1984: The Rise of the Akali Dal- To be remembered Always
During and before the partition, many Sikhs who composed theAkali Dal, a Sikh political party based in Punjab, were active members in gaining India’s independence from the British Raj. For years before the partition, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Muslim League leader, advocated a separate Islamic state — leading to the division of Punjab. In turn, the Akali Dal began to detach from the Indian Congress Party which had promised Sikhs that no Punjab land would be given away. Resentment due to the division of Punjab caused the Akalis to formally break away from the Congress party in 1956 (Narang, 42). Upon this change in political allignment, the Akalis began to call for an American form of democracy in Punjab, particularly one in which most of the power is held by local state governments and only a few basic powers — defense, currency and justice — reside within the central government. “The Sikhs have advocated a federal structure for the Indian state for decades. One of the reasons why the Central government came down on the Sikhs with a heavy hand was the desire to quell this demand” (Jaijee, 12). Yet, these calls for radical reforms were just the beginning of Sikh involvement in Indian politics. Soon, the rise of the Akali Dal in Punjab became the target of close surveillance by the Indian government.
As the Akali Dal picked up momentum and gained the support of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPS) leaders, the Indian government began to view this high level of political power in Punjab as a threat (Narang, 32). In hopes to gain economic autonomy, the Akalis began to ask for more rights. “In September 1981 the Akali Dal launched its campaign for Punajab’s autonomy, popularly calledDharam Yudh Morcha. Although it attracted some qualified support from leftist groups, this campaign drew vigorous sympathy from diaspora Sikh associations” (Tatla, 106). Such campaigns and support in turn heightened the Indian government’s resentment towards the Akalis. Thus, political friction between the central government and Punjab state government continued to grow.
As the Akalis continued to strengthen Punjab as the “Sikh political party,” the government began forming plans to diminish Akali power. In order to lure Punjab in their favor, the government helped a highly charismatic Sikh, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale build up his base as a prominent Sikh leader. The central government hoped to counter the Akali Dal, who at the time appeared as the sole representation of the Sikh vote in national politics, by feeding power to Bindranwale. Not realizing the impact of such a charismatic leader, Bhindranwale soon gained more power than the Indian government had hoped for. Not only did he suppress the Akali presence in Punjab, but he also created a new movement — a movement more threatening to the central government. He advocated radical ideas of gaining rights, especially in regards to the Punjab’s economics. His sudden rise into power and popularity was unquestionable. As a result, many fake murder charges were fed to the government-controlled Indian media in attempts to politically disarm Bhindranwale. The Indian government painted him as a “militant” and all his supporters as society’s rotten tomatoes (Nayar, 10). This use of media manipulation by the India’s Congress Party created a division between the Sikhs and Hindus living in Punjab. Hindus and Sikhs began to live in separate villages, reducing daily interactions. Most daily occurrences began to be viewed through a Hindu vs. Sikh lens. Nonetheless, as Sikh presence in politics increased, media and news exploitation of Sikh identity increased as well.