Free Press Journal

Kill this Referendum 2020


Expect no change in India policy once Imran Khan takes over as the prime minister of Pakistan. No, not even a wee-bit, bar a slight change in rhetoric. Prime ministers come and go but the India policy of Rawalpindi-Islamabad establishment remains constant. Indeed, Pak army chiefs come and go but anti-India animus alone informs Pakistan’s approach towards this country. It is one long constant since the founding of the separate Islamic State after hiving off a part of united India back in August 1947. In fact, all through the election campaign, Imran relentlessly painted his main rival, the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League, as soft on India.

This was the line his masters in the Rawalpindi GHQ had directed him to hammer home on the stump, which he most dutifully did as a loyal factotum. Which brings us to the point about Imran being a creature of the army and so long as he obeys the masters he has nothing to fear, never mind delivering good governance to the people. Pakistan is in dire economic straits. Unless something drastic is done to re-order the domestic and international policies, neither the Americans nor the IMF nor, for that matter, the Chinese will be able to continue writing cheques for it. But all this is secondary to the GHQ which is obsessed with India and how to bleed it by a thousand cuts daily.

In this context, the well-sourced report in a contemporary about the ISI behind the proposed move to hold a referendum in Punjab in 2020 for polling Sikh opinion on an independent Khalistan is relevant. Quoting Indian intelligence sources, the paper identified the ISI handler orchestrating the Referendum 2020 campaign among Sikhs in Canada and India. Certain groups in Punjab have fallen into the seemingly innocuous trap, arguing that they do not seek secession or separation from the Indian Union but, at the same time, are keen to assess the community’s feelings. Of course, this can be mischievous,  rekindling the dark days of the 80s when the Bhindranwale gang had terrorised the entire State. Unfortunately, a section of the main Opposition in the Punjab Legislature, the Aam Aadmi Party, has openly supported the Referendum 2020.

This section drew its sustenance when the AAP leader and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal during the Punjab Assembly poll openly hobnobbed with the pro-Khalistani elements, among them a sizeable group of Canada-based  Sikhs who had specially come down to lend moral and monetary support to AAP. Kejriwal furthered suspicion of his pro-Khalistani inclinations when he stayed overnight during the campaign at the home of a well-known Khalistani activist. This was one of the reasons the AAP fared below expectations in the poll.

Since then, Kejriwal has tried to distance himself from the Khalistani activists, but a number of his party’s MLAs still continue to endorse the demand for Referendum 2020. The recent removal of Sukhpal Singh Khaira as the leader of the Opposition by the AAP bosses in Delhi threatens a vertical split in the State unit of the party. Nine of the 20 AAP MLAs have rebelled against Kejriwal and declared that Khaira continues to be their leader. The notable thing is that Khaira and a couple of MLAs backing him do not find anything wrong in Referendum 2020, though its ISI sponsorship is now beyond an iota of doubt. Regardless of the certain implosion in the Punjab unit of AAP, what is significant is that MLAs should be willing to re-ignite the violent secessionist fires through the aegis of a seemingly innocuous referendum. There is no provision in our Constitution for such an opinion poll. Nor is there any need felt by a vast majority of the people in Punjab. Those behind this sinister move fail to realise how it can escalate into a huge trouble for Punjab, shattering its hard-won peace yet again. If a section of the AAP Legislature party, unwittingly, is playing into the hands of the ISI, it should be told to desist forthwith. Partisan politics should not fan divisive fires. All sections of the polity in Punjab and at the Centre should join hands to nip the trouble over Referendum 2020 in the bud.