India has done well to speak in one voice against Sikh separatism | columns | Hindustan Times
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India has done well to speak in one voice against Sikh separatism

The Congress and the BJP shed their ideological differences on the Khalistan issue during the visit of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

columns Updated: Feb 25, 2018 16:48 IST
Sikh radical activists raise pro-Khalistan slogans on the 33rd anniversary of Operation Blue Star, Golden Temple, Amritsar, on June 6, 2017.
Sikh radical activists raise pro-Khalistan slogans on the 33rd anniversary of Operation Blue Star, Golden Temple, Amritsar, on June 6, 2017.(HT Photo)

Many years ago, while passing through the darkness of a purgatory in Europe, a few thoughts came to my mind. Can punishing yourself help you attain freedom from the sins that you’ve committed by torturing others? Why do the world’s oldest religions propagate ways of atonement? Do only human beings make mistakes? Governments and society, too, have their share of mistakes. There are purgatories for human beings. How about society and governments? How can they atone for their sins?

Some modern-day governments and politicians have made similar attempts by issuing public apologies. For example, in 2016, the government of Canada apologised for the Komagata Maru tragedy. Similarly, apologies were made in 2015 for the beastly manner in which Japanese soldiers behaved with Korean and Chinese women. A section of Indians is demanding an apology from Britain for the horrific Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919. It is possible that in the future, Britain may accede and on generation of English citizens atones for the misdeeds of General Dyer.

Indian politicians have displayed similar courage. When the Operation Blue Star took place in June 1984, Giani Zail Singh was the country’s President. He was so distraught that he wanted to visit the Golden Temple during the operation itself. The Indira Gandhi government stopped him, but he still reached there on June 13. Zail Singh didn’t stop at that. Akal Takht, the highest Sikh temporal authority, held him guilty of being a tankhaiya (guilty of religious misconduct). He sought pardon from the Sikh gurus and the Takht absolved him of the ‘tankhaiya’ status within 24 days. But it didn’t extend a similar privilege to Buta Singh. Not only did he have to appear before the clergy, but also clean shoes as punishment. After he became the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, too expressed regret over Operation Blue Star. Most of the Sikhs in India accepted this and moved on.

You may be wondering why I am raking up apologies from yesteryears. The reason is the controversy sparked by the arrival of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. A few happenings that are taking place in Trudeau’s Canada have made politicians in New Delhi take notice. Officials and dignitaries of Indian missions in Canada have been barred entry in gurdwaras. It is a conspiracy by a handful of people who want to politicise the Khalistan issue. Reining them in is the responsibility of the Canadian government but its attitude has been lukewarm so far. This could embolden the extremists who have taken over a few gurdwaras.

During Trudeau’s trip, concerns were raised over the government not displaying the same warmth towards the Canadian premier that it generally reserves for other leaders. Breaking protocol, Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to welcome Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu on the tarmac. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath gave a guided tour of the Taj Mahal to him. But Trudeau was welcomed by a minister of state. Even at Agra he was welcomed just by a district official.

Irrespective of the real reason, it is clear that the present Indian government knows which leader deserves what kind of behaviour. The Canadian PM may have realised this during his meetings with Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh and PM Narendra Modi. Not only was he handed over a list of anti-Indian terrorists flourishing in Canada, he was also told that there will be no compromise on national interest. During this time, political observers were glad to notice that the Congress and the BJP shed their ideological differences aside and put up a united face in the nation’s interest. Trudeau, too, would have realised that Amarinder Singh was speaking in the same tone that was repeated at Delhi.

One hopes that on his return to Toronto, he’ll first address those elements that are not ready to accept the apology made by a former President of India and repeated by one of the PMs, while they were still in office. Somebody needs to tell them that a purgatory is meant for people burning in the fires of repentance, not for nations caught in the race for development, which want take everybody along.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief Hindustan

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