Exhortations to revive militancy

Americans are likeable people, but they have lately begun to believe that they are the rulers of the world. They poke their nose in even the minutest cultural events of different communities and countries, without keeping in mind the sensitivity of the others. One such instance was the commemoration by the American ambassador in London of Vaisakhi as the New Year of the Sikhs. The American ambassador in London, Robert Tuttle, declared Vaisakhi as the New Year of the Sikhs. The Vaisakhi party, which took the form of a two-hour celebration at the Embassy's Grosvenor Square premises, including a bhangra performance and speeches by the ambassador and others, has been likened to the Indian High Commissioner in London hosting a celebration for the Red Indians. Describing Vaisakhi as the New Year of the Sikhs is being seen as offensive and disturbing. Vaisakhi is a secular spring festival celebrated in North India, especially Punjab, and is not restricted to the Sikh community alone. Invitations to the London event were sent out in the name of Ambassador Tuttle, the Loomba Trust and the Sikh Welfare and Cultural Society in Leicester. The head of the Sikh Welfare and Cultural Society, Resham Singh Sandhu, commented: "Basically, the ambassador is from California and a number of Sikhs have lived in California for many years. He wanted to incorporate the friendship between India, the US and the UK." All this sounds well, but reports are that a few Sikh militants were also at the celebrations. The militants are always on the look out for an opportunity to register their presence. That the American ambassador should provide a platform is indeed intriguing and bewildering. As India's High Commissioner to the UK, I remember how most gurdwaras in London in the early 1990s were controlled by the militants who had effectively distanced the Sikh community from India. I was humiliated when I went to pay obeisance at one of the gurdwaras controlled by the militants. They shouted: "Indian dogs go back." This type of behaviour is difficult to imagine at present when all the gurudwaras are under the control of liberal elements. But my impression is that the militants are lying low, waiting for the right time. I have always felt that there are some other forces, egging on the militants to network their support in Punjab and revive insurgency. Canada is, of course, another kettle. Here, the militants are not discouraged. Even the government is soft. This was witnessed when the trial on the bombing of Air India in midair was going on. Ultimately, nothing came out of it. Some proceedings of sorts have begun once again because of New Delhi's pressure. But these proceedings are informal and will take a legal shape only when some concrete evidence is available. However, the scenario has somewhat changed both in the UK and Canada following the 9/11 incidents. All militants, whatever their religion, have come under the scan. They are operating in twos and threes covertly, but the governments are quite hard on them. New Delhi's advantage is that it is getting information about the militants from London, Washington and Ottawa, a practice which despite India's prodding, was not welcomed. The US embassy function coincides with the concerns that some vested interests may be trying to revive the Khalistan issue. Last month, the then London Mayor Ken Livingstone appointed a former member of a banned Sikh terror group to the board of London Transport. Dabinderjit Singh was a member of the banned International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) and is a senior member of its successor body, the Sikh Federation UK. The 2008 calendar of the Sikh Federation UK glorifies such terrorist "martyrs" as the killer of Indira Gandhi, Beant Singh, and Air India bombing mastermind Talwinder Singh. Singh was a speaker at a Sikh Federation UK rally in London last year where banners of the banned Babbar Khalsa were on display and where one of the other speakers praised suicide bombing. It is difficult to imagine such things happening in Punjab when terrorism has been crushed thoroughly. State chief minister Prakash Singh Badal rightly took the credit while making a speech at Patiala that the phase of militancy was over once and for all. He underlined the fact that the militants, if any, had no support among the people and that the government was quite vigilant. He is probably right, but the literature doled out in Gurmukhi casts a shadow on the good work done. There is exhortation to restart militancy to free people from "oppression and tyranny." Punjab does not have to worry about such appeals so long as the rhythm of prosperity is not disturbed. The educated unemployed poses a problem and the consumption of drugs by the youth in villages should be a matter of concern. E-mail: knayar@nation.com.pk