Friday, 2 December, 2022
HomeNational InterestImran Khan's fantasy to revive Khalistan isn't happening because Sikhs aren't gullible

Imran Khan’s fantasy to revive Khalistan isn’t happening because Sikhs aren’t gullible

India isn’t made of porcelain. Kartarpur Sahib is open. It’s our moment of collective joy. Switch off that TV neurosis on the ‘return of Khalistan’.

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Imran Khan isn’t the brightest being you’ve met, except when playing cricket. Yet, even by his standards, his offer to make the visit to Kartarpur Sahib visa-free for only Sikhs from India was curious. How would he, to begin with, define a Sikh?

Sikhism is neither doctrinaire, nor exclusive. Anyone, from any faith, is welcome in a gurudwara. You just need to follow a couple of simple rules: A covered head, bare feet. Then, you can pray, the priest will treat you and get you the blessings from the holy book like any other devotee, and the ‘sangat’ (community) will feed you at the ‘langar’. There is no place in Sikhism, including the Golden Temple or Akal Takht Sahib, where anyone’s faith bars them.

The essence of Sikhism is bar none. That is where the philosophy of the langar, a community meal where everyone eats together, comes from. You share a meal, you are equals. Then anyone, irrespective of faith, can do ‘kar sewa’ (voluntary work). And so many do. The reason Sikh holy places are among the cleanest anywhere.

There is much anxiety in India about Imran/Pakistan Army/ISI moves and intentions over Kartarpur Sahib. They all might be — and probably are — as diabolical as we suspect. But they aren’t particularly bright. Even if they had such a genius idea of subverting India’s Sikhs and reviving separatism through Kartarpur Sahib, Imran has ruined their “operation” by offering freebies to only Sikhs. Besides the fact that the Sikh faith, intrinsically equal and inclusive, will dismiss this preferential treatment with contempt, Imran will also not know how to define a Sikh, or tell one from any other devotee of Guru Nanak and the great faith he and his nine successors founded. There is nothing in Sikh practice and tradition that discriminates Sikh from non-Sikh.

Imran has bought into the old military establishment folklore in Pakistan that a final Sikh-Hindu division is inevitable. That two efforts in the past, one in the mid-1960s and the second in the 1981-94 period failed, but the time for a third push has now come. That’s why some overseas Sikh organisations, especially in Canada, are being brought together with Pakistani immigrants, especially Kashmiri (Mirpuri), groups and this so-called ‘Referendum 2020’ is being sponsored. Another chapter is being opened in an old playbook.

It is bound to fail like the earlier ones, again causing Pakistan enormously more damage than to India. We, in India, need have no anxieties.

Breaking the Sikhs away from India is a fantasy of the Pakistani elites going back to the early-1950s, when that generation’s wounds of the Partition were still raw.

The Pakistanis took this operation to its first peak in the mid-1960s, hoping to prise Sikhs away. One faction of the Punjabi Suba (separate Punjabi state) movement had a radical/separatist impulse. But Partap Singh Kairon, as chief minister in Punjab, and after his assassination, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi, handled the challenge adroitly. Punjab was divided again, with Hindi-predominant Haryana and Himachal Pradesh becoming new states and a Punjabi-speaking (and Sikh) majority now with a Punjab of its own. A curious little sidelight: The Pakistanis also separated and tried to indoctrinate Sikh Indian prisoners of war in 1965, especially officers.

That chapter ended, and the second one was launched in 1981, by a Pakistani Establishment emboldened by the new clout it had acquired with the Afghan jihad. It coincided, however, with many other factors internal to India: A revivalist mood among the Sikhs, weak governments and marginalisation of the Shiromani Akali Dal. And then, the arrival of a leader as charismatic and puritanical as Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.

What followed is well-recorded history. It is just that in the following 13 years, tens of thousands died. And then, just when it had begun to look like Punjab was a lost cause, it all ended. So rapidly that even those of us following this closely didn’t have the time to catch our breath.

Why did this happen? For sure, the security forces and intelligence agencies did their job well. But that phase of terror ended the day the Sikhs themselves decided that they had had enough. The real hero of that fight was the predominantly Sikh Punjab Police. It was quite dramatic how Sikh popular opinion turned.

From a point where some of my fellow journalists were even talking of visiting “liberated zones” in Punjab, it ended almost overnight. In fact, no one even wanted to talk about this anymore. K.P.S. Gill, who led the campaign as Punjab Police chief then, spoke to me in detail for an India Today story, and when I asked him why and how this ended so dramatically, he said, you see, the Pakistanis do not read Iqbal: Kuchch baat hai ke hasti mit-ti nahin hamaari…

For the Pakistanis to think that they can bring back those days, therefore, is fantastic nonsense. Similarly, for us in India to now worry that the Pakistanis will take “our” Sikhs away from “us”, is embarrassing neurosis.

Also read: Modi-Shah’s hyper-nationalism is making India insecure when it is actually most secure

We have to be nuts to get unnerved over the pictures of Bhindranwale on the odd hoarding in Kartarpur Sahib. You can even find them in and around the Golden Temple, on key-chains sold in shops outside it, on the backs of cars in Delhi, and sometimes even as computer and tablet screen-savers. If we choose to get alarmed by any of this, we must have very little confidence in ourselves as a nation, and trust in the Sikh community.

To think that they are so gullible as to fall for the same trope in 2019 is an insult to their intelligence. And to think any of us, as “we”, have to protect “them”, the Sikhs, from evil Pakistanis, is worse than irrational. It’s stupid.

We had said in National Interest last week that Indian social and national coherence has strengthened over the years, as it has become more relaxed. We are stronger not because we are merely united in our diversity, but because we are at ease with it now. It is possible to argue today that the founders of our Republic were a bit anxious and erred in giving us the slogan of ‘Unity in Diversity’. They should have simply said, celebrate diversity. Once you accept that, you need not worry about the national commitment to any fellow Indian.

That’s why it is time to forget subversive fears. India isn’t made of porcelain. One of the holiest shrines for Indian Sikhs and so many non-Sikh Indians is open now. It’s a moment of collective joy for us to cherish. Switch off those TV discussions on the ‘return of Khalistan’. It isn’t happening. Don’t paint the devil on the wall.

And if it still bothers you, just remember that concluding line of the Sikh prayer, invoking Guru Nanak: Nanak naam chardi kala/tere bhane sarbat da bhala. Translated loosely: Nanak, your name would keep us all upbeat/on the ascendant/gung-ho (you can choose either or all, or find another name for that brilliant Sikh attitude)/may all of mankind be joyful and prosperous with your benevolence.

Also read: Tough message for Modi: Political winds are shifting, from nationalism to economy, jobs


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  1. Another great article from Shekhar Gupta, spot on. I have been reading him since the 1980s on the subject, if anyone has a feel for the subject, then he does. “We are stronger not because we are merely united in our diversity, but because we are at ease with it now” says it all.

  2. A true Sikh will not forget or forgive the crimes committed against their forefathers historically by the Muslims.
    A Sikh trusting the words of Muslim, showing a sympathetic ear towards them needs to stop and look back at history of Muslim v Sikhs.

    As a Sikh I ask Sikhs to have faith in the land and people of their country, INDiA.

    Look around the Islamic world, they can’t live in pieces amongst themselves. It’s highly unlikely they will be tolerant to others.

    Sidhu needs to stop reciting his poetry and act like a grown up.

    • I think Sidhu is another Bindrawale being created.crafted.& engineered by congress for a long term Plitical gains in the country making faithful Indian sikhs as bait like1984 to 1990.This time sikhs have to be cautious.An international conspiracy is being hatched with PAKIS as main Directors

  3. Why India (state) is so worried about Kartarpur opening…its just a facility given to Sikh’s for their holy pilgrimage…why peace and love and ease of people shatters people and media in India…i am watching that they throwing r constantly propaganda stories and then rebutting them themselves for no purpose…
    This wont help you cover filthy face of RSS/modi fascist hindutwa narrative…You cant make fool of whole world. all the time…at last truth prevails…

  4. No comparison between Sikhs and Kashmiris, Sikhs have strong family values and roots run deep of pride and esteem. Whereas Kashmiris have been uprooted and overwhelmed by jehadi ideology. They are a decaying tribe. Sikhs are all over and carved a niche in all fields. Sikhs are our strength and pillars of our society. Their can no India without Sikhs. Jaihind

  5. The Sikhs, the very few who have separatist ideas, need to be reminded what the Muslims rulers like Jahangir and Aurangzeb did to Guru Arjan, Guru Guru Teg Bahadur, Bhai Mati Da , Bhai Dayal Das, Bhai Sati Das and thousand others. And also what kind of religious freedom one enjoys in Pakistan and what can re-happen to them.

    This reminder needs to be spread on social media and through social dialogue before the Sikhs get carried away by some stupid fervour. The Canadian Sikhs need to be incorporated in the group.

    • Very true. That’s what the author needs to know. Imran Khan aur Pakistan fauj Ka “wehem Ka koi ilaaj Nahin”. Good for India through, as Pakistan wastes it’s resources chasing a chimera.

  6. To be perfectly fair, Kashmiris are not gullible either. We should be doing a lot more to make the marriage work.

    • Shekharji, to elaborate on the point made above, if we are making such efforts to make the marriage with Sikhs work, why are we not doing so with Muslims, Tribals, Dalits etc. Why are we othering them? Why are you and your ilk not asking such questions of the powers that be? It is to the credit of the Congress pasty that they tried to make it work for so long with Muslims, probably because of the scar of partition. Our countrymen, specially in these polarised times do not give it enough credit and call it “appeasement”. I am afraid that as time goes by there will arise someone who is going to call all this as appeasement and gain support for his position. Till then we can dream of unity in diversity. Your generation of post-partition Indians are still blinkered by such platitudes inspite of seeing all this happening in your lifetimes. The newer generation of post-emergency and post-Ay***ya generation will push for more maximalist outcomes. Your duty clearly lies in warning this generation of the pitfalls of disunity caused by such thinking. After all, every Indian – Hindu or Muslim knows what happens when there is disunity amongst us. The Battles of Terain, of Plassey, of Buxar, of Panipat are not merely memories, I hope.

    • Kashmiris are gullible people. You cannot compare them with Sikhs. Kashmiris were brainwashed, as most Muslims are, and allowed themselves to be used by religious fanatics from within and from across the border. there is a trust deficit between Muslims and the rest . This is not unique in India alone, but this prevails in every non-Muslim countries of the world.

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