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Friday, Oct 18, 2019

Scrapping blacklist a welcome closure, redresses pain point of Sikh diaspora | Opinion

Coming two months before the 550th anniversary of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak Dev and opening of the Kartarpur Sahib corridor to Pakistan, it is a goodwill gesture with immediate resonance and long-term repercussions.

opinion Updated: Sep 15, 2019 12:51 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting an American Sikh delegation in California in September 2015.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting an American Sikh delegation in California in September 2015. (Asia Times)
         

It’s never too late to undo the wrongs of the past for the sake of a better future.

That’s precisely the message in the Narendra Modi government’s decision to scrap the entire blacklist of 314 expatriate Sikhs, save two, who had for long been denied the Indian visa due to their alleged links with the Khalistan movement.

The symbolism and significance of Friday’s announcement hasn’t been lost on anyone – as is evident from a wave of laudatory responses it has evoked from the overseas Sikhs, and political parties and even radical fringe in Punjab.

To be fair, the previous dispensations, notably the Manmohan Singh-led Congress government (2004-14), had also periodically pruned the blacklist, albeit in bits and pieces. Yet, the notoriously enigmatic catalogue, tagging a number of Punjab-origin NRI Sikhs as persona non grata, continued in the records of home ministry and Indian missions abroad.

But, it’s the Modi government which has, in a single stroke, done away with what was a painful and lingering legacy of the Sikh tumult of the 1980s.

GOODWILL GESTURE

Coming two months before the 550th anniversary of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak Dev and opening of the Kartarpur Sahib corridor to Pakistan, it is a goodwill gesture with immediate resonance and long-term repercussions.

The bold move implies the Indian state turning a new leaf on its outreach to the Sikh diaspora, widely recognised for its rising influence in power politics, particularly in Canada and Britain.

Home to a majority of those figuring in the ‘adverse list’, as the blacklist was officially called, both countries also figure high on the Indian security establishment’s radar as the focal centres of a surviving pro-Khalistan rump and its sinister attempts to stoke Sikh separatism and fund the random terror modules in Punjab.

THE KASHMIR FACTOR

At another level, the Kashmir factor also apparently weighed in the Centre’s swift action on the blacklist that has for long lent grist to the foreign-based Khalistani lobby’s anti-India spiel.

Post-August 5, two strands are discernible in Pakistan’s strategy to up the ante on Kashmir. First, rope in the Khalistani lobby to orchestrate the Kashmir tensions on the global stage. That has since been illustrated by two major protests in London where Pakistanis and pro-Khalistan Sikhs made a common cause in vandalising the Indian high commission.

It prompted New Delhi to convey its strong concern over violent protests by “Pakistan-incited elements”. More such spectacles are expected in New York later this month as India and Pakistan brace for a showdown in the UN General Assembly.

The second piece is to paint Narendra Modi and ideological godfather RSS as “anti-minorities”, as Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has done so bellicosely in his fire-spitting speeches.

TWO-PRONGED STRATEGY

In that sense, the Modi government’s pragmatic gesture on the blacklist is aimed as much at blunting Pakistan’s propaganda as earning the goodwill of a globally vibrant and visible Sikh community.

After all, the arcane ‘kaali soochi’ had long come to be seen as an unwarranted legacy of Punjab’s violent and forgettable past. The state has long moved on; so have those figuring in the ‘no Indian visa’ list because of their one-time sympathies for the Sikh separatist cause.

Over the years, the blacklist had become a cause célèbre for radical elements who not only magnified the numbers, but also stridently harped on it to whip up a “discrimination against the Sikhs” narrative from foreign shores. “The so-called blacklist has been a major obstacle in the way India has been combating the Sikh separatism in the western countries. Doing away with it augurs well as it denies the Khalistanis a whipping boy to arouse the Sikh sentiments”, says Ujjal Dosanjh,Vancouver-based former premier of British Columbia and a respectable face of the Sikhs in Canada.

That is why scrapping the blacklist marks a welcome closure on the most-voiced grouse of the Sikh diaspora. As Punjab director general of police Dinkar Gupta puts it perceptively, “This redresses one of the pain points of Punjab-origin people abroad. We welcome them to come to Punjab, reconnect with their roots and see for themselves the ground realities here.”

Such a magnanimous gesture, after all, is sign of a mature and confident democracy. India’s spirit of reconciliation demands nothing less.

ramesh.vinayak@hindustantimes.com

First Published: Sep 15, 2019 12:51 IST

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