Separatism in Post Independent India

The Tribal Problem

Tribals at the time of independence constituted  7% of the population of India. Unlike the rest of the population the problems facing the tribals was unique. This section of the Society had always remained on the fringes of civilization. Their interaction with the outside world had always been very minimal.These tribal groups were predominantly present in the Central Indian Highlands and in the North Eastern Part of India.The tribals who inhabited the Central Indian Forests differed from the tribals living in the North east.

The Tribes of Central Indian states have gradulaly started interacting with the Non-Tribals in the areas. These non tribal members who were originally‘outsiders’to these tribal areas have become a part of the social landscape.Though the relationship between the tribals and the non tribals was not one of a happy co-existence, it was not one of conflict either.

Tribals of north east and the British Policy of Isolation

However this wasn’t the case with the Tribal groups in the North Eastern states. In the North east the interaction of the tribal groups with the outside world has been almost non existent. The Tribes in these areas have been deliberatley kept out of the national movement by the British Official Class. There was no Gandhian nor a communist who had moved alongside these tribals during the indian national movement. Inaddition to that the missionary activity in these areas that was actively encouraged by the colonial raj had encouraged the development of a “tribal consciousness” that was at odds with the Hindu India. The Tribal Groups in the North East comprised of hundreds of different groups scattered on the Hills of Assam some of them even spreading into the Burmese hills as well.

The Naga trouble

 Among the various Tribal Groups in the North East, the problem arose in the case of the Nagas. The nagas were a fierce warrior tribal group. The fiercest and the most independent amongst them were the Anghami Nagas. A certain section of the Anghami Nagas had become English Educated and had formed the Naga National Council. The Britishers had before departing the country had sowed in the minds of these Nagas the seeds of an Independent Nation. The Nagas under the banner and leadership of the NNC harboured dreams of self determination and a Naga Nation of their own.The Nagas numbered not more than 500000 and the practical feasability of a separate Naga state that is independent of the Indian Union was a very remote possibility.The fact that a separate Naga State cut off from India cannot even exist was also realized by certain moderate section of the Nagas called as the Ao Nagas.However the mood gradually changed over to the extremist form of complete independence with the arrival of the firebrand Anghami Naga leader Zapu Phizo on the scene.

phizo and self determinism

Phizo wanted to unite all the Nagas in India and Burma and to form an independent Nation

He highlighted that the Nagas were racially of the mongoloid stock and hence do not form a part of the Indian Nation

His methods were brutal even on the Nagas themselves. Those Nagas who were termed to be moderates  such as Sakherie were killed by Phizo’s men.

While such methods pushed some of the Nagas away from Phizo, it also played an important role in attracting the youth to the Naga cause.

Indian approach to the Naga Question

Nehru made it clear that any question of seccession or cut off from the Indian nation would be completely unaccpetable. He felt sympathetic to the cause of the nagas and he offered a practically fesable solution of enhance autnomoy.

The Indian Governmtn felt after the bitter experiences of Partition that any further concessions to such separatist demands would fracture the already fragile infant Indian Nation.

Nehru was ready to grant greater financil, cultural autonomy to the Nagas.

Nehru was infact even ready to amend the constituion so as to make the necessary changes to assist the Nagas to have completely autonomy within the Indian State.

Later the indian approach hardened due to the ultimatum that Phizo hadd granted to Nehru. Violence and lawlessnes by the NNC Guerellas forced the intervention of the Indian Army. Violent and brutal methods were used by both sides.

Finally, once the back of the armed rebellion was broken by the middle of 1957, the more moderate Naga leaders headed by Dr Imkongliba Ao came to the fore. They negotiated for the creation of the State of Nagaland within the Indian union. The Government of India accepted their demand through a series of intermediate steps; and the State of Nagaland was formed in 1963

Khalistan punjab movement

How did it all start?

Pre independence communalism—-hindu ,muslim and sikh communal politics

Akali dal had its roots in the pre indepednece movements against the British. There was always a communal colour to its struggle since Akali Dal politics centred around Gurudwara COntrol and mobilisation of sikhs on the basis of religion.denying the ideal of a secular polity, the Akalis asserted that religion and politics could not be separated as the two were essentially combined in Sikhism. They also claimed that the Akali Dal was the sole representative of the Sikh Panth which was defined as a combination of the Sikh religion and the political and other secular interests of all Sikhs.

The main issue in Punjab was that two secular questions became identified with Religious.

The first issue was that of state language: 

What was to be the language of administration and schooling in bilingual Punjab.?

The question of the official language of the state became the first main problem in punjab. This is because the official language of the state would be taught in the schools. While the constitution provided for more than one language to be declared as the official language of the state, the Sikh Communalists supported by the Akali Dal wanted only Punjabi to be declared as the official language in the state. The Hindu Communlaists on the other hand wanted both hindi and Punjabi to be declared as the official language. What should have been primarily a language based secular issue based on administrative convenience turned into a communal problem.

The second issue—that of Punjabi Suba—proved to be more emotive and divisive.

 After the State Reorganization Commission (SRC) was set up in 1955, the Akali Dal, the CPI, many Congressmen and Punjabi intellectuals put before it a demand for the reorganization of the state on linguistic lines, which would lead to the creation of Punjabi speaking Punjab and a Hindi-speaking Haryana. The demand put forward was rejected by SRC on the ground that Punjabi and Hindi was not very different and hence the state cannot be befurcated into two on linguistic lines. However, the Akali Dal under the leadership of Master Tara Singh soon organized a powerful agitation around the demand for the formation of a Punjabi Suba. The non acceptance of a separate Punjab Subha demand was given a completely communal twist by the Akali Dal leadership. They pointed out that Sikhs were being discriminated aginst in a Hindu India. The cry of Sikhism at threat similar to the communal cry given by Jinnah a few years earlier of Islam being threatened was repeated. 

 The Hindu Party Jan Sangh decried that the separate Punjabi statehood will only result in a theocratic Sikh state where HIndus will be threatened. The problem only got worsened when the Harijan Sikhs ,called as the Mazhabi Sikhs also resisted the demand for the creation of a separate Punjab State. These Harijan Sikhs feared that a separate Punjabi state would only make their condition even pitiable in the hands of large land holders.This was because the base of akali dal party was the large landowners and hence the Harijan Sikhs opposed the demand of the Akali Dal for a separate Punjab State for Sikhs.

Akali dal politics.

Finally a separate Punjabi speaking state was carved out along with a Hindi Speaking Haryana and the Kangra Hill region being made as a part of HImachal Pradesh. Once a separate statehood was achieved, the future of Akali Politics seemed to have no basis. Almost all demands have been met. The Language issue had been sorted out, a separate punjabi speaking state had been establsihed. The right course of action for the Akali’s would have been to get back to Gurudwara related affairs. But the Akali’s were not to be contended just with the management of Gurudwaras.The vote bank of teh akalis also seemed to be dimnisihidn. Traditionally it has always been the large scale farmers who have been the promoninet votebank for the Akalis. The SC Sikhs have never allied their cause along wiht the AKalis due to iunherent class and caste differences,since Akali Dal was always associated with the upper caste Jat Sikhs. Even amongst the Sikhs, a good number of them voted for the COngress party and for the CPI.Added to all this is the fact that the population of Sikhs put together in Punjab did not exceed 60%. The Akalis faced a reality check in the 1980 Assembly Elections.

Existential Question of Akali Dal:-

After the heavy loss suffered by the Akali Dal Party in the 1980 elections, the language of the Akali Dal party changed. In 1981, the main Akali Dal, headed by Sant Longowal, submitted to the prime minister a memorandum of forty-five religious, political, economic and social demands and grievances. The Grievances included the issue of the sharing of Punjab’s river waters between Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan and the question of the transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab. He also demanded the immediate implementation of the various demands that were put forward in the Anandsahibpur Resolution in 1973. Most demands in the Anandsahibpur resolution were separatist in nature.

The Akalis also started using the Sikh Religious symbols and Institutions such as Gurudwaras as a part of their poltiical campaign and this definitely made the agenda of the Akali dAL CLEARLY communal in nature.

The stage was set right in Punjab for the terrrorists to take over… the communally charged environment that was created by the Akalis was made use of by the Terrorits who advocated open use of violence as the remedy to solve the Grievances of the Sikhs.

Rise of Terrorism:-

Once Terrrorism had raised its ugly head under the leadership of Bindranwale, the Akali leadersip fund itself in a helpless position.

Any communal demand that they advocated, they always found Bindranwale one step further. Inorder to catch up with his growing popularity, the Akali Leadership further communalised their propaganda ahaoinst the government. This led to a communally charged environemtn in Punjab where every Grievance started getting viewed through the lens of communalism.

The Akali lkeaders took no notice of the fact that the terrorists had taken control of the Gurudwaras and had started using as a hideout and a safe haven to carry on their terrosist activities. 

Many an instance the Akali leaders found themselves forced to take extreme positions just to not lose their leadership and hold on the masses. 

State’s Response:-

Early Phase of Inaction:

The State’s reaction initially was one of inaction. The Centre nor the State Government did not realized the futility of negotitations woith a Group that gave a communal colour to each and every grievance. The Government did not realize that with each grievance being satisfied such communal groups only come up with a new and fresh set of grievance eacch time.

The Governemtn under Pratap Singh Kairon had infact gone to the extent of propping up Bindranwale in the earlier days as a counter weight to Akali Dal leaders. Little did they realize that Bindranwale would turn out to be the Frankenstein who would be impossible to tame.

Even violent actions against the state were unmet with commensurate actions from the Governmetn. When the state DGP Atwal was killed within the precincts of Golden Temple, still the governmetn did not take strong measures and this only emboldened the terrorists

Inaddtiion to that Pakistan had started getting involved in the Punjab problem. The terorists started getting training and arms from Pakistan.

More and more Gurudwaras getting fortified and ammunitions were stacked inside the premisies of the Gurudwaras.

An alarming trend was the growth of Hindu-Sikh violence in Punjab and retaliatory violence against the Sikhs in Haryana. Hindu shops and houses were damaged and burnt in Punjab during such riots. Security of life and property increasingly was at risk.

Next Phase of Tough Action:-

The Governmetn finally realized the deteriorating situation and finally decided that such actions on the part of the terrorists had to eb met with stron response. Operation Blue Star was launched.

Operation Blue Star was a military response to the Khalistan Question. The Operation was hastily planned. Collateral damages that could result were not taken into consideration. Flushing out the terrorists from the Golden Temple became the main objective of the Government.

On June 5th, the army entered the Golden Temple. The Government’s lack of planning was evident in the fact that numerous members of the Public were still stuck inside the temple premises. The Akal Takt -the holiest part of the Golden Temple was completely damaged in the firing and shelling. Hundreds of Public members stuck and held hostage inside the temple were also killed in the cross-fire. And finally Bindranwale and his terrorists were killed.

The shelling that happened on the Golden Temple angered Sikhs in India and across the world. The retaliation from the Sikh fraternity led to the assasination of the Indian Prime Minister Indra Gandhi by her own Body Guards and the accompanying communal riots that happened in the streets of Delhi where numerous Sikhs were murdered by angry mobs.


How has the Government dealt with the Question of Separatism:-

  1. Increased autonomy in certain cases.

While dealing with the Naga Question, the then Prime Minister Nehru was extremely sympathetic to their cause. He had gone to the extent of complete autonomy in the management of their Social and Political life. Nehru had promised Constitutional Amedments to accomodate the Naga demand if necessary.

This stand of the Givernmetn was the result of the genuinesess of the fears of the Nagas. Their fears thst their unique culture was at threat was not a communal question but rather a secular one and hence nehru was forthcoming in accomodating their demands.

  • By gradual softening of the stance and thus making the separatists a partner in the constitutional scheme.

The anti-Hindi agitations in Tamil Nadu led by the DMK was another test for the centre to maintain the unity and the integrity of the Nation. By the centre softening its stance with respect to making Hindi the only official language , it was able to put down the unrest and to co-opt the Dravidian party as a partner in power sharing. DMK being satisfied by the softening of the Hindi language Policy of the central government had in-fact even completely shed its separatist image and had become a regional partner in extending support to the Central Government under the Constitutional Scheme.

  • Tough Military action when necessary.

 WHile Indra Gandhi has been lauded a strong leader because of her Military interventions in putting down the Khalistan terrorist group, no lesser appreciation should be given to Pt. Nehru as well. His decisive handling of the Naga trouble was a clear evidence of the hard measures that the Indian Government was capable of taking inorder to maintain law and order.

While undoubtably Nehru was sympathetic to the Naga demands of increased autonomy, he was strong and adamant that no violent methods or separatism would be tolerated.

Critics would argue about the effectiveness of a Military Intervention. THough there is a negative side to the brutal actions on the part of the army, it should always be remebered that such harsh military action was the last resort and not the first respsonse.

Withoiut doubt it was only the army action in Operation Blue STar that brought the Khalistan terrorists to their knees. Force has always been dealt strictly by the Indian Government whenever it was found necessary.

  • Preventing separatism in the future by sops and concessions.

While mostly all separatist organisations and parties that have harboured thoughts of breakaway from India have given up on their demand, it should be kept in mind that still there is a potential for a new organisation to sprout on separatist demands.

Inorder to tackle such problems, the Indian Governemtn has resposnded with the experience of the previous years and lessons learnt from the handling of the previous separatist movemetns.

Separatist demands oftten emerge based on the perceptions of deprivation and regional imbalance. The Central Government through its institution of Planning Commission has intervened in minimizing the imbalances by pushing forward with infrastructural developmental projects wherever it is required. The Assam Separatist forces were made irrrelevant witht he signing of Assam Accord and the establishment of an oil refinery in Assam. Similar concessions of development and increased fund allocations have been and continues to be the Centre’s strategy to deal with such Separatism demands.