There were unprecedented scenes observed in Delhi on Republic Day 2021. Hundreds and thousands stormed the national capital and eventually managed to breach the premises of the Red Fort where a Sikh Flag was unfurled. The events were reminiscent of some of the darkest moments of the Indian Republic and the visuals of the police personnel being attacked were disturbing indeed.
More than twenty-four hours have passed since the events of the previous day and tensions are not running as high as they were when the insurrection was underway. Therefore, we are now in a position where we can analyze the events of yesterday without permitting our emotional sensibilities to overpower our rational faculties.
Blast From The Past
Agriculture and Politics in Punjab have provided a platform for inciting insurrectionist movements in the past as well. The Khalistan movement in the 1970s, and then 80s, focused significantly on agricultural demands. The Anandpur Sahib Resolution, adopted by the Shiromani Akali Dal in 1973, included the “development of farmers” as one of its core purposes.
Later, the movement would take a decisive turn towards the Khalistan agenda. Here again, in 2021, we see that Khalistanis have definitively hijacked the ‘farmer protests’ to pursue their separatist agenda. There were always hints of it from the very beginning but after the events of Republic Day, even those who have buried their head in the sand like Ostriches can’t afford to ignore the obvious.
There is some confusion regarding the flag that was hoisted at the Red Fort on Republic Day. While it appears to be the Sikh Flag, and most probably is, the belief still persists among wide sections that it was the flag of Khalistan.
In the end, it does not even matter really which of the two it was. The fact is, even hoisting the Sikh Flag at the Red Fort on Republic Day is a political statement. And there cannot be any doubt with regards to what the political statement was.
Khalistan 2.0 after Khilafat 2.0
In January 2020, the Khilafat 2.0 was underway. We have reported in detail how Islamist elements attempted to undermine Democracy in India through an organized revolt against the elected government of the country.
12 months later, Khalistanis attempted to revive Sikh separatism using similar tactics. Blockade of roads, a peaceful face masking the beast underneath, piggy-riding on the back of farmers this time around instead of ‘Dadis’ held the national capital at siege.
The objective was simple: To embarrass the central government. Banned terrorist outfit Sikh For Justice invested significantly in such protests. Khalsa Aid, believed to be a front group for a Khalistani outfit, publicized their presence at the protests greatly.
Throughout the protests, Khalistani slogans in spurts were raised and inflammatory comments against Hindus were observed. The events of Republic Day, especially, were remarkably consistent with the demands made by SFJ.
The SFJ had demanded that Khalistani flags be raised at the India Gate on Republic Day. They also urged farmers to display life-sized portraits of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and Beant Singh, Khalistani terrorists, during the tractor parade on Republic Day. Rewards had been announced as well.
And then there was Deep Sidhu, hailed as a farmer leader by the opposition when he first emerged, but later falsely claimed to be a BJP leader, has been intrinsic in these protests. He is an avowed Khalistani. Thus, the Khalistani imprints were all over these protests. And it was on Republic Day that it became entirely impossible for anyone to deny.
Ahead of Republic Day, it was a precarious situation that had developed at the national capital. Despite the government making several concessions, the farmer union leaders refused to budge from their stand. There were concerns regarding security from the very beginning but after numerous assurances by the leaders, permission was eventually granted.
On the 26th of January, nevertheless, everyone’s worst fears came true. There was complete anarchy on the streets of Delhi and the Police, undeniably, lost complete control of the whole situation. There were numerous attempts by the government to deescalate the rising tensions without compromising the democracy of India.
Unfortunately, however, violence could not be prevented. It would be factually incorrect to claim that the government did not make sufficient efforts to diffuse the situation. Provisions for punishment for stubble burning were withdrawn and some other demands were also accepted. The government even offered a proposal to put the far laws on hold for a year and a half.
But even that could not satiate the power lust of the farmer union leaders. The government could not repeal the farm laws because that would not have been a loss of face for the government alone but for the Republic of India itself. It would have provided further incentives for mobs to blockade roads to force their minority opinion on the entire country by resorting to unconstitutional means.
Thus, when all such proposals were rejected by the farmer union leaders, it became evident that the movement could end in disaster. If anyone thought it had a happy ending, they weren’t paying attention.
Opposition parties play with fire
The conduct of the opposition parties during the farmer protests reveal how little regard they have for Indian democracy. Since voters have rejected them in recent times in favour of the BJP, they decided to undermine the democratically elected government of India using a mob.
The Congress party and the Aam Aadmi Party, especially, have supported the mob from the very beginning. AAP even provided the protesters at Singhu Border with free WiFi. Thus, backing from opposition parties complicated the whole situation immensely.
The opposition parties also contributed to the mess by spreading fake news about the farm laws and creating a sense of hysteria among farmers in Haryana and Punjab. When the government warned that Khalistani elements were making attempts to hijack the protests, it was accused of maligning the farmers.
Even when the insurrection was underway in Delhi, the Congress party celebrated the anarchy and hailed it as ‘power of a Republic’. The Uttarakhand Youth Congress, the youth wing of the Congress party, was busy inciting violence and spreading fake news.
By evening, Rahul Gandhi and senior Communist leader Sitaram Yechury were already attempting to use the violence to push their political agenda. They blamed the government for the violence and declared it reason enough to repeal the farm laws.
All of this makes it abundantly clear that the political position of the opposition parties was ambiguous at best but it can be safely said that they were not on the side of law-abiding citizens. The media, on the other hand, was most definitely not on the side of law-abiding citizens.
Rajdeep Sardesai peddled fake news on a very sensitive matter during the violence that ensued. Through it all, the media lionized these protesters and propagandized on behalf of the Khalistani elements, unwittingly or otherwise, by downplaying their influence.
Thus, the events of Republic Day does mark Khalistan 2.0 but Khalistanis were helped greatly by cynical opposition parties and a pliant media. The contribution of the latter towards the violence that ensued cannot be underestimated.
The Government’s Dilemma
Thus, as a combination of all these factors, the government was in a very precarious position. There was sufficient evidence to suggest that the protests had significant support from pockets in Punjab and Haryana. Whether these were actually farmers or middle-men or sociopaths is beside the point. The fact of the matter is, there were hundreds and thousands of participants at these protests.
Thus, when things turned violent in Delhi, the government was surely in a dilemma. Should the Police retaliate against the mob which would inevitably lead to bloodshed? Or should it hold back which would allow the mob to run riot?
None of these choices were good. It was a choice between the frying pan and the fire. The government, ultimately, opted for the latter. One can understand the government’s rationale behind its decision and the opinions of those who are obviously unhappy with it.
But a government unleashing violence on its own citizens on the anniversary of the day it became a Republic is a terrible look, no matter how one looks at it. If the government had opted for violence, then today we would not be discussing the atrocities committed by the protesters.
Instead, the entire attention of the world would have been on the excesses committed by the government. One could argue that editorials on the Washington Post and New York Times do not matter, and they do not to a certain extent, but the opposition parties in our country do matter.
It is not a stretch to assume that ‘farmers’ getting shot by the government in Delhi would have evoked massive sympathy among farmers, which was absent until now. As much as we would want the government to enforce law and order, whatever may be the cause, governance is a lot more complicated than that.
And invariably it happens, after every single time, that sympathy for protesters witnesses a sharp rise following a government crackdown. There is no point in denying it because all of us know it is true. The protesters were desperate for a calamity, they were hungry for it. The orgy of violence that erupted in Delhi was essentially a human sacrifice ritual orchestrated on a grand scale.
Unfortunately, when a human sacrifice did come to pass, it was not to be the way they wanted. A protester died after his tractor overturned and there were attempts by Khalistani elements to portray it as a consequence of police atrocity. But before long, it became clear that the Police had nothing to do with it at all.
It is entirely understandable why people are angry with the government for scenes at the national capital. But ultimately, the government decided that avoiding a massacre was its top priority. And they succeeded at that.
Hindu-Sikh Relations and Operation Blue Star
It is also worth pondering the extent to which the consequences of Operation Bluestar impacted the decision of the government. The Indian Army entered the Golden Temple to capture Bhindranwale and flush out the Khalistani terrorists who had practically made the holy shrine of Sikhs their fortress. In military terms, it was a success. For the long term? Readers do not need to take my word for it but can consider the opinions of KPS Gill, credited with burying the terrorist movement in Punjab.
In an interview in 1993, KPS Gill made comments which highlight both the pros and cons of Operation Blue Star. He said, “Let’s face it, Bluestar has no champions today. No one defends Bluestar. It was a grave mistake and everyone, every Sikh, had the same reaction. There was a sense of outrage. Even I had it. Even the ex-servicemen of Punjab, whose loyalty to the Army and the nation is fierce, began to ask how the army could do such a thing. But later, rationalization came.”
Mind you, this was not someone irrelevant or a media talking head saying things he had no idea about. This was KPS Gill, an absolute icon whose contributions are recognized across the board and the impact he had cannot be underestimated. But even when he says that every Sikh was outraged by Operation Blue Star, it is reason enough to heed caution. The 26th of January could very well have proved to be Prime Minister Modi’s Blue Star moment. But it did not.
KPS Gill made other poignant remarks as well. He stated, “Bluestar was only a culmination of what had been happening in Punjab for five to six years. I have another theory though, that since Independence there have been moments when we have acted in a sense of hysteria. And the consequences have been disastrous. Bluestar was one such moment. The 1984 riots was another.” He also said that one could not deny that “Bluestar was a grave blow to the terrorist strength.”
It is not far-fetched to assume that the consequences of Operation Blue Star did play a role in deciding the path the government decided to tread. But there are significant ramifications of the Republic Day violence for Hindu-Sikh relations as well. It is an undeniable fact that the relationship between the two communities had improved significantly since the 1980s.
It is undeniable that Hindus, too, would not have appreciated visuals of corpses littering the streets of Delhi on Republic Day. The backlash against the Modi government would not have come from Sikhs alone, they would have to suffer the wrath of Hindus and farmers as well.
A détente has existed between Hindus and Sikhs since the 1980s which was further cemented by the political alliance between the BJP, the political front for Hindutva politics, and the SAD, the political front for Sikh politics. As part of the détente, Hindus have chosen to forget the series of atrocities committed by Khalistanis and the carnage that was inflicted on them. In turn, support for Khalistan among Sikhs has largely dissipated.
It is due to this détente that Hindus have chosen to ignore the fact that Bhindranwale is still held in high regard by significant sections of the Sikh community. That détente was buried six feet under yesterday.