A Review Prof Kulwant Singh
Blood on the Green
A Review by Prof Kulwant Singh
Author: PPS Gill
Publisher: Bookwell, 3/79, Nirankari Colony, Delhi-9
Pages: 262; Price: Rs 895/-
The book under review, "Blood on the Green – Punjab's Tryst with Terror" written by a well-known veteran journalist Prithipal Singh Gill (PPS Gill) is a memoir based on his glimpses of myriad scenes, and situations, events and incidents, men and matters, and causes and consequences of their thoughts and deeds, primarily from the once prosperous but now the wretched, God-forsaken land of modern day truncated Punjab, together with his glimpses from the world of journalism and his travels across several countries of the world. What makes this book a gripping and captivating reading for the reader are the scenes and spectacles, both grim and bitter-sweet witnessed by the lazer-sharp eyes of this journalist author and his faithful summing up and impartial reporting of those events without any attempt at sensationalizing these and maintaining the highest standards of journalistic ethics together with his mature observations. His meticulous collection of press clippings of his lifelong reports and write ups and similar snippets from some of his equally competent contemporary journalists have provided him with the stuff for describing those events from his thirty six years long journalistic career with a perspective of his own after sifting the grain from the chaff and after chewing the cud as they call it. The end result is this reliable chronicle of the trgic events of one of the darkest decades (1980-1990) of Punjab /Sikh history. Together with the vigenettes from other parts of world and the world of journalism, the book's canvas is kaledioscopic to be communicated in a book review. To borrow a cliché about English literature's father-figure Geoffery Chaucer "The Canterbury Tales" (1340), here is "God's plenty". Still the whole book can be divided into three broad compartments consisting of the steady evolution of the author's journalistic career from a press reporter climaxing into being a "Chief of Bureau" in The Tribune "and ending with an anticlimax denouement of taking a voluntary retirement, the painful lacerating spectacle of senseless bloodshed and violence in (1980s-90s) decade long span in Punjab and fascinating snippets and vignettes from his travels abroad.
Before, we comment on these three segments, it would beneficial to speculate on the highly summative and evocative title of this book as well as the other well-thought about and imaginative / suggestive chapter-headings.
The title "Blood on the Green" is symptomatic of not only the blood spilt both on the green landscape of Punjab during this dark decade but also the psychic, mental and spiritual landscape of the Sikhs in particular and other communities of Punjab. Gill to a similar book (p 259) "Violence and Political discourse: Sikh Militancy Confronts the Indian State" (2002) by Birinderpal Singh, which mentions four phases of bloodshed in Punjab in 1947 / 1966, 1978-80, 1984-85, 1986-1992 labeling the first two phases as division of the body and the latter two as divisions of soul of Punjab (read Sikhs), He agrees with the quoted author's views about the hermeneutic significance (of these four phases) in influencing the psyche of the Sikhs in general and (Sikh) militants in particular "which must compel all the policy makers never to use violence as a political discourse in future. The wounds inflicted on the Sikh Punjab psyche by the traumatic events are still festering and the blood oozing from these wounds has only "Coagulated not Healed" (p. 84) Thus, this thoughtfully crafted title is an expression of the spontaneous outpouring of the pain and grief of the collective bruised psyche of all the sensitive, devout, passive yet discerning and enlightened Sikh citizens not only of Punjab but of all the Sikhs across the globe.
The first segment of this book deals with the details of his journalistic career beginning with being a press-reporter after his dramatic selection in The Tribune at a remote and comparatively inaccessible and backward Punjab township of Bhatinda in (1975) getting promoted in due course to a press-correspondent and shifted first to Ambala and then suddenly one midnight as replacement for his Hindu colleague to the hotspot Amritsar to stay, watch and send despatches to The Tribune headquarters at Chandigarh at times at great personal risk while walking over the razor's edge all the time between the two equally violent combatants consisting of trigger-happy Sikh militants and the belligerent security forces of then anti-Sikh Indian State continuously for a long span of eight years (1983-90) and subsequently being promoted to a higher position of a Bureau Chief by dint of his distinguished services rendered. The book provides a portrait of a seasoned, mature, staffers wedded to his Alma Mater's policy guidelines and then suddenly reaching a dead end of his distinguished career and taking a voluntary retirement in (2004). Being a Sikh and being true to the salt of his mother organization and maintaining the highest of standards of personal integrity, Gill restrains himself from disclosing the compelling reasons behind his decision for taking a voluntary retirement. The only hints he drops about this painful decision are his faithfully sharing all the episodes and developments with the then Sikh Tribune Trustee Justice S S Sodhi (retd) leading to his bitter decision reiterating his conviction and commitment to his inbuilt fiduciary relationship with The Tribune based on mutual trust especially with regard to the relationship between a Trustee and a beneficiary, (Google Dictionary). The reader is left to draw his own conclusions. While it seems to indicate the beneficiary Gill's upholding the sanctity of his fiduciary relationship, it creates serious doubts about the similarly inbuilt reciprocity expected in this relationship on the part of his trustee organization. One regrets that the sacrosanct nature and sanctity of such a fiduciary relationship has not been upheld by the Trustees. Gill's moral stature in this regard stands very high and deserves accolades. On the hind sight, one wonders if it is just a co-incidence or sheer lack of academic scholarship and journalistic craftsmanship among the Sikhs that throught out the entire life span of 138 years (1881-2019) of this representative newspaper of Northen India founded and funded entirely by a Sikh visionary philanthropist, not a single Sikh could hold the august office of an Editor in this Organization so far. It also a co-incidence that an equally well-known English newspaper, "The Hindustan Times" was also founded by another Sikh S Sunder Singh Lyallpuri, founder father of Akali Movement and Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab with Sardar Mangal Singh and Sardar Chanchal Singh as first incharges of this newspaper in 1924. Sardar Khushwant Singh (1980-83) had the sole distinction of being its Editor among the galaxy of its distinguished Editors. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/hindustantimes)
The second and the biggest segment, which looms large over the whole book, provides an eye-witness account of all the major events, circumstances and the somewhat ambivalent yet dubious role of all the stakeholders preceding the most tragic and traumatic events of this dark decade. All these events taken together consist of the passage of Anandpur Sahib Resolution (1973) as a charter of all the political, territorial, economic and religious Punjab/Sikh demands; launching of a peaceful agitation, labeled Dharamyudh Morcha by the Akalis; series of secret negotiations between the Central Government and the Akalis and their failure; conversion of the almost model unbreakable peaceful agitation into violent, anarchic, communal, civil war after the induction/ entry of genuine Sikh militants and fake militants planted by the forces/ powers to be, inimical to the Sikhs and their cause; the unforgettable military attack on "Harmandar Sahib" and other Sikh shrines during "Bluestar Operation" (1984); genuine and fake encounters between Sikh militants and Indian security forces, assassination of the then Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi (1984), and subsequent anti Sikh riots across northern India, Rajiv-Longowal Accord (1985) and its failure, assassination of Sant Harcharan Singh Longowal; mopping up operations named "Black Thunder" I & II 1986 & 1988; "Woodrose" (1988); "Bird" (1988); assassination of then Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh (1995) by Sikh militants; long-spell of President's rule; quick succession of bureaucratic and politician governors; all during the span of slightly longer than a decade during 1982-1995. Through various eye-witness accounts, anecdotes and episodes, though not in the chronological order, scattered all over the book, the author has faithfully recorded these events and their impact on the psyche of the Sikhs and people of Punjab. Besides reflecting over each event and commenting upon these, he has also pointed a finger at the guilty men who must be held blamesworthy for this decade-long mayhem and bloodshed. He writes repeatedly: "Having rubbed shoulders with young boys bristling with automatics, as also with puritanical Sikh intelligentsia and having interacted with the trade mark steel arrow holding Sant Jarnail Singh Bhinderanwale and his bête noir Sant Harchand Singh Longowal umpteen numbers of times alongside a battery of Akali and Congress leaders, one can say that individually and collectively they all were/are guilty of putting to shame – Punjabis and Punjabiat! They were not non-State actors but very much state-actors or villains?" (pp 14-15).
"The point I wish to make and reiterate is who should be held responsible for such carnage on such a wide canvas and scale for over a decade and to what intent and purpose? The blame for spilling so such blood and extinguishing thousands of innocent lives has to be apportioned to the state, as well as state and non-State actors; the foreign powers inimical to the Indian State trying to wreck its integrity and sovereignity. At home, politicians, religious leaders, the establishment were equally responsible for what Punjab went through. They cannot be absolved of the blame." (p. 109).
"the questions that have haunted me and many like-minded persons all these decades are: why did Punjab undergo such tragedy and trauma and who should the blame be apportioned to? There are no easy answers to such unending questions, ifs, buts and whys. As I have said before, the blame for Punjab tragedy must be apportioned as much to the Sikhs, their leadership, which has had myopic vision, as also to the Centre/ Congress and its agencies and agents outside the Sikh orbit, whether at home or abroad." (p 258)
Equally perceptive are his comments about the militant Sikh youth why and how they got sucked into this vortex/ dark pit of militancy degenerating into acts of terrorism. After his interactions with a across-section of police officers, especially with some well-meaning and humane police officers like Chaman Lal, first DIG, BSF and later IG Police Border Range, Punjab. He writes. "While keeping a tab on rehabilitated militans, the police did learn that most of the gun-totting youth were from poor families and how socio-economic status, were deprived of love, care and concern during their formative years; and were, by and large, victims of perceived injustice! Also, it was the romantic appeal that attracted them to terrorism! And, some of them were also of criminal bent of mind, indulged in robbery and obtained a sort of respectability under the cloak of terrorism. Interestingly, some of them had been motivated to terrorism due to family disputes or feeling of being genuinely wronged by the police or were frustrated at being unemployed and a burden on their family." (page 111)
But whatever the reasons for the rise of terrorism these militant turned terrorists are guilty of the most "unholy acts" of defiling the most sacred shrine with their human excreta and inhuman deeds of extortions and other sinful acts during their confinement in the sacred precincts.
Commenting on the present scenario in the State of Punjab, he observes that even after going through the darkest phase and suffering immeasurable loss of life, limb and economic assets, the political leadership of Punjab especially the Akalis have not learnt any lessons. He writes: "…… It is pertinent to note that besides the sameness in factors, cause and effect, which ushered in terrorism, almost the same political line-up, same systems, red-tape and smug bureaucracy are still around. One wonders if anything would change in favour of channelizing the state economy and its farmers – small and marginal, and youth before the Congress takeover in 2017." (Page 250) The decade long rule Akali rule in Punjab has been marked with calculated destruction of State economy through appropriation of public assets for building personal assets; drying up of employment avenues; desirable school, college and university education; exploitation of SGPC and other august Sikh Institutions like Sri Akal Takht Sahib; promotion of drug mafias; collusion with the anti-Sikh Hindutva forces for the sake of sharing power at the Centre by one venal family at the helm of affairs.
Speaking of the primary Sikh institutions SGPC, Sri Akal Takht, High Priests and the Shiromani Akali Dal, these institutions have been used or abused for personal and political purposes by the power that be, which calls for serious introspection both by the Akalis as well as the well-meaning Sikh intelligentsia. In this regard, he mentions the sincere efforts of selected Sikh individuals and institutions who have endeavoured to stem this rot and provide a clear road map for streamlining the functioning of these Sikh institutions and rejuvenating the continuously deteriorating Punjab economy. Notable among these individuals are names of Dr Devinder Singh Chahal (p. 154) Col Gurdip Singh (p. 336) Dr Kharak Singh and Institute of Sikh studies Chandigarh (p. 161). They earnestly endeavoured to provide constructive suggestions and plans not only to make the primary Sikh institutions functioning properly to meet the heightened aspirations and expectations of the modern era Sikhs but also the constitution of an Apex Sikh body comprising a representative group of eminent Sikhs for the reorientation, assimilation and consolidation of existing Sikh institutions and chalking out a scientific course for emancipation and empowerment of the Sikhs. While the efforts of the first two individuals did not succeed in their attempts, the efforts of Dr Kharak Singh and the Institute of Sikh Studies did make a ripple effect and it is still struggling to carry on this campaign even after the demise of Dr Kharak Singh.
Thus, this comparatively recent 2017 publication by the author having a three decade firsthand experience of having watched the Punjab/ Sikh scenario including the darkest decade of this period closely is a reliable chronicle of this sordid saga. At the same time, it is the spontaneous outpouring of an aching and groaning heart and anguished, and agonized mind of a genuine, devout Sikh in the manner of his perceptive and piercing yet dispassionate observations. Moreover, being a man of faith and inveterate optimism (Charhdi Kala in Sikh parlance), he is hopeful of the turn of events for the better may be during his own life time. It is with this aim and prayer on his lips that he has written this valuable book following George Bernard Shaw's dictum. "We are made wise not by the recollection of our past but by the responsibility for our future" is his fond wish for the well-being of Punjab and the Sikhs. In addition to this main thesis, he takes the reader on a sojourn to the several other parts of world which he had visited during his journalistic travels from Kashmir, Pakistan, Khyber Pass, Afghanistan, to UK, France, USA, Canada which provides a glimpse into joys and travails of travelling. May his tribe increase.
Since the whole book has been written in an anecdotal and episodic snippets scattered all across its vast pen-painted canvas, a comprehensive index at the end would have enhanced the value of this publication and facilitated the reader to locate and access the required items earlier. His brief treatise on the art of writing letters and joy of receiving and reading of letters writing a book is worth preserving for the fast aging generation and suggestive hints for internet savvy generation.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2019, All