The phenomenon of Khalistan has been there ever since the partition of this subcontinent into India and Pakistan. At the time of Independence, or just before, there was a significant number of people among the young Akali workers and junior leadership who actually thought that the time for a ‘Sikh state’ had come since the country was being divided. The British had, in fact, encouraged this line of thinking.

Fortunately, the older generation of Sikh leaders: the Akalis led by Master Tara Singh, the feudal elements led by the former rulers of the states of Patiala, Kapurthala, Jind, Faridkot and Nabha, and the old Sardari clique led by people like Sardar Baldev Singh, Raja Harinder Singh and Sardar Hukam Singh, in their wisdom, decided not to fall in with the designs of the British rulers and to cast their lot with India.

The younger elements within the Akali Dal who were for a separate Sikh state might have been defeated at that point in history; but, they were not deterred from working for this goal. Unfortunately, the older leadership within the Akali Dal inadvertently played into the hands of the fundamentalists and the separatists amongst the younger leadership when they began to proclaim that Sikh politics could not be separated from the Sikh religion since this was a fact of life proclaimed by the gurus.

There were two simple reasons why no Sikh challenged this concept created so conveniently by the Akali Dal. The common man amongst the Sikhs was not really bothered about such issues; he was too busy building a life for himself. Secondly, there was an acute lack of knowledge of Sikh history and scriptures amongst the Sikh masses. Consequently, the Akali Dal could feed their Sikh followers anything and they would accept it as the gospel truth.

Over the years as the younger generation began to replace the older, fundamentalism began to raise its ugly head and religion and politics began to be mixed even more, the distant glimmer of a Sikh-dominated state began to appear – and conflicts began between the moderate and those who imagined this distant glimmer – the first step towards a sikh state, or as it is now called, Khalistan.

It is essential to understand the fact that the older generation of Akali leaders believed that the only way to create a mass base amongst the Sikh community was to appeal to the religious sentiments of the Sikhs. They wanted to appear as the only guardians of the Sikh faith. And as such, the bogey of Hindu communalism and domination became a convenient tool. Their eventual aim was to become the only spokesman of the Sikhs. The interpretation of religion became their prerogative and the existing administrative Sikh body of the SGPC became their lever, as well as their financier for all their future political activities.

The younger leadership which took over was more or less composed of uneducated jathedars such as Gurcharan Singh Tohra, Talwandi, etc. They began to use the SGPC as a treasury to render possible their dreams of an eventual Sikh majority state. This was how the Punjabi suba movement came into being. The issue of language – Punjabi in the Gurmukhi script – was only a pretext then, as is the Anandpur Sahib resolution today, towards this end.

The educated Akali leadership such as Prakash Singh Badal, Justice Gurnam Singh and Lachman Singh Gill believed that they could politically outmanoeuvre their uneducated colleagues and take over the leadership of the Akalis.

Consequently, these educated leaders allowed communalism to cast a shadow over their party’s political concepts. Their reasoning: their existence was dependent on Sikh votes and such votes could only come their way through religious exploitation.

Suba movement

These leaders felt that since the Akali Dal could never come to power in Punjab before 1966 and since the state was not Sikh-dominated, the Punjabi suba movement had to be started.

However, even after obtaining the Punjabi suba in 1966, their political fortunes did not improve significantly. The dominance of the Sikh community was confined to only two per cent, which they realized was insufficient to keep them in power because of the inherent conflicts within the party itself.

Whenever they did come to power, they ended up breaking into two or three factions; sometimes the divide occurred between the educated and the uneducated sections. Moreover, their government would always fall before the full five-year term only to be succeeded in a by-election by the Congress party.

Another cause for the growing frustration of the Akalis was the fact that the Sikh community at large did not fall for their ploy that they were the only spokesmen of their community, or for that matter that the Sikh panth was in danger.

Gradually, santdom began to dominate Punjabi politics. Fateh Singh then, Bhindranwale now. All these uneducated jathedars who took over the command of Akali leadership knew the words of the scriptures but not their spirit.

After the division of PEPSU into three states – which harmed the Punjabis because Punjab had shrunk – inter-party factions emerged, as mentioned earlier. Following this there was a rift between the Jats and the Khatris: Master Tara singh was a Khatri. The Jat Akalis followed the others to a point when they were able to, and began to dominate Akali politics. This took place in 1962 with the emergence of Fateh singh.

The Jats succeeded in ousting the Khatris; the conflict still exists, though with a kind of split between the urban and the rural Sikhs. significantly, once the Jats took over the Akali leadership, conflicts within the Jats arose. Each group began to espouse demands which increased until they came to the point of Khalistan.

The opposition has mentioned the fact that Bhindranwale was an election agent or was supported by one or two Congress (I) MPs and that he was a plant of Congress (I). The opposition blames the Congress (I) for the emergence of Bhindranwale; but I would like to know who invited Bhindranwale into Guru Nanak Niwas and into the premises of the Golden Temple. The SGPC president, Mr Tohra and the moderate leadership of the Akalis helped Bhindranwale; otherwise nobody can live in the premises of the Golden Temple without the permission of the SGPC president. After all, Bhindranwale did not just walk in.

I feel that they used Bhindranwale for their own political reasons against the government. They built up Bhindranwale not realizing that, much later, he would become a Frankenstein. But towards the end, the Akalis became helpless. The Frankenstein they had created, under the garb of their dharamyudh for their own political ends, was to eventually compete with them. And ultimately, to swallow them.

The Akali Dal and its so-called moderate leadership were constantly tripping over their own big feet in their attempt to justify their political stunts in their endeavour to establish themselves after their electoral defeat in 1980. They became helpless. Towards the end, their agitation had failed. To begin with, the Akalis tried an agitation in Kapoori village in Patiala district over the water issue. The agitation failed because none of the people of the area supported the Kapoori agitation.

Battle of the sants

Later, when Bhindranwale shifted into the Guru Nanak Niwas, Sant Harchand Singh Longowal also moved into the Golden Temple. Competition began between the two: who was going to be the leader of the morcha. The first issue was taken up by the moderate Akalis and Sant Bhindranwale. One of the main issues was the release of Tara Singh and Bhai Amreek Singh.

Bhindranwale actually came into prominence after his arrest in Mehta Chowk in 1981; but he had already emerged from the background after the clash between the Nirankaris and Sikhs on 13 April 1978 when several of Bhindranwale’s followers were killed. Bhindranwale, who had been in the background until then, at this stage joined hands with other Sikh sants against the government.

The Akalis were in power then but Mr Tohra at this point decided to support Bhindranwale in order to embarrass Mr Badal. In fact, the Punjab government even passed a rule that no Nirankari gathering could take place in Punjab.

At the time of Bhindranwale’s arrest in Mehta Chowk, the Akalis supported him wholeheartedly, both with emotional speeches and even in their demands. They had actually said that Bhindranwale’s life was in danger and that the government was either trying to assassinate him or to have him assassinated. All this shows that they started protecting him, or fighting for him. They asked for his unconditional release in the first point of the revised list of the 15 demands given to the government in October 1981.

Meanwhile, Bhindranwale had begun his fiery speeches and used to say openly that he would weigh the person in gold who would fetch him the Nirankari chief, Baba Gurbachan Singh’s head.

The government could have arrested him at that stage but it required somebody saying that they had proof. The government did not want to take the risk, as they had to release him, earlier, for the lack of any legal proof.

Everybody was frightened because they felt that if they did give any evidence against Bhindranwale or against any of his men, they and their entire families would be killed.

Bhindranwale had put fear into the people because innocent people were being killed and any officer who went against his wishes was killed. It is but natural that if a person who is told that his life would be in danger if he did not give up his job, would eventually give up his job. They eliminated, one by one, all the witnesses in the Nirankari case.

There were other occasions when Bhindranwale could have been arrested, or when the government was planning to arrest him. But Bhindranwale had planted his own people in government offices, in the police, in the intelligence agencies. He had a big network. He had all these ex-army officers behind him – they plotted and planned for him. They had responded to the call which Bhindranwale had given.

He had actually started by involving the Sikh students and the All India Sikh Students Federation by demanding the release of its president, Bhai Amreek Singh. The AISSF had already been misused by him.

There were other more complex reasons why Bhindranwale could not have been stopped earlier. Political reasons, shall we say. A cordial relationship between the then home minister and the chief minister might have avoided many mistakes. sardar darbara singh blamed all his misdeeds on the home minister. He kept saying: ‘I wanted to do this but he stopped me.’ When Mr Atwal was murdered, Mr Darbara Singh wanted to enter the Golden Temple but he was, he said, stopped by Giani Zail Singh who was then the home minister.

Darbara Singh's muddle

Why should Darbara Singh as chief minister have to blame anybody else? Every chief minister has his opponents within his party. His capability, his statesmanship, his ability as an administrator – all these qualities ought to help him overcome these problems.

Gianiji, as chief minister, faced all these problems. Darbara Singh used to oppose him at every step; even Sardar Swaran Singh, G.S. Dhillon and the other Sikh leadership in the Congress used to oppose him. Giani Zail Singh was alone, but, he was able to manage well on his own. Which chief minister does not face problems within his party? It is up to him to manage.

Had it not been for Sardar Darbara Singh’s mishandling of the situation, president’s rule need not have been imposed.

I am quite convinced that the government was not aware of the extent to which Bhindranwale and his men were armed. I was told by some people in the press that when they went to the Golden Temple, interviews were taped and they were warned from saying anything other than what was taped. some were even told what to write.

Nor could there have been any government informer. If these people found anyone doing so they would shoot them and throw their bodies into the drains. Nobody dared open his mouth. Bhindranwale had his own men spying on people inside the Golden Temple.

There is also another reason why the government did not really know what was going on inside the Golden Temple. During the Janata regime, when Morarji Desai was the prime minister, the intelligence agencies received a great setback. some of the secrets and names of informers are only supposed to be known to the prime minister. during this time, this information was leaked out. It is the reason why the intelligence feedback on terrorist activity was hopeless.

Perhaps, one of the reasons why the army was rather suddenly sent into the Golden Temple – I say suddenly because all along, the government was reluctant to send in the army – was the threat to kill all Congress (I) MPs and MLAs on 5 June and their plan to begin mass killing of Hindus in villages.

In my district, Balbera in Patiala four or five arthyas were killed hardly a fortnight before the army action; the mass killings had already started. In Model Town an architect, a doctor and other innocent Hindus were being killed. They aimed to kill more. Actually, they wanted to start a civil war between the Hindus and the Sikhs.

They were killing the Sikhs who had vocally opposed Bhindranwale and the idea of Khalistan.

During my mass contact programme in Patiala district in May 1984, we faced so many angry people. The Patiala gurdwara, Dukhanwaran, was coming up as a sub-centre of the terrorist movement. Harvinder singh Khalsa was camping in our district and coordinating the activities from there. People in my constituency refused to talk to me. Why are you not taking any action, they asked? Gurdwaras are no longer gurdwaras if terrorists were hiding there, they told me. How many more innocent people will be killed?

Army action

These activities must have prompted the army action. Otherwise, the army might have been better prepared. The army had thought that the operation would last only one hour: they would surround Harmandir Sahib and ask the people inside to surrender and the latter would come out. And it would all be over.

Had the extremists done so, all this would have been avoided. But people inside the Golden Temple began to fire in return. Bhindranwale went into the Akal Takht because he realized that the government would not enter Harmandir sahib. Bhindranwale took full advantage of the fact that Sikh feelings would be hurt if anything happened to the Akal Takht. As a Sikh, I reacted strongly... but it had all become too much.

When Bhindranwale shifted into the Akal Takht, Sikhs should have openly criticized his move. Sikhs should have also told the SGPC president and the other Akali leaders who had encouraged all this to bring Bhindranwale out of the Akal Takht. They should have strongly objected to the role of the Akalis.

I did at that time appeal to the Sikhs to come out and strongly oppose Bhindranwale’s moving into the Akal Takht. In fact, I said that Bhindranwale should be asked to leave the Golden Temple. Why did he not come out and fight if he was so brave? If he was innocent why did he not come out and prove his innocence? Why was he taking shelter in the premises of the Golden Temple and encouraging smugglers, anti-social and anti-national elements? Why was he collecting arms through smugglers, collecting money, encouraging people to loot and share the booty with them? For a saint to preach violence is something new!

He definitely had links with the Pakistanis and Americans. After all, he had links with Ganga Singh Dhillon and Jagjit Singh Chauhan. I was told many years ago by people who had visited Canada that the Sikhs living in that country had already decided to have a Khalistan in Punjab.

I would like to know how people who have left India and have become American or Canadian citizens can dictate terms to us. They are no longer Indians. They have no business to act as foreign agents in our homeland. We received Khalistan currency notes a few months ago and pamphlets about how the Sikhs were being discriminated against. Many Sikhs had, in fact, stated that they were being discriminated against and when there was no other way for them to enter other countries they began to use the word, ‘political asylum.’ This was the only way to migrate and get jobs in those countries. By doing this they disgraced our community and our country.

Khalistan has always been in the minds of some people. Even the moderates did not openly condemn the killings. Why did the Akalis not strongly condemn Bhindranwale’s actions? If they disagreed with the killings, they should have done so openly. If, in fact, Tohra disagreed with their actions he should have asked them to leave the precincts of the Golden Temple.

Tohra, in fact, played his own political game. He made Bhindranwale fight against moderates like sant Longowal and Badal for his own political gains. He played one against the other.

Moreover, if Bhindranwale had any differences with Tohra, the latter would take the help of sant Longowal and Badal. If on the other hand Tohra disagreed with Badal and sant Longowal, he would take shelter with Bhindranwale. Tohra played the most devious game by using both the moderates and the extremists for his own political ends.

Mixing religion and politics

Ever since Tohra took up the SGPC presidentship, he has concentrated on bringing politics into the gurdwaras instead of preaching the Sikh religion from there. He involved the Sikh religion with politics to such an extent that religion was totally forgotten during his tenure. I would also like to stress again at this point that the moderates, including Badal, also want Khalistan. What after all is the Anandpur sahib resolution? Indirectly, they were asking for a separate nation. Which government would accept such a resolution? during the talks, the Akalis never forgot the Anandpur sahib resolution; they always brought up the subject. The moderates would not admit the fact that they were really heading towards the implementation of the Anandpur Sahib resolution, but their actions indicated this. When they knew that what Bhindranwale was projecting was nothing else but Khalistan – in his tapes he made rather devastating speeches – they had no reason not to disown him.

To begin with, the Akalis did not know exactly what they wanted. Each time they came to the talks which took place many times, they would bring up a new demand. Firstly, they came up with the religious demands, later the other demands. Mrs Gandhi agreed to the religious demands, and she even announced this.

But these religious demands could not be implemented because the Akalis began to disagree. They went into details such as how many inches the kirpans allowed on Indian Airlines flights should be, how many hours the Gurbani should be relayed from Harmandir Sahib.

Perhaps, they did not want these demands to be implemented because they were either afraid of Bhindranwale or of each other. When contacted individually, the Akali leaders would agree, but collectively, they would disagree. Moreover, every time secret talks were to be held, the information managed to be leaked out to the Akalis or to Bhindranwale and an agreement became impossible, with each member being wary of the other, or forewarned, as the case might be.

Perhaps, all these prevarications were delaying tactics. Article 25 was never there in the beginning. But it suddenly cropped up.

They wanted to eliminate the word Hindu. They used to come up with all these foolish things, without going into details of the real issues involved. For instance, whether Article 25 would be useful or harmful to the Sikhs in the long run. The government even said that retired judges could look into the matter.

But the Akalis continued to shift their stand. They would agree on something during the talks and then go back and change their minds. during the last few talks, the extremists had taken complete hold of the situation. Even the Akalis had begun to feel that things had gone beyond their control and that even they were now controlled by the extremists. The moderates did not realize until it was too late. In fact, they informed the prime minister that they were helpless and could no longer do anything about the extremists. They even asked for government protection because they felt that their lives were in danger. Longowal was sending frantic messages to the government to save him.

Whenever they agreed on something or talks were about to take place a murder of a prominent person would disrupt the talks. For instance, when talks were about to take place, Professor Tiwari a member of the Rajya Sabha was killed. The talks were postponed.

Again later, when the atmosphere for talks was created after the moderate Sikhs were released from prison, where they were taken after they had burned copies of Article 25 of the constitution, Lala Jagat Narain’s son, Ramesh Chander, was murdered. Again, the talks were postponed.

Obviously, they were not interested in resolving matters. The government even invited the opposition for the tripartite talks and told them that they should try and get the Akalis to agree. The opposition was told that they should know what was happening. The Akalis walked out of the tripartite talks. There was a discussion in the Rajya Sabha when the talks were on – Badal was sitting in the gallery then – and the opposition leaders involved in the tripartite talks said that they could not understand why the Akalis had walked out of the talks when everything had been finalized. The opposition, in fact, requested the Akalis to come back to the talks in the interest of the state and the nation.

By 1983, General Shabeg Singh, other retired army officers and IAS officers or those who were to resign later, were guiding Bhindranwale. The Sikhs in Canada, UK and the USA also played their role bv remote control – plotting and planning.

Politics and Religion

We must now amend the Sikh Gurdwara Act of 1925. An unambiguous clause which clearly states that elected members, office-bearers and employees of the SGPC cannot under any circumstances hold a political post, should be incorporated into the act. Any employee who wants to indulge in politics must resign his SGPC position first. In fact, the funds and the working of the SGPC should be audited annually by the government and it should also be opened to public scrutiny. These findings could even be published in the form of a gazette during the budget period.

Moreover, if a majority of the Sikhs express a desire to administer their gurdwaras themselves, this act could be repealed. The government should definitely introduce a law which prohibits temples of all faiths from being used by anti- social or anti-national elements, or as storehouses for lethal weapons, except those declared to be of historical value by the government.

Politics and religion should be completely separated. The Hindus actually began to feel claustrophobic after the hukumnama was issued in 1978 against the Nirankaris. Hindus began to feel that if it is the Nirankaris today, tomorrow it will be them. All the maths within the community: the Radhasoamis, Udasis, Namdharis, Nirmalas, began to worry about the fact that political hukumnamas could be handed out against them as well. We Sikhs who belong to the Congress party began to feel that, in future they could issue the hukumnama at will and even command us to join the Akali party.

The liberal Sikh was also outraged. After all, there can be a few Nirankaris in each family. They cannot tell us not to mix with our brothers if they become Nirankaris.

Immediately after this hukumnama was issued, I wrote an article denouncing the hukumnama: I wanted to create a controversy in the universities about this. I had said that these were political hukumnamas which did not have any religious meanings. At the same time, Tohra had written to the then railways minister, Mr Madhu Dandavate, to name the Flying Mail the Golden Temple Express. I objected to this. 1 even wrote a letter to Mr dandavate to warn him that this kind of thing would create problems between the Hindus and the Sikhs. The Akalis would want the kirtan to be relayed and smoking prohibited. They really wanted a ‘gurdwara-on-wheels.’

What is now worrying is the Hindu-Sikh divide. After the army action many Sikhs withdrew into their shells. Every village in Punjab has its hard core Akalis. The small gurdwaras are being used for political purposes; they have become the headquarters in each village for the hard core Akalis who are supported by the well-to-do Jat farmers. These are the people who prevent the Harijans from voting during elections. They bully the village into submission. But fortunately it does not always work.

A positive sign today is the fact that the farmers are now beginning to show that they are more concerned about their economic problems than the religious ones. While all the arrests were taking place over the kar seva of the Akal Takht, the farmers in my district held big demonstrations outside the district collector’s house. These farmers were demanding more short-term loans, and a reduction in the power tariff. They did not mention any religious demands!

The Kheti Bari union which later merged with the Bharatiya Kisan union is becoming a major force in Punjab and none of the office bearers are allowed to be affiliated with any political party. These farmers are also aware of the fact that the Akalis exploited them.

It will take some time to remove the feelings of mistrust welling up between the Hindus and Sikhs. The division between the two communities is there. But I cannot understand why Sikhs are hesitant to face facts. We knew what was happening inside the Golden Temple: it had become a fortress and was no longer a gurdwara. yet, there was this reluctance on the part of many Sikhs, especially after the army action, to be objective.

There seems to be a mental block, particularly amongst the intelligentsia. The intellectuals should know where things went wrong. Most of them however have been carried away emotionally; they do not want to listen to reason, to believe what is true.

Closed-door attitude

I am in the process of trying to understand this closed-door attitude of the Sikh intelligentsia after the army action. The Sikh intellectual tends to see Hindu communalism behind every bush. He aggravates this feeling of insecurity by immersing himself even further in ritualistic dogmas, adhering to the letter rather than the spirit of the law. He is deliberately throwing himself backwards in time to the seventeenth century just at the moment when we are on the threshold of the twenty-first century.

Can the intellectuals deny the fact that when any brave and democratic Sikh stood up to question the barbaric acts, duly sanctioned by the author of the ‘hit lists’ living in the safety of Akal Takht, he was called a traitor to the community and shot dead. The shooting of the Sikhs by this fanatic was part of a design to subvert the inherent courage of the Sikh community as a whole and to reduce us to a community of cowards in subjugation to this fanatic.

The ‘hit list’ stopped the thought-process in the minds of many Sikh intellectuals. It conjured up the picture of the menacing shape of the loaded Stengun which stopped dead in its tracks any resistance to what the terrorists had set out to achieve.

Many Sikh intellectuals may have seen the signs of communalism emerging in the Sikh community; but they conveniently looked the other way – they preferred to take shelter under the argument that Akali demands were Punjabi demands and the only solution possible was for the government to surrender to the dharamyudh of the Akali Dal.

A large number of Sikh intellectuals may have spoken out against terrorism in Punjab, but they did so from the safety of their homes and offices. Why did they not go alone or in a sangat of tens, hundreds, thousands to the Akal Takht to demand that Bhindranwale and his murdering henchmen vacate their sacriligious occupation of our most sacred gurdwara. We Sikhs should have had the courage to solve this problem ourselves. I am also as guilty as the next Sikh because I was quite content to let the government cleanse my home. I should set my own house in order.

Amarinder Singh resigned from the Congress (I) after the army action because he had no alternative. His family had links with the sixth Guru Hargobind Rai who built the Akal Takht. The sixth guru had blessed the Patiala family: he had said: Tera ghar so mera aas hai. It was because of this personal link that Amarinder Singh had to resign.

Amarinder had said earlier that if the army entered the Golden Temple, he would have to leave. But nobody knew that the army was going to enter the temple’s premises.

The Akali dal and the SGPC have, by not throwing out Bhindranwale from the premises of the Golden Temple, lost the right to speak for and on behalf of the Sikhs. The Sikh community as a whole expects that the head priests at least should be above the fear of man. But these head priests became soundless wonders.

And for them to now insist that the kar seva should only be done under their guidance is a bit hypocritical, to say the least. A big thing is being made of the Sikh sangat after 6 June 1984. But how is it that prior to this date nobody ever mentioned it? One heard the names of Sant Longowal and Bhindranwale as someone superior to him.

Breaking mental blocks

The discredited appointees now want to impose their newly-found will on the Sikh sangat. This is really the time for the Sikh intellectual to ‘break out of his mental block and come out of his home as well and lead the community – to instil in it some common sense.

The Akalis were not really concerned with the welfare of the Sikhs; they could not see beyond their own political concerns. In the early 80s many of the Sikhs who lived outside Punjab used to tell me that the movement for Khalistan had made them feel insecure. Some of them were bureaucrats and each time they went to Punjab, they were asked if they were indeed going back to Khalistan. Or they were continually mocked about when Khalistan would be born.

I went to see Tohra about this fear. I told him that I had come to see him as a Sikh and not as a politician. But when I expressed concern about what Sikhs outside Punjab felt, he merely said that nothing could be achieved without qurbani.

This was not too different from what Bhindranwale voiced in his tapes. The Sikhs who lived outside Punjab were traitors for him. ‘Let them die,’ he had said, ‘for they do not do our work.’

Tohra does not believe in any religion. He has ruined the image of the Sikhs. In fact, I hold him responsible for the tarnished image of the Sikhs. I cannot stay in the Harmandir Sahib or in the SGPC without his permission.

Why should there be an office of a political party in any gurdwara? Nine crore of SGPC money was misused for political purposes.

I would also hold the leadership of the Akali dal responsible for what has happened because they turned out to be so weak. They had known Tohra’s game all along and did nothing letting themselves be outmanoeuvred by the extremists. Towards the end they even appealed to the government to save them because they feared that the extremists would blow up the gurdwara.

Tohra is really the evil genius behind a lot of the disruption which has taken place in Punjab, in fact both Tohra and Harkishan Singh Surjeet. The latter has been chief adviser to Tohra since at least 1978. The way he brought Harkishan Singh Surjeet into the Rajya Sabha appears most illogical. Why should the Akalis support a CPM leader as a Rajya Sabha member rather than one of their own men?

When Harkishan Singh Surjeet began to criticize the Akalis and project the CPM, Badal realized Tohra’s game. His eyes were opened. Tohra was responsible for planting CPM card holders as Pracharaks, (junior granthis) in nearly 75 per cent of the gurdwaras in Haryana and Punjab during the late-70s.

The education department, as such, was dominated by the CPM since the mid-70s. But the CPM had not been too successful in spreading their culture through education in Punjab because those very school children who had been brainwashed by the CPM teachers in school would return home each day (usually to land-owning families) and all that brainwashing would be nullified.

Thus, the strategy of ‘if you cannot lick them join them’ began to be implemented. Sikh religion also teaches that everybody is equal: there is no high or low, everybody should help each other. This outlook on life married well with the CPM message. In 20 years these juniors would become head granthis. Politics would then really be played from the pulpit. The CPM would ride piggy-back on the provincial parties.

The reason why I keep coming back to the point of the Akalis not being sincere about doing something for Punjab is the fact that during their three years in power from 1977 onwards, they were silent about the demands which suddenly emerged after they lost the elections in 1980. never had there been such an opportunity for the Akalis. They were in power in Punjab and at the centre. In the Janata ministry, there were three Akali ministers: Prakash Singh Badal (until he went to Punjab as chief minister), Surjit Singh Barnala, and Dhana Singh Gulshan. In fact, when Mr Barnala was in charge of agriculture and irrigation at the centre, why did they not think of solving these problems? Why did they not do something about Thein Dam? Would the SYL (Sultlej-Yamuna Link) solve the issue? It would still not have been enough. Why did they not ask for an atomic power station?

The welfare of Punjab was certainly not the main concern of the Akalis. When the 400th anniversary of Amritsar was celebrated in 1978 why did the Akalis not declare it a ‘holy city’? Why did they think of all these things once they were out of power?

They are always ready to criticize Mrs Gandhi. Morarji desai never even talked to them. At least Mrs Gandhi listens to them.

The future

What will happen in the future is difficult to say. Many of the Akalis are in jail. There is yawning gap in the leadership. One can only pray that a sensible leadership emerges and that it will pass from the sants to educated and far-sighted people.

Efforts should now be made to do something about the youth who were misguided because of increasing unemployment. Bhindranwale was able to influence the AISSF boys by convincing them that once Hindus were sent out of Punjab there would be enough jobs for them. False hopes were aroused in the youth, a false vision was given to them.

In the rural areas, farmers have suffered and agriculture should now be given maximum help. Youth should be employed in agro-based industries. It is absolutely essential to set up small industries in rural areas. Rural credit should be increased. The farmer has really been given low priority until now. To help bridge the increasing chasm between Hindus and Sikhs all secular forces should come forward.

The Akalis hate me. They think that I am anti-Sikh. I am not anti-Sikh: I am anti-Akali. They have ruined the image of the Sikhs. For the first time the differences between the Hindus and Sikhs has taken such an ugly turn.

We did have the Fateh Singh agitation; but hatred was never there. The Sikhs are known for their tolerance. They respect other religions. Guru Nanak Dev even sent people to Mecca. The Sikhs are very liberal; but, these Akalis made us feel as if we were intolerant.

The Akali agitation has done incalculable damage to the Sikh community. The Akalis now call me a traitor to the Sikh community. There is so much pressure on me from my friends as well. But I am confident that I am right and I hope that other Sikhs will see reason and try to face facts.

Where is the danger to the Sikh community? What was the need for the dharamyudh? Who is asking us to change? Who is converting us?

The extremists converted us into a community of cowards. Bhindranwale was more worried about the Sikhs who were not with him; he felt that the Hindus were much easier to handle. Consequently 55 of every 100 people killed were Sikhs. Sikhs were killed to silence us.

We are now shouting and screaming after the army action. We say our sentiments are hurt. These are hollow sentiments. Where were these sentiments when Hindus and Sikhs were being killed? Why were we silent when Hindus were pulled out from buses and shot like dogs on the street?

Actually the blow to the Sikh community has been quite profound. We are a very proud community. We thought we were the cat’s whiskers, the saviour of all. But now it was seen that we did not have the guts to face the situation. We, the Sikhs, should have been the ones to throw Bhindranwale out of the premises of the Golden Temple. We are now finding it difficult to admit our own failure. Our so-called dynamism and bravery has disappeared.

Still, I am optimistic. Time is a great healer. The Sikhs have to search within themselves. The healing touch should come from the Sikhs themselves. I must search myself for a healing touch, and finding it, must help others to do so.

Amarjit Kaur was a Member of Parliament and closely associated with the Government of India's efforts in bringing about an understanding between Hindus and Sikhs in Punjab.

Excerpted with permission from The Punjab Story by Roli Books.