OPINION
OF SUNNY KID & HORSE SENSE
The Punjab-Punjab Ties: The Coordinated Silence of Amarinder Singh & Badals
- S Pal
The Punjab-Punjab Ties: The Coordinated Silence of Amarinder Singh & Badals



THE COORDINATED SILENCE of seemingly rival politicians on a crucial issue tells us more about their real politics, than their incessantly glib statements. 

For those whose ears are trained to read silence, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh of Congress and Parkash/Sukhbir Singh Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal are making a deafeningly loud statement these days about their actual politics by the simple art of keeping their mouths shut. In coordination.

Coordinated silence is a political stance. Welcome to the grand Amarinder-Badals-BJP-RSS lovefest. You can shout Bharat Mata Ki Jai – it will be very appropriate! 
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Those were the days when Amarinder Singh trashed warmongers, hailed Pakistani Punjab's great culture, sat past midnight at the Aiwan-e-Iqbal Complex on Lahore's Egerton Road, enjoying Pakistani songs, while Badals argued for robust Punjab-to-Punjab trade linkages and Indo-Pak talks.
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Let's go to the beginning of the tail, or tale - both are appropriate, as you shall see.

After 14 years of vanvaas, Sunny Kid saw Amarinder Singh. It was the same horse that the Pakistani Punjab CM had gifted to the Indian Punjab CM. But was it the same Amarinder Singh who visited the Punjab Police Academy at Phillaur to look up Sunny Kid?

"He made it a point to meet Sunny Kid," an official statement issued by the Punjab Government said. Wish Sunny Kid could have made it a point to ask if he was meeting the same man. If horses were wishes... (No point inversing nursery rhymes for people who grow up!)

Sunny Kid had come to Amarinder Singh lest the CM Royale missed his old pal Sultan who had passed away. 

It was 2004, and Amarinder Singh had made waves with an unprecedented visit to Pakistani Punjab, making out a strong case for better Punjab-to-Punjab ties, opening of borders, trading through Wagah and Hussainiwala, robust linkages between chambers of commerce of Lahore and Indian Punjab, and wide-ranging people-to-people contacts.

He trashed the warmongers, hailed Pakistani Punjab's great culture and sat past midnight at the Aiwan-e-Iqbal Complex on Lahore's Egerton Road, enjoying songs sung by Pakistani artistes. 

The then CM of Pakistani Punjab, Pervaiz Elahi, gifted his royal guest a horse, appropriately called 'Sultan'. Unfortunately, Sultan could not see much progress in Punjab to Punjab ties and passed away. Elahi soon made good the loss by sending over Sunny Kid.

Sultan had met Amarinder in the wintry February of 2004. By summer, the next World Punjabi Conference was being held in Chandigarh, and then, in October, in Patiala.
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Neither Amarinder Singh nor Parkash/Sukhbir Singh Badal nor Harsimrat Kaur Badal have ever uttered a single word against Love Jihad, Ghar Wapsi, Anti-Conversion Bill, Mohd Akhlaq/Pehlu Khan killings, lynchings, harassment of anyone travelling with cows or other cattle, or young protectors of Indian traditions browbeating young men and women on Valentine’s Day.
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All through, and till much later, Amarinder Singh was a champion of India and Pakistan improving bilateral relations. He advocated free trade between the two Punjabs. The Badals were not far behind. Matter of fact, Badal was actually a step ahead when he accompanied then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on his bus trip to Lahore in 1999.

Badals consistently argued during those years that the two Punjabs should have robust trade linkages and India must resume talks with Pakistan, arguing that it will smoothen the path to realising a land-locked Punjab's dream of having a direct link to Central Asia. 

Upon his return from Pakistani Punjab, Amarinder Singh submitted a report to PM Vajpayee to make a case that the opening of border would be beneficial. He argued that Indian Punjab had 26 lakh metric tonne of wheat while Pakistani Punjab was importing 30 lakh metric tonne of wheat. Most of it was reaching west Punjab from Indian Punjab via Mumbai-Dubai and Karachi.

At various points in the past, Amarinder argued for opening of Hussainiwala, and Badal wanted two new land routes for trade with Pakistan. 

In 2012, the then Deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal was in Lahore, exploring not just more avenues of overland trade with Pakistan's Punjab province but "to help change the geopolitics of the subcontinent," as per the press statement issued by his office at the time. 

When the then federal minister of Pakistan, Mian Manjur Ahmed Watoo came visiting, Badal was being a great host, and thought it fit to remind Pakistan and India that the opening of borders was the need of the hour as it would promote trade activities.

Even as late as 2016, Parkash Singh Badal was calling for restraint and counselled against any military adventure against Pakistan in the light of the terrorist attack in Uri.

"Punjab on both sides of the border will have to bear the brunt in case a war takes place between India and Pakistan,” he said. Clearly, he was referring to both Punjabs, and was worried about Punjabis on either side of the Radcliffe Line.
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Mehbooba Mufti’s advocacy of India-Pak talks was the boldest statement an Indian politician was making. A pin drop silence descended upon Indian polity.  It is interesting to note who all are speaking, and who has chosen to maintain silence.
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But all this while, Indian politics was changing at its core. Nationalism emerged as the new currency. Lynchings emerged as Indian politics' latest neologism. The country's ruling dispensation seriously discussed bringing in an anti-conversion law that will effectively bar anyone from changing her or his religion. The ban on beef to ban on cow slaughter to people being beaten to death, or harassed, or subjected to extortions - India trudged a political road downhill. Punjab's dairy farmers speak in muted voices about their travails. Who you love is being decided by hordes who doubt our love for the country. Last month saw policemen accompanying bouncers-drenched-in-saffron-and-traditions to city parks where they "counselled" young couples about Indian traditions and culture.

No, this article is not about the fact that neither Amarinder Singh nor Parkash/Sukhbir Singh Badal nor Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal have ever uttered a single word or issued a single statement against Love Jihad, Ghar Wapsi, Anti-Conversion Bill, Mohd Akhlaq/Pehlu Khan killings, lynchings, harassment of anyone travelling with cows or other cattle, or young protectors of Indian traditions browbeating young men and women on Valentine Day.

Each one of those silences is shameful, no doubt, but we were talking about Punjab to Punjab ties and trade, and about Sunny Kid.

Welcome to 2018.

After an attack on Jammu's Sunjuvan Army Camp, J&K's Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti made a bold statement, saying India should resume talks with Pakistan as the key to stopping these terror attacks. 

In a long, long time, this was the boldest statement an Indian politician was making, one with an alliance with the BJP. It is a very uneasy alliance, and it is possible that Mufti was also addressing her own domestic constituency.

Shockingly, a pin drop silence descended upon Indian polity. 
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In the recent past, Amarinder Singh wrote articles in newspapers asking for a medal for the Army Major who strapped a Kashmiri citizen on the bonnet of his jeep as a human shield, said he wanted three Pakistani soldiers' heads for every Indian soldier killed, and argued for a free hand for the army in Kashmir. Yesterday, he wanted robust trade between the two Punjabs.
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A few shrieking television anchors apart, the BJP held back its horses (Sunny Kid, that's not a reference to your tribe at all. Your kind don’t go to TV studios). Days later, BJP's Ram Madhav spoke in an interview to the Indian Express, his tone very measured, his words carefully chosen, his reference to Mehbooba's choice of timing and advocacy of talks almost deferential. He said Mehbooba can have that view, but it is a decision for New Delhi to take. Point taken. (https://goo.gl/f21oLU)

Amarinder Singh —who not too long ago wrote articles in newspapers asking for a medal for the Army Major who strapped a Kashmiri citizen on the bonnet of his jeep as a human shield and who wants three Pakistani soldiers' heads for every Indian soldier killed — has remained silent on whether New Delhi should resume talks with Islamabad. Ostensibly, he was the biggest advocate of Punjab to Punjab trade!

Not a soul has squeaked in the Shiromani Akali Dal, including anyone with Badal suffixed to his/her name, about the need for talks with Pakistan. Purportedly, they were the biggest flag-bearers of Indo-Pak trade via Wagah, Hussainiwala and two new routes!

The SGPC, which never issued a single statement about its position on ant-conversion law but has a Dharam Parchar Committee, has never taken a position on India Pakistan talks, a task it seems to have delegated to Badals’ party. Does it think the "darshan didar” of "Sri Nankana Sahib ate hor gurdwarian, gurdhama” will remain unaffected by war talk, or war?

But look, who did speak out!
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Not a soul has squeaked in the Shiromani Akali Dal, including anyone with Badal suffixed to his/her name, about the need for talks with Pakistan. Purportedly, they were the biggest flag-bearers of Indo-Pak trade via Wagah, Hussainiwala and two new routes!
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The General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) of Army Training Command (ARTRAC), Lt Gen M M Naravane was bold enough to underline that "a lasting India-Pak peace only be found at the negotiating table," and not at the tactical level.

"Restoring ceasefire requires statesmanship, not brinkmanship,” he said in words that encapsulate the thinking of much of progressive India and its civil society. "It is a message the army must heed," the Indian Express said in its editorial on March 2. (https://goo.gl/TNGLHx)

Lt Gen Naravane even conceded that by virtue of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor passing through POK, China has ‘willy-nilly’ become a third party to the Kashmir dispute despite India’s objections.

A day after Lt Gen Naravane spoke these words in Chandigarh, the GOC-in-C of India's Western Command, Lt Gen Surinder Singh, the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, was behind a microphone in the same city, where he minced no words in saying that a two-front war is not a "smart idea” and that military diplomacy can play a greater role in bringing normalcy in relations with Pakistan.

It is worth recalling that Army chief Bipin Rawat had said in June 2017 that the Indian Army was ready for a "two-and-a-half-front war.”

Lt Gen Surinder Singh also reminded that Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence has reduced the window for conventional conflict and "no nuclear nation can be browbeaten beyond a particular stage."

Unlike those who demand 10 Pakistani heads for an Indian head or a free hand for the Army, the Western Command's chief cautioned against the warmongers. 

"Sometimes, conventional conflict does not take place because you can achieve any great military objective but because at times you can get pushed into the conflict due to public opinion. Therefore, sometimes it becomes the case of tail wagging the dog,” Lt Gen Surinder Singh said.

Listen to an even clearer voice, coming from the man in the forefront of guarding the most difficult of India's border in the Jammu and Kashmir sector. The GOC-in-C of 15 Corps, Lt Gen A K Bhatt, spoke on February 27 in Srinagar in most measured choice of words. At a time when India is witnessing an aggressive nationalist discourse (with CMs asking for multiple heads of Pak soldiers, a free hand to Army in Kashmir and medals for army officers using citizens as human shields), Lt Gen Bhatt said the Army will retaliate "only if Pakistan does any aggressive action, or pushes infiltrators across” and that the Army has no intention to "open an entire front.”

Some politicians have also been speaking out.

The CPI(M)'s Prakash Karat, in an editorial in his party's organ ‘People’s Democracy’, has said the Narendra Modi government, by "closing off all avenues for talks” with Pakistan, has "painted itself into a corner.” The editorial, titled "Reverse the 'No Talks' Stance," argued for an urgent need to back off from blinkered confrontationist stance and for "resumption of a comprehensive dialogue with Pakistan." (https://goo.gl/cTLuTW)

Former J&K CM and National Conference president Dr Farooq Abdullah has reiterated that India needs to engage Pakistan in meaningful talks for real peace.
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Badals, BJP’s alliance partners, have perfected the art of silence at crucial junctures. Amarinder Singh, with a little nudge by the Enforcement Directorate, has firmly walked into the saffron camp, reminding us of his nationalist positioning with his articles and stances regularly. In both these leaders, programmatic silence and pragmatic silence have found a common interface.
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Now, take a roll call of politicians who did not speak out, who do not even squeak when they were required to aggressively push for a peace narrative to counter the warmongers.
Did not Amarinder Singh want the two Punjabs to trade? How else will he export wheat to Pakistan?

Did not the Badals want new land routes to be opened for trade with Pakistan?

In recent debates on television, some of Punjab's leading economists, intellectuals, senior journalists, civil society voices have been arguing for resumption of talks with Pakistan to achieve peace.

Economists like Dr Sucha Singh Gill and Dr Gian Singh, who rarely agree on their approach towards solutions, talk in unison about the need to re-open talks with Pakistan.

Vipin Pubby, who helmed the Indian Express' Chandigarh edition for nearly a decade and a half, holds that Mehbooba Mufti's call is the most sane approach in given times.

Senior journalist Gobind Thukral, who has been a part of the Track II diplomacy and edits South Asia Post, says talks are the only rational way of dealing with non-state actors.

Who needs peace between India and Pakistan the most? Punjab. 

Yes, Sunny Kid, also.

Sunny Kid had come to India as part of an approach to peace. I'm not sure if he knows Amarinder Singh wrote an article in The Tribune arguing that the Army be given a completely free hand in Kashmir and any number of corpses of innocent citizens be then considered collateral damage. (https://goo.gl/vDuL9A)

No one's going to bother much about horses if a war broke out. But horses need to bother a lot more, for they are always the collateral damage, just as people are. People of Punjab on both sides.

People of the two Punjabs whom Amarinder Singh wanted to have robust contacts with each other. People of the two Punjabs that the Badals want to trade with each other.

These are the leaders who are deafeningly silent today when a Mehbooba Mufti is speaking out, when India's top army officers are speaking out. 

It is understandable why. The Badals have an alliance with the BJP, and have perfected the art of silence at crucial junctures. Amarinder Singh, prodded a little by Enforcement Directorate, has firmly walked into the saffron camp, reminding us of his nationalist positioning with his articles and stances regularly.
 
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In both these leaders, programmatic silence and pragmatic silence have found a common interface, coordinated by their overt or covert ties to the saffron strain in Indian polity.

Sultan - God bless his soul - had met a man called Amarinder Singh fourteen years ago. Did Sunny Kid meet the same man last month?

Someday, like all of us, Sunny Kid will meet Sultan in heaven, and they will have notes to share. My prediction? They won't credit our politicians with much horse sense.
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