Chandigarh: The construction of Sutlej-Yamuna-Link (SYL) canal and then its abandoning evoke deadly reverberations of the dark days of terrorism in Punjab. Did the decade long terrorism get fired-up by the SYL imbroglio? If key agriculture economist Sardara Singh Johl is to be believed, the present situation appeared to be dragging Punjab towards terrorism again. He said that the Khaps in Haryana have threatened to dig up all roads connecting Punjab with Delhi, if the decision of the Apex court was not implemented by Punjab. The threat reminds of the days of terrorism when travelling Sikhs were targeted in Haryana. Johl said that the SYL was an emotive issue both for Punjab and Haryana. The solution of the imbroglio lay in negotiations between the stake holders and not in the hands of the courts.
He favoured setting up of a new tribunal to sort out the problem. There was dispute over the quantum of water that was available in Beas and Satluj. One side called for its share in the surplus water, while the other was claiming that in actuality the river water availability had depleted. Johl was of the view that with the emerging socio-political situation it appeared that the radicals would grow stronger in their argument for a separate and sovereign Sikh state. There was a consensus amongst the scholars on the argument that SYL canal issue served as an emotive flashpoint that veered a large number of Sikhs especially the youth to take up extremist path and fall into the trap of forces inimical to the integrity of the country.
Another famous economist Prof Sucha Singh Gill too advocated a negotiated settlement between Punjab and Haryana. There was an NDA government at the center and Shiromani Akali Dal was a part of the same. “In Haryana too NDA was in power, which called for friendly settlement between both the parties. He said the politicians should not allow the farmers of the two states to fight with each other. If Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal was not in a position to settle the issue through negotiations, then let him resign and go,” he added. Another scholar, Sandeep Sandhu maintains that stopping the construction of the controversial canal was one of purported goals of the Dharam Yudh Morcha-the agitation started in 1982 that first brought together the Sikh groups led by militant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the controversial chief of Damdami Taksal, the famous Sikh seminary and the pacifist Harchand Singh Longowal, the then president of Shiromani Akali Dal.
Sandhu said: “One of the single most cited instances of ‘injustice’ was the inclination of the Centre to deprive the Sikh dominated Punjab of its ‘irrigation water’ and give it to the Hindu majority hindi speaking Haryana.” He reminded that in fact, the first kernel of Dharam Yudh Morcha was sown at Kapoori, a Punjab village bordering, Haryana, where Akali Dal on 8th April, 1982 had raised a protest against the ground breaking ceremony conducted by prime minister Indira Gandhi for completion of the Punjab’s portion of the 122-km long canal. This protest metamorphosed into a full blown agitation, whose epicenter shifted to Amritsar. “As the ‘crescendo of injustice’ reached its peak in Punjab, the Golden Temple complex at Amritsar also became the headquarters of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his henchmen. The growing influence of armed militants of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale culminated in the Operation Bluestar in 1984,” he added.
According to him, this resulted in a wave of agonising pain and seething anger amidst Sikh masses. Within a few months, more and more Sikh youth joined the ranks of militants resulting in increase of police repression and allegations of victimisation and atrocities. The battle over water took a complete militant turn which was for all to see. Punjab observers recollect that August 15, 1986 was settled as the deadline for completion of the canal under the Rajiv-Longowal Accord. The agreement, however, was not taken too kindly by the rightist fringe elements among the Sikhs and Sant Harchand Singh Longowal paid with his life. The supporters of Longowal assassins justified his killing by saying that the Akali leader had gravely compromised the rights of Sikhs and Punjab; the promise of construction of the canal was stated as the principal cause fueling terrorism.
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