When seeds of distrust are sown by traumatic events like mass killings or massive use of military force in peacetime to suppress the people or popular movements, it is then not possible to erase the memory of such events. Demands for semi or full autonomy grow with suppression.
There is a very serious question before Indian politicians today which also has a global dimension: What is common between Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Assam and some other areas? Answer: All these regions have liberation movements ranging from those demanding greater autonomy to complete secession from the Indian Union.
Let us take the case of the Sikhs of Punjab which gives an idea of the extent to which the Indian system of government has failed since independence despite the safeguards in the Indian Constitution. In 1947, the Sikhs of Punjab, led by Master Tara Singh were the most patriotic and loyal supporters of one united India. They were against the division of the Indian sub-continent. Soon, when promises given to them regarding partial autonomy and a Panjabi language state like other language-based states were ignored, they were left with no option but to protest and agitate. The language issue was given a communal and even a religious twist and politically exploited.
There was a further division of Punjab followed by a chain of events which continue to the present day. Sikh grievances grew over the decades: the Anandpur Sahib Resolution (1976), the traumatic events of 1984 and the years that followed leading to a demand for a referendum in 2020 for full autonomy. (Its viability, legality or even alleged lack of popular support are not the issues here.)
In short, a most loyal Indian community has been alienated over the decades. Without apportioning blame, this has generally to do with misguided policies in political, economic and other spheres while the power struggle between state governments and Delhi continues. It is a question of further devolution of power to states to counter the Hindutva political agenda regardless of the party in power since 1947, to make India a Hindu Rashtra and to push India towards a de facto nation state ruled from Delhi.
Let us accept that every country has the right to defend its territorial integrity and to manage own internal affairs without outside interference. However, that right also should be guided by democratic rules and minority aspirations. A country can only be held together by the free will of all the diverse peoples in the country.
Unity cannot be forced by the majority community and the army forever. Otherwise, the first sacrifice will be any claims to democratic rule and next a multiple breakdown of law and order and regional rebellions. That can mean total disintegration of the country in the medium to long term. This trend can be reversed by installing a truly federal system so that Union powers focus mainly on defence, external affairs, common currency, railways, national grid networks, communications and other jointly agreed spheres. Unity in diversity is only possible if diversity feels empowered.
Gurmukh Singh OBE, a retired UK senior civil servant, chairs the Advisory Board of The Sikh Missionary Society UK. Email: email@example.com. The article first appeared at The Panjab Times, UK. See here.
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
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