During the eighties, Punjab was engulfed by a separatist movement which was transformed into a campaign of terror and which has been aptly described by some as a low intensity war and a dangerous crisis for the Indian nation.
The genesis of the problem lay in the growth of communalism in Punjab in the course of the twentieth century and, in particular, since 1947, and which erupted into extremism, separatism and terrorism after 1980. Before 1947, communalism in Punjab was a triad with Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communalism, opposing one another, and the latter two joining forces against the first. After August 1947, Muslim communalism having disappeared from the Punjab, Hindu and Sikh communalism was pitted against each other.
From the beginning the Akali leadership adopted certain communal themes that became the constitutive elements of Sikh communalism in all its phases. Denying the ideal of a secular polity, the Akalis asserted that religion and politics could not be separated as the two were essentially combined in Sikhism. They also claimed that the Akali Dal was the sole representative of the Sikh Panth that was defined as a combination of the Sikh religion and the political and other secular interests of all Sikhs.
The more moderate leaders were not far behind in articulating these communal complaints. Moreover with the passage of time, the extremists’ influence kept on growing, and was in any case, met with little criticism or disavowal from the more moderate Akalis. For example, addressing the All India Akali Conference in 1953, Master Tara Singh who dominated Akali Dal as well as the Sikh Gurudwara Prabhandhak Committee (SGPC) at the time, said: ‘Englishman has gone (sic), but our liberty has not come. For us the so-called liberty is simply a change of masters, black for white. Under the garb of democracy and secularism our Panth, our liberty and our religion are being crushed.’
Interestingly, no evidence other than that of the denial of Punjabi Suba was offered for this long list of grievances.
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