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A Story of the Sikhs
(Pursuit of Sovereignty)

A Review by Prof Phul Chand Manav

Author & Publisher: Har Jagmandar Singh
Distributors: Singh Brothers, Amritsar
Pages 320, Price: Rs. 250/-

The book A Story of the Sikhs, a product of twenty years’ work, views the Sikhs and their affairs in an uncommon perspective. Its range extends from the earliest times to the present day.

The Aryans came to India as a healthy, refined and happy race. But their joy of occupying a vast land was soon swamped by an overwhelming sense of misery. Coming from cold regions, they found life in the tropical country constantly miserable. They believed in the transmigration of the soul, which meant that they would be reborn again and again and suffer endlessly. As a solution to the inescapable plight, they developed the philosophy of Moksha, which could be achieved only by annihilating all desires, because they bound the soul to the world. This made them (the Hindus as they were later called) escapist. Escapism, coupled with polytheism and caste divisions, caused serious enfeeblement in them and rendered them subject to countless invasions and domination by foreigners, that entailed horrible atrocities and humiliations, which are always the lot of the vanquished people, for two thousand years. Falsehood and tyranny prevailed everywhere.

Out of these conditions appeared Sikhism which believed in one formless God and condemned all idolatry. With the passage of time, Sikhism developed into an independent religion. A new religion always produces a new nation. Guru Gobind Singh formalized the Sikhs as a distinct nation, vested it with an ever-ascending morale and inexhaustible energy and launched it into time towards the goal of sovereignty. The Guru taught his Sikhs that sovereignty is necessary for the progress of religion, and people divorced from religion are always treaded upon. Sikhism faced as much hostility from Hinduism as from Islam. Enmity between religions is natural and permanent. The law of “struggle for survival” applies to religions as well as living organisms. When a religion expands, expansion being a mode of survival, it encroaches on the territory of some other religion, and then conflict is inevitable. Brotherly coexistence between different religions is a myth. The preaching of brotherhood between religions is useful for the peace and stability of society. But it is only palliative. It rather plants confusion in the minds of people and disables them to understand and face reality.

The Sikhs were locked in a life-and-death struggle for a hundred years and ultimately succeeded in establishing their own great kingdom under Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Ranjit Singh was a great conqueror and a benign king, but his weakness for wine and women was exploited by certain cunning men to occupy top positions. After his death, these base men who were at the helm of the state, unable to control the mighty Khalsa army, felt their positions and lives threatened by it. They started war with the British in order to have the army destroyed and weakened. The Sikhs lost their hard-earned sovereignty.

The Sikhs enjoyed significant privileges under the British. But the pain of the loss of sovereignty rankled in their mind. Their bravery and spirit of sacrifice was exploited by the anti-British leaders, and they became involved in the Komagata Maru episode and the Ghadr movement and suffered serious losses. They launched a long campaign to free the gurdwaras from the Mahants. The Akali Dal and the SGPC were born out of this struggle. After many sacrifices and in the teeth of opposition from the Hindus, they secured the Gurdwara Act. The English framed the Act in such a way that it ensured and sharpened the separate identity of the Sikhs.

Exhausted by the World War, the British decided to wind up their empire. They were in a hurry to leave India. The Muslims dreaded the prospect of domination by the majority Hindu community after the foreign rulers left. They wanted to have Pakistan or sufficient safeguards if they were to stay in India, like those proposed by the Cabinet Mission. The English wanted to leave India united. But the Congress leaders, representing the Hindus who believed that India really belonged to them, were averse to sharing power with the Muslim League. They chose to throw away the Muslim majority parts of the country so that they could have unchallenged rule over the rest of India. This resulted in Partition which “was the greatest injury inflicted on the Indian people in two thousand years”. The British, being sympathetic with the Sikhs wanted to give them “political feet”, but the Sikh leaders behaved like asses and missed all opportunities to safeguard the future of the Sikhs in independent India. The Partition uprooted and ruined half of the community and 2 per cent of them were killed.

In the new dispensation, the Sikhs lost their importance and privileges and occupied an insignificant place in the game of numbers. They waged a long struggle for the Sikh homeland under the garb of a linguistic state. When at last the Punjabi Suba was acceded, the state lost vast areas and much of its river waters. As time passed, they developed grievances against the Centre on account of matters like the restriction on their recruitment in the army, the Nirankari incident and the distribution of the Punjab river waters. The Akalis started a Morcha against the digging of the SYL canal inaugurated by Indira Gandhi. Their aim was to strengthen their own political position rather than protect the interests of the Sikhs. As days passed, the desire for sovereignty, which is always present in the Sikh subconscious, was aroused; the Morcha became secessionist, and more and more violence was indulged in by the protestors as well as the government. All Hindu parties started clamouring for the army action. The leadership of the Sikh community shifted to the radical Sant Bhindranwale. This was something which the old Akali leaders could not bear. To remove Bhindranwale became their priority, and they connived at the Blue Star Operation with the Centre. Army was launched at the Golden Temple and many other gurdwaras, obviously with the purpose of teaching the Sikhs a lesson in submission. It resulted in a massive destruction and massacre. This led to greater extremism by the Sikhs and crueller suppression by the government. The Sikh anger found expression in the killing of Indira Gandhi, which led to anti-Sikh riots all over India. The anti-Sikh violence, to speak the truth, was rooted in the religious difference between the Hindus and the Sikhs. The Rajiv-Longowal Accord was signed and an Akali ministry was installed in the state. But the Akalis were not allowed to enjoy power, some of them were even killed by the Sikh militants. Now the destruction of the militant youths became a necessity for the Akali leaders. They boycotted the assembly election and thus paved the way for the Congress government in the state which tortured and killed large numbers of Sikh youths. The separatist movement was crushed; but the urge for sovereignty which is embedded in the subconscious mind of the Sikhs is indestructible.

Developments like the Kashmir problem, the war with China, the Bangladesh venture, the nuclear explosions, Operation Blue Star, the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and the recurring communal violence show the direction in which India has been moving and is likely to move in the future. As a result of the national tendencies and the policies of the leaders, the country has come to the present pass. The present scenario – marked by regional and social rifts, rampant corruption, declining economy, ever-increasing swarms of population and the jingoistic bluster which drowns all voice of sanity – does not point to a stable and bright future for this country. The time will come, perhaps it will come sooner than expected, when the Sikhs will find themselves at the crossroads and will have to decide which way to go.

The book is worth keeping in Sikh homes so that the younger generation may know the glorious heritage and high destiny of their nation. It can also be a good gift to non-Indian friends as it can help them to understand our religion and community better.

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ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2009, All rights reserved.