If separatism is anathema for a majority of Sikhs in Punjab today, the situation is very different in Canada, where politicians are caught in the throes of a resurgent movement for a separate Sikh state.
Chandigarh: Sikh politics has always revolved around identity issues, and political parties have worked on these issues in different ways, often with success and sometimes not. The movement for a separate Sikh state – Khalistan – was one such expression, but the decade-long violent phase of terrorism which resulted in pain, loss and suffering has caused the average Sikh in Punjab to turn her back on it.
This is not to say that the ideology has been vanquished along with the terrorists. On the contrary, remnants of it are very much alive in present-day Punjab, but receive little traction from the public whenever people attempt to exploit it politically. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), misguided by a clutch of closet hardliners in its ranks, realised the peril of hobnobbing with perceived Khalistanis when it ended up with a surprise 20 seats against the 80 or so that it was hoping to win in the February 2017 assembly elections. The Congress led by present chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh. which eventually won convincingly, had a better sense of ground realities and crafted its election campaign around the alleged pro-Khalistani leanings of the AAP.
Arvind Kejriwal’s stay at the house of a former hardliner was played up. The droves of NRI Sikhs from Canada, the US and elsewhere who came in chartered planes to fund and campaign for the AAP were also labelled as Khalistani terrorists by the Congress. The avowedly Sikh party, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) led by former chief minister Prakash Singh Badal whose politics has always revolved around the Sikh identity, also used the “Khalistani” slur to attack the AAP. “Do not vote for AAP as it is aligned with Khalistanis and terrorists who will bring trouble for Punjab,” said his son and then deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal during the election campaign.
The AAP’s inexperienced Delhi managers, with little understanding of the religio-political complexities of Punjab, were sitting ducks. The Khalistan blot stuck. It’s another thing that the party has still not seen the writing on the wall and continues to test old-style identity politics as against its mandate of alternative politics.