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Understanding Punjab’s Floods and Celebrating the Resilience of the Panth
The Panth and Punjab are closely watching with concern as flood waters once again inundate Punjab. In this context, it is imperative that we critically analyze the root causes of this crisis, and identify practical solutions in the short and long term. Moving away from sensationalist and conspiratorial commentary, we need to focus on concrete analysis as we strive to understand:
What are the immediate and the broader, structural causes of the flooding we are seeing today?
Given the realities on the ground, what does meaningful solutions look like in both the short-term and long-term?
Looking at the current situation holistically, there are three primary layers underlying the problem of flooding in Punjab:
1) the consistent negligence and ineffectiveness of Punjab's subedars (ie. the junior partners of Hindutva, governing in Chandigarh);
2) Indian imperialism and the lack of Punjab's control of its own water and infrastructure management; and
3) the reality of the unfolding climate crisis and ecological destruction of Punjab.
The politics of subedari
For decades, back-to-back administrations in Punjab have failed to institute effective water management policies, plan and implement development in a way that benefits Punjab long-term, or even just maintain the already existing infrastructure in a functional state.
This negligence transcends political parties and is actually indicative of the broader political decay in the circles of the political elite in Punjab. Politics is widely used as a vehicle to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of a few, which leads to the neglect of key public services in favour of the money-making schemes of private corporations and wealthy elites.
Studies done following the 1993 floods in Punjab had pointed out the non-maintenance of Punjab’s drainage systems as a main cause of the floods. This lack of maintenance of Punjab’s drains, at its root, is due to bureaucrats, politicians, and corporations working together to treat Punjab as their personal fiefdom–prioritizing their capital investments over public works and siphoning off money for their own gain. Two former irrigation ministers have been probed for their negligence related to the drainage systems, but these inquiries led to nothing more than more stagnant investigations leading nowhere.
In addition to Punjab’s drainage infrastructure being undermined, canal embankments have also been allowed to fall into disrepair, which has been a key contributing factor to Punjab being inundate today. Similar to Punjab’s crumbling infrastructure, lands that have long stood as natural flood plains along Punjab’s rivers have been encroached upon by development projects permitted by Punjab’s subedars–either out of complete incompetence and/or in the pursuit of personal financial gain. This “development” not only contributes to increased pollution, but it destroys Punjab’s natural systems of flood mitigation and containment by putting people and settlements directly in the path of natural water flows.
As a result of India’s imperialist political structure, Punjab has no control over its basic infrastructure in situations like this, let alone the authority to develop and manage major infrastructure projects that benefit Punjab's people and ecology. Although Punjab clearly bears the brunt of damage wrought by floods, we still do not have any control over the river water, dams, or hydroelectricity in our region.
The nominal representation Punjab had in the Bhakra Beas Management Board for example, was unilaterally removed by Delhi last year so members are now solely appointed by the Centre. India continues to use Punjab for its own food security and national security objectives–not for Punjab's best interest. This is most recently demonstrated by multiple statements and actions by Indian authorities that water will be released in Punjab to "contain" the devastation of the floods elsewhere.
While Punjab experiences disastrous flooding, the Rajasthan feeder canal that ordinarily facilitates India's theft of Punjab's river waters, has been sealed to prevent flooding from Punjab reaching Rajasthan.
The climate crisis and ecological devastation of Punjab due to Indian nationalism and Western imperialism are being felt right now. This will continue to impact Punjab more and more in the coming years as the current “development” model is not based on our values and interests, but those of our oppressors. This crisis will ultimately lead to greater scarcity throughout the region, conflict, and political instability.
Rather than reproducing the same logics of Western developmentalism in our proposed alternatives, we must root our understanding in the values of gurmat that revere Punjab’s ecology.
What do we do next?
Ensuring Punjab’s liberation and sovereign authority–free from Delhi–is undoubtedly the ultimate solution, but it is important that this is not just a transfer of power. We need to develop our own alternatives to modern/capitalist development based on our own worldview of "pavan guru pani pitha". We need to start reimagining and materializing these alternatives now.
In the meantime, we cannot sit idle to wait for utopian top-down solutions overnight, but take initiative to thrive and build capacity in the meantime. There are steps and projects we can execute right now that do not require top-down policy changes by the state. In any event, top-down solutions implemented by the state will become less and less effective as these crises worsen; we have already seen the ineffectiveness of state institutions during this crisis itself as the sangat has taken matters into its own hands to resolve its own affairs.
The Guru Khalsa Panth can and must build autonomous power and initiatives at localized levels based on the misl/jatha tradition and rakhi prabandh of the Khalsa. With the institution of the Gurdwara as ground zero–and the building block of a sovereign power structure parallel to the state itself–we have the capacity to develop our own institutions and powers, capable of meeting our own needs rather than deferring all responsibility and authority to the Indian state.
We have seen countless examples of this in the recent past from the Kisaan Morcha to the spontaneous initiatives cropping up all across Punjab during the current flood. Centring the Gurdwara and the sangat as the ground from which we build toward our liberation will remain a vital step/process in our on going struggle.
Panth Ki Jeet!