Archive for the ‘Punjab’ Category

Friends, my first article in Tamil.

A few weeks back The Hindu (Tamil) called me asking for an article on the DMK leader M Karunanidhi. I replied I was most poorly placed to talk about him. They persisted saying it was for their commemorative issue. I sat down to write and realized the deep solidarity between Tamil and Punjab politics in opposition to the central government. Issues include language and call for greater federalism. I am sure the translation does justice.

Federalism and the Delhi Durbar

What Europe did in terms of political reorganization in 1993, India had already done in 1947. The European Union was a coming together of nations to form a unified market, after independence India came together as a union of states bringing together many distinct and diverse nationalities in terms of the people’s ethnicity, languages, culture, customs, traditions, cuisine, costumes and aspirations. A quarter century after the formation of the European Union, the cracks that now show up in Europe’s composite narrative – of inequality between nation states – have been far too visible right from the inception of the modern Indian state. All these wounds in India erupted from a single call: greater federalism, enshrined in the Indian constitution, which challenges the centre’s push to impose a uniform framework on the nation – mostly in terms of language, taxation and governance.

Punjab is a case in point. Post-independence the centre reorganised the rest of the country on linguistic lines by creating the states but denied the same status to Punjab. It feared a Sikh religion majority state next to Pakistan already carved out on religious lines. The States Reorganisation Commission report in 1955 did not consider Punjabi language unique enough to ask for statehood and sought to impose Hindi on the region. This led to a decade long non-violent Punjabi Suba agitation led by the Akali Dal in which thousands courted arrest. Finally, in 1966, Punjab was trifurcated into a territorially much diminished state. But Punjab had learnt well the shenanigans of the Delhi Durbar. The Akali Dal sought to re-look the centre-state relationship and articulated their stance in the Anandpur Sahib Resolution, 1973.

The Resolution sought greater powers to the state over the headworks of its rivers, stake on the capital Chandigarh and Punjabi speaking areas left out of the state. It questioned the centre not allowing the state to benefit from the tax structure of the Green Revolution ushered in the state a decade back to save India from hunger. It sought an end to exploitation of cash crops, raised the need for crop diversification, tax subsidies on farm machinery, pushed for government procurement of all farm produce, and rapid growth of the agro industry. It sought a dry port to trade with neighbouring countries. It also called for reinstating the dignity of Punjabi language and a radio station to broadcast Gurbani – the Sikh religious texts.

A similar demand was arising from another set of independent people: Tamil Nadu. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, owed its birth to the Dravidian anti-Hindi movement against the imposition of the language in the 1940s/50s. In 1971, the Rajamannar Committee – instituted under the leadership of Karunanidhi of the DMK – presented its resolutions suggesting the formation of an inter-state council to suggest changes to the relationship between the centre and the states and secure greater autonomy for the states. Former Chief Justice of Madras, Dr P.V. Rajamannar sought reconsideration of Articles 256 and 257 (Obligation and Control of States and the Union) that empower the central executive to issue directions to the state governments and to reorganize the items in the Union, State and Concurrent Lists. He called for a re-look at the Planning Commission, the repeal of the Industries (Development and Regulation) Act of 1951, and changing the tax structure.

The centre’s response to both Punjab and Tamil Nadu was extremely slow and finally negative. In the 1980s, it instituted the Sarkaria Commission to look into the calls of the states. The Commission report in 1987 ignored the core demands but proposed other Constitutional measures. The centre ignored it, locked it away. Recently, in an effort to make India a single market regime through the Goods and Service Tax, the government bandied a new term Cooperative Federalism which is an inherent oxymoron. What does it even mean? The sub-text is clear: the Delhi Durbar lacks the political will to give up its control of the states.

The tension shows up in the revival of Hindi language politics, in the inter-state water distribution whether it is the Sutlej Yamuna Link Canal or the Cauvery Water issue, the agrarian and industrial crises and farmer and labour suicides. The struggle for federalism is more than a half century old and Badal and Karunanidhi have turned nonagenarians. But the Delhi Durbar – in spite of change of guard – has grown stronger at the cost of the states. The wounds on India’s body politic remain unaddressed. Some have dried into scars but all remain alive and continue to fester. They will not heal until the centre yields.

Also posted here …

Friends, my review of the two volumes on the Anglo-Sikh Wars by Amarpal Singh Sidhu. Thank you Arunava Sinha for the opportunity.

‘Singh, a self-trained historian probes the one liner every Sikh child grows up learning: our armies were great but our leaders betrayed us. The volumes are a revelation at many levels, but primarily in seeing how they mark the author’s growth as a historian – right from his sense of purpose, content, style, facts and presentation.’

Please find here …

Friends, here is the Hindustan Times report on the panel discussion at Chandigarh Literature Festival on ‘Censorship and Freedom of Expression in Punjabi Literature.’ Thank you Raavi Sandhu for the report.

Please read here …


Friends, the Chandigarh Literature Festival hosted a panel discussion on ‘Censorship: Freedom of Expression in Punjabi Literature.’  I hosted the discussion and Prof Surjit Singh, Punjabi Department, Punjabi University and Daljit Ami, documentary film maker, cultural critic, translator, from BBC Punjabi and Jawaharlal Nehru University participated.

My view was that we can not look at censorship in literature in isolation. The fact is that for about a 150 years now the Punjab and especially Sikh society has become censorious. Censorship took an extreme turn in the 1980s during the Khalistan Movement. We defined censorship of four kinds: Sacred (matters of religion), State, Social and Self.

Dear friend Jasdeep Singh was so kind to record it on Facebook Live and relay it from the venue English Department Auditorium, Punjab University, Chandigarh.

Please find the recording here…


Friends, for some good reason the Indian Women Blog interviewed me recently on my writing, my thoughts, my past and next work. Here is the interview. I feel flattered to be featured here.

‘Even after writing those hundreds of pages, I feel even more uncertain about myself. The more I explore myself, the more my way of describing myself through labels dissolve. Yet, I feel satisfied with my attitude to life. It is this: do not be defined by anyone else, seek your own language and ensure it cannot be appropriated.’

Please read …


An Article on Not In My Name

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Friends, while looking for something else I found this article that sort of summarises the various social media posts on the idea of #NotInMyName in the country. My post also finds a mention. I am glad we are archiving, if only we could as a society now not suffer memory losses.

Please read …

Friends, my short piece in The Hindu in which I argue that in the last two years I have noticed a small, tremulous, change in Punjab given the stereotype in the nations and worlds’ mind – the region has a propensity towards violence. Whether it was the sacrilege incidents of 2015 or the recent Dera Premi fracas, Punjab held its pain in restraint.

That does not mean Punjab has no disquiet. Disquiet is ripe and the region is marked by distrust. Punjab thirsts for justice. Yet, I feel by not giving in to easy violence the region is sending out a different message if we were to listen to it and act on it to resolve many past grievances in this post-conflict land.

Please read here …

Friends, my piece on Punjab as a border state in Cafe Dissensus. Thank you Karthik Venkatesh, Cafe team and all contributors.

Based on travels on the Punjab border in the aftermath of the ‘surgical strike’ post the September Uri attack, the piece seeks to depict Punjab’s indigenous nationalism. The nationalism of lives, homes, crops, fields and faith which remains at great variance from the jingoistic version peddled by national media, especially TV, and the Sangh.

Please read …

Friends, this year the annual The Hindu Literature for Life festival invited me to speak on my current non-fiction project on Punjab. The talk was titled Punjab – The Unknown Narrative. Big shout out to Ms Prasanna Ramaswamy who invited me and Prema Revathi who hosted the talk.

Thank you!

Please see … 


The Quint: Why AAP lost Punjab?

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The Punjab result in the assembly election 2017 was stunning. Congress won 77/117 seats. The huge hope AAP had created was belied.  My quick comments on why AAP lost – beholden to the central power figure.

Please read …