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Punjab under Political Stronghold

Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon

In 1947, India became a free country from long rule of the British. To discuss transfer of power, the British considered three main groups namely Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs as equal and true heirs of power. It was only the Sikhs who remained firm in their resolve to keep the country undivided while Muslims stressed for the creation of a separate country, Pakistan. Hindu leaders eager to gain political power failed to keep India united and conceded to the partition demand. The British extended similar offers to the Sikhs as had been given to the Muslims giving the Sikhs an opportunity to establish their own dominion and form an independent political platform in order to have their own representation and voice in the world politics. The ignorant, uneducated and gullible leaders rejected such offers and decided to seal the fate of the Sikh nation with the majority Hindus. The Congress leaders had given assurances to the Sikhs that after independence a Sikh State within India will be established in Northern India where the Sikhs would be able to enjoy the glow of freedom. It was also assured by the Congress leaders, from time to time, to the Sikhs and the other minorities that the Indian Constitution would be a federal structure with residuary powers with the autonomous States.

However, all promises were broken and thrown in the trash soon after the British left and the Congress revealed its true face of communalism serving the interests of the majority Hindu only. The Sikhs were not only betrayed but looked at with suspicion. Congress, ruled by the majority Hindu, started planning to suppress the Sikhs and ensure that the latter never gained political power within India. For this reasons, a Constitution heavily leaning towards a unitary structure was framed, even though all the Sikh representatives in the Punjab Legislature reminded the Congress of its promises and formally protested against it so much so that the Sikh members of the Constituent Assembly refused to sign the Constitution. The government took every possible step to undermine, marginalize and deprive the Sikh community by taking away their religious, social and economic freedom. Herein we discuss how the Center government has strangled State autonomy especially Punjab.*

Political Subjugation

The Constitution of India contains provisions which put the States in a subordinate position vis-a-vis the Centre. For example Article 248 gives residuary powers to the Centre; Article 249 provides that the Rajya Sabha, in the national interest, can authorise the Union Parliament to pass laws with respect to State subjects; Article 250 authorises the Parliament to legislate on State Subjects during national Emergency. Article 356 envisages Presidential takeover of a State administration, in the event of a failure of the Constitutional machinery. Article 360 makes provisions for financial Emergency; and Article 155 gives powers to the Central Government to appoint Governors of its choice. These Articles have brought the Centre and the States to a sharp confrontation, because the Union Government purposely tries to make political interference in the day-to-day functioning of the States.

Legitimate State functioning has been eroded by studied and excessive centralisation and extra-constitutional methods encroaching on the powers of the States. Both in the field of education and law and order, Central powers have been enhanced by including these subjects in the Central or Concurrent list. It is a known maxim that Central planning is a hidden tool completely to throttle state functioning. This is what has been done by the growing expansion of the Planning Commission and its powers of sanctioning projects and making financial allocations. The institutions of Planning Commission, Water and Power Commission, University Grants Commission (U.G.C.), etc. have been created and employed increasingly to curtail the discretion of the States to exercise freely the powers conferred on them by the Constitution. These are non-statutory and extra constitutional bodies, with not only wide powers to make financial allocations but also with almost unfettered discretion to approve or disapprove development schemes even where such projects are exclusively within the purview and financial competence of the States concerned. A classic instance of the Central delay caused by the extra-constitutional bodies of the Water and Power Commission and the Planning Commission is of the Thein Dam Scheme of 1964, with the initial estimate of seventy crore Rupees, designed to utilise the Ravi waters flowing into Pakistan. It was never approved for over two decades though in the meantime its cost multiplied from seventy crore Rupees to more than one thousand and five hundred crore Rupees.

Similarly, the Panchayati Raj and Nagarpalika Bill introduced by Rajiv Gandhi Government in Parliament, in 1989, is yet another classic example of Central intentions, trends and designs to penetrate the administrative, social and political life of even the villages and towns in a State.1 Rajni Kotbari observes:

“The thunder and aplomb of the Prime Minister on the Panchayati Raj, after having undermined local and federal institutions, is no more than a propaganda gimmick that verges on being a fraud on the people.”2

At present, all irrigation and multi-purpose schemes costing more than Rs. 5 crore are required to be technically cleared by the Central Water and Power Commission and the Planning Commission. This is evidently a glaring method of unconstitutional intrusion in the jurisdiction of the states. This prompted late Prof. D.R. Gadgil, a pioneering economist and once the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission to observe:

“Such stranglehold of activities by the Centre and its agencies and officials make any real progress impossible.”3

The Planning Commission came into being in March 1950, through a simple resolution adopted by the Union Cabinet with the Prime Minister as its Chairman. The Planning Commission became very powerful as an executive limb of the Central Government exercising total control over the developmental programmes of the State Governments. It began to decide what resources were to be transferred to the States. Subsequently, the Finance Commission became very peripheral. When India became independent, the provincial budgets, in most cases, were in surplus and the Central budget was in straits. But now we have large deficits in the Central budgets as well as in the State budgets.

Education Misused

In order to maintain linguistic, cultural or original identity, it is essential that education should remain in a state subject. For, otherwise, with education as a Central subject, it can be used as an instrument to erode and distort the cultural entity of the States. But it is not without purpose that education has been made a concurrent subject. For example, the existing Sikh historical tradition is that the martyrdom of the ninth Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur was related to the upholding of Dharma and confrontation with the Empire due to its policy of forcible conversion in Kashmir.4 It is recorded that one Kirpa Ram from Kashmir came to the Ninth Master and made a complaint against forcible conversions of the Hindus in Kashmir. Thus, this is one of the important historically accepted causes of the martyrdom of the Ninth Guru; and it was so recorded by the Tenth Master himself that the martyrdom was for the protection of Hindus i.e. their “Tilak and Janju”.5 But after the transfer of education to the concurrent list, the National Council of Educational Research And Training (N.C.E.R.T.) has prescribed a text book of history ‘Medieval India’ by Professor Satish Chandra, former Chairman, U.G.C. for class XI students, which reads as follows:

“The Sikhs were the last to come into military conflict with Aurangzeb... However, there was no conflict between the Guru and Aurangzeb till 1675, when Guru Tegh Bahadur was arrested with five of his followers, brought to Delhi and executed. The causes of this are not dear. According to some Persian accounts, the Guru had joined hands with a Pathan, Hafiz Adam, and created disturbances in the Punjab. According to Sikh tradition, the execution was due to intrigues against the Guru by some members of his family who disputed his succession and who had been joined by others. In Kashmir, the previous Governor, Saif Khan, is famous as a builder of bridges. He was a humane and broadminded poison who had appointed a Hindu to advise him in administrative mutters. Stories of mass persecution by the new Governor appear to be exaggerated because Kashmir had been predominantly Muslim since fifteenth Century.”6

In fact the ground of the connection of the martyrdom with compulsory conversions in Kashmir has been completely discounted and eliminated. Consequently, the students are bound to come to the conclusion that the Sikh historical tradition is not a fact but a fable. This has been considered a serious distortion of Sikh history and it is understood that Punjabi University, Patiala, had also addressed the N.C.E R.T. regarding this evident fault. This is just one instance how the powers of the U.G.C. vis-a-vis the Universities and their functioning and the centralisation of education can be used to erode the regional, cultural or linguistic identities. Even the State Universities are being discriminated against by The U.G.C. Of the total financial assistance of the U.G.C., 80% is spent on the Central Universities, while the remaining 20% is distributed among 113 State Universities.7 Here, it is not irrelevant to point out that in a multi-lingual country like India, irrespective of the size of the linguistic groups, the imposition of Hindi through these central bodies, does not help the process of emotional integration, rather impedes it.

State Autonomy Suppressed

The Government has taken a series of steps to erode the State autonomy. For example, law and order is primarily a state subject, but the ever increasing strength of the para-military forces under the direct control of the Centre, is viewed by the States as an encroachment on their rights. The total strength of the para-military, forces in 1947; was not more than two battalions (about two thousand in number). The Central Reserve Police Force (C.R.P.F.) was created under the Central Reserve Police Force Act 1949 (passed by the Constituent Assembly under the Government of India Act 1935). This force has continued to grow in its strength and functions. In addition to the C.R.P.F., other para-military forces like the Border Security Force (B.S.F.), Indo-Tibetian Border Police (I.T.B P.), Assam Rifles, Central Industrial Security Force (C.I.S.F.), etc. have been raised since 1947. Their total strength was 492,950 with an annual cost of Rupees 1262 crore as per the 1990-91 Budget.8 This strength is greater than the total strength of the regular army of independent India in 1947. Quite often, the para-military forces have been used in various parts of the country to play the role of the police, much to the chagrin and embarrassment of the State Governments. The worst performance of these forces could be seen in Punjab, Kashmir, Mizoram and Nagaland, the States where ethnic minorities are the worst sufferers. Protracted stay of these forces, apart from being a burden on the State economy, is bound to alienate the local population. Unmitigated repression, fake encounters and undue harassment often lead to grave consequences and deterioration of the situation still further, as in Punjab and Kashmir. The purpose and impact is evident from the fact that to-day about 343 Companies of paramilitary forces are permanently stationed in Punjab.9 In addition 300 more companies were posted in Punjab during the proposed elections on June 22, 1991 which have been postponed since then.10 Apart from this, the strength of the Punjab police as on 1st March, 1991 was 56,376 with a budget provision of Rs. 202 crore for the year 1990-91.11

There has been a rapid increase in expenditure on police in the Punjab budget from 1978 onwards. In the 1978-79 Punjab budget the total number of police personnel was 28,283 with an expense of Rs. 18 crore. This number increased to 56,376, with a total burden of Rupees 202 crore in 1990-91. Ever since Indira Gandhi’s time, the only method to solve the political problems, has been to send an increasing number of para-military forces and, in case of their failure, to send the army to suppress its own people. Ruinous, as it has proved to be, ‘Operation Blue Star’ was the logical culmination of this suicidal policy. For, in the eyes of the common man, the army has a heroic image as the saviour of the people from external aggression and enemies. Its use against its civilian brothers and sisters not only tarnishes its heroic image, converting it into that of an oppressive force but also lowers the role and morale of the army and its sense of pride in its patriotic role. The damage to the image and role of the army in a multi-regional country like India, where the army is drawn from different sections and communities of the State, is far greater both for the internal cohesion of the army and the image which it leaves with the people in the area of its operation where the people come to consider to be its role of oppression.

Another point that reduces the states of the constituent units is the method of representation in the Upper House. As a consequence there is a wide disparity in the representation (e.g. 7 for Punjab as against 34 for Uttar Pradesh). In a truly federal constitution, representation in the Upper House, if at all it has to be retained, should broadly be on the basis of the composing federal units and not on the basis of their population. This would give virtual equality of representation to the States, so as to make the Upper House the mouth piece of different nationalities, minorities and other groups and give them a sense of participation.

The administration of the All India Services, a legacy of the British Raj, is being run by the Centre. Since their conditions of service and the right to punish them are controlled by the Centre, these services often show contempt towards the governments and the people of the States. They are a class by themselves, who are totally alienated from the masses. This has led to the emergence of an increasingly vast chasm between the rulers and the ruled. The grip of the bureaucracy on the administration is being strengthened and democratic processes are being snuffed out. There is total alienation of masses not only from the regime but also from the system and the situation is fraught with grave danger for the survival of the State and democracy.

State Ruled by the Center Stick

The role of the Governor is a legacy of the British Raj. It has lately sparked a good deal of controversy and this office has become incompatible with the democratic will of the people of the states. Even in the U.S.A., the States have their own Governors and they are the elected chief executives of the States. Whereas these Governors in India, as in the colonial times, are appointed by the President, who act on the advice of the Central Government and hold their offices depending solely on the pleasure of the latter. In actual practice, they are often appointed in recognition of their services to the ruling party at the Centre. It is well-known that the job is such where incompetent, inconvenient, or aged leaders of the ruling party are accommodated. Thus, they serve as convenient tools of the Central Party in power so as to manipulate state politics for its benefits. This office is being retained largely because it provides the Centre a necessary stick with which to beat a state back to the path chosen by the former. We shall detail how the powers of the Centrally appointed Governors have been used to subvert democratic rule in a State and utilise it for the State becoming a Centrally administered area.

The consistent misuse of Article 356 of the Indian Constitution makes a very strong case for its deletion, whatever might have been the original idea behind its introduction. This is opposed to the spirit of the Constitution, which envisages disinterested governors. Governors are not like party ministers that they should go or resign, when a government falls. But in practice the institution of the Governor has been political and the Governors also know that they have to please the political bosses since their term normally synchronises with the term of the Government at the Centre. This is something that goes outrageously against the spirit of the Constitution or democracy. For, it strikes at the very root of objectivity in so far as the Governor is obliged to view the functioning of the State Government from the angle of the political party at the Centre and not from any impartial angle, it is because of this undemocratic convention that the political Governors have, with the change of party in power at the Centre, sent reports against the State Governments that were dismissed for the sole reason that they belonged to a party other than the one in power at the Centre. This happened both in 1977 and 1981. A state should not be deprived of the representative government simply because it is not to the liking of the Centre. Nor should the President’s rule be imposed on the whims or prejudices of the Central Government.

The use of Article 356 in relation to Akali Ministeries in PEPSU and Punjab shows both the evident bias of the Centre against the Sikh majority governments and how it can be abused to throttle the democratic will of the people. For example, in 1953, when the Akali Government of Gian Singh Rarewala in PEPSU was dismissed by Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru and the President’s rule imposed, for the first time in the country, B.R. Ambedkar, the author of the Indian Constitution, observed in the Rajya Sabha:

“The people got a very legitimate ground for suspicion that the Government was manipulating the Articles in the Constitution for the purpose of maintaining their own party in office in all parts of India. This is a rape of the Constitution.”12

The first Akali Ministry of Gurnam Singh, formed on March 8, 1967 after the creation of the Punjabi Suba, was removed on November 11, 1967. A minority Government under Lachhman Singh Gill, with the support of the Congress from outside, was brought into power on November 25, 1967, and was allowed to last up to August 21, 1968. Thereafter President’s rule was imposed. Again on February 17, 1969, after the President’s rule, an elected Akali Ministry was formed. This Ministry was allowed to function up to March 26, 1970, when another Akali Ministry came into power which could last only up to June 13, 1971. Congress attempts to topple this Ministry continued. Ultimately in June 1971, these attempts succeeded and President’s rule was imposed. There is yet another instance of the dismissal of the duly elected Akali Ministry in the mid-term, without any rhyme and reason.

In 1980, Indira Gandhi returned to power at the Centre. The Akali Government led by Parkash Singh Badal had come into power on June 20, 1977. But after her return Indira Gandhi dismissed it on February 17, 1980. This dismissal was both motivated and unwarranted. The Ministry had the necessary backing in the legislature. But its “sin” in the eyes of Indira Gandhi was that a case had been filed in the Supreme Court regarding the unconstitutionality of her Award of 1976 on the Water issue. Evidently, she could not allow that all her game of despoiling Punjab should be upset. Therefore, she hastened to dismiss the Ministry by introducing the President’s rule. The Akali Ministry of Surjit Singh Barnala had to meet a similar fate, as it was not allowed to function for more than two years (June 26, 1985 to May 11, 1987). No Akali Ministry was allowed to complete its full term of five years. After a year or so, with one stratagem or the other, the Centre imposed the President’s rule in Punjab after the removal of the Akali Ministry. Ever since the formation of Punjabi Suba in 1966 till 1991, a span of twenty five years, the Akalis won four elections and were allowed to rule for seven years, seven months and sixteen days in all, whereas the Congress won two elections and ruled for eight years, seven months and two days To cap it all, Punjab has had the longest spell of President’s rule in India. By 1991, the total period of President’s rule in this State had been seven years and seven and a half months. The Constitution had been amended six times to scuttle the democratic process in Punjab.13 Directive principles of the State policy laid down by the Constitution have been flouted and all democratic norms thrown to the winds.

The above facts indicate how biased and high handed has been the Central approach towards the Sikhs in Punjab, following the creation of Punjabi Suba. In no State has the President’s rule been imposed and prolonged for a longer time than in Punjab. The history of Government in Punjab reveals two things. First, that the Centre would never allow any representative Government to function in the State and would demolish it by one means or the other and create a stooge Government. The second point is that, when, for one reason or the other, the creation of a stooge government was not possible, a resort to Article 356 was made and the State was governed directly by the Centre. Both these measures strictly follow the dictum of Machiavelli that the ‘Prince’ should either create an unrepresentative Government in the acquired territory which should only look to the ‘Prince’ for its assistance or he himself should go and live and administer the acquired territory. The second part of the dictum was observed in the manner of a Central nominee (Governor) being appointed to govern the State according to the dictates of the Centre.

Here, it is necessary to restate that it was during the term of a stooge government that all the agreements relating to the unconstitutional and ruinous drain of Punjab waters and hydel power were made. So much so that when the Akali Government had filed a suit in the Supreme Court, it was dismissed and later a Congress Government was made to sign the Agreement (1981) and withdraw the case from the Supreme Court. It is also very significant to note that the Electricity Agreement of 1984, as mentioned earlier, was signed not by a representative Ministry in the Punjab but by the nominee of the ‘Prince’ itself, namely, the Governor in 1984. Obviously, no representative Government of the Punjab could ever sign such agreements or take such suicidal steps.

The above analysis makes it obvious that while there has been an overall centralisation of economic, administrative and political powers with the Centre, in the case of Punjab, there is a calculated attempt to denude it of its natural and economic resources and make it a subservient administrative limb of the Central Government. Even in other States where financial and administrative erosion of state power has been far less than in the Punjab, there has been a strong demand for state autonomy.

Notes and References

*The first two paragraphs have been written by us. – Editor of SikhFreedom.com

  1. Nayar, Kuldip; ‘Liberty and Sacrifices’ in The Tribune September 11, 1991.
  2. Kothari, Rajni; 'Wanted : An Opposition That Works’ in the Indian Express, June 18, 1989.
  3. Commission On Centre-State Relations-Report, Part II, op. cit., P. 695.
  4. Mehbub, Harinder Singh; Sehje Rachieo Khalsa    (Jallandar 1986), PP. 613-14.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Satish Chander; Medieval India (Delhi, 1990), P. 237.
  7. Cente-State Relations-Report, Part II, op, city P, 709.
  8. Sanotra, Hardev S.; ‘The Bureaucracy: Reshuffling The Taj’ in India To-day, August 15, 1991, P. 30.
  9. The Ajit, August 22, 1991.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Quoted by Ramakrishna Hegde, former Chief Minister, Karnatka, in his article, ‘Towards a United States of India II’ in The Tribune, April 30, 1990.
  13. The Tribune, September 17, 1991.

Source – India Commits Suicide by Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon