjabi Hindus in burning Sikh turbans and seeking confrontations with peaceful Sikh protesters I cannot but think that the only solution would be another transfer of population such as that which took place in 1947.