Mainstream Weekly

Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2009 > July 2009 > A Creeping Paralysis

Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 30, July 11, 2009

A Creeping Paralysis

Saturday 11 July 2009, by Nikhil Chakravartty

What has happened to this great country where men and women fought with bare hands to shake off the shackles of a mighty imperial power? The decisive weapon in the nation’s struggle for freedom was the massive strength of its awakened millions set in motion by leaders who could bestir them to go out and meet the adversary. Where has that ultimate weapon been lost?

Today when the very unity of the nation is threatened, a creeping paralysis seems to have gripped those who are expected to lead the millions to battle against the forces of disintegration. Confronted with the grim prospect of being divided into narrow compartments of communal and parochial loyalties, locked in mutual hatred and violence, the nation is witnessing the amazing spectacle of utter drift on the part of those who claim to lead; and this drift has opened up a welter of insensate hatred that seeks to destroy all civil life. What is happening today in Punjab and Haryana shall, if unchecked, certainly spread tomorrow to other corners of our country where communal, caste and regional loyalties seem to be destroying the allegiance to the nation as such.

Not that the awareness of this danger is totally missing. As one listened to the Prime Minister in Parliament on the debate on Punjab, one could sense that the magnitude of the danger is at last being understood by many of the parties and their leaders: her appeal for the crusade against the monster of communalism could find ready echoes among a large body of opinion—larger than on any other issue in recent times. And yet there is no sign of a massive movement right in the heart of Punjab and Haryana in the towns and villages, in fields and factories, in schools and colleges, to exorcise the demon of communalism. The nation today may not have a Gandhi to lead it, but must the traditions set by Gandhi be forgotten by the beneficiaries of the freedom that was won under his leadership?

If one looks around, one is amazed by the insensitivity that has warped our politicians. Indira Gandhi’s appeal for a national approach to combat the communal menace has to be matched by deeds in her own party. The Congress is no insignificant force in Punjab, not even in the Sikh community: but it is rent asunder by factional bickerings which could be seen in its sordid form in Giani Zail Singh’s hobnobbings with Bhindran-wale which began during his Punjab days and persisted unashamedly during his tenure as the Union Home Minister and which even today comes in the way of any outright condemnation on his part of Bhindranwale’s poisoned-arrow extremism.

The tape of a recent interview by Bhindranwale —played widely in New Delhi—makes it abundantly clear that his vicious communal adventurism points to the plan of a separate Khalistan based on outright hatred. No longer is this a question of handling the Akalis with painstaking care: the point to emphasise is that Bhindranwale vandalism makes a direct assault on the nation’s unity, and aims unmistakably at dismembering it. And yet he is not being punished because Giani Zail Singh would not have it: and it is now known after the Prime Minister’s disclosure in Parliament that Bhindranwale could escape the clutches of the law because of the slip he gave to the police, which at that time, let it be noted, was the Giani’s immediate charge as the Union Home Minister.

It is no secret in New Delhi today that the President is opposed to any strong action to apprehend this outright secessionist, now taking shelter in the Golden Temple. The time has now come when such veto must not stay the hands of the government, which has let communal violence spread in Punjab and Haryana because of the kid-glove approach to the extremists operating from within the Golden Temple.

The time has also come for the large body of Sikh opinion to come forward to campaign against Bhindranwale extremism. Air Marshal Arjun Singh and other patriotic Sikh leaders have actively come forward to dissuade the Akali leader, Sant Harcharan Singh Longowal, from the bizarre act of ordering the burning of Article 25 of the Constitution—an Article which was so worded to meet the Sikh sentiments as desired at that time by the Akali leader, Master Tara Singh. While this move by Air Marshal Arjun Singh and those who accompanied him has earned the gratitude of the nation, it is time that all sections of patriotic Sikh opinion denounced Bhindranwale and campaigned for his ouster from the precincts of the Golden Temple.

The demand has been voiced in Parliament—as it was originally raised in these columns—that there must be a direct meeting between the Prime Minister and Sant Harcharan Singh Longowal. Today the pressure has to be brought upon Sant Longowal to relent in the interest of the Sikh community itself. The Prime Minister on her part has made it amply clear that she was prepared to consider all proposals for a settlement and have shown how the Akali leadership has continuously shifted their demands, the latest being this stunt of burning Article 25 of the Constitution. It is now the task of Sikh leaders to persuade Sant Longowal to display his readiness for a settlement and not let himself be a cat’s paw in the hands of Bhindranwale and his gang.

It is time for political parties to ponder where their failure to unleash a mass movement against communalism is leading this country. There is much in Pranab Mukherjee’s Budget for the Congress-I to be happy about—particularly the fact that tax relief has not been at the expense of Plan outlay—but good budgets and noble sentiments alone would not do. Together with other parties—at least the saner elements in them—the Congress has to launch an all-out drive against the communal menace. This way shall the nation’s unity be saved and our patriotism enhanced.

(Mainstream, March 3, 1984)

Notice: Mainstream Weekly appears online only.