Many in India may not have heard of Referendum-2020, being planned by US-based radical group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) in support of a separate state of Khalistan, but the Punjabi diaspora is seized of the matter and already divided on it.
“Where are they building Khalistan?” is the question members of the diaspora ask in the US when the issue of referendum is raised. “We are building it surely,” replies SFJ legal adviser Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, without answering where or when.
It’s an interesting situation developing here. The word Khalistan has the Sikh community divided and united at the same time. Most gurdwaras in the US have started a campaign for the referendum. But many members of the community term it an impractical idea.
“This is something really stupid… to talk of Khalistan. Where will the Sikhs living in the rest of India go?” says US-based multi-billionaire hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal, reacting sharply. “It is not at all practically possible because we are part of a larger India and Sikhs live in every corner of the country. They are doing very well in all fields,” he adds.
Spelling out the line of action, Pannun says that the SFJ would hold an unofficial referendum in 2020 and would follow the matter after taking into account the response it gets. If required, he says, the SFJ will seek the United Nation’s intervention to help the community conduct a referendum for a separate Sikh state.
“If Scotland can have a referendum to stay with Britain or not, why can’t we have one for Punjab?” asks Pannun. Asked about the boundary of the separate state, he said it would be the present boundary of the state of Punjab in India.
“It is good that an organisation is actively working for the cause, but a referendum is fraught with uncertainty because there is an option of yes and no attached,” says Dr Amarjit Singh, the president of the Khalistan Affairs Centre. “Why are we giving the option by way of a referendum? We need Khalistan because the Sikhs have been suffering since the rule of (Maharaja) Ranjit Singh (the last Sikh ruler) got over,” he adds.
Lakhbir Singh, the president of a gurdwara in California’s Fremont area, says the Indian government has not been kind to Punjab and those living in the state. “Things are not shaping up well back home,” he claims.
Fremont has one of the most active gurdwaras in California in the Bay Area of Pacific Ocean on the west coast and gets a huge attendance of Sikhs daily. There are a considerable number of followers who support the radical viewpoint. “In case people are not aware about the referendum, we will make them aware. Five years is a long time,” adds Lakhbir Singh.
LOST CAUSE , SAY SOME
However, Rajdeep Kaur, a school teacher who lives in Maryland in Washington DC on the east coast, says the very thought of Khalistan is ridiculous. “By raising the issue, we are cutting ties with our generation living here. We are asking them to hate India,” she says, adding that there are better ways to raise one’s concerns than adopting the divisive route.
“The generation born after the mid-1980s needs to understand the consequences of the issue. I’m sure the generation born before that has suffered a lot with thousands of innocent people being killed in Punjab. Do we want to repeat the days of turmoil all over again?” says Washington-based businessman Harbans Singh Sandhu.
“I am told (Shiromani Akali Dal-Amritsar leader) Simranjeet Singh Mann, whom the radicals refer to as (anti-apartheid leader) Nelson Mandela, has also rejected it,” he says.
“The referendum is not a wise step. Some people are doing this for personal benefit,” he adds.
WHAT IS REFERENDUM 2020?
The referendum asks Sikhs living across the world to build a consensus in favour of Khalistan and sign a declaration for the formation of a sovereign and independent country in “India-occupied Punjab” on the basis that Sikhs are the indigenous people of Punjab and have a historical homeland, are a separate religion and have the right to self-determination.
This is being done under article 1 of charter of the United Nations. “After an unofficial referendum in 2020, we plan to ask United Nations to get it done officially,” says SFJ leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. The referendum also asks Sikhs to reject article 25(b)(2) of Constitution that says Sikhs are a part of Hindu religion.