Apt portrayal of Punjab’s turbulence
Reviewed by Sarbjit Dhaliwal

Khalistan Struggle: A Non-Movement
By Jagtar Singh. Aakar Books. Pages 520. Rs 695

Khalistan Struggle: A Non-MovementFOR the past six centuries, Punjab has gone through many upheavals. After almost a period of every 20-30 years, it has faced one trouble or another. Leave the distant past aside, a few decades ago at the time of Partition, Punjab had virtually turned into a river of blood owing to communal violence. A few decades after Partition, Punjab witnessed trouble related to the Punjabi Suba morcha. Some years later it was hemmed in by Naxal violence. From 1978 to mid-1990s, the state remained a turbulent region in the country owing to religio-political turmoil.

It saw killing of thousands of persons, including common populace, top-ranking politicians, officials of security forces and others. One can say it was another bloodsoaked period in the history of the state and the country as such. That turbulence did not remain confined to the state but affected the adjoining states also and kept the country’s political and security establishment on tenterhooks for a long period.

There are ideologues who describe it as a movement for Khalistan, a separate Sikh state. Others simply describe it as a terrorist movement without any objective and cause. For instance, the former DGP KPS Gill described it as "a sheer madness and nothing else".

Undoubtedly, what happened in the recent decades in Punjab had roots of its cause and effect in the past.

Though many books, some of them just quickies, have been authored to describe the events but the book: Khalistan Struggle- A Non Movement — authored by Jagtar Singh, a senior journalist, is a serious work done offering a critical commentary, while documenting history. Obviously, he was qualified to handle this task because he had seen all what happened in the state during the period from close quarters. As a mediaperson, he interacted with the main players, including Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, Harchand Singh Longowal, Gurcharan Singh Tohra, Parkash Singh Badal and others who mattered at that point of time.

The author is not a professional historian but the way he has handled the subject, he seemingly has all the virtues to emerge as a good writer of contemporary history, which is otherwise a difficult task. Describing that that struggle for Khalistan was a non-movement, the author writes that "at one time it used to be said that Punjab had entered the long tunnel without an end in sight but then this struggle which is the ‘first phase for the restoration of the dignity of the Sikhs in the words of `A0Bhindranwale’, remained a non-movement in the absence of unified command structure, lack of mass support and effective political front".

He further writes that the use of the Darbar Sahib complex by militants for launching the agitation despite the location of the Akal Takht, the supreme Sikh institution for prayer and politics symbolising Sikh sovereignity just opposite the holiest of the holy shrine, could never be justified. While this shrine was desecrated by armed forces during Operation Bluestar, the Darbar Sahib was defiled by the militants themselves subsequently during Operation Blackthunder. This struggle perhaps carried the terminator seed within itself.

The author has not only dwelled deep into the events of the violent era but has also written about the post-violence political scenario dating up to year 2007, when the SAD-BJP formed the government in the state for the second time in a decade . This book has a long life because it will act as a basis for future academicians at the state, national and international levels to base their studies and interpret the era because it has solid facts-based information recorded on the basis of important documents available with the author.

All those, who are interested in Punjab’s most vital recent period and the role of the political class in it, should read this book.