Ethnic Polarization in Punjab and the Role of AKali Dal

By Saryal, Sutapa | Journal of Political Studies, Winter 2016 | Go to article overview

Ethnic Polarization in Punjab and the Role of AKali Dal


Saryal, Sutapa, Journal of Political Studies


The beginning of the 21st century witnessed the escalation of community mobilisation all over the world. Pluralism seemed to be an inexorable condition of the contemporary societies where a demand have been raised by various ethnic and religious groups for recognition of their rights often defined in terms of 'group right'. However, it is significant to point out here that most of these ethnic or group identities are hybrid and multi-layered in nature. It is within these multifarious circumstances that I have tried to locate the basic arguments of this paper which postulates that the idea of creating a homogenous community or group in a multi ethnic state of India is pretence. India is a classic example of a society with multi layered ethnic identities like language, religion, caste, tribe cutting across each other. In India each ethnic community have definite inherent contradiction and further sub- divisions on the basis of caste, class etc. Infact there are communities who have a tendency to imagine themselves as the possessor of plural religious identities. The dialectics of polarization is that it is a continuous process. Ethnic and religious polarization on the basis of one set of identities is not an end to the polarization process in India. Indeed it initiated further new levels of polarization within that community also. The paper argues that the polarization process in Punjab took place and is still taking place in phases. The first phase was polarization in the pre independence period between Hindus, Muslim and Sikhs that culminated in the partition. The second phase started in the post independence period between Hindus and Sikhs when a demand for a separate Sikh state was made. And the third stage is the polarization within the Sikh community where the dalits are raising their voice of dissent and opposition against the Jat Sikhs. It is against this background that the current paper tries to interrogate the claims of the Akali Dal, a regional party in Punjab that had used religious and cultural symbols as a means for reinforcing and mobilising the Sikh community. The Akali Dal in Punjab made a demand for the creation of a separate Punjabi Suba on the basis of religion and language with the hope that in such a Sikh majority state it will have monopoly over the political power. However such polarization did not benefit them because they got a separate state where they have to share power with the Punjabi speaking and Hindi speaking Hindus. While the creation of Punjab in 1966 resolved one set of demands of the Akali Dal, it did not bring to a close the process of ethnic polarization in Punjab. As a matter of fact, it further aggravated this system of division because of the heterogeneous nature of the Sikh community. A new form of polarization within the Sikh community started on the basis of caste. This division within the Sikh community soon became apparent when conflicts emerged between Jat Sikh landlords and the Mazhabi and ramdasias Sikhs i.e. scheduled caste Sikhs who were predominantly landless agricultural labour. These subdivisions, which themselves are again internally differentiated, within the Sikh community of late have started raising their voice against their own fellow group members for the protection of their rights and liberties. Thus, the polarization process between the Hindus and Sikhs initiated in the pre-independence period and duly carried on by the Akali Dal in the post independence period is still continuing and creating further clefts in the society. The construction and nurturing of such cleavages earlier on religious, cultural and now on casteist line in Punjab by Akali Dal had led to a state of turmoil. In the electoral arena the polarisation process created a lot of political instability followed by an era of violence. The only possible solution seemed to be following a "politics of accommodation". Analysis of these are broadly speaking the basic objectives of this paper and I have tried to show that no permanent resolution to the problems of Punjab can be attained until the political dynamics are altered to produce a stable single or governing coalition united in a desire to promote the interests of the people of Punjab. …

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