The Next Phase of Jang Hind Punjab
Special Panth-Punjab Project Editorial: Kisaan Morcha, Indian's Place in a Shifting Global Order, Internal and External Threats, Containing the Sikh "Threat", and Preparing for the Next Morcha.
The Kisaan Morcha finally drew to a close in recent weeks, as the Indian state finally repealed its imperialist agriculture “reforms”. The Morcha stretched across time and space–occupying the streets of Delhi and the consciousness of Panth-Punjab for over a year. While this may be a moment to celebrate the strength and power of our mobilization, it is most importantly a time to reflect on the lessons learned and prepare for the next phase.
The fate of the Morcha is not merely a blip on a timeline or something that we are past, now that the bills have been repealed. Everything that has transpired over the past year is reflective of a new phase in our history and a new set of challenges. The introduction of the bills, the historic resistance, and their ultimate repeal are all indicative of the massive geopolitical shifts underway in the region—and Punjab is at the epicentre.
At this crucial juncture, it is important that we focus on understanding the nature of our conflict with Delhi and ensure we grasp the grassroots realities in the region. We cannot become fixated on reacting to events in one moment, and we cannot limit ourselves to illusory rhetoric. Our action must be rooted in a concrete analysis of our surroundings, and a firm commitment to the liberatory vision blessed to us by Sache Patshah (the True Sovereign).
India’s Place in a Shifting Global Order
As we see the decline of the American empire and the rise of China, we have seen an uptick in rhetoric around the centrality of the “Indo-Pacific” to the foreign policy of numerous governments. As imperialist countries seek to create and access markets in the region (for example, by corporatizing agriculture), the Indian state seeks refuge in the protective embrace of NATO-aligned countries (particularly the US) to protect itself against China. In turn, Western countries are more than willing to turn a blind eye to Indian fascism given the increasing geostrategic importance of India in the shifting world order.
The agriculture bills were introduced at a time these imperialist relationships were beginning to blossom–integrating the interests of their respective multinational corporations. By privatizing agriculture, the bills would not just commercialize the industry but also weaken any resistance from Punjab by exiling large swathes of the population from the economy and drowning the remainder in the throes of consumerism.
Historically, Delhi has consistently treated Punjab as a colony to be dominated and exploited to serve Indian national security and food security objectives. Now, under the current circumstances, Punjab holds the key to stability within the Indian empire and the survival of the current structure. Not only is Punjab the only viable route to trade and transport goods by land through Central Asia, it is a key logistical point for the military, and also houses a fundamental challenge to the Indian state itself.
Modi’s unilateral decision to repeal the bills was not just an electoral strategy to win in UP, nor was it spontaneous benevolence. Modi’s decision illustrates the fragility of the Indian state itself.
Internal Tension and External Challenges
Since the inception of the Indian state, there have been ongoing tensions and conflicts across the subcontinent, within India's borders and beyond. From renewed border conflict with China and Pakistan, to multiple lingering insurgencies, and the growing fragmentation of those who once considered themselves core to the Indian “nation”. Resentment with the Indian project is no longer limited to secessionist movements in the borderlands. It is creeping into the Hindi heartland itself as Muslims, Dalits, Indigenous communities, and other minorities grow disenchanted with the myth of the Indian nation. Coupled with these tensions there is an increasing global resistance to Hindutva as an increasing number of people are beginning to recognise that the structure of the Indian state itself is the problem, not one nationalist party versus another.
In light of this fragility and the increasing encroachment from China and Pakistan, the Indian establishment knew that it could not afford an external conflict alongside simultaneous internal discontent–especially not with a community and geographic region that is pivotal to the logistical and military response to any foreign incursion.
In the weeks leading up to Modi’s announcement, Indian military leadership had formally expressed concerns on several occasions regarding discontent with the ranks while the intelligence establishment has been sounding alarm bells considering the significant vocal support for Khalistan and the secession of Punjab. This fear has been realized multiple times in the past, even before the June 1984 rebellion of Sikh soldiers to reach Sri Darbar Sahib and aid its defence.
Conscious of this widespread sentiment, state officials from Meghalya governor, Satya Pal Malik, to former RAW chiefs like AS Dullat, and numerous others have unequivocally communicated its warning to the government—enflame Sikh sentiments and provoke Sikh mobilization at your own peril.
Containing the Sikh “Threat”
India recognizes the massive influence Sikhs wield within the subcontinent and around the world. On a moral level, the vision and values of sarbat da bhala were on full display at the Singhu border. This has clearly captured the imagination of people across the subcontinent. Sikhs in Punjab have historically been a beacon of hope and action against imperialism in the subcontinent, and this image continues to inspire other communities in struggle today.
Combining this moral influence with the grit and determination to struggle at all costs, along with the support of a powerful diaspora community–Sikhs in Punjab continue to be seen as a mortal threat by Delhi.
The recent fallout within the ranks of every major political party in Punjab–from the Akalis to the Congress–is not a coincidence. To the contrary, it can be described as orchestrated chaos. In post-1995 Punjab, the Badal-led Akali Dal had become Delhi’s favourite–regardless of whether the Congress or BJP were in power. This was for one simple reason: the Badals were able to operate as the Sikh “overseer” which stifled dissident Sikh expression and bottled up or repressed Sikh discontent in India.
Now that the Badals have lost every shred of credibility within Sikh spaces, Delhi is in the process of seeking another lapdog–and every political faction now has a horse in the race.
In this perplexing landscape, we can look forward to a number of developments in the near future:
Key players of every stripe will be vying to simultaneously be seen as legitimate (and Panthic) political leadership to the electorate while also currying favour in order to secure approval from Delhi. They will begin making more Panthic “sounds” to appease voters without violating the boundaries of Indian nationalism (ie. while the Akalis are trying to reestablish their Panthic credentials, even the Congress is now talking about federalism, riparian rights and strengthening language policy in favour of Punjabi).
The BJP will continue to cast Sikh resistance as a conflict solely with the Congress party. In addition to the repeal of the bills, Delhi will continue to make incremental concessions to ease Sikh discontent–likely using these opportunities to parachute their Sikh “faces” like Manjinder Sirsa and others. Some of these gestures may potentially include the release of some political prisoners, address lingering issues from Punjab’s reorganization, or other cosmetic changes.
If this process is completed and the BJP is able to secure its foothold in Punjab, the next step will be a severe crackdown similar to Kashmir after the abrogation of article 370. Over the past several years, Delhi has been gradually sharpening its tools: increasing the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force, strengthening “anti-terror” legislation and the National Investigation Agency, and transferring the administration of prisons to BSF and CRP officers. Once the BJP is able to achieve its objectives, any who still resist will swiftly be targeted for state violence.
Preparing for the Next Morcha
The only way to ensure justice, peace and stability within the region is to promote genuine democratization from the grassroots and the radical decentralization of political power.
Punjab’s autonomous self-governance is the only viable alternative to Indian fascism and must be built from the ground up–it will not be granted by electoral parties. That alternative is simple yet heavily demonized and violently repressed: Sikhs existing free from state coercion so we can build a social, political, and economic system that is kirt-pakhi (labour-centric), kudrat-pakhi (nature-centric), and Punjab-pakhi (Punjab-centric).
In the current circumstances it is essential we steel ourselves and reorganize for the next phase of the struggle. The Kisaan Morcha showed us that despite all odds, we still have the ability and determination to mobilize, and sustain that mobilization. The need of the hour is to move beyond mobilization towards organization.
Sikh struggle has never been about reforming oppressive power. It is about uprooting structures of oppression in order to establish a just order based on sarbat da bhala–a concept built upon sovereign Sikh power rather than “charity”.