- Analyse the Punjab crisis under the heads of religion, language and region.
- Discuss the role played by political leaders and how they failed to contain the situation.
During the 1980s, Punjab was engulfed by a separatist movement rooted in linguistic, religious and regional issues.
From the beginning, the Akali leadership adopted certain communal themes. 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 which was defined as a combination of the Sikh religion and the political and other secular interests of all Sikhs.
Akalis put forth that Sikhs were being continuously subjected to discrimination, oppression and persecution. Hindus were accused of designs to dominate Sikhs, of imposing Brahminical tyranny over them, and of threatening their ‘Sikh identity’. Akali used the SGPC, which controlled over 700 Sikh gurudwaras, to promote Akali politics and to organize Akali political movements. In particular, consistent use was made of the Golden Temple at Amritsar.
On the issue of the language of administration and schooling in bilingual Punjab the government tried to resolve the problem by dividing Punjab into two— Punjabi and Hindi—linguistic zones. But the Hindu communalists opposed the decisions to make the study of Punjabi, along with Hindi, compulsory in all schools and Punjabi being made the only official language for district administration in the Punjabi linguistic zone. Even more contentious was the problem of the script for Punjabi and the Akalis demanded that Gurmukhi alone should be used as the script for Punjabi. Hindu organizations insisted on Devanagari also being used along with Gurmukhi.
The vigorous demand of the separate Punjab state started soon after the independence by Akalis under the leadership Master Tara Singh but States Reorganization commission refused to accept the demand. Even after the creation of Punjab, the question of Chandigarh still remained. To settle the matter, Indira Gandhi appointed the Punjab Boundary Commission, whose terms of reference were accepted by both sides. The Commission by a majority of two to one awarded Chandigarh along with the surrounding areas to Haryana. The Akali Dal, however, refused to accept the award. Nehru recognized the communal underpinnings of the demands of a Punjabi suba. Prominent Sikh leaders of Congress such as Pratap Singh Kairon and Darbara Singh were also opposed to such demands. On the other hand, Communist Party allied with Akali Dal for making political gains. Even the Jan Sangh allied with Akalis. Indira Gandhi yielded to demands of communal groups, which emboldened them for the future.