File photo of Justin Trudeau | Scott Olson/Getty Images
File photo of Justin Trudeau | Scott Olson/Getty Images
Text Size:

Punjab has no nostalgia or death-wish to return to its really bad days. Trudeau needs to impress this upon his Sikh colleagues and voters.

Punjab’s history is littered with the shattered hopes of powerful and smart people, even nations, who misread its mind and politics. From Pakistan’s ISI, to radical Sikh parties (some of which fought elections) to our own political neophyte AAP and now Canadian liberal politicians, all have made the same three miscalculations:

  • That Punjab is predominantly a Sikh state.
  • That most, or at least a critical mass of Sikhs are religiously radical and have separatist sympathies, even if these vary in strength at various points of time.
  • That it is possible to create such a major polarisation between Sikhs and Hindus in Punjab that you can run a purely “Sikh” politics and achieve your objectives there.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is the latest to pay for this folly. Back in Canada, he obviously spent all his time learning about India and the “Sikh problem” from his own partymen who draw their power from radical gurudwaras. They wouldn’t remind him that the worst terror attack in the history of civil aviation until 9/11 (Air India jumbo ‘Kanishka’, with 329 people dead) was carried out by Canadian Sikh radicals from his country’s soil. And also that his country’s law and “system” had treated the perpetrators relatively lightly and it leaves a bad feeling in India and Punjab, among Hindus and Sikhs. You can’t believe that he won’t know that the majority of those killed in the bombing were Sikh families.

He is a smart politician and he also knows how to win elections. In his small and polarised electorate the block votes of minorities tip the balance. Sikh immigrants are an important vote bank. But, for all his brilliance and charm, he also bought the lemon that most Sikhs are radical, that he could ignore Indian sensitivities. More importantly, that he and his Sikh cabinet colleagues could establish a relationship of their own with Punjab, ignoring and humiliating its duly elected chief minister. Never mind that Punjab is a state in a sovereign nation called India.

I hesitate and hate to say this about a powerful G-7 nation’s young leader so admired around the world. He has to be nuts to land himself in this jam. He has now been made to seek a meeting with Amarinder for himself first and then his ministers, make the statements on India’s unity that he could have made while setting out and avoided the humiliation. He may now also end up losing a bunch of the same coveted Sikh vote back to a rising young Sikh leader Jagmeet Singh who has claims to be more liberal, and more radical (as an immigrant Sikh) than Trudeau. So it’s poor politics and a lousy optics. In India, the only word of sympathy he has received is from Punjab leaders of the opposition Aam Aadmi Party and that too is muted.

The same mistake has been made in the past by many British Labour politicians, on Kashmir as well as Punjab, former foreign secretary Robin Cook being a good example. Between him and that usual suspect, the Duke of Edinburgh, they ruined the Queen’s 1997 visit to India. Other Labour politicians patronised Khalistani groups in Britain at various points of time, unless these vanished.

The last of the great separatists in Britain was Jagjit Singh Chohan, who styled himself as the President of the “Government of Republic of Khalistan” in exile. He spoke with me in a detailed interview on a freezing November 1993 afternoon at his “Council” (welfare) home in Kent and regretted the bloodshed, disowned the myth of Khalistan and said he wanted to return. Which he did, to die in his own motherland, a man chastened but not before tens of thousands of innocent lives were consumed by the madness he fuelled.

That India, in forgiveness, let him come back and live like a free man is a matter of pride for our country. There were many other such. Of the people you might be more familiar with is Harinder Singh Khalsa, elected to the Lok Sabha on an AAP ticket from Fatehgarh Sahib reserved constituency. He is a former IFS officer who quit and sought asylum in Oslo, where he was then posted, protesting against Operation Blue Star. Now a brilliant MP and you can’t imagine him doing anything awful, least of all to his nation.

Former IPS officer Simranjit Singh Mann, who took up the radical agenda, and once elected in 1989 refused to attend Parliament because he wasn’t allowed to take his kirpan inside, has been routinely losing his deposit since. But he lives a peaceful life and the state lets him be. By the way, he and Capt. Amarinder Singh are brothers-in-law.

Punjab has come a very, very long way from the really bad days. Just how bad, I will remind you of in some writings I will share over these couple of days. Punjab, Sikhs and Hindus have all moved on now. The pre-eminent Sikh Party, Shiromani Akali Dal, has shared power thrice in a two-decade-long alliance with India’s biggest Hindu party, BJP. Punjab has elected Congress twice after the end of terrorism.

There are a few nutcases here and there, a few acolytes of the Bhindranwale cult, they do occasionally wave a flag or kirpans. Which are purely ceremonial and blunt, literally and metaphorically. Nobody in India gets neurotic about these. Punjabis do not hate Canada, they actually love it so much they’d love to migrate there. And if the writings on the wall advertising easy visas spell it with a K, not C, it is just phonetic Punjabi spelling.

Punjab now is a state as normal as any other in India. The last thing anybody wants is a return to the bad old times. It’s a nightmare Punjabis want buried forever. If Trudeau returns wiser from this visit, he would impress just this upon his Sikh colleagues and voters.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism

19 Comments Share Your Views


  1. पहले क़त्लेआम करो
    परदेस भगाओ
    फिर ब्लैक लिस्ट करवाओ
    फिर ब्लैक लिस्ट से हटाकर वीज़ा दो
    फिर मीडिया को खुला छोड दो ।

    यही चाणकय नीति है ।
    कातिल मोदी
    कातिल मनमोहन
    तो रक्षक कौन

    यहाँ कौन है तेरा
    सिखो को जाना कहाँ ?

  2. Gupta Jee, Your surname says it all ……………….. you being a Sikh baiter is a fact even known to aliens.

    How Moronic of you to pour your HIndutva feeling out in Open in garb of condemning Canadian PM. How about asking yourself few questions here :

    1. Kanishka bombing was handwork of your own security agencies, you idiot.
    2. What about your brothers killing 10000 Sikhs in the GENOCIDE, when your mother died . Which again was all planned months in advance and was code-named Operation Shanti ????
    3. What about 1,00,000 Sikhs who were killed in COLD BLOOD by your dear Punjab Police ‘cos they couldn’t have time to identify and eliminate Separatist from normal Sikhs. So, they did what they know best ……. Just kill anybody with a flowing beard and ties a Turban. yeah ….. so you blood thirsty nation could be satisfied
    4. What about your courts not pronouncing guilty any of the culprits who killed 1,50,000 Sikhs in 80’s – 90’s ????

    You guys are so damn jealeous of our achivements …. you cant simply digest it …. You guys cant handle a fact that 5 Sikhs are Ministers are in a Cabinet of a Foreign country. You spineless lala’s are best dealt known to this country to spew venom against us from centuries and while my ancestors were fighting for a thankless country, your’s were readying hoarding of essntial items, so that they could sell it at a higher price later.

    Have balls and publish this ……………. you brainless piece of shit !!!!!

  3. Shekhar Gupta should pay heed to what Aditi Mahajan has written. It is Indians like her (I count myself amongst those Indians) that are instrumental in India’s progress. Mr Gupta and his ilk only know how to play political games. They don’t give a damn about what happens to Indians. Their only concern seems to be piece of land. Sad really.

  4. The article is written badly . Defaming Sikhs . Very biased . The jounralist has not written truth , rather he has penned out thoughts of his own mind . See no body ever has written why idea of khalistan came into picture when sikhs refused to make khalistan , when offered in 1947 . Nobody ever thinks what happened to the most loyal community that they demanded for khalistan . Now any one dont say it was there greed . They have saved hinduism and India many times putting themselve in huge problems . So first about root cause . You will find politician always cheated punjab .

  5. Very well said. Not only punjabis all Indians living in Canada love Treadeu. This article has Hindutva tone and not expected from Shekhar Gupta.

  6. Indias eternal problem: we never punish the guilty. Not in Punjab, not in Gujarat. And then we wonder why ghosts keep rearing up. I understand sovereignty of India is sacrosanct, but saying that “everyone’s moved on” is such a joke. Keep living in that delusion. If India was so assured of being a “happy family happily ever after”, this writer would not bristle at every small Trudeau movement. It is a black mark on Congress, and BJP never had a good reputation on minorities issues to start with. It’s only the people of India – whatever religion – that are keeping this country together. Both the political parties have done their darnest to ruin lives based on religion. Don’t blame the Canadians. Look at your own jokers

  7. This has to be the most biased article written in the favour of Indian Givernment. The majority of Sikhs respect and Love Trudeau and hate the RSS hindutva goons like Modi. There is no justice for Sikhs in India. Sikhs were killed in thousands in the 1984 genocide and the people responsible for their killings are multi millionaire and ministers in India. This Indian government is just jealous of the property of the Sikhs. If this was Gujarati cabinet ministers accompanying Trudeau, Modi would have been a tour guide for them the whole week.

    I have lived in Punjab and outside of Punjab in India for 16 years and I know how Ill treated the Sikhs were by these Hindus.

    This is a black mark on India on how they treated Trudeau and they will get a taste of their own medicine back when their diplomats or PM try to visit Canada.

    Sikhs love Trudeau in Punjab and in Canada.

    Ask anyone in Punjab. They live Canada more than India. The only reason they are scared to see they want KHalistan is because they are worried they will lose whatever they have and their children. Let them immigrate to Canada and then you will hear what they really think about this corrupt Indi where Hindus are running wild and crippling the rights of the minorities.

  8. Is a seperate Punjab feasible at all?. What will be the contours of its geography in case it seperates. On its west it will have Pakistan and north it will have Pakistan occupied kashmir and without a sea coast. In these circumstances can a seperate Punjab state survive, the only way it will end up is as current state of Afganisthan. Therefore these Khalistan activivists should think how thier idea of a seperate state will be in reality. Hope sense will prevail.

  9. Insensitive depiction made without analysing the actual reasons for the Punjab problem. A very pro-establishment view. Is asking for an inquiry into unexplained disappearences in turmoil ridden Punjab a separatist agenda alone? Wouldn’t Indians like to know the truth or shld they live with the govt narrative. Similarly, is asking for justice in the 1984 genocide separatism? India shld address these concerns and fast track investigations into the above 2 primary issues concerning the Sikhs and pull the rug from beneath the feet of the radicals rather than lumbering along for 30 yrs+ as has been the case. Majority of Sikhs don’t support Khalistan and would not like to have a hampered access to Takht Patna sahib and Takht Nanded sahib besides Hemkunt Sahib as they have been in the case of Sikh shrines in Pakistan.

    Mr Gupta also chooses to address the synptoms rather than the cause and crib about the malaise for decades together.

    Sikhs have selflessly contributed to the idea of India pre and post independence and such contrubution should be acknowledged. The setback caused by Op BlueStar (a political game gone awry?) & police excesses during the “dark period” shloud be addressed and a
    closure to the issues be attempted. If the issues for the separatists are missing, in a future scenario, the raison d’être ceases to exist, which shall undoubtedly help India’s image and the handling of the Pakistan sponsored & China prodded Kashmir militancy.

    Food for thought.

    • There is a saying – let sleeping dogs lie.

      Digging up ghosts and doing post mortem of contentious history is an exercise in futility and serves zero useful purpose.

      The only thing to be learnt from the entire episode is – it was sad and unfortunate time and the folly of separatism cost Punjab dearly.

      Trying to do an academic accounting of “your side” and “my side” is the fetish of the Firangi Khalistani lunatics – not of the Punjabis in Punjab .

    • Yes, it is right that there ought to be justice to the victims of 1984 etc – but what has Canada got to do with it? Trudeau’s pampering of terrorists is likely to harden public opinion in India and damage Canada-India relations, not help deliver justice for the victims of 1984. Hardline Sikhs in Canada are a fringe, and this is all about domestic Canadian politics not some great sympathy for people in India. Its likely to backfire badly on Trudeau and thence on the Khalistanis in Canada.

    • None including the writer, disagrees with justice to the victims of 1984, inquiry into unexplained disappearances which happened more than 30 years back. Those problems in Punjab started & ended with rise & fall of Khalistani terrorism, which killed many innocents, blew up a plane & murdered a prime minister.
      This article is about anti India Sikh politics in Canada, not about 1984.

  10. Trudeau has landed in India like some bizarre assault on our sensibilities. The visit seems to have little point other than being a family holiday at his country’s taxpayers’ expense. We wish him well and are glad to see him and his entourage enjoying the sights and hospitality of our country. But this “official visit” does have the feel of a tamasha or fancy dress extravaganza rather than serious business. In a bizarre twist, accompanying this procession of folly across India is this ludicrous Khalistani rump, whose depredations we in India had almost forgotten but have now been rudely reminded of. What the PM of Canada was thinking of when he started hobnobbing with these yokels and criminals god alone knows. If his intention was to dazzle us with his modernity and youth, and to foster closer Indo-Canadian ties then he seems to be achieving the opposite. We are left with the notion of a bumbling or even cynical polity that, for petty domestic political gain, has no compunction in dealing with bloodthirsty murderers and has managed to offend in one stroke a nation comprising one-seventh of all humanity and the world’s largest democracy.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here