Friday, June 2, 2017

Comrade Satyapal Dang: Lessons of Punjab have Relevance for Kashmir

NB: Comrade Satyapal Dang (1920-2013) stalwart communist, was one of the tallest figures of modern India. At the height of the Khalistani movement he and his wife comrade Vimla stood fast in the CPI's trade union office in Ekta Bhavan, Amritsar, despite the threats to their lives. They upheld secular values and were highly respected by followers of all faiths. Comrade Dang's resistance to communal hatred, personal modesty and spotless honesty were an inspiration to lakhs of Indians, even those outside his party. Purushottam Agrawal and Jugnu Ramaswamy and I had the honour of being hosted by him at Ekta Bhawan on our trip to Punjab in February 1989 on behalf of the SVA. Here is a tribute to him written in June 2013: सत्यपाल डांग को याद करते हुए.. 

Comrade Satyapal attended the inaugural of the SVA constitution in January 1989. He and comrade Gursharan Singh of the CPI (ML) contributed to the formulation and adoption of that document. The SVA was greatly emboldened by their support and encouragement. These valuable observations by him on communal terrorism should be read carefully by all of us, whether or not we agree with his politics - DS

Satyapal Dang: Lessons of Punjab have Relevance for Kashmir
Source: State, Religion and Politics: Selected Writings of Satyapal Dang (2004)

A lesson which Kashmir policy-makers must learn from Punjab is that negotiation with the agitating outfits—unexceptionable in principle and quite necessary to settle grievances, genuine or perceived—do great harm if they are undertaken at a wrong time, i.e. when the signal given would be that the government is yielding and may agree to their separatist objective in one form or another.

Terrorism is a world-wide phenomenon. As a weapon, it has been sought to be used by those whose political objectives are just as well as by those whose political objectives are patently regressive and even blatantly anti-people. Such ruling classes as have no scruples and are ever ready to use any means to further their selfish class or group interests make use of terrorism and terrorists when it suits them and denounce them when that serves their purpose better. The ruling class of the USA is a typical example of this. All sensible people capable of seeing beyond their nose abhor this ugly phenomenon and wish to see its end.

Circumstances and conditions which give rise to terrorism in different parts of the world and even in different regions in a vast country like India are different. Methods used by terrorists in different countries and even in different regions of a country are not entirely the same. However, there are many common style operations all over, for example, use of terror to prove the “superiority” of terrorists over the state, extortions, kidnappings and keeping persons as hostage, etc. There is also the fact that nowhere terrorism can operate without some mass base which they acquire because of genuine or perceived grievances of the people or of a sizeable section of the people. From all this it follows that in the fight against terrorism anywhere lessons of fight elsewhere can prove useful provided that difference in conditions and circumstances are not lost sight of and lessons are not applied mechanically.

Are there any lessons from Punjab which can help the fight against terrorists in Kashmir? In our opinion there are. Here are some.

For long the Government of India and its nominees in Punjab pursued a policy of battling the terrorists on the law and order front on the limited scale, to be followed by attempts to make a deal with the terrorists or a section of them. This policy always proved counter-productive as had been predicted and warned by the Left. An outstanding example of this was the Black Thunder Operation which yielded very good results. However, the same were completely lost when the fight on the law and order front was stopped after the Operation and instead efforts were started to make a deal with a section of the terrorists with the help of Jasbir Singh Rode even though the backbone of the terrorists was far from broken as yet. The big success achieved in Punjab came about only when it was decided to relentlessly continue the anti-terrorist front till the backbone of the terrorists was broken. In Kashmir locals have started helping security force to combat trans-border terrorism. If this trend rises, terrorism can be ended for good.

In Punjab often in the name of bringing the misguided youths to mainstream, “boys” were released from jails en masse. Invariably, a big majority of them rejoined the ranks of the terrorists as soon as they were released. The Left in Punjab was as keen as anyone else to save as many youths gone astray as possible. It was however clear that apart from individual successes here and there, a real breakthrough would be possible only when the backbone of the terrorists is broken and when it becomes clear to all that terrorists could not succeed. Here too there is lesson for Kashmir.

A lesson which Kashmir policy-makers must learn from Punjab is that negotiation with the agitating outfits - unexceptionable in principle and quite necessary to settle grievances, genuine or perceived -do great harm if they are undertaken at a wrong time, i.e. when the signal given would be that the government is yielding and may agree to their separatist objective in one form or another.

In fighting terrorism in Punjab, one of the things which has paid dividends is the fact that conscious efforts were made by the Army in the second stage not to do anything that would give accretion once again to the dwindling mass basis of terrorists. This must be done in the case of Kashmir too. Firing into the funeral procession of Moulvi Farooq during Mr Jagmohan’s tenure, burning down mohallas in retaliation for killing of some Jawans more than once and during the regimes of various governors, are instances which prove our contention. Special efforts were made in Punjab to train the Army as well as the para-military forces in this regard. And the Army after this training went all out not only to fight the terrorists without being prominent in this respect but also to help the people in various ways in rural areas. Such policy now seems being followed in Kashmir. In any case, this must be done.

It is veritably proven that even such terrorists as start on path pf terrorism with noble motives join hands with anti-social elements and themselves degenerate into worst types of hooligans and anti-socials unless they give up terrorism well in time. This happened in Punjab too. By the time Beant Singh government came to power and started an all-out fight, supporters of terrorists in districts like Amritsar had turned against them because by then they were not merely extortionists, killers but had also become rapists who demanded girls as a matter of right even from families which has helped them. This helped the security forces a lot because people began helping them, even though the security forces dealt with the terrorist killers with no holds barred. The process of degeneration and consequent alienation of terrorists taking place in Kashmir too seems to be paying the dividends.

It was realised in Punjab that even though help of Army and paramilitary forces would be indispensable, without the Punjab police going into action against Khalistani terrorists it would not be possible to beat back the terrorists. The Punjab police is overwhelmingly Sikh. There was a time when a good section of it was helping terrorists out of sympathy or out of fear. Another section was not willing to act because of the fear that a terrorist leader was likely to become Chief Minister of Punjab. There was lot of conflict between the Punjab police and the paramilitary forces. First Riberio and the K.P.S. Gill did a lot to motivate the police force. Beant Singh removed the fear that a Manochahal or a Mann would be put into power in Punjab. The Punjab police then went into action bravely and all-over. J & K police is fully married up with armed force and doing well.

The need to prevent avoidable excesses to the maximum possible extent is overlooked on the false plea that any attempt to do that will demoralise the police force. This mistake should be avoided in Kashmir.

There are some lessons of a different type also which Kashmir policy-makers must learn from Punjab. First, elections and formation of Beant Singh Government in Punjab was helped because along with the terrorists, Akalis made the mistake of boycotting the elections. It was a blessing in disguise. Majority of people including pro-militant organisation participated in 2002 Assembly elections dislodging Abdullah dynasty from power. Karan Singh abstained. Return of Pandits is still a distant dream. However, this has to be realised if peace and normalcy have to become stable and lasting.

Second, in Punjab political process did not come to a halt even when terrorists ruled the state. The Left campaigned even in the terrorist ridden rural areas losing many lives. The Left continued this till it became absolutely impossible for some time. Off and on, terrorists on the one hand and the Hindu communalists on the other did succeed in bringing tension and situation of near riots in some towns. All political parties of Punjab and above all the Left and the working class successfully intervened to save the situation. A large number of committed political activists did not leave Punjab.

Third, when all-out fight against terrorism was started after Beant Singh took power and necessary powers were given to the police, no steps were taken to ensure that at least avoidable excesses against the innocents were stopped. Such police excesses in Punjab have been many. A section of the police believed that since they had brought peace to Punjab (which is only a half truth and hence dangerous), they had the right, not only to make heaps of money but also to rule Punjab. The presumption increased its alienation. Undoubtedly, Mr. K.P.S. Gill is a supercop as far as fight against terrorism is concerned but his policy had a negative side too and this is the theory that excesses against and even killings of innocents, is the price which has to be paid by a people fighting against terrorism. The need to prevent avoidable excesses to the maximum possible extent is overlooked on the false plea that any attempt to do that will demoralise the police force. This mistake should be avoided in Kashmir.

Fourth, there was a fear of re-emergence of terrorism in Punjab because nothing was being done to resolve political problems by exploiting which terrorists were able to acquire some mass base. Has this been done earlier, Punjab would not have suffered for 12 long years. In Kashmir this mistake was made on a much bigger scale. BJP has in fact been helping the terrorists of Kashmir by demanding abrogation of Article 370; by its contribution towards demolition of Babri Masjid; by being a member of a ‘parivar’ whose head and boss is determined to convert India into a Hindu Rashtra. The Congress party did the same when it failed to resolve the problem of adequate autonomy for J & K and for Jammu and for Ladakh within J & K.

Finally, two factors - role of mass media in Punjab and Kashmir - and vote-bank policies of the two major political parties are of great significance. While the first needs to be taken up separately, the latter has to be nailed for having contributed a lot towards the rise of terrorism in Punjab. It is high time that Kashmir is treated as a national issue by all political parties which stand for unity and integrity of India. A million dollar question is: are our political parties capable of sacrificing their immediate and partisan interests for the sake of the country? People can and must make them do that.

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