FUNDAMENTALISM AND PUNJAB PROBLEM
DR KHARAK SINGH
In a paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Anaheim, November 1989, Harjot Oberoi, department of Asian Studies, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, RC, says that fundamentalism among the Sikhs today is apparently the basic cause of the current political unrest in the Punjab. 1 Without giving any evidence in support of this contention, he proceeds to describe it as ‘primarily a movement of resistance’ and ‘a universe that is characterised by incoherence and disorder.’ And then ‘as a social scientist’ he seeks to provide ‘meaning and shape to what appears to be chaotic and meaningless’ or to discover ‘what may be termed as theory and practice of Sikh fundamentalist,’ although on the authority of Jurgen Habermas, quoted by him in the epigram, he maintains that ‘Meanings can be made accessible only from the inside. Readers would like to know whether he is interpretting the movement as an insider or outsider.
The author points out that ‘Sikh fundamentalists have not succeeded in articulating their vision of world in any great detail’. He attributes this ‘lack of an elaborate model’ to the ‘social origins of Sikh activists.’ He says, ‘A great majority of them come from the countryside and would be classified as peasants by social anthropologists. Historically, peasants have not been known to come up with grand paradigms of social transformation. Peasant societies are by definition made up of little communities and their cosmos is invariably parochial rather than universal.’ This is his favourite theory which can explain all major questions relating to Sikhs and Sikhism. In an earlier paper read at Berkeley2, the author wrote: ‘if there is any such thing as a key to his10rical problems, in case of the Sikh tradition it is to be found in its social constituency. Sikh religion is first and foremost a peasant faith. Sociologists have often spoken of how Islam is an urban religion. Sikhism may be spoken of as rural religion. When dealing with beliefs, rituals and practices of the Sikhs - be they religious or political - it is always worthwhile to constantly remind ourselves that we are fundamentally dealing with the peasantry.’
The above explanation is obviously unsatisfactory and inadequate. So, the author also looks at ‘correlations between Punjab’s political economy and the nature of dissent in Sikh society, the demand for a new personal law for the Sikhs and finally the famous Anandpur Sahib Resolution, a document that may be considered as the ‘Magna Cart a’ of Sikhs.
The discussion of political economy revolves around the size of holdings, which is not of much help, since their distribution and size are not significantly different from those in other states. Green Revolution is also prominently mentioned, particularly its social costs and the ‘polarisation of Punjabi Society over the last two decades.’ Some of the inferences are difficult to accept. For example, it has been stated that small holdings, ranging from 2 to 5 hectares have become increasingly less viable. Green Revolution entails adoption of high yielding varieties and modern farming techniques, which raise the prod activity per unit of land. So, if at all, the Green Revolution should make small holdings more viable than before. This enabled even the subsistence farmer to spare something for the market after meeting his family requirements. Also, the author has not explained why the Green Revolution occurred only in the Punjab, while the two major requirements, viz., better varieties and modern techniques of farming, were available in all the countries of South Asia, including other stales of India. Is it not due to the more progressive attitude of the Sikh peasants of Punjab towards modern methods of farming? However, in the author’s judgement, using Weber’s litmus test for modernity, Sikh fundamentalists ‘badly fail.’
In the entire discussion of the political economy and the Green Revolution, the author has not suggested anything with fundamentalist connotations on the part of the Sikhs. Nor has he been able to point out any such thing while dealing subsequently with the other two major topics that fill the body of his paper, viz., the demand for Sikh personal Law and the Anandpur Sahib Resolution. Hindus have a personal law. So have the Muslims. They are not dubbed as fundamentalists on that score. Then how could Sikhs turn fundamentalists by merely making such a demand? The suggestion that the Sikhs do not have a uniform code at the present moment, is no disqualification for making such a demand. Similarly, in the Anandpur Sahib Resolution the author himself does not find anything wrong, which is no more than a demand for greater provincial autonomy, already voiced in several other states. The author himself concedes that it is, like ‘an election manifesto of a political party’ in India or any other country.
The author’s own discussion lends little support to his thesis of Sikh fundamentalism. He is, however, determined to put this tag on the Sikh struggle. Therefore, in the conclusion he formulates three new ‘arguments’, which convince nobody except himself. These are: First, in the Punjabi word ‘moolvad’ Sikhs possess a term that exactly corre6ponds to fundamentalism.” Is it an argument? Second, “many othodox Sikhs have no patience for textual analysis of Sikh scriptures.” The statement is baseless. But even if it were correct, how could views of a few orthodox Sikhs expressed today, impart a fundamental character to a demand made over 40 years ago? Third, “the current Sikh movement manifests many tendencies like millenarianism, a prophetic vision, revivalism and puritanism, trends that are commonly associated with fundamentalism.” No evidence is given in support of this contention. The statement appears to be a product of the author’s own ‘prophetic vision.’
In the quest for material to support his unsustainable thesis, the author (who is probably an anthropologist) has wandered into areas of religion and politics where he does not belong. That is why he has wasted his scholarship on matters which are completely irrelevant to the Sikh struggle. He has missed the real issues.
Normally we should have been reluctant to take up current issues for academic discussion. But as Oberoi and some other scholars have ventured to make uncalled for and ignorant observations concerning the Punjab problem, it appears necessary to give a perspective historical account of the major issues underlying the current crisis. In this paper we shall mainly confine ourselves to the paper of Harjot Oberoi read at Anaheim. In his paper there appears an evident attempt to camouflage the realities of the situation by introducing unrelated matters like Sikh ideology, the Miri Piri concept, modernity, Sikh pluralism, secularism, the Nirankari issue, Turner’s theory of social structure, etc..
For our discussion we shall first take up the Punjab Problem and its genesis, which the author as carefully avoided and then discuss his observations to show their irrelevance, except as an attempted cover to hide the realities in Punjab.
Commitments With Sikhs Before 1947
In 1929, when Shri Jawahar Lal Nehru was the President, a formal resolution was passed by the Indian Naional Congress at Lahore, that no constitution of India would be finalised, until it was acceptable to the Sikhs3 The second assurance was the clear statement of Nehru in 1946 that there was nothing objectionable in the Sikhs having an area demarcated in the North West of India, where they could enjoy the ‘glow of freedom.’4 It was a significant statement, since it was given in the context of Jinnah’s offering to the Sikhs constitutional guarantees in a separate state in the Eastern part of the contemplated Pakistan.5
Third, there was the statement of Mahatma Gandhi6 saying that his words should be accepted and that the Congress would never betray anyone, and that if they did the Sikhs knew how to use their Kirpan. Finally there was the statement of Nehru 7 in the Constituent Assembly in December 1946. While proposing a federal system with autonomous states, he moved the executive resolution, which envisaged “The Indian Union as an independent sovereign republic comprising autonomous units with residuary powers, wherein the ideals of social, political and economic democracy would be guaranteed to all sections of the people, and adequate safeguards would be provided for minorities, backward communities and areas.” Nehru described the resolution as a “Declaration, a pledge and an undertaking before the world, a contract of millions of Indians, ‘and therefore in the nature of an oath which we want to keep.” These were some of the commitments regarding an autonomous area in a federal system, which the Congress had solemnly given to the Sikhs, on the basis of which they had agreed to throw their lot with India.
Unfortunately, after 1947 the Congress completely changed its views and stand. The Sikhs were aghast, when the draft of the proposed Indian Constitution was circulated to the State Assemblies in 1949, because, instead of autonomous states and a federal constitution, the draft was for a purely unitary type of structure. Unanimously, all the Sikhs of the Punjab Assembly, objected to the draft and wrote as follows:8 “It has been the declared policy of the Congress that In a is to be a union of autonomous states, and each unit is to develop in its own way, linguistically, culturally and socially. Of course, Defence Communications and Foreign Affairs must remain the Central Subjects. To change the basic policy now, is to run counter to the oftrepeated creed of the Congress.” “In the considered opinion of the Akali Dal the residuary powers should be with the states.” “The list distributing legislative powers should be based on the principle that the Centre or the Union Parliament should be limited to Defence, Communications and Foreign Affairs only.” But in 1950 the Congress, violating the earlier assurances and policies, framed a constitution, leaning heavily towards a unitary form of government. In protest the Akali members declined to sign it. It is evident that the Anandpur Sahib Resolution of 19789 is just a reiteration of Nehru’ s commitments in the Constituent Assembly in 1946 and of the reminder the Sikh Legislators unanimously gave in 1949 to the Central Government, that it was violating its repeated assurances. Hence it is sheer ignorance on part of the author to suggest that “The Federal views, in it are a document of secession.” Neither was Nehru secessionist, nor would he or the Congress have made a commitment that could be detrimental to the interests of the country. Is the function of a scholar just to be the mouthpiece of the Establishment and echo its voice, or to detail and examine the problem? The latter the author has failed to do either out of ignorance or design. In fact, while the Sikhs in 1949 suggested three subjects for the Centre, the Anandpur Sahib Resolution proposed Currency, too, to be a Central subject. Thus, factually, it is the Congress and the Central Government who have shifted their stand, and not that the Sikhs are asking for anything new and unreasonable.
A Diametric Change
It was soon after Independence that the Sikhs felt that the Centre or the Congress had diametrically deviated in their approach and policy towards them. The major indication was its framing a unitary form of constitution, with Sikhs to be kept a permanent minority in the State. A very significant indication of the Central approach to the Sikhs is what Patel conveyed to Tara Singh, when he wanted a Punjabi Suba to be carved out. No less a ‘person than the Prime Minister Charan Singh, has described it thus:10 “When Master Tara Singh was there, he was talking of Punjabi Suba. Then he had a talk with Sardar Patel. Sardar Patel said: I am ready to concede it. But you will have only that much land that falls to your share on grounds of population. So Punjab area will: be halved. Now you form 17% of the Army. They will have to be dismissed. Are you prepared for it?” The above made it plain what would thereafter be the Central approach towards the Sikhs.
The Sikhs are known for their love and struggle for freedom. This new policy, the Sikhs feel, is aptly described by Machiavelli’s observations, 11 “Those states which have been acquired or accustomed to live at liberty under their own laws, there are three ways of holding them. The first is to despoil them; the second is to go and live there in person; the third is to allow them to live under their own laws, taking tribute of them, and creating within the country a government composed of a few who will keep it friendly to you. Because this government, being created by-the Prince, knows that it cannot exist without his friendship and protection, will do all it can to keep them.” We shall see if the events of the subsequent years, justify the feelings and apprehensions of the Sikhs.
The Struggle Starts
Following this complete change in the Central policy and disregard of its commitments, the Sikhs started an agitation for creation of a Punjabi speaking linguistic state in the North West. The Congress had been committed to creating homogenous linguistic states in the country and reorganising provincial boundaries. Accordingly, a States Reorganisation Commission was set up to propose boundaries of new linguistic states. But strangely enough, while it recommended the formation of other linguistic states it specifically suggested that Punjabi linguistic state should not be formed. Another indication of Central policy was that in 1956, instead of forming a Punjabi linguistic state, as in other areas, it merged the Pepsu State, in which the Sikhs were in a majority, in Eastern Punjab, thereby reducing the Sikhs to a minority in the new state. The struggle for Punjabi speaking linguistic state continued for over a decade. In 1965 the war with Pakistan broke out, and against all apprehensions, the Sikhs suspended their agitation and whole-heartedly supported the war effort. This they did in the national interest, merely on a promise of the Prime Minister that their demand would be considered later on. The Sikh contribution to the War was so impressive, both by the people and the soldiers, that after the War, the Prime Minister appointed a Parliamentary Committee to report regarding the formation of a Punjabi speaking state. At the same time the Congress Party also resolved that a linguistic Punjabi speaking state should be carved out of the then Punjab. But it is very interesting and revealing to know of the mind of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, then Information Minister, and Sh. Gulzari Lal Nanda, the then Home Minister to the Government of India, who was at the government level to give effect to the proposal of the Parliamentary Committee. Hukam Singh, 12then Speaker of the Lok Sabha writes:
“The Prime Minister was reported to have observed on November 26, 1982, when releasing some books published by the Delhi Gurdwara Committee (HT. Nov.27), that ‘When the Punjabi speaking State was formed the suggestion made by the committee headed by S. Hukam Singh had been accepted.’ This was not so according to her statements in “My Truth” (p.117), “Unfortunately, Mr. Shastri had made Hukam Singh, the Speaker of the Lower House, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Punjabi Suba, although he was very biased in favour of Punjabi Suba .......
“I went to Mr. Chavan and said, I had heard that S. Hukam Singh was going to give a report in favour of Punjabi Suba, and that he should be stopped ......
“Once the Prime Minister’s appointee had declared himself in favour of Punjabi Suba, how could we get out of it”.
“Mrs Gandhi along with Mr. Chavan, could see Mr. Shastri with much difficulty and when they did, Mr. Shastri just said, he was fully in touch with the situation and we need not bother. (p. 118). “But I was very bothered and I went around seeing everbody. Of course, once the report came, it was too late to change it.”
“Lal Bahadur Shastri continued the policy of Jawahar Lal Nehru and was as dead against the demand of Punjabi Suba as was Nehru. So, when he was urged upon by Mrs. Gandhi to stop Hukam Singh, he did not waste any time. Mr Shastri called Mr. Gulzari Lal Nanda, then Home Minister, to his residence, and conveyed to him the concern about the feared report. I was contacted on the telephone. Mr. Shastri disclosed that Mr. Nanda was with him, and had complained that he had suggested my name (Hukam Singh) for the Chairmanship of the parliamentary committee under the mistaken impression, which he had formed during a casual talk with me, that I believed that Punjabi Suba would n,)t be of any advantage to the Sikhs ultimately, but that now I appeared determined to make a report in its favour.”
“I answered that the facts were only partly true. I had told M Nanda that Punjabi Suba would not ultimately be of much advantage to the Sikhs. But I had also added that the issue had by then become one of sentiment and had roused emotions. Therefore, it was not possible to argue with, much less to convince, any Sikh about the advantages or disadvantages of Punjabi Suba. Every Sikh considered the denial as discrimination. I further enquired from Mr. Shastri, whether I had not expressed the same opinion to him and his answer was in the affirmative. I myself offered to confront Mr. Nanda by immediately rushing to Mr. Shastri’s residence, but he said there Was no need. This disillusioned me. The intention of the Govt. then was to use me against my community, secure an adverse report, and then reject the demand.”
“The Govt. has never seen merit in any Sikh demand. The Das Commission in 1948 recommended postponement of reorganization on the plea, inter alia, that if once begun in the South, it might intensify the demand by Sikhs in the North. The J.V.P. Committee (Jawaharlal, Vallabhbhai Patel and Pattabhi Sitaramayya) when reviewing the Das report gratuitously remarked that no question of rectification of boundaries in the provinces of Northern India should be raised at the present moment, whatever the merit of such a proposal might be.”
“And this became the future policy. Nehru stuck to it Shastri continued the same, and lndra Gandhi has made no departure.”
“Every effort was made by Mrs. Gandhi, Mr. Shastri, and Mr. Nanda to stop me from making my report”
Why the government had been so strongly against the parliamentary committee making a report in favour of Punjabi Suba and why Mrs. Gandhi had felt bothered and ran about seeing everybody to stop Hukam Singh, has been explained by Mrs. Gandhi herself .“The Congress found itself in a dilemma, to concede the Akali demand would mean abandoning a position to which it was firmly committed and letting down its Hindu supporters in the Punjabi Suba (p. 117, My Truth).” The government has always been very particular about not “letting down its Hindu supporters.” The Congress could not depend upon Sikh voters and out of political considerations could not suffer losing Hindu votes also. Therefore the Congress failed to do justice to the Sikhs.
“The first schedule of the Regional Committee Order 1957 contained Ropar, Morinda and Chandigarh assembly constituencies in Ambala district in the Punjab region.”
“The subsequent reference to the Shah Commission was loaded heavily against Punjab. Making the 1961 census as the basis and the tehsil as the unit was a deliberate design to punish the Sikhs. The language return in the 1961 census were on communal lines.
Therefore, the demarcation had to be on a communal rather than on a linguistic basis.”
“Consequently merit was again ignored and justice denied. Naturally tensions between the two communities increased. If the Sachar formula, worked out in 1949, had been accepted there would not have been any further conflict, if the Regional Formula had been allowed to be implemented, there would not have been any further discontent And if Punjabi Suba had been demarcated simply on a linguistic basis, and not on false returns in 1961, there would not have been any extremist movement”
It clearly shows that the. demand for a linguistic state, a policy which was an old one with the Congress and which had been implemented in the rest of India, was to be denied in the Punjab, because Sikhs would become a majority there, and come in power under the democratic process. Hence forward, it would seem that the Central Government has been following the three pronged policy of despoiling Punjab, ruling it by stooge governments, and imposing the President’s rule, if and when, by the democratic process, a non- Congress government came into power in the state. The subsequent history of the Punjab has been just a struggle between the Sikhs, historically known for their love of liberty, and the Centre pursuing the above policy. Both Mrs. Indira Gandhi and Shri Nanda were concerned and worried about the proposal for a Punjabi Suba, having been accepted by the Congress. The proposal had been conceded after over fifty thousand Sikhs had courted arrest, and scores had died during the peaceful agitation.
A Sub-state Created
The Parliamentary Committee having recommended the creation of a Punjabi Suba, the Home Minister got passed an Act, the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966, which in its implication was not only a denial to Punjab of a status equal to that of other states in the country, but also involved a permanent ceiling on the economic, social and political growth of the state and its people. The Act had the following crippling provisions and limitations:
1. For the development of every state in India two things are basic namely, water and energy. As it is, Punjab, because of its rivers and very great hydel power potential is fortunate. Under the Constitution of India, and everywhere under international law and practice, Irrigation and Power are state subjects (Item 17 of the State List read with Article 246 of the Consitution). These are under the exclusive executive and legislative jurisdiction of the states. But by the provision of Section 78 to 80 of the Reorganisation Act, the Centre unconstitutionally kept the power of control, maintenance and development of the waters and hydel power of the Punjab rivers. This was a clear violation of the Constitution. In other words, Punjab became a state which could do nothing for the control and development of its rivers, utilisation of their waters and exploitation of their hydel power potential. Thus, Punjab became administratively and legislatively an ineffective and inferior state, which could do nothing for the economic development of its people. The question of political growth could not arise, because it had permanently been reduced to a sub state without scope for regaining control of its waters and hydel power. Hence, progess towards autonomy became out of question.
2. The second limitation concerned the territorial boundaries of the state. In 1949, under the known Sachar Formula, the state government indicated, upto a village, the boundaries of Punjabi speaking and Hindi speaking areas. Later, under an Act of Parliament, known as the Regional Formula, Punjabi speaking and Hindi speaking areas of the old Punjab were demarcated and separate legislative Committees representing the two areas were constituted. The Sachar Formula and the Regional Formula had been accepted and worked without any objection from the people, legislators or Ministers of the areas concerned, until 1966. Instead of accepting the settled boundaries, as had been recommended by the Parliamentary Committee proposing the formation of the Punjabi Suba, Government appointed a Commission to redetermine the boundaries, reopen and make controversial a settled issue. In act, areas which were Punjabi speaking or were under the functional control of Punjab, were excluded from the Punjabi Suba, and the Commission excluded not only settled Punjabi speaking contiguous areas, but also the State capital from the Suba, even though it had been constituted by acquiring Punjabi speaking villages, and in every other reorganised state the capital had remained with the parent state. An area almost equal to half of the present Himachal Pradesh, was transferred from the Punjab to Himachal Pradesh, including known Punjabi speaking areas. Even the site of Bhakhra Dam which was constructed solely by the Punjab Government and had always been under its functional control, was kept out of Punjab, although the area is Punjabi speaking and even though Simla and other hill stations were transferred to Himachal Pradesh.
DEMANDS AFTER 1966
The new state being basically handicapned, an agitation for redressal of the grievances started soon after 1966, because it was anticipated that its future under the created discriminations would be ruinous for the people. The salient demands of this agitation were as follows:
(a) Satluj, Ravi and Beas, being purely Punjab rivers, and their waters and hydel power being very essential for the economy of the State, no water or hydel power should be alloted to non riparian states like Rajasthan, Haryana or Delhi, because such an allocation would be unconsititutional. The issue could, therefore, be referred to the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court. In no other state at the time of reorganisation, the provisions of the Constitution had been violated to deprive it of its wealth of water and hydel power as in Punjab.
(b) The boundaries that had been accepted by all concerned including the people and the legislators, should not be disturbed to deprive the new state of known Punjabi speaking areas, through Centrally-appointed Commissions.
(c) The Central Government order that recruitment to Defence Services should be based on the population of a state, was unconstitutional, being violative of Articles 15 and 16 of the Indian Consitution, which state that in the matter of recruitment to Public Services no distinction could be made on the basis of place of birth of an individual. The object of this order could evidently be to reduce the strength of the Sikhs, which was originally 20%, to about 2% which was to be the share of Punjab on the basis of its population during future recruitment to Defence Forces. Actually the strength of the Sikhs in the Defence Forces had already been reduced to about 8%, and the Sikhs apprehended that the new policy would further reduce their strength to 2% or less. This unconstitutional policy of the Government 1
has been a major cause for distress in the rural areas of the Punjab. As lakhs of families were dependent on the profession of soldiery for their livelihood, and since the percentage of the Sikh soldiers in the Army became increasingly reduced, this caused serious economic dissatisfaction among the youth in rural areas of Punjab, especially when they found that in other states candidates with lower physical fitness standards were accepted. As this policy related only to the Defence Services, where Sikhs, because of their tradition, aptitude and fitness were eminently suitable of selection, it created a serious sense of discrimination against the policy of the Central Government.
(d) Even before Independence, the keeping of Kirpan (sword) was accepted as a religiously prescribed wear for the Sikhs. Its wear by a Sikh has been guaranteed under the Law and Indian Constitution. During British days there had been a specific agitation for this freedom. But now the Central Government issued an order placing restrictions on the carrying of Kirpan in certain situations. This order was considered violative of the Indian Constitution. Hence, the demand was for withdrawal of the unconstitutional restrictions.
Apart from the Anandpur Sahib Resolution, which will be discussed separately, the above were the four major demands of the Sikhs after 1966. These demands were reasonable and legitimate, and since the Constitution provides a specific forum for their solution, the Government, if it intended, could have lawfully settled them without the least objection from any party or State. No one could say that the constitutional issues should not be referred to the Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court, which was the body to give a verdict on them, and once the decision had been made, no party could raise any objection. So far as the territorial matter was concerned, the demand was equally valid, because it required that the borders that stood settled and accepted by the people of the areas, and the decision embodied in an Act of Parliament, should not be arbitrarily altered through a Commission. But what could be settled in one day, has been made to linger on for decades, and the Central Government has consistently failed to follow the constitutional path or to maintain the status quo on a settled issue. Instead of giving the long history of the Akali agitation over the last about quarter of a century, we shall, for the sake of brevity, continue our discussion mainly to he two issues of rivers waters and the Anandpur Sahib Resolution.
RIVER WATERS AND HYDEL POWER ISSUES
After independence, roughly 38 MAF of river waters fell to the share of East Punjab in India. Of these, about 32 MAF were carried by the three Punjab rivers, Satluj, Beas and Ravi, and the remaining 5.6 MAF were carried by the Jamuna in Haryana area or the Jamuna Basin. Excluding 5.6 MAF of Jamuna (only part of which was utilized in Haryana area of erstwhile Punjab), of the remaining over 32 MAF about 9 MAF were being utilised in the Punjabi Suba area, and one MAF was used in the Gang Canal for the Bikaner State, which had an agreement with Punjab for a limited period, on payment of royalty to Punjab for the use of that water. In short, about 22 MAF of Punjab waters were still available for use of the State. Actually, considerable part of the 22 MAF was being used in Pakistan area, before 1947. But
after partition these waters fell to the share of Indian Punjab.
The second essential point is that Punjab is short of water as Dr. Lowdermilk13 has pointed out that sweet water is going to be scarce commodity and a limiting factor in the development of an area or state in the coming century. Agricultural experts have estimated that 5 to 6 acre feet of water are the annual requirements of an acre for growing two crops like wheat and addy, the recommended rotation in the state. The cultivable area in Punjab being 105lakh acres, the annual requirements of surface water come to about 52.5 MAF. But the available waters are only 32 MAF, of which about 0.6 MAF have to go to the co-riparian Jammu and Kashmir. In sum, Punjab is woefully deficient in the availability of river waters to meet the requirements of its cultivated area. Here we should like to state two points:
First, we cannot, for want of space, give the entire history of the allotment of the river waters. We shall record only the result of the decisions made by the Central Government. Second, we shall give only approximate figures, because these have been marginally changed by different assessments and are still under controversy. The figures given will be the accepted data during the period before 1970.
The Reorganisation Act has a provision that in case of any dispute between Punjab and Haryana regarding the Beas Project, the Centre would be the arbitrator. Apart from the provision being considered violative of the Constitution, it was really unnecessary, because the Beas Project had been framed and finalised long before 1966, and envisaged the allotment of only about 0.9 MAF to the Haryana area. Such projects are always drawn in great detail, including plans for utilisation of water, channels, commanded area, and water to be supplied to each channel, distributory or water course. As such, the very provision in the Act was superfluous, except as a lever for its unwarranted use, as has been revealed later. After 1966 Haryana drew up a project, Satluj Yamuna Link Canal, which is supposed to carry 5 MAF of water from Punjab rivers. The Central Government approved of it. Punjab did not accept its validity, being a post- Reorganisation project and not a part of the Beas Project. Because of the dispute the Centre gave an award, and the final result broadly is that out of the 22 MAF, only about 5 MAF have been allotted to the Punjab, while 8 MAF go to Rajasthan and the remaining to Haryana. In short after.1947, about three fourths ofthe available waters have been allotted to non-riparian areas of Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi. We shall briefly mention the three stages of this long controversy. The first stage is the arbitration award by the Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, in 1976 allotting, excluding low of Satluj waters of the Bhakhra Project, 3.5 MAF each to Punjab ahd Haryana, 0.2 MAF to Delhi, leaving the remaining for Rajasthan which had been earlier earmarked under an executive order of the Centre. Following the defeat of Mrs. Indira Gandhi in the 1977 elections, an Akali-cum- Jan Sangh Ministry was formed in the Punjab. After obtaining expert legal advice, they filed a case in the Supreme Court questioning the award of the Prime Minister and the Virs of the Punjab Reorganisation Act of 1966. The third stage is that soon after Indira Gandhi returned to power at the Centre, she dismissed the Akali Ministry in Punjab, and later called a meeting of the three Congress Chief Ministers of Rajasthan, Haryana, and Punjab who signed an agreement virtually endorsing the earlier award. It gave 8.6 MAF to Rajasthan, 3.5 MAF to Haryana, 0.2 to Delhi and 4.2 MAF only to riparian Punjab. Following the agreement, the case pending before the Supreme Court was withdrawn by the Punjab Government, and the Prime Minister Mrs. Gandhi laid the foundation of the SYL Canal. Thus a constitutional attempt to have a decision of the Supreme Court on the fundamental constitutional issue was frustrated, following executive agreements. The conclusion is incontrovertible that the diversion of Punjab’s water and hydel power resources to non-riparian states, has been done by the Centre by resort to extrajudicial measures and by rustrating the constitutional process, which the Akali Ministry had sought to follow. It only shows that all through, the Centre was aware that the allotment was not constitutional and the Supreme Court would not endorse the validity of the unconstitutional provisions of the Reorganisation Act, 1966, and what it had decided regarding the allottment of Punjab waters and hydel power to non-riparian states.
Here, two other points need to be mentioned. There is a provision in the Reorganistation Act, that hydel power from Punjab rivers will go to Haryana in proportion to the allotment of water. Second, the agreement of 1981 among the three states only related to water of Punjab rivers. The constitutional issue about the provision concerning hydel power of these rivers was outside the scope of that agreement. Accordingly, it was still open ‘to a future Punjab Government to raise before the Supreme Court the constitutional issue about the validity of the Reorganisation Act concerning hydel power. As such the entire Reorganisation Act could be got declared unconstitutional, thereby upsetting the apple cart of all allotments of water and hydel power to non-riparian states. The Centre’s consciousness about its unconstitutional course appears evident from the fact that in May 1984, during the President’s Rule, the Punjab Governor entered into the extra judicial agreement with Haryana and Rajasthan, providing that future disputes, if any, among them shall not be referred to the Supreme Court, but shall be decided through a nominee or a Tribunal appointed by the Central Government.
Without going into the history of such decisions regarding the Narmada and other rivers waters in India, we shall quote only one decision made by a California Court14 in February 1988. The case related to a petition by the Federal Government that its lands situated in California be allowed some irrigation from a stream in South California. Until then the rivate and owners on the basis of their riparian rights were not allowing the use of the river water to even government lands in the state. The Court decided that while the Federal lands might be allowed waters, the water use for state lands would be subordinated to the needs of the current water users in the State. This is to emphasize that not to speak of allowing water to nonriparian states, the priority of private water users is so strong and universal that until Feb. 1988 the private land owners were not allowing water to even government lands. This priority is evidently based on the Principle that since for centuries on end, it is the people of a state that suffer loss in property, land and life from the floods and vagaries of rivers, they alone in equity have the corresponding right of having benefits from the waters or hydel power of those streams.
In no democratic country in Europe, America or India is there a decision contrary to the riparian principle which is also embodied in the Indian Constitution. One fact alone will show the equity of the riparian law. In 1988, the Punjab floods caused a havoc. The loss in erosion and silting of the land, damage to crops, houses, property and cattle, apart from the loss of scores of human lives, was estimated at over a billion Dollars15 in that single year. Neither Rajasthan, nor Haryana, nor Delhi suffered even a penny worth of loss or damage from Punjab rivers of which they had been made the principal beneficiaries. The above hightlights the contradiction and evident injustice that while riparian Punjab continues to suffer such damages, the non- riparian states reap each year benefits and production of over a billion dollars.
In India too there is clear cut decision in the Narmada waters case16, saying that Rajasthan being a non-riparian state has no rights in its waters whatsoever. In that case Rajasthan itself pleaded that even though non-riparian, it was getting Punjab waters, and on that analogy it should be allowed waters from the Narmada. But it was held that Rajasthan was non-riparian vis-a-vis Punjab rivers, and Punjab’s commitment to Rajasthan was that it would supply water, only if it was surplus to its needs. This is to stress that knowing full well all this and other judicial decisions and rulings of the Indian Courts on the subject, the Central overnment has consciously violated the riparian principle, and when challenged, avoided a judicial verdict on this constitutional issue.
Disastrous Effect Of Drain Of Punjab Waters And Power
The ruinous and despoiling effects of Central decisions are largescale both in the fields of agriculture and industry. At present out of 105 lakh acres of cultivated land in the Punjab about 92 lakhs are irrigated including about 37 lakhs by canals and the rest by tubewells. This indicates that the major part of irrigation and Punjab prosperity and production are due to private effort and enterprise. First, the capital cost and maintenance and running costs of these over 8 lakh tubewells are a heavy burden on the production costs of crops in the state. Current cost of tubewell irrigation is 3 to 10 times more expensive than canal
irrigation, depending upon the source of power. Apart from the fact that uninterrupted supply of power from diesel or electricity is hardly assured, the heavy overdrawal of subsoil water exceeds the annual recharge by rains, seepage, etc. This is lowering the water table each year from one to ten feet. The present position of tubewell irrigation is that between 80 to 90 percent of the Community Blocks in the state have been branded as unsuitable for irrigation by tubewells. The clear warning given is that by the close of the century majority of these tubewells would become non-functional because of the continuous fall of water table. The second point is that available estimates suggest that ten lakh acres of existing canal irrigated areas especially from the Sirhind Canal area, would lose facility of canal water because water at present used in the state will have to be diverted to Haryana and Rajasthan under the present decision. In short, because of the lowering water table and diversion of canal waters about 60% of the area or about 50 lakhs acres would become barani or unirrigated. Under the present cropping system the question of dry farming does not arise. The holdings of small armers being what they are, the resultant misery of a major part of the rural population can well be imagined. Its very serious effects on economic and social conditions in the state and their disturbing influence on the political life should be obvious. The annual loss of agricultural production would be of the order of 1.2 billion dollars. The loss in consequential industrial production and in the diversion of hydel power to other states would be still greater. The unfortunate part is that whereas hydel power from Punjab is being allotted to other states, thermal power plants are being installed in Punjab. Those being dependent on coal from distant states, the electricity generated by them is obviously several times more expensive than hydel power. Anandpur Sahib Resolution
As explained, the basis of Anandpur Sahib Resolution is not any snap decision or secessionist trend in Punjab politics, but it follows the assurances given by the Central leadership before 1947. Since 1949, the Akalis have been pressing the Central Government to give effect to their earlier policies and assurances. Since then the following additional factors have arisen to make it necessary that the state should have autonomous powers:
A In 1971, the Tarni Nadu Assembly adopted the Rajmanner Report which requires that the Centre should have only four subjects as in the Anadpur Sahib resolution, and in addition, there should be a consultative Committee of Chief Ministers of states presided over by the Prime Minister to advise the Centre regarding the four Central subjects. Such views have also been expressed by West Bengal and other non-Congress Ministries.
B In the preceding 40 years, the Centre has amended the Constitution a number of times to make it more centralised. For example, Education, Administration of Justice, Constitution of Courts, have been made either concurrent or Central subjects. The percentage of discretionary grants to be given to the states from the Central revenue has been raised very considerably, thereby enabling the Centre to favour or punish any state it may like to do.
C The Centre has created non-statutory or extra-constitutional bodies like the Planning Commission, the Water and Power Commission, the University Grants Commission, etc. which have great power not only to make financial allocations, but also have unfettered discretion to approve or disapprove state schemes which fall exclusively within the sphere of state functioning. By this method, the Centre could completely throttle all development in the state, should it choose to do so. A classic case is the construction of the Punjab Project of The in Dam which was to cost originally only 70 crores, but Punjab failed to receive final approval even though in the mean time its cost has risen to over 800 crores.
D Another factor is the frequent Central intrusion in state affairs by creating instability in a state and introducing President’s rule. For example, whenever a non-congress Ministry was constitutionally formed in the Punjab, it was destabilised, followed by the President’s rull.8 This was felt to be a negation of the democratic will to the people.
E As the disastrous shackle of the Punjab Reorganisation Act makes Punjab a sub-state, the only way to promote socio-political progress in the state was to have full autonomy in the sphere of all development, planning and administration including control of water and hydel power of Punjab rivers.
F Under the existing political set -up, as in the Punjab Reorganisation Act, the Centre has insisted on the construction of the Rajasthan Canal, despite all expert advice to the contrary. International experts from the World Bank and other institutions clearly emphasized that the Project was economically unjustifiable and wasteful, and that, at far less expense, the use of Punjab river waters could be far more productive if utilised .within the state. It shows that the Central decision neither served the national interests nor those of the Punjab.
G Economic exploitation of Punjab in other fields has also been going on. Over 75% of the savings in Punjab Banks are diverted outside the state in order to develop other areas. Industrial licensing and approval of projects being in Central hands, it has not allowed more than 2% of the cotton produced in the Punjab to be processed within the state. Similarly, while Punjab is a major sugar cane producing area, large scale imports of sugar still take place from other states. Another way of serious curtailment of the wealth of rural Punjab, which sustain about 80% of the population, is by low pricing and monopoly procurement of wheat and rice which are in Central hands. Punjab suffers the most because about 60% of wheat and a considerable part of rice are procured from Punjab by the Centre for distribution in deficient or urban areas in other states.
We have indicated above some of the Central measures that have seriously curtailed Punjab’s agricultural and industrial growth. In fact, the Reorganisation act has put a permanent ceiling on the economic, social and political development of the state. It is in this context that the demand contained in assurances of the Congress leaders, and the Akali demand of 1949, was revived in 1973 because it became evident that in the existing set-up, the economic and social growth of the people of the Punjab stood completely arrested. Hence the need of autonomy in the field of development and administrative subjects, as envisaged in the Anandpur Sahib Resolution, became inevitable.
Evidently, it is sheer bias on the part of a scholar to make a complete black-out of the context, the steps taken by the Centre and the political events in the Punjab and other states that have given rise to the Anandpur Sahib Resolution demanding state autonomy, and approvingly to endorse that Anandpur Sahib Resolution is viewed ‘as a document of sucession.’ In the current political thinking, both in the world and in India, it looks so incongruous for even a journalist, much less for a scholar to brand a simple demand for autonomy as secessionist. We give below by way of a sample a recent statement of a Central Minister, George Fernandes, who observed at a seminar on Indian nationalism, Problems and Challenges,. that17 “The growing militancy by the youth was a clear indication that the politicians had failed to solve the problems of the country. The only answer was to have a new constitution, providing a genuine decentralised state with development activity being the responsibility of the people .” “If the country had adopted decentralisation instead of going in for centralized planning, there would not have been a single village in the country with a drinking water problem.”
The author has unnecessarily and illogically raised the issue of Sikh Personal Law, and tried to relate it to so-called Sikh fundamentalism. First, there is nothing fundamentalist in making a political demand. Second, Sikhs have undoubtedly a separate religion, a separate scripture and a separate socio-political identity and worldview. Accordingly, there is nothing abnormal or irrational, if the Sikhs, like the Muslims or the Hindus, want to have a separate personal law; it is the right of every ethnic community to make such a demand. It is just ridiculous for anyone to suggest, as has been done by Oberoi, that after the grant of autonomy, the Sikhs would ban tobacco, drugs or alcohol. Nothing of this sort was done by Ranjit Singh even in the nineteenth century. The Punjab Assembly has Power even today to ban tobacco or alcohol, but nothing of the kind has happened, although some other states have introduced prohibition. It appears hardly rational to raise such a bogey. It reminds one of the fears expressed by some politicians that hens would stop laying eggs, if the steam locomotive invented by Stephenson were introduced. As explained earlier, the real object of Oberoi appears to be political, and the aim seems to be to misrepresent the justification and political necessity of the demand for state autonomy. For, otherwise it is difficult to accept that he is absolutely unaware of the basic importance of water and hydel power, territorial, recruitment and other issues in reference to Punjab, and the demand for autonomy in many parts of the country.
Now we shall take up issues concerning fundamentalism, Sikh pluralism, Miri-piri concept, Nirankaris, modernity, secularism and agrarian situation, which Oberoi has irrelevantly introduced in order to sidetrack the main issues of the Punjab problem.
First, we take up the alleged fundamentalism. From the point of view of academic studies, the point is completely irrelevant to the subject under consideration, because fundamentalism is related only to the literal acceptance of many of the stories and assertions in the Bible, which under modern conditions are not accepted by many. For example, it has been stated that the world is only a few thousand years old. There is nothing in the Sikh scripture or the Sikh ideology, which appears in any way illogical to modern thought. In fact, it is the modernity that is its basic feature and is the reason for its departure from the earlier Indian religions. It is not our intention to give offence to any old religion, but we all know that they have their statements which are questioned even by men of the faith. Hence, it appears necessary to give the Sikh world-view, so that Oberoi’s contentions could be assessed in the correct ideological perspective.
Sikhism is free from any historical or mythical assumptions. It is a monotheistic faith with the belief that the basic Force or God is Love, and He is both transcendent and immanent in His creation. Love being dynamic, the mother of all values, and directive, God is deeply interested in His creation, and operates through His altruistic Will. As such, the seeker’s goal is to carry out His Will. This makes for the reality of the world, instead of its being an illusion (mithya) or a suffering, as it is considered by some other religions. Hence, Guru Nanak emphasizes four things: First, that in life the spiritual dimension must be combined with the empirical dimension in order to live a full and fruitful life. This forms the basis of the Miri- Piri doctrine laid down by him. Second, that the ideal of man is not salvation or merger in Brahman, but working in tune with the altruistic Will of God. Our present malady is that we live an egoistic life and remain alienated from the real force of Love, that is operative in the world and forms the base of all moral life. Third, in pursuance of the above logic, Guru Nanak rejected the system of monasticism, asceticism, otherworldliness, caste ideology and pollution, and woman being considered a temptress. No prophet in the world has made such radical changes in religious thought as did Guru Nanak. Fourth, he prescribed that man’s assessment would purely be made on his deeds alone. It is in this context that he stated that “Truth is higher than everything, but truthful living is higher still.” A major corollary of his system of truthful living which is Its central element, is man’s duty to participate in social life and accept total social responsibility. For that end he suggested that for the religious man, work, production and equitable distribution are essential, as also the responsibility of confronting or resisting injustice and oppression. Because he calls God to be the Destroyer of evildoers and the demonical. In order to enable the religious man to discharge the responsibility of resisting oppression, he rejected the doctrine of Ahimsa or pacificism, which had been an integral part of all Indian religions. And it is in this context that he gave the call that his system, being a game of love, whoever wanted to join his society, should be willing to sacrifice his all. For that end he organised a society, and created the institution of succession to enable his successors to develop and mature the Panth. Finally, it is that society which the Tenth Master created as the Khalsa, again giving the call for total sacrifice, and breaking completely from the earlier religious systems, traditions, customs, etc. Hence it is sheer ignorance about Guru Granth and its system to relate it to something of the kind of Christian fundamentalism, in order to create a prejudice in the minds of those who have no knowledge of Sikhism. The Guru Granth or its ideology can be summed up as was done by Guru Nanak thus: Give up egoism and live a life of love, virtue, equality and justice. Accordingly, there is no obscurantism or pluralism in the ideology of Guru Nanak. As to the Miri-Piri doctrine, it is the fundamental of Guru Nanak’s thesis to combine the empirical life with the spiritual life of man. It is the same principle as was accepted by Moses and Prophet Mohammad, both of whom were simultaneously religious and political leaders.
As to the Nirankaris, he has again completely misrepresented the position either out of gnorance or otherwise. The Nirankaris are neither a Sikh sect nor a break-away group, nor do the Nirankaris themselves make any claim to be Sikhs. The clash between the Nirankaris and the Bhindranwale group might well have been a created problem in order to sidetrack the Sikh political struggle for its rights. In any case, such a conflict could be between the two ideologies. Further, it is a misstatement that the death of Gurbachan Singh was followed by mass killings in the Punjab. Nothing of the kind happened, and Oberoi has not given any evidence to support this unfounded statement. In any case, the alleged clash has nothing to do with the political problems of Punjab and the issues involved therein. A minor clash between two communities can hardly be a relevant reason either for denying autonomy to a state or for sidetracking the real issues of injustice we have discussed above.
Oberoi has also incongruously introduced the point of Green Revolution, which is chronologically a baseless assertion. The Sikh agitation for Punjabi Suba and autonomous status, is a political issue of pre-Independence days and even the demand of Punjabi Suba and its autonomy arose in the life of Sardar Patel. Long before the Green Revolution, the gitation for the Suba had started. Over fifty thousand went to jail and suffered imprisonment and other hardships. All this happened before the onset of the Green Revolution. As even a student of Punjab agriculture is aware, the first import of high yielding seeds from Mexico took place in 1966, and the impact of the Green Revolution was not felt before the mid- eventies. By that time, the agitation for Sikh demands including the fasts of Sant Fateh Singh and Darshan Singh Pheruman, as also the death of the latter, had taken place. Second, the occurrence of the Green Revolution in Punjab is an accomplished fact. But the important question is why it took place in the North West corner of India among the rural Sikhs and not anywhere else in India or Asia, which had been deficient in food. It is the lifeaffirming ideology of Sikhism that is the sole explanation for it as has been explained by Upinderjit Kaur in her publication. Oberoi’s difficulty appears to be his complete ignorance of the spirituo-empirical life combination or the Miri- Piri system of the Guru Granth. That is why he seems to be unnecessarily beating about the bush. As to the subdivision of holdings, he has again made an irrelevant contradiction; subdivision is a natural consequence of the system of succession. The Green Revolution has not in any way accentuated it, but it has made small holdings more productive and life sustaining than before. Higher yields and greater production have relieved the economic situation, and this is supported by no less a person than Subramaniam, the Agriculture Minister of India.
Oberoi has harped a lot on modernity and secularism, and has only displayed an ignorance of the broad forces that are involved in the current century. It is Toynbee who laments that for the last three hundered years, religion has been driven out of the cultural life of man, and instead parochialism of the worship of the national state as a goddess has started. He also laments that the Western technologist has lost his self-confidence and is in confusion, whether the technological genii which he has released would not destroy all human culture and “whether his “professional success may not have been a social and moral disaster.” For him “the great world religions have been replaced in modern times by three post-Christian ideologies, nationalism, communism and individualism. All three are equally impersonal and dehumanising.” Similarly, Pierard believes “Secularism in the nineteenth century, aided by Marxism, Darwinism and Positivism chipped away the Christian underpinning of Western thought.” This thinking considers that secularism and nationalism eventually give rise to militarism, imperialism, racism and despotism. The history of the current century hardly seems to suggest that secularism leads to cultural or moral progress. In fact, the indications, both historical and current, seem to be quite different. For, in Europe and the USSR millions were destroyed by Hitler and Stalin both of whom were secularists without any belief in religion. It is in this context that the American Churches have raised the voice that Secularism is a major danger to life and that Christianity should cooperate with other religions in order to avoid the present decline in moral values of the culture. It is doubtful, whether Hegel, as Oberoi suggests, can be associated with the thinking of divorce between religion and politics. But whatever be his belief, he is certainly associated with German militarism and is considered to be the precursor of Kaiser, Hitler and despotism. In fact, it is the post-modern thinking of men like Huston Smith 18 that suggests the recognition of the role of religion against the limitation and potential harm that is contained in the power-over- nature approach to life that governs much of our modern culture. This philosophy appears to lead towards “only a dead end; annihilation of mythology, religion, all value systems, all hope.”
1 Harjot Oberoi: “Sikh Fundamentalism: Ways of Truning Things Over,” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Anaheim; November 1989
2 “Popular Saints, Goddesses and Village Sacred Sites: Re-reading Sikh Experience in Nineteenth Century” Read at Conference held at Berkeley, USA, Feb. 1987
3 Young India, Bombay, March 1931
4 The Statesman, Calcutta; July 7, 1946
5 Kapur Singh: “Sachi sakhi”; Navyug Publishers, 1973; pp 32- 33
6 Young India, Bombay; March 19, 1931
7 Duggal, Devinder Singh: “The Truth about the Sikhs,” Amritsar, N.D. : Page 14
8 The Council of Sikh Affairs, Chandigarh: “The Anguish of Punjab: Sikhs Demand Justice”; N.D. Page 5
9 Dhillon, G. S.: ‘Researches in Sikh Religion and History’; Chandigarh 1989; Pages 134-135
10 Illustrated Weekly of India, June 10-16, 1984: ‘The Man Everyone Loves to Hate
11 Machiavelli, Niccolo: ‘The Prince’; Page 46; Oxford University Press; Reprint; A Mentor Book: New American library; A Division of Penguin Books, USA, New York; Revised Trans. 1935
12 Dhillon, G.S. ‘Researches in Sikh Religion and History’; Chandigarh, 1989; pp. 114-115
13 The Council of Sikh Affairs; Chandigarh: “Punjab River Waters Dispute;” Page 12
14 Los Angeles Times, LA (USA); Feb 1988; Pages 1 and 32
15 The Tribune, Chandigarh, dated Aug. 3, 1990
16 Govt. of India: ‘The Report of the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal,’ Vol. III, Pages 25,26, and 30; New Delhi 1930
17 Fernandes, G., Rly Minister, Govt. of India
18 Huston Smith: ‘Beyond the Post-Modern Mind’; The Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton (III), USA; A Quest Book, 1985
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