03.04.2023 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Indian activists support Khalistan’s independence


Reiterating that the Central and South Asian region as a whole has enormous potential for overall development that will benefit all of its members as well as its neighbors, such as Russia and China, let us note that this was the reason behind the North-South Transport Corridor project’s inception two or three decades ago. It has persisted as an intriguing concept ever since for one basic reason, which boils down to more or less ongoing political upheaval in the world’s overall situation, in virtually every country in the region, and in the connections between them in particular.

The fact that the big “outside” parties are interested in everything that happens in this area seems to be very clear. The tight interaction of “external” and “internal” reasons driving the events that are occurring here makes it difficult to identify the precise source of the periodic acts of turbulence that happen in every country in the region without exception.

In connection with the terrorist attack in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, as well as the country’s escalating internal political conflict, the author has already had cause to speculate on this subject. It appears that conducting special elections for the local parliaments of both the aforementioned and Punjab provinces, which are home to over half of Pakistan’s population, could serve to lessen the intensity of the latter. But after an article on the topic appeared in the NEO, it was revealed that the election process had been moved from the initial date of April 30 to October this year. This decision is hardly likely to help defuse the situation in Pakistan.

On the territory of Pakistan’s biggest regional rival, contemporary India, the internal political situation does not appear to be getting any better. Its political structure features unique fault lines of different kinds. A long-standing sore spot, caused by the recurring concept of Sikhs acquiring (or “restoring”) their own political entity, Khalistan, surfaced in acute form in March of this year.

The 25 million Sikhs worldwide, who predominantly reside in the Indian state of Punjab but also have communities in the UK, Canada, and the US (this is significant), are followers of a particular form of monotheism. The founder of this faith, Guru Nanak, lived between the 15th and 16th centuries. He passed away and was buried in a temple of Kartarpur in the Pakistani province of Punjab a few miles away from the border with the Indian state of Punjab.

The completion of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor, a Sikh pilgrimage route to the grave of their primary teacher, by the fall of 2019 might have been one of the first steps in a larger process to end the state of hostility between the two de facto nuclear powers. But, a number of other adverse factors have so far prevented it from happening.

Particularly, India believes Pakistan is using the same “Sikh factor” against it. The latter accuses the former of “provoking the Baluchs,” in turn, or people who live in the same-named Pakistani province and who are similarly worried about the “restoration” of their own sovereignty.

Sikhs have frequently caused problems for various Indian administrations. The Amritsar Massacre, which took place in 1919, was a deadly attack by the British troops against the Golden Temple in the holy city of the Sikhs, Amritsar in Punjab. In June 1984, the government of now independent India carried out a similar military operation in the same Golden Temple. A few months later, the Prime Minister of the time, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by a Sikh bodyguard.

Due to their inevitable integration with other sociopolitical groups, the conflict between the Central Government and the leadership of Punjab on the one hand, and separatist Sikh organizations on the other hand, became more complicated than it already is. In particular, Sikhs have been conspicuously present in recent farmer demonstrations against the laws that were to serve as the foundation for the nation’s agricultural reform which has long been discussed.

The police action in the second half of March against one of the Sikh movements located in the city of Jalandhar in the state of Punjab, whose leader is thought to be a well-known reporter, Amritpal Singh, also had a “farmer” motif. The fact that this action was taken after the latter published many pieces exclusively on the “farmers'” issue is scarcely a coincidence. It is also interesting that he wasn’t one of the more than 100 movement sympathizers who were detained. Today, residents find it amusing to read about the “police pursuit” of the fugitive on a daily basis.

Yet, it’s probable that Amritpal was merely given the chance to abscond because his arrest would have almost surely sparked widespread unrest. Not only on the Sikh side, we might add.

And there have been protests about what happened in Jalandhar, but in the UK, Canada, and the United States, where, again, there are compact Sikh communities. Such protests were particularly violent in London, where even the National Flag was hauled down at the Indian Embassy. All of this served as justification for the Indian Foreign Ministry’s demarches against all three of these countries, which have recently been attempting to portray themselves as friends of India.

In March, London was also the setting of another action, which was met with displeasure by the Central Government of India. We are talking about another, and by no means the first, outburst by one of the current leaders of the oldest, now in opposition, party of the Indian National Congress, Rahul Gandhi (grandson of Indira Gandhi). The theme and target are both flaws in the country’s democratic order and Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally. It should be mentioned that Modi has been the leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party for nearly a decade.

Rahul’s “London” action appears to have two motivations. First, he was then in the position of being charged with defamation for a rather careless—to put it mildly—comment he made to Narendra Modi back in 2019. The second, and possibly most significant, factor is that India will have another general election in a year. This tremendously significant (from both a domestic and international policy standpoint) forthcoming event is already having an impact on nearly every element of the operation of the Republic of India.

In any case, on March 23, Rahul Gandhi was sentenced to two years in prison, which resulted in his expulsion from the Lower House of the Indian Parliament. That is, the Indian National Congress will face up against the Bharatiya Janata Party without his involvement in the upcoming elections in a year’s time.

At first glance, it appears that the causes behind all of these and other various acts of instability in contemporary India’s political life can all be explained by “multiplying the factors” with “external” elements and facts. Indeed, the UK, Canada and the United States are simply the territories where some peculiarly-religious people live; there’s a myriad of them in India.

“Does this ethnic group object to certain Central Indian Government policies affecting co-religionists in the ancestral homeland?” They have the legal right to do so. Are the protests accompanied by excesses against Indian diplomatic missions? Well, yes, there is some of that, but it is quite minor and quite fixable. Our Indian friends have no special issue of concern.” The same kind of “explanations” must have been uttered in connection with the above-mentioned speech in London by an important Indian politician.

The Narendra Modi government’s stance towards one of the key elements in the present stage of the “Great Global Game” has, however, clearly caused some displeasure in the capitals of all three of the countries listed. It essentially comes down to a conflict between the “generalized West” and both of its principal rivals, the Russian Federation and the PRC, on a global scale.

While the Modi government is clearly interested in developing comprehensive relations with Europeans, the United States, Japan, and Australia (as was the previous Indian National Congress government), it not only manages to maintain positive relations with Russia, but also gradually moves toward restoring such relations with the PRC. And this cannot be acceptable to those who advocate painting the geopolitical map in black and white. In order to convey to Narendra Modi the said discontent, messages to him in the form of excesses of a seemingly purely internal nature will do.

Yet, the political unrest caused by such activities in the region’s major economies does not help create the favorable conditions necessary for the realization of cooperative economic ventures.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

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