Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with a delegation of overseas Sikhs during his visit here in November was described as a “major breakthrough after 31 years of standoff” by leading Sikh interlocutor Jasdev Singh Rai.
It was the first meeting Modi held during his three-day visit, and was described as a “turning point” in the fractious relationship between overseas Sikhs and the Indian state since Operation Bluestar of 1984.
The talks included the so-called “blacklist” that includes individuals who were involved in the Khalistan movement, and are unable to get Indian visas (many of them reportedly hold non-Indian citizenships).
Modi had assured the delegation he would personally ensure the “blacklist” is abolished, and deputed national security adviser Ajit Doval to continue talks with the overseas Sikh community.
Rai, director of the Sikh Human Rights Group and the lead interlocutor during the parleys, spoke to Hindustan Times on Monday on steps taken since the November talks.
What is the progress following your dialogue with Prime Minister Modi on November 12 in London?
The dialogue was a breakthrough in many ways. However, we need to see some acknowledgement on the part of the government to move forward; otherwise it will be met with scepticism by many Sikhs around the world. After all, there is more than 31 years of distrust. Nevertheless this is the first government since 1947 that has shown some understanding of cultural institutions in South Asia and that gives some hope of reaching some resolution of the issues that emerged from the attack on Sri Darbar Sahib in 1984.
Have political prisoners been released; any update on the “blacklist”?
Let me first state the taking down of “blacklists” and release of prisoners is not seen as a concession. The political prisoners have already served their sentences and shouldn’t be inside jails. However, I have to say there has been quick movement on the “blacklists” and I will commend the PM on keeping to that commitment. Many names have been taken down. Some are not known. The prisoners’ release seems to be taking its time. India is after all a master of bureaucracy. Besides, it is disappointing that political expediency such as elections and attacks such as that on Pathankot tend to create a situation of seizure in the delivery of justice. The Indian state often seems to lack the courage to move forward with justice on its own merit. These things happen and will continue to happen. Justice should move forward on its own merit.
You mentioned that the talks were a “breakthrough”.
There were two remarkable departures by this PM. First, he acknowledged that Sri Darbar Sahib has a relevance that goes beyond the boundaries of India and Sikhs worldwide have a stake. Secondly, he acknowledged the essential institutional relevance of Sri Harmadar Sahib and Sri Akal Takht Sahib by saying that he understood the Miri-Piri of Sri Darbar Sahib and will assist in strengthening it. By speaking to Sikhs in UK on 1984 in these terms and offering to hold talks and then on the second day by stressing the need to hold talks with Sikhs in front of the whole world at Wembley – this is the first PM of India who has acknowledged the international dimension of issues that arose from the 1984 attack and the need to resolve them by taking Sikhs across the world into talks.
How significant was Modi’s position on this issue?
This is significant because our assessment of India has been that it is a poor mimic of a European secular state without the context or a hinterland of its own in the idea of a secular state. Since 1947, the Congress has acted as “second rate Europeanised Indians” imposing values alien to Indians upon the people of Bharat and failing to understand that institutions such as Sri Darbar Sahib have existed before India became a state and will long survive when India’s boundaries change. Bharat is the sum of its many civilisations, its long history and the institutions that inspire its many people. Institutions such as Sri Harmadar Sahib are not bound by territories nor do they succumb to alien ideas. It was refreshing to meet with NSA Ajit Doval, who showed a unique insight into the values and cultures that make people of Bharat. We hope that Modi will show political courage in taking this forward. But we wait for them to take the step forward from the dialogue and the Wembley speech.