Saturday, December 15, 2007

This Above alL
Memories that haunt
Khushwant SinghKhushwant Singh

As soon as Jyoti Grewal’s Betrayed by the State: The Anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984 (Penguin) landed on my table, I put aside other work and got down to reading it. The author has impressive scholarly credentials. She has a doctorate in history from an American University (Stony Brook), was professor at another (Iowa) and is currently teaching Social Behaviourial Sciences in Dubai. The subject is of importance to me. I was involved and have written about it many times. There are questions to which I have not yet found convincing answers. Why did it happen? Who was primarily responsible for its happening? Why was it not prevented from happening? I was hoping to find answers in Jyoti Grewal’s book. Alas! Before I give reasons for being disappointed, let me concede that she writes very well and does not spare anyone concerned—Bhindranwale, Indira Gandhi, Giani Zail Singh, Rajiv Gandhi, Ribeiro, KPS Gill, et al.

Indira Gandhi orderded the Army to storm the Golden Temple
Indira Gandhi orderded the Army to storm the Golden Temple
Zail Singh lost credibility after he decorated the officers who carried out Operation Bluestar
Zail Singh lost credibility after he decorated the officers who carried out Operation Bluestar

However, her analysis of the Hindu-Sikh divide, equating Jat Sikhs with the Khalsa Panth and giving a lower status to non-Jat Sikhs (pejoratively known as bhapas), is flawed. She is herself a Jat Sikh. Above all, she has very little new to tell us of the extensive anti-Sikh violence following the assassination of Mrs Gandhi. Her publisher should have advised her to fill in the gaps in her narrative. Jyoti Grewal holds that the Hindu-Sikh divide is the basic point in the evolution of Sikhism. She toes the line of Sikh separatists who never stop shouting from their housetops hum Hindu nahin hain (we are not Hindus). If she read the sacred scripture, the Adi Granth, she would notice that over 90 per cent of the names of God are Hindu—Hari, Ram, Govind, etc. Even the last of the Gurus, Gobind Singh, invoked Shiva to give him strength to fight his oppressors.

All the Ten Gurus were Khatris, not one was a Jat. So was Banda Bahadar, the founder of Sikh political power in Punjab. Despite occasional differences, inter-marriages between Hindus and Sikhs of the same caste are common. What the Gurus, particularly Guru Gobind Singh, gave them was a distinct outward appearance and rituals.

A clean-shaven Sikh became a Hindu believing in Sikhism as are millions of Punjabi and Sindhi Hindus who prefer chanting Sikh prayers, which they can understand, rather than reciting Sanskrit shlokas, they can’t. They go to gurdwaras rather than Hindu temples. The borderline dividing the two communities is, as it always has been, blurred. Relations between the two are, as they have always been, nauh maas da rishta (as nail is to the flesh from which it grows).

The relationship changed with the emergence of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale as the leader of the radical Khalsa. There is good reason to believe he was picked up by Giani Zail Singh to undermine the influence of the Akalis in rural Punjab as a counterfoil to the Jat Congress Chief Minister Darbara Singh, against whom the Giani had a life-long feud. There is no truth that Zail Singh (non-Jat) was anti-Jat, as alleged by the author. He was repeatedly elected to the Punjab Assembly and Parliament from predominantly Jat constituencies.

Relations between Hindus and Sikhs began to sour when Bhindranwale started using abusive language for the Hindus and his goons went on a spree of indiscriminate killings of Hindus and Sikhs who disagreed with him.

No Sikh leader spoke up against him. Lesser people who did were eliminated by his thugs. The government, advised by Zail Singh, mishandled the situation. When he was arrested on charges of murder, Zail Singh as Home Minister had him released on his own terms. Then he went out of hand. Far from being a tool of the Congress, he became a leader in his own rights, moved into the Golden Temple and fortified it. If Zail Singh is to be believed, he knew nothing about the Army being ordered to storm the Golden Temple, and was deeply hurt by the operation. Later, he decorated the officers who had carried out Operation Bluestar. He lost all credibility. However, as President, without consulting MPs or chief ministers, he swore in Rajiv Gandhi as successor to Indira Gandhi after she was assassinated on October 31, 1984.

What followed remains a mystery. To start with there was a spontaneous outburst of anger against Sikhs. Zail Singh’s cavalcade on its way from AIIMS to Rashtrapati Bhawan was stoned. Some Sikh-owned property was set on fire. The eruption could have been quelled by a show of force. It was not. It is evident that the coterie surrounding the new Prime Minister met and decided that the Sikhs had to be taught a lesson. So the Delhi Administration and the police remained spectators to the excesses committed on innocent Sikhs.

Over 3,000 of them were murdered in two days. Twentythree years and nine commissions later we still don’t know who were the men who allowed this dastardly crime against the nation to take place.

Human bulldozer

You must have met people who excel in everything they put their hands to and make you feel mentally and physically retarded. I chanced upon one Jaideep Singh Chaddha, a cardiologist practising medicine in Chandigarh.

He and his wife Gurminder, whom he describes as an angel and is the principal of a school, dropped to see me. He had evidently not read any of my books but that did not prevent him to buttering me up.

The doctor is 58 and grandfather of two. But his jet-black beard and youthful swagger make him look 10 years younger. He’s been a topper, a champion badminton player, swimmer, shot-put and discus-thrower and now an ace golfer with a handicap of eight. He worked as a doctor in Nigeria, Muscat and Daman before he set up his own clinic in Chandigarh.

As if that was not enough, he is also into writing books. So far he has published four (all Pustak Mahal). The latest one, Please Mom: It’s my Life, sold over 20,000 copies in the first year and is due to come out with the fifth reprint. It’s laced with humour because Dr Chaddha is a born teller of humorous anecdotes. All I can say after being at the receiving end of his exuberance for life is that I was flattened out as if bulldozed.