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Anna Hazare, Janlok Pal bill and the criticism

A lot has happened over the past few weeks and government has actually issued a notification and formed a lokpal drafting committee with 50% representation from the civil society.  But this has led to a lot of other events too.  This entire crusade started to be called as another freedom struggle; struggle to free the country from corruption.  However, in the midst of all this many raised several doubts and some even questioned Anna’s credibility by calling him a fake or someone with hidden agendas or someone who might be just a token face of an organisation which is behind all this. Wow!!! Sounds like the script of the Hindi political drama Rajneeti Part 2.

But let’s take the concerns one by one.  I have tried to list down all the possible questions and concerns that people raised and have tried to analyse them to the best of my sensibility. If you have any point to make please do feel free to leave a comment.

  • Many people especially media claimed that in the wake of Egypt’s Tahrir square, aam junta started to feel that we can also do an Egypt and that is why this event picked up so much momentum. I want to agree to this to some extent but I will mostly disagree. There could be many people in the crowd who were too agitated and adrenalin driven that they almost thought they would create an Egypt like situation. But when Anna started the crusade he made it very clear that the crusade is not against the government not does he intend to create any instability in the government. In fact politicians were not even entertained to come and express their solidarity.  

This movement gained so much momentum because it touched upon an open sore which effected poor and rich alike; corruption.  It was the first time that middle class and the youth who are generally considered apathetic towards the functioning of the country, participated in large numbers. The reason was, in the wake of so many scams where public money was being looted and no one being punished, there was a latent anger inside everyone and Anna could tap that. For the first time the middle class, who no politician cares for, felt important.

In a state where almost every investigation agency was almost powerless, where every politician became synonym with corruption, there came a man with impeccable integrity. Anna was the man behind forcing Maharashtra government to pass the RTI ordinance. Later, when the government wanted to amend the RTI act, Anna again started fasting to stop it from being amended. People believed in him and put their faith in him.  Agreed, that most of them did not even know or care what exactly was there or going to be there in the lokpal bill. But they were mostly expressing their solidarity. The public just wanted the goal (corruption free India) to be achieved and I don’t think really cared or thought about the means to achieve the goal. Anna looked like the man who could do this for them.

  • The crusade being anti-democratic and a blackmail: – Well, any protest is a blackmail of sorts. You want something in return to stop your protest. That is blackmail. It might be termed anti-democratic because the draft of the lokpal bill has given the lokpal  a lot of powers. It says that every public servant will be under its realm including the Supreme Court judge.  Many people are thinking that lokpal will become so powerful that it will be able to prosecute and punish anyone and thereby shake the very foundation of how India works.  What is the final bill which gets introduced is still needs to be seen.

 I however, do think that we need a powerful lokpal.  Simply because, though we do have anti-corruption bodies like the CVC, which is powerless and the CBI which is not independent, a lokpal will merge all these bodies into its realm making investigation fair and effective.  Whistle-blower and witness protection rights is also something that lokpal will deal with. The cases will move fast and if found guilty, the verdict will be quick. In a country like India, where justice is always delayed, we need a very strong lokpal and the participation of people in the lokpal is very important because, in a democracy the government is for the people, by the people. So if the public servant or the elected member is not doing his duties properly, the master meaning the public who voted them to power will have a role in the form of lokpal to question them. I think in any healthy democracy people’s participation should not be limited to just voting. Their participation should be more active.

 I don’t think lokpal is anti-democracy. I feel it could become one the pillars of democracy. However, the government version of lokpal and the public version of lokpal are very different. The main obstacle now is to reach a consensus to create a powerful lokpal and not a toothless tiger. What is presented in the monsoon session of the parliament is to be seen.  Let’s wait till then.

  • People don’t participate when there is a tribal movement or when there is a person like Irom Sharmilla fasting for almost 10 years against AFSPA:- What we keep forgetting here is, the reason why so many people came together was because we all have a common enemy i.e. corruption. When there is a tribal atrocities agitation or an agitation against human rights violation in Kashmir or the north east, we empathise with them but we generally do not go out of our way to even find out what is happening there. So many of us do not even know the names of the states and their capitals in the north-east. That’s the bitter truth. The reason is simple. Their plight does not affect us directly.

 Irom’s fasting against AFSPA did attract the Manmohan Singh government’s attention and she was told that the act will be reviewed but nothing has been done so far. It is going through the fate of the lokpal bill which was being brushed under the carpet for the last 42 years.  The government needed a jolt like what Anna could do to have them start acting on it. Irom also needs to give a jolt to the government for her issue to be addressed. In fact, AFSPA is a more complex issue because the government claims the need for it is to maintain peace and internal security of the country. Where internal security is an issue (as the government puts it) in that situation Irom has a tougher role to play to convince the aam junta to play by her side.

 Here is (from Wiki) why according to the Indian government AFSPA is important.

In 2004, in the wake of intense agitation that was launched by several civil society groups following the death of Thangjam Manorama, while in the custody of the Assam Rifles and the indefinite fast undertaken by Irom Sharmila, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil visited Manipur and reviewed the situation with the concerned state authorities. In the same year, Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh assured activists that the central government would consider their demand sympathetically.

The central government accordingly set up a five-member committee under the Chairmanship of Justice B P Jeevan Reddy, former judge of the Supreme Court. The panel was given the mandate of “reviewing the provisions of AFSPA and advising the Government of India whether (a) to amend the provisions of the Act to bring them in consonance with the obligations of the government towards protection of human rights; or (b) to replace the Act by a more humane Act.”

The Reddy committee submitted its recommendations on June 6, 2005. However, the government failed to take any concrete action on the recommendations even after almost a year and a half. The then Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee had rejected the withdrawal or significant dilution of the Act on the grounds that “it is not possible for the armed forces to function” in “disturbed areas” without such powers.

The 147-page report recommends, “The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, should be repealed.” During the course of its work, the committee members met several individuals, organisations, parties, institutions and NGOs, which resulted in the report stating that “the Act, for whatever reason, has become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high handedness.” The report clearly stated that “It is highly desirable and advisable to repeal the Act altogether, without of course, losing sight of the overwhelming desire of an overwhelming majority of the [North East] region that the Army should remain (though the Act should go).”

But activists say the Reddy panel despite its recommendation for the ‘repeal of the Act’ has nothing substantial for the people. The report recommends the incorporation of AFSPA in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, which will be operable all over India.

 

United Nations view

When India presented its second periodic report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 1991, members of the UNHRC asked numerous questions about the validity of the AFSPA. They questioned the constitutionality of the AFSPA under Indian law and asked how it could be justified in light of Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR. On 23 March 2009, UN Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay asked India to repeal the AFSPA. She termed the law as “dated and colonial-era law that breach contemporary international human rights standards.”

The Attorney General of India responded that the AFSPA is a necessary measure to prevent the secession of the North Eastern states. He said that a response to this agitation for secession in the North East had to be done on a “war footing.” He argued that the Indian Constitution, in Article 355, made it the duty of the Central Government to protect the states from internal disturbance and that there is no duty under international law to allow secession.

 Non-governmental organizations’ analysis

The act has been criticized by Human Rights Watch as a “tool of state abuse, oppression and discrimination”.

The South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre argues that the governments’ call for increased force is part of the problem.

“This reasoning exemplifies the vicious cycle which has been instituted in the North East due to the AFSPA. The use of the AFSPA pushes the demand for more autonomy, giving the people of the North East more reason to want to secede from a state which enacts such powers and the agitation which ensues continues to justify the use of the AFSPA from the point of view of the Indian Government.” – The South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre

A report by the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis points to multiple occurrences of violence by security forces against civilians in Manipur since the passage of the Act. The report states that residents believe that the provision for immunity of security forces urge them to act more brutally the article, however, goes on to say that repeal or withering away of the act will encourage insurgency.

In addition to this, there have been claims of disappearances by the police or the army in Kashmir by several human rights organizations.

Many human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch (HRW) have condemned human rights abuses in Kashmir by Indians such as “extra-judicial executions”, “disappearances”, and torture; the “Armed Forces Special Powers Act”, which “provides impunity for human rights abuses and fuels cycles of violence. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) grants the military wide powers of arrest, the right to shoot to kill, and to occupy or destroy property in counterinsurgency operations. Indian officials claim that troops need such powers because the army is only deployed when national security is at serious risk from armed combatants. Such circumstances, they say, call for extraordinary measures.” Human rights organizations have also asked Indian government to repeal the Public Safety Act, since “a detainee may be held in administrative detention for a maximum of two years without a court order.”

United States leaked diplomatic cables

The Wikileaks diplomatic cables have recently disclosed that Indian government employees agree to acts of human rights violations on part of the Indian armed forces and various paramilitary forces deployed in the north east parts of India especially Manipur. The violations have been carried out under the cover of this very act. Governor S.S. Sidhu admitted to the American Consul General in Kolkata, Henry Jardine, that the Assam Rifles in particular are perpetrators of violations in Manipur which the very same cables described as a state that appeared more of a colony and less of an Indian state.

Earlier leaks had also stated that International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had reported to the United States diplomats in Delhi about the grave human rights situation in Kashmir which included the use of electrocution, beatings and sexual humiliation against hundreds of detainees. Kashmir is currently administered under this very act.

 

 This above case is a very good example as to why such Anna like protest is required for the government to act. People who feel sad about why Irom’s case is not being heard but Anna’s 4 days fast was more effective sound like as if they are sad not because of the issues but because Anna did not have to set a personal fasting record to win a title. Disgusting!!!

Like I mentioned before, what Anna started was something we all could relate to and are victims of it.

  • There are some bloggers who go about saying we all are corrupt so corruption should stop at its root. Duh!!! Tell me something new. We all agree that most of us are corrupt. We grease palms when we jump signals, whenever we want to get our files noticed, when we want our work done. We also agree that to stop corruption we must not practice it too. I mean for God’ sake, Anna was not sitting there to give us moral education classes. He was there to compel the government to have civil society’s participation in the drafting committee. His job is not to start moral education classes. We all can use our judgments. We bribe people not because we love doing it. I mean c’mon, it’s our hard earned money why would I want to give it away to a corrupt person. We do it because, we want to get our work done and quickly. In India red tapism is rampant; files do not move or go missing for years if money is not paid. Letters are not answered, calls are not returned, no one is really interested in helping the aam junta or justify their salaries by coming to work or doing the job  they are getting paid for. In a situation like this, the aam junta prefers to bribe and gets his work done rather than run pillar to post. This is yet another reason why the lokpal bill is important, because it will also take cases against public servants and departments for not doing their job.

 

  • Lastly, there are many people speculating huge funds have been used, there could be some hidden agendas of the organization who are behind it. The people who are behind the lokpal are much respected people of the society and their credibility is more important for them than any hidden agenda. There could be funds which might have been used to get badges made, NGO’s which must have spent their money to get pamphlets printed and advertisements published etc. but what is wrong in that. If the cause is noble then I don’t see anything wrong. If at all there were funds being used. at least these were not public money being misused. Talking about hidden agendas, well, I suppose the writers are speculating activists or that “certain” organisation’s entry into politics. Even if that happens, I still do not see anything wrong. Where we have so many criminals as politicians if we get someone who is not a criminal and is sincere about his job as a politician then I am happy with so called “hidden agenda”

 

Our role does not end with an agitation. We need to be more active in the country’s politics. We need to be seen at the polling station and not just at agitation venues. We need to exercise our right to vote and not just our right to freedom of speech and expression. We must not vote politicians who are not worthy of it. We must rise above petty politics of caste, creed, community and language.

What we have achieved is a milestone. We need to wait for the draft to be introduced. We need to see what exactly is there in the final version and if it actually gets passed. Till then this noble cause must be supported by each and every Indian and as responsible citizens we must not believe in any bad press without checking the facts because for whatever petty gains there will be people who would be undermining and maligning the whole cause and the people behind it.

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New Media & Democracy

The other day I was watching a reality show on TV where the participants were begging for votes to save themselves from being eliminated.  The same episode also showed  the mind boggling number of votes one of the contestants had won and that led me to thinking…in a country where the government is chosen by us, a country which is the largest democracy in the world, why only less than half of its voting population go out of their homes to cast their vote?  We don’t practice our political right  to choose a leader for our country. We leave the most important decision of finding the country’s leader in the hands of a selected few who are most of the time coaxed into voting a certain party because the so called leader belongs to their village, caste, community or has promised something big for them and I was wondering, when it comes to voting for reality shows then people sms their votes as if they are going to win a prize for voting. Why is that?

I feel the way we choose our leader and our electoral system really need to change because we, as people of this country especially the youth,  have changed dramatically. Our lives have changed and lifestyles have changed too.  Finding few hours to reach a polling booth, stand in a que and cast our votes is something we find difficult to adjust in our lifestyle. We live a very fast world where information travels at a speed of light, where we dream of fast internet,  fast cars and short cuts because at the end of the day,  24 hours also seem very short with all the things that we have to manage, be it at home, at work, in personal or in social life. So much so that we do not even get time to see a friend on his birthday party but  rather prefer wishing him on Facebook. We socialize on social networking sites, we read online rather than sitting in a library and we vote using our cell phones for the reality shows. So why not use the same media for election campaigning and voting? Why can’t the political parties start discussing their manifesto, their goals on social networking sites like  Twitter, Facebook and start blogging.  There are off course  many political parties who are waking up to this revolution which only proves one point that new media is a very powerful tool especially to reach the youth of urban India and the political parties realize that to really create an impression on us they need to be one of us who we can also relate to.

Democracy and the way we choose our leaders need to adapt to the changing times if the parties need urban votes also along with the rural votes.  We may not find time to venture out to vote but that does not mean that we are unwilling, we only need a platform which is more accessible to us for voting. I think just like they have in the reality shows, we should also be give an option where we can Twitter, sms, call in to cast our votes and be equally responsible and committed in choosing the face of new India via new media.

Lead us to Light

The Mangalore attack has left most of us speechless. There is this man going about saying anything under the sun in the name of “Indian Culture” and there is no one to shut him up. Least of all the Karnataka CM who clearly said that there is no question of banning Ram Sene. They go about molesting unsuspecting girls, issue them threats and warning them of dire consequences in case they wear noodle strap and tight jeans, then their God Father Mr. Muthalik turn into a father figure declaring that all dating couples will be married off on the spot on Valentine’s day. All for what; Indian Culture.

I don’t understand why do they even use the word “Culture” when it is an ever evolving phenomenon. They should say, “Indian Tradition which we will twist to suits us” that would be the appropriate way of putting it.  “In the name of Indian Culture which we will twist to suit us, we won’t let women wear certain clothes because that makes us horny and since we can’t keep our libido under control we would rather ask the women to be in covers”.  “In the name of Indian culture which we will twist to suits us, we won’t let women inside pubs because if they get drunk then who will cook our dinner and procreate to bear good sons”.  All this in the name of Tradition which They want to hold on to.

We respect our culture and no one needs to preach us on that. Our parents have done a good job in letting us know how a good Indian should be, a good human being should be.  But only if they had some trust in our parents who are more aged, gray and wrinkled than Mr. Muthalik probably is. We have gone to good schools where our teachers have taught us to be culturally and morally responsible citizens but only if Mr. Muthalik had some faith in the Indian education system. Our constitution has given us some basic rights irrespective of our gender but only if Mr. Muthalik had some faith in the leadership of our country and in the country’s constitution.

My question is why do we even need to hold on to traditions? I mean it is good to know the tradition of one’s ethnicity but not every tradition is practical these days.  There are things which are good to know but may not be good enough to be followed anymore.  And if you still want to pass these on  in the name of “Culture” then Cricket, Hockey, Football also is western, we should ban these sports too and patronize Gilli Danda, we should stop Modern Medical Science and stick to Ayurveda, stop all institutions of Modern Technology and Modern Education because they are not a part of Indian Culture. We should stop widow remarriages and open more ashrams for widows where they can lead an ugly life of white saree, shaved head and plain, bland food. After all that’s what we have been practicing till today in Benaras. We should revive Devdasi culture, we should also reintroduce Sati and child marriage should be made legal. They all have been part of our glorified Culture at one point of time. Why just target few things? Let there be a revolution of Indian Culture.

And why just target girls in jeans, let’s all discard men’s underwear and get back to good old days of langoti. I am sure your Ram Seniks would feel more comfortable in langotis. Lets’ go back to the days of bullock carts because cars and automobiles are also western, cell phones are western, computers are western too.

 What culture are we talking about when we talk about Indian Culture,?  India has been a land where different cultures have amalgamated from time immemorial. Harappa and Mohenjodaro was also our culture, the culture of Mughals and British had also influenced our culture, Mauryan culture, where women did not even wear a blouse, was also our culture, the naked Indian aboriginals, who still exist in many parts of India, are also our culture. Gandharva vivah, Kamasutra, Swayamvar, endogenous marriage all have been a part of our Indian culture. So which part of the culture are we so forcefully trying to impose?

Now I know how much difficult it must have been for a Dayanand Saraswati or a Raja Ram Mohan Roy to go against the so called Muthaliks of their times yet they won and did a great favor to all of us. I wish if Karnataka’s CM could show at least 5 percent of the guts these great men had and do something about Ram Sene and Muthalik.  The appeal is not favor of going to pubs or celebrate Valentines day. The appeal is to make sure that every citizen feels safe, can wear anything they want, can go anywhere they want.  We don’t need people to preach us on Morality.  Morality to these moral brigades is a synonym for Sex; Immorality means a lot of Sex and Moral means the absence of it before and after procreation.  These are people are as confused with the concept of Indian Culture as they are with the definition of morality.


What we need is leaders, mentors and social reformers who will make sure that today’s youth does not get involved in substance abuse, gets a good education and learns to respect every individual, every living being and the environment. We need leaders who we can look up to and not feel scared and run away.  That’s what we need.

This 14th Feb would be a great day to declare a day of  free hugs where everyone will hug each other and carry placards saying, “Public Display of Violence is against Indian Culture.”

26-Nov-08-Mumbai-India-21:40 IST and on…

I am deeply saddened by the state of things which Mumbai is going through rather my country is going through.

While we slept on our cozy beds, more than 100 people died, about 350 injured and so many are still held hostage.

The commandoes and paramilitary forces are fighting non stop for 36 hours now to save all that is there and counter the terrorists and to add to their burden, PM, Sonia Gandhi, Advani and Narendra Modi who can not move around without a Z security, have planned a visit to the city. What are they trying to prove I simply fail to understand but one thing that we all know is that they are going to add to the pressure of the local police who are already burdened and now they will have  to make sure that the asses of these politicians are safe while they visit Mumbai.

Another person who is missing from the scene is Mr. Raj Thackery. I wonder where are his troops this time when HIS Mumbai is burning and the Marathi manoos needs to be saved. I wonder if the Mumbai police and the commandoes, many of whom are from the north are selectively saving the Marathas and letting the north Indian hostages perish.

Thank fully Shiv Sena did not call for a Mumbai Bandh  against ATS in support of a suspected terrorist Madam Pragya  because it would have back fired at time of up coming elections. In fact they should now never call for a bandh against ATS after what ATS has done to counter terrorism but only if they have some prudence left inside their thick brains and hollow skulls.

Reports says that the terrorists must have come via sea route in a boat and then dispersed in smaller groups to carry out the attacks. The boat has come from the Pakistani waters. Is it an intelligence failure? May be it is as we failed to learn our lessons from the recent Marriot Hotel case in Pakistan and a similar modes operandi at the time of Akshardham Carnage or the Parliament Attack.

This time I don’t want to see the spirit of Mumbai where people fail to retaliate and limp back to their daily lives which is limited to earning 2 square meals a day. This time I want everyone to take this head on and not glorify the spirit of Mumbai because we don’t need spirit no more what we need is aggressive methodologies to deal with such crisis.

I say NO to getting used to “Terrorism”  like we have got used to our political system, the poverty, the illiteracy, the regionalism, the communalism, the language debates, the deaths and the population explosion.

A lethal cocktail of religion & politics-HT Article

Came accross a very interesting article by Sanjeev Nayyar on HT dated 27-Jul-07.

With the  contro-versy over the Dera Sacha Sauda leader’s apparent imitation of the 10th Sikh Guru having died down, it is useful to know why a prosperous state like Punjab continues to erupt like this. After terrorism in the 1980-1990s, the last thing it needed was a fresh outbreak of violence. This article recaps the history of Punjab from the 1860s to date, and includes a series of key events that have brought about the present situation. 

 

Guru Gobind Singh started the Khalsa in 1699. According to tradition, its followers had to sport the five Ks i.e. Kesh-long hair, Kangha-comb, Kirpan-sword, Kara-steel bracelet, and Kachcha-knickers. Long hair and turbans were supposed to protect faces and heads from sword cuts and lathi blows. The Kada was a reminder that the Sikh spirit was strong and unbending. The Kacha was more suitable for fighting the Mughals in than the dhotis and loose trousers of the Muslims. The maximum number of the Khalsa’s followers were Jats. Though others considered themselves Sikhs, they held back since they were not followers of the Khalsa.

Having experienced the strength of Sikh opposition during the Anglo-Sikh wars and grateful for the assistance received from Sikh princes during the Mutiny of 1857, the British realised the Sikhs could be an effective buffer between Afghanistan and India.

Therefore, the British reduced the number of Bengali soldiers (involved in the 1857 Mutiny) and replaced them with loyal Sikhs and Punjabi Muslims. As Veena Talwar wrote: “To prevent the sort of mutiny they experienced from sepoys in 1857, the British organised religiously segregated regimental units from the alleged martial races, i.e. Sikhs, Pathans, Rajputs etc. This severely restricted Hindus of other castes, particularly the Khatris (Punjabi form of Kshatriya), who had served in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s forces. The Khatris (all Sikh Gurus were Khatris) were arbitrarily lumped together by the British as trading castes. Many families got around this artificially imposed caste barrier by raising one or more son as a Sikh, chiefly by having him adopt the name Singh and grow hair or beard to match”. (Dowry Murder, the Imperial origins of a Cultural Crime).

Thus, the enlistment of Sikhs increased steeply. Joining the army was remunerative. Soldiers were well paid, given agricultural land and pension.

Around this time there was a fall in Sikh morale, stemmed by the Singh Sabha movement. Founded in 1873, it soon split into two. The first group was the Sanatani Sikhs who regarded the Panth as a special form of Hindu tradition. The second was the Tat (true) Khalsa, which believed Sikhism was a different religion.

The British supported the Tat Khalsa movement by insisting only Khalsa Sikhs (those who sported the five Ks) could join the Army. A move to say Sikhs were not Hindus received an impetus in 1898 with Khan Singh Nabha’s book Ham Hindu Nahin, the passing of the Anand Marriage Act in 1909 as the only approved order for Sikh marriage, and the insistence on the five Ks to distinguish Sikhs from Hindus.

It did not matter to the Tat Khalsa that the real name of the Golden Temple is Hari Mandir and, “Of the 15,028 names of Gods that appear in the Adi Granth, Hari occurs over 8,000 times, Ram 2,533 times followed by Prabhu, Gopal, Govind and other Hindu names for the Divine. The popular Sikh coinage Wahe Guru appears only 16 times”. (Khushwant Singh).

After several decades, the Tat Khalsa emerged victorious. According to W. H. Mcleod, it ensured that “in 1905, idols were removed from the Hari Mandir”. (Historical Dictionary of Sikhism). Modern Sikhism is a creation of this movement.

By about 1920, it was overtaken by the Akali Dal, a new political party that gave expression to the revived sense of Sikh identity. The Akalis entered into a dispute with the British for the control of Sikh Gurudwaras. The passing of the Sikh Gurudwaras Act in 1925 signalled their complete victory. The Act’s definition of a Sikh leant strongly towards the exclusivists’ Khalsa view.

To retain effective control over Punjab, the British drove a wedge between the Jats and Khatris. They passed the Punjab Land Alienation Act of 1900, which created a favoured, dominant, agriculturist class and a non-agriculturist class. The former included Hindu and Sikh Jats and Muslim tribes, and the latter, Hindu Brahmins, Khatris and Banias. The Act made tribe and caste the basis for land ownership. The British sought to anchor itself in Punjab by playing up the distinctions between Hindus and Muslims, while nurturing Muslim and Sikh Jats as loyal subjects.

In this manner, the British supported the Jat Sikhs who were the prime movers of the Tat Khalsa movement.

The consequences were many. One, the birth of the Akali Dal and its control over gurudwaras heralded the tradition of mixing religion and politics. Control of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee is key to political power in Punjab. Two, it made Jats a powerful community. Three, it started a tradition of Khatris and Aroras raising their first son as a Sikh. Children of the Sikh son became Sikh and so on. Today, future generations of the same family having similar surnames, say Kohli, are known to the outside world as followers of two religions, Sikhism and Hinduism. Four, it created a divide between Jat and Khatri Sikhs, such that the latter are called “Bhapa”, a term dismissively used by Jats to describe Khatris and Aroras. Five, “since Jat Sikhs consider themselves superior to others, non-Jat Sikhs in the Indian Army never reveal their surnames for fear of being ridiculed in the Sikh community”. Instead they suffix their first names with Singh.

Notwithstanding the fact that an Akali leader (1940-1960 period), Master Tara Singh was co-founder of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in 1964, Punjab was quite successfully divided between Sikhs and Hindus. During the agitation for Punjab, the divide widened.Those areas (inhabited mostly by Hindus), which had a Hindi-speaking majority, were included in the state of Haryana.

Religion and politics got irrevocably intertwined in Punjab. Adept at using religion, the Akalis ensured the Congress was at the receiving end in the 1980s. Indira Gandhi believed, if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them. So the Congress propped Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale up to counter the Akalis, creating a monster. What followed was the killing of innocent Hindus and Sikhs.

 Just like the Congress party’s propping up of Bhindranwale eventually resulted in Operation Blue Star and Indira Gandhi’s death, so also Pakistan’s support for terrorism in India and Afghanistan resulted in the attack on Lal Masjid.

Today, the Jat Sikhs are a powerful community. Such is their clout that the UPA government is yet to implement an August 2004 Supreme Court ruling, which orders the construction of the Punjab portion of the Sutlej Yamuna Canal.

Whenever the supremacy of the Jat Sikhs is threatened, there could be violence. After the latest Apex Court order, Amarinder Singh said terrorism would return to Punjab if the order was implemented.

Mixing religion with politics was the British strategy. Has anything changed?

Sanjeev Nayyar is founder of www.esamskriti.com