By Santokh Singh Bains | Opinion |
On numerous important occasions in the past, several Sikh political and religious had miserably failed to safeguard the Sikh interests.
Way back in 1929, the Sikh leaders had rightly expressed apprehensions about their future in independent India. To allay their fears, the Congress party, in its annual session held in Lahore in that year, had passed a resolution mentioning that “no future constitution would be acceptable to the Congress that did not give full satisfaction to the Sikhs.” Such categorical assurances were repeatedly given to the Sikhs, right upto the time of India’s partition in 1947.
But in 1950, the Congress party reneged on the solemn assurances given by their leaders to the Sikhs on several occasions. The Sikh representatives realized that the proposed constitution of India was unfavourable for the Sikhs and, therefore, they refused to append their signatures. In spite of rejection by the Sikh representatives, the Act was duly passed.
Before India’s independence, Mahatma Gandhi had asked the Sikhs “to accept my word and the Resolution of the Congress.” He had assured the Sikhs that no injustice will be done to them when the Congress party would come to power in independent India. At a press conference held in Kolkata in July 1946, Jawaharlal Nehru had stated that “the brave Sikhs of Punjab are entitled to special consideration. I see nothing wrong in an area and a set up in the North, wherein the Sikhs can also experience the glow of freedom.”
Hoping that the commitment repeatedly made to them will be sincerely implemented after the country’s independence, the Sikh leaders never asked for the written guarantee which was undoubtedly an egregious blunder.
In May 1947, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh representatives went to England to negotiate with the British government regarding the future set up of India. When the Congress and the Muslim League failed to strike any mutual understanding, Nehru decided to return to India.
At that time, the British Cabinet leaders approached Baldev Singh, the Sikh representative. They advised him to stay behind in England for some more time so that a suitable proposal could be framed which would be quite favourable for the Sikhs. They wanted the Sikhs “to have political feet of their own on which they may walk into the current of World History.”
The Britishers had great respect for Sikhs; they remembered supreme sacrifices made by the Sikh soldiers in the two World Wars and also in the battle of Saragarhi as part of the British Indian Army.
The Britishers were prepared to put in writing a guarantee for the Sikhs to ensure a suitable homeland to them even if that area would be part of India.
Instead of accepting the Britishers’ advice to stay for sometime more in England to deliberate over their proposal which could be in the best interests of the Sikhs, Baldev Singh foolishly talked with Nehru about the British offer. Thereafter, as advised by Nehru, he declined the Britishers’ amazing offer. Moreover, he gave a stupid historic statement before the press: “The Sikhs have no demands to make on the British except the demand that they should quit India. Whatever political rights and aspirations the Sikhs have, they shall have them satisfied through the goodwill of the Congress and the majority community.” Thus, due to the absurd decision of Baldev Singh, the Sikhs of India missed a golden opportunity to get a guaranteed Sikh homeland of their own within India.
The Sikh leaders should have initially demanded an independent country of their own in spite of their unfavourable numerical strength in most areas of Punjab (they were in majority in two tehsils of Taran Taran and Jagraon only). They should have put forward the example of Jewish country Israel. When Israel came into existence, there were 600,000 Muslims, 86,000 Christians, and only 46,000 Jews. Still Jews got an independent country of their own.
Instead of acting as blind followers of Hindu/Congress leaders, the Sikh leaders should have shrewdly dealt with them. They should have told them about Jinnah’s offer to them and then asked them what they could offer to the Sikhs which would be more attractive to them than Jinnah’s offer. After negotiations, the Sikh leaders could have finally agreed to have an autonomous Punjab within India with only their defence and currency in the Indian government’s hands.
In 1947, British India was partitioned into two independent countries – Hindu majority India and Muslim majority Pakistan. The Sikhs, however, drew a blank due to ineptitude of their leadership.
In 1954, Master Tara Singh reminded Jawaharlal Nehru about his solemn undertaking that “the brave Sikhs of Punjab are entitled to special consideration. I see nothing wrong in an area and a set up in the North, wherein the Sikhs can also experience the glow of freedom.” Nehru cooly replied: “The circumstances have now changed.”
Cyril Radcliffe, a British lawyer, was commissioned to draw the borders between Hindu majority India and Muslim majority Pakistan. He was given only five weeks to accomplish this onerous task. He was asked to base his boundary lines on the basis of the population of Hindus and Muslims. He was also asked to consider “other factors” but these additional factors were never officially defined.
While Cyril Radcliffe was the Chairman of the Border Commission, he was assisted by two Hindu and Muslim lawyers each to help him in his task. There was the need of two Sikh lawyers also, but the Sikh leaders never asked for it. Hence, the Commission did not care about the Sikh interests. A lady working for the Commission, who was sympathetic towards the Sikhs, said sometime back that no Sikh representative had approached the Commission properly, otherwise the border between the two countries could have been drawn in such a way that several important historical gurdwaras would have come within Indian territory instead of going to Pakistan. Thus, Nanakana Sahib Gurdwara, Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara and even Lahore city could have come to India.
In his unique book titled Scoop!: Inside Stories From The Partition To The Present,” veteran Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar mentioned that he had interviewed Radcliffe in Britain in 1976. Radcliffe reportedly told him that he had initially wanted to give Lahore to India but later changed his mind. He had also told Nayar that he could have definitely done his job in a better way if he was given two or three years instead of just five weeks.
Bangladesh Liberation War
Under the overall command of Lt. Gen. Jagjit Singh Aurora — General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) of the Indian Army’s Eastern Command, the gallant Sikh troops played a significant role in the rout of the Pakistani Army in East Pakistan — finally resulting in the birth of Bangladesh. About 93,000 Pakistani soldiers were taken prisoner.
That was an excellent time for the Sikh leaders to approach Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to put pressure on Pakistan to return historic Sikh gurdwaras like Nankana Sahib, Kartarpur Sahib, and even Lahore city (the capital of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Sikh kingdom) to India. Help could also be sought from Lt. Gen. Aurora in this connection. Surprisingly, no Sikh leader came forward at that crucial time to have a dialogue with Indira Gandhi in this connection.
Pakistan and India Today
Since its birth in 1947, Pakistan today is in its worst financial condition. The country’s debt, which stood at Rs. 62.5 trillion at the end of the Imran Khan’s government in 2022, has been continuously rising at a threatening pace. Pakistan’s domestic and external debt has exceeded $280 billion now.
Just to pay off its earlier debts, it has been borrowing billions of dollars from China, Saudi Arabia, UAE, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and so on. Due to its ailing economy, Pakistan has been outsourcing the country’s ports and airports just to get some funds to pay off its huge debts. Financially weak Pakistan has been on the brink of default. In fact, it is now on the verge of bankruptcy.
India, on the other hand, is flush with money now. The country’s foreign exchange reserves rose to $609 billion on 14th July 2023.
Districtwise Map of Pakistani Punjab
At present, Pakistan has been teetering on brink of several debt defaults. So it is probably the perfect time for India to ask cash-strapped Pakistan to ‘sell’ Narowal, Sheikhupura, Lahore (including the city of Lahore), and Nankana Sahib districts to India for a few billions of dollars. There may be negotiation about the amount which India would need to pay to Pakistan. This ‘sale’ would also be in Pakistan’s interest because it will get ‘breathing time’ to avoid defaults in paying off its creditors for now.
There are seven very important historical gurdwaras in Nankana Sahib area: Gurdwara Janam Asthan, Gurdwara Patti Sahib, Gurdwara Bal Leela, Gurdwara Tambu Sahib, Gurdwara Mal Ji Sahib, Gurdwara Kiara Sahib, and Gurdwara Chhati Patshahi.
As Nankana Sahib district does not border any Indian area, India will need to ‘buy’ Sheikhupura and Lahore districts also to get access to Nankana Sahib district. Also, India needs to get Lahore city because it was the capital of the Sikh empire of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
There are more than 40 gurdwaras in Lahore district. As regards Sheikhupura district, there are at least three important gurdwaras in that district; the most important of these is Gurdwara Saccha Sauda located at Farooqabad. (The above-mentioned information about gurdwaras in Lahore and Sheikhupura districts has been provided in Dr. Dalvir S. Pannu’s book titled The Sikh Heritage: Beyond Borders).
In Narowal district, there are several important gurdwaras: Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, Gurdwara Tahli Sahib at Ghakka Kotli, Gurdwara Pehli Patshahi at Mallah, and Gurdwara Baba Gurbaksh Singh at Nainakot.
Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Singh Mann, Akal Takhat Jathedar Giani Raghbir Singh and Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) President Harjinder Singh Dhami should come forward and unitedly prepare a suitable strategy. They should jointly put forward the proposal before the Union Government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri should also be approached in this connection. India’s Ambassador to the United States Taranjit Singh Sandhu is believed to be quite close to the Indian Prime Minister; his help should also be sought in this matter.
If the four Pakistani districts (including the city of Lahore) can be “purchased’ from Pakistan and then merged with the Indian Punjab, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will earn gratitude of the 30 million strong Sikh community spread all over the world. Out of about 170 gurdwaras in Pakistan, only about 18 of them are presently functioning. There will be many-fold increase in the number of functioning gurdwaras after the four districts are merged with the Indian Punjab. Also, this will be a very important step towards the fulfilment of the sacred Sikh prayer for Khulle Darshan Deedare Te Seva Sambhal (unhindered access and the right to perform service of the Guru).
Pessimists and Naysayers
Even though all Sikhs are always expected to be in Chardi Kalaa, there is no dearth of pessimists and naysayers amongst Sikhs. Many Sikhs may consider the proposal to ‘buy’ four districts from Pakistan really far-fetched and impossible to achieve.
Those Sikhs should remember that before Mikhail Gorbachev became the President of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), nobody had thought that this mighty country would disintegrate soon and many new countries would come into existence. Similarly, before 1971, nobody had thought that East Pakistan would sometime become an independent country (Bangladesh). Again, before 2002, Indonesians never imagined that their province of East Timor would some day become a new country known as Timor-Leste. There are numerous other such examples.
History tells us that several political and religious Sikh demagogues committed egregious blunders in the past for which the Sikh community is suffering even today. Will today’s Sikh leaders rise to the occasion now? Will they put their heart and soul for the success of the proposal to ‘buy’ the four districts of Pakistani Punjab?
Santokh Singh Bains is a Chicago based writer and free lance journalist. His debut book titled Sikhs, Sikhism and the World was published in 2019. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
* This is the opinion of the writers, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
Christian Invasion of Punjab: A Major Demographic Change in Offing (Asia Samachar, 9 Nov 2021)
ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs / Punjabis in Southeast Asia and beyond. When you leave a comment at the bottom of this article, it takes time to appear as it is moderated by human being. Unless it is offensive or libelous, it should appear. You can also comment at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can reach us via WhatsApp +6017-335-1399 or email: email@example.com. For obituary announcements, click here.