The Kartarpur corridor – Referendum 2020 paradox

The Kartarpur corridor – Referendum 2020 paradox

The issue of Indo-Pakistan relations is as archaic as the countries themselves and while that subject has not left any stone unturned, what is disconcerting is the threat that Pakistan is furthering its intrusion into the boundaries of Punjab now. Recently our correspondent, Ravinder Singh Robin, was in Pakistan to cover the inauguration of Kartarpur Corridor and saw the posters of Pro-Khalistan Referendum 2020 splattered all over the place at Nankana Sahib. And the grand paradox was rather evident when Pakistan is attempting to rekindle its ties with India with the Kartarpur corridor.

While trust deficit ebbs to new lows increasingly where Pakistan is concerned, any attempt at harmony is always questionable. India would be wary of Pakistan in the light of its continuous onslaughts in Kashmir and from China, which is Pakistan's ally. These posters were testimonial of some very obvious abutment of Sikh separatism. There is factual evidence available that Pakistan had an active role in the militancy in the 80's when thousands of people lost their lives. While militancy is not a recourse in any situation and is costing us dearly in Kashmir already, is India ready for a similar situation in Punjab?

The internet is full of ayes and nays on referendum 2020. While the referendum is cited as a vote for people to decide for themselves on a particular proposal, #Referendum2020 does raise some pertinent questions. What prompted an isolated demonstration in August 2018 at Trafalgar Square in London?

Why aren't the people of Punjab holding demonstrations in support of Khalistan? Why are the Sikhs in Punjab at large negating any allegiance to the supporters of pro-Khalistan? Why are we hearing of protests outside India of a situation apparently plaguing a majority of population in India? And as of today, who are these outsiders promoting the interests of a people who may not be partisan to the uproar? Why is this motion picking up after almost 4 decades? What does the referendum say? What is the pulse in Punjab?

All these questions arise considering the fact that a group of Indian Sikhs organised 'We Stand With India' and 'Love My India' events to combat the pro - Khalistan rally in London in August 2018. Also the Chief Minister of Punjab, Amarinder Singh had stated on June 18 that "referendum is imagination of the people abroad. Everyone knows there is no referendum in Punjab. We want peace in Punjab, peace means stability, peace means everything should happen normally."

Genesis of Khalistan

Khalistan or the demand for it has not been a novel one for anyone who was around in the 1980s. And to be noted is the fact that the demand emanated in the 1940s when Punjab became a part of the Indian Union. Being a minority community accounting for about 2.5% of India's population today, the community had laid certain conditions that were to be constitutionalised in the new India, 'but to our dismay and utter bewilderment weren't honoured', says Jatinder Singh, director of International Policy of Sikhs for Justice, an autonomous international advocacy group working for the 'Punjab Independence Referendum 2020 for Sikhs', in India or anywhere else in the world. Historically, several documents, books and studies are available to determine the legitimacy of the contention above. He adds, "the Government of India got control of Punjab's rivers, its hydropower, its agrarian output and a massive amount of territory. But Punjab in return lost all control of its resources, its democratic rights, its freedom of speech and its dignity". We would remind our readers that Punjab, the food bowl of India, is the only state in India or the world that shares its state capital with another state, Haryana, and more importantly a shared administration and jurisdiction. Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) MP, Prem Singh Chandumajra, as well as the Chief Minister of Punjab, have raised the issue of Punjab's claim over Chandigarh in Lok Sabha constantly.

1984 riots – insurgency or genocide

This fight against discrimination and for autonomy reached its peak in the 1980s leading to further aggravation of the condition with imposition of governor's rule in Punjab. What the Government claims as a bid to contain administration in a rebellious state is seen as sedition and massacre by the Sikh community which post the 1984 riots led to further crippling of the state of Punjab.

This agonizing build up was documented and appealed against in the Anandpur Sahib resolution where a democratic appeal is said to have been unconstitutionally curtailed with the invasion of Harminder Sahib by the Indian army in 1984. The annihilation that followed will not have many different vantage point analyses by historians and people alike. India, its people or government, was discriminatory to a minority state is a possibility many would draw.

Sources quote that "in 2011, Human Rights Watch reported that the Government of India had "yet to prosecute those responsible for the mass killings". According to the 2011 WikiLeaks cable leaks, the United States was convinced of Indian National Congress complicity in the riots and called it "opportunism" and "hatred" by the Congress government of Sikhs. The Ahuja committee report and Nanavati commission presented an estimated 2700 deaths of Sikhs in Delhi and at 10,000 collectively in Punjab and areas around Delhi. A large majority of those that survived fled the city, the government itself estimates that number at 20,000. Not for nothing is Canada, UK and US are the only choice for the Sikh community; not for want of greener pastures but as countries granting refuge.

Thirty years comatose

These refugees outside India claim to be the only voice of the Sikhs of Punjab that still bleed for those that are striving against the unjust conditions even today under the government of India. After 30 years of establishing their belonging and fighting the unsettling gloom of a nightmare lived and relived, in 2005 the Sikh community in various parts of the world exercised their right to speech and their will to find their roots again. Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) was formed in 2007.

While the chief minister of Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh refuted any allegiance to the referendum 2020, SFJ insists that the demonstrators at this rally were the people who migrated from India speaking for the ones left behind as they are 'the most fearful people and for them the most fearful place is India, is Punjab'. One important question would be why people are being charged with sedition when they talk of referendum 2020? The Indian government alleged that the people who built the Facebook page of Pro-Khalistan movement in India were the agents of ISI.

How pitted is the road ahead?

Though referendum seems to be a legitimate demand of a representative democracy, we questioned Jatinder Singh on the course of action given their seemingly ambiguous success so far. 'The next major event is the conference in Kartarpur on the occasion of 550th anniversary of the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji. The body will continue to educate people on their legal rights and self-determination around the world in the interim period. There is an expected voting in November 2020, and the voters will be the indigenous people of Punjab to build a new Punjab, these could be people of any religious belief and any geographical location, voting for an autonomous country in the existing territorial boundaries of Punjab in India'.

Cross – border handshakes

It was also stated by the Intelligence Bureau that the Referendum 2020 is a movement launched by those demanding Khalistan. Khalistan supporters allege that Sikhs in Punjab do not have the freedom of expression and the state is making every effort at curbing it and hence the movement is being run from across the border and overseas. How then shall India view the Kartarpur corridor while most of our attempts have not borne any favourable results for ages? Does this corridor then not provide Pakistan a platform to influence and antagonize its people and strain our relations further? Militancy in Punjab is something India dealt with a few decades back and cannot afford to again. While the issues of drug usage and decline of traditional occupation, farming, are very disputatious issues but isn't India capable of handling these issues and is Khalistan the only resort?

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