Authored by a former Indian spy, a new book called The Khalistan Conspiracy tells how the ruling Congress party of India engineered a pogrom against the minority Sikh community during November 1984.
Thousands of innocent Sikhs were slaughtered across India by mobs led by party activists following the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. They were seeking revenge for the military invasion of their holiest shrine in Amritsar in June of that year.
The ill-conceived army operation left many pilgrims dead and enraged Sikhs worldwide. And it was avoidable, according to the author G.B.S. Sidhu, a former Sikh officer in India’s Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) intelligence agency.
He explains in detail how the attack was planned and executed to suppress the Sikhs' struggle for the right to self-determination and autonomy in their home state of Punjab. Sidhu points out that it polarized the Hindu majority to enable the so-called secularist Congress party to win the subsequent general election.
He gives first-hand information of how Indira Gandhi’s son Rajiv Gandhi—who succeeded her as the next prime minister—and his close associates were directly involved in the Sikh massacre that helped him gain a brute majority in that election.
Significantly, Sidhu puts it on record how the police force in the national capital of New Delhi was helping the mobs going after Sikhs—and he himself had to briefly take refuge in a Hindu colleague's house.
This memoir is important to read to see how the repression of Sikhs strengthened the movement for a separate Sikh state of Khalistan, rather than blaming Sikh activists in place like Canada alone for instigating violence and bloodshed in Punjab.
Sidhu helps us understand that Khalistan was never a popular demand. The Congress leadership deliberately wanted to discredit and weaken a genuine Sikh movement in Punjab for more autonomy and several religious concessions in the state by "othering" Sikhs to gain the sympathy of Hindu voters.
Its calculation failed completely as the extremist elements whom they wished to prop up against moderate Sikh leaders spun out of control and Punjab was pushed into turmoil during a decade-long militancy.
He rightly observes that neighbouring Pakistan took advantage of this domestic crisis for which the blame lies squarely with the Congress party. He warns that if India fails to bring a closure to 1984, supporters of Pakistan and Khalistan outside India will continue to advance their agenda.
However, Sidhu has conveniently overlooks the influence of the current ruling right-wing Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Supporters of Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) also participated in the Sikh massacre—that is well documented. So much so, Modi’s government gave Bharat Ratna, a highest civilian award to the late Nanaji Deshmukh, a Hindu supremacist leader who had justified the violence against Sikhs. Yet that part is missing in the book. Sidhu is silent about it.
On the contrary, he tries to paint a rosy picture of Modi government by claiming that is has removed the names of Sikh expatriates from a blacklist. This had been prepared by the previous Congress government to deny entry to those who had been raising voices against state repression abroad and creating an environment for reinvestigating the massacre of 1984.
How could he gloss over all this, especially when attacks on religious minorities, especially Muslims, have grown under Modi? It is pertinent to mention that Modi oversaw a repeat of what happened in 1984 in 2002. That's when he was chief minister of Gujarat when it experienced a Muslim genocide.
This came after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire leaving more than 50 people dead. Although one commission of inquiry found that it was an accident, Modi blamed it on Muslims and incited violence against them. For this, he was denied visa by the U.S. and other western countries because until he became the prime minister in 2014.
Even in 2019, Modi's supporters targeted Kashmiri Muslims across India, following a militant attack that left forty soldiers dead in Kashmir.
Interestingly, Sidhu, who claims to be an authority on Sikh history, does not take pains to look into the BJP agenda of assimilating Sikhs into the dominant Hindu society, which is a great source of worry among the Sikhs and has been at the root of the conflict between the community and the Indian establishment.
It is not surprising to see how this anxiety has grown under Modi, who remains highly unpopular among Sikhs in spite of an opportunistic political alliance between BJP and Akali Dal, the party that claims to represent the Sikh interests in Punjab.