IndiaPoliticsReligionSouth AsiaTerrorism

Nurturing the Extremist Monster

Just found this article on TOI site by Swami Aiyar. It explains the genesis, life and end of Khalistan mess very well and paints parallels with the situation in Pakistan. I agree with him completely! Whenever anyone has raised monsters, you ultimately get eaten up by it. Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sant Longoval, and now, maybe its the turn of Musharraf. The similarities are striking.

For decades, the Pakistani Army and politicians nurtured Islamic militants, to use them as a tool in Kashmir and Afghanistan. But now, a la Frankenstein, the monster has turned against his creator.

This parallels India’s own experience. Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the Sikh militant, went from strength to strength in the 1980s because both Indira Gandhi and Sant Longowal of the Akali Dal wooed him. Indira backed him against the official Akali candidate in a minor election. Longowal used him to polarise politics along religious lines, hoping to ensure Akali political dominance in Sikh-majority Punjab. Indeed, Longowal let Bhindranwale occupy the Golden Temple and launch a reign of terror from there.

Ultimately Indira sent in the Army to kill Bhindranwale. But militancy in Punjab continued, and she herself was killed by Sikh militants. So too was Longowal. Both paid for nurturing monsters.

Musharraf and Pakistani politicians face the same risk. Musharraf has already survived several attempts on his life, and Benazir Bhutto has just survived a massive bomb blast. Nawaz Sharif wants to ally with Islamic parties to provide a third alternative, but may find (like Longowal) that this does not guarantee safety.

In India, Sikh militancy continued for years after Bhindranwale’s death. Attempts to negotiate with militant groups failed. They infiltrated government services, killed many politicians and cops, and could not be controlled even by the Army. They were aided by Pakistan, but clearly had substantial support among Sikhs too.

By 1990, Sikh militants were as powerful as the state. When they ordered shops to close, they were obeyed. When they posted notices to stop the vending of tobacco, liquor and meat, everybody obeyed. Indeed, when they ordered children not to cheat in exams, cheating ended, for the first time ever.

But this highhandedness, along with episodes of abduction and rape, antagonised the local population. Militants, once seen as heroes, became resented or dreaded.

In 1992, a new Congress CM told police chief KPS Gill to go after the militants, no-holds-barred. Gill used the extra-judicial tactics the militants themselves used. The Punjab police was dominated by Sikh Jats, just as the militants were. The police was incensed by murders of its officers by the militants. Under Gill, it struck back ruthlessly and efficiently. Militancy ended speedily, and its lack of popular support became plain.

Bhindranwale envisaged a religious war in which Sikhs would beat Hindus. His communal warmongering won him Sikh popular support for years. Indira Gandhi regarded the Army assault on the Golden Temple as a secular necessity, but most Sikhs saw it as a religious offence.

Militancy could be quelled only by a change in mindset. This change could not be imposed by the Army, or by President’s Rule from New Delhi, both of which could be portrayed as Hindu machinations. The change in mindset occurred when militants became so highhanded that they antagonised fellow Sikhs. This paved the way for Gill’s crackdown. What started as a Hindu versus Sikh matter ended only when it became a battle between two sets of Jat Sikhs.

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Desh Kapoor

The panache of a writer is proven by the creative pen he uses to transform the most mundane topic into a thrilling story. Desh - the author, critic and analyst uses the power of his pen to create thought-provoking pieces from ordinary topics of discussion. He writes on myriad interesting themes. Read the articles to know more about his views and "drishtikone".

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