Now that the snark is out of the way, let’s look at one of the most interesting documents in the history of Punjabi nationalism or secession: the Anandpur Sahib Resolutions.
The Anandpur Sahib resolutions were the Akali Dal‘s response to being wiped out electorally in 1971 and 1972. They decided to recoup by:
- Getting the borders of Punjab redrawn to bring in more Punjabi speakers and Sikhs
- Ramp up federalism in general so that the national parties would have less influence in Punjab, which would mean the Akali Dal would have a free run
The end result of this came in 1978, with a document called the Anandpur Sahib Resolution (ASR, for the rest of the post). It’s a fascinating mix of naked gerrymandering, federalism, religious fundamentalism, sound economic policy and terrible economic policy. You can read the whole thing by clicking through, but let’s look at the more interesting highlights.
First, the gerrymandering. There was this:
(a) Chandigarh originally raised as a Capital for Punjab should be handed over to Punjab.
(b) The long-standing demand of the Shiromani Akali Dal for the merger in Punjab of the Punjabi-speaking areas, to be identified by linguistic experts with village as a unit, should be conceded.
in the resolution itself. But the political resolutions preceding the ASR have this stunning stuff:
The fundamental policy of the Shiromani Akali Dal is to seek the realization of this birthright of the Khalsa through the creating of a geographical entity and a constitutional set-up of its own.
For the attainment of this aim:
1. The Shiromani Akali Dal is determined to strive by all possible means to:
(a) Have all those speaking areas, deliberately kept out of Punjab, such as Dalhousie in Gurdaspur district, Chandigarh, Pinjore, Kalka and Ambala Sada, etc. in Ambala district, the entire Ina tahsil of Hoshiarpur district, Shahabad and Guhia blocks of Karnal district, Tohana sub-tahsil, Ratia block and Sirsa tahsil of Hissar district and six tahsils of Ganganagar district in Rajasthan, merged with Punjab to constitute a single administrative unit wherein the interests of Sikhs and Sikhism are specifically protected.
But the political resolution also has a very strong and unambiguous call for federalism, which is practically revolutionary considering the Indian Constitution:
(b) In this new Punjab (as in all other stated) the Center’s interference would be restricted to Defense, Foreign Relations, Currency and Communications, all other departments being in the jurisdiction of Punjab (and other states) which would be fully entitled to frame their own Constitution. For the aforesaid departments of the Center, Punjab (and other states) would contribute in proportion to their respective representation in Parliament.
2. The Shiromani Akali Dal would also endeavor to have the Indian Constitution recast on real Federal principles with equal representation at the Centre for all the States.
3. The Shiromani Akali Dal strongly denounces the Foreign policy of India as framed by the Congress Party. It is worthless and highly detrimental to the interest of the country, its people and mankind at large. Shiromani Akali Dal shall extend its support only to such policies as are based upon the principles of peace and national interest. It strongly advocates a policy of peace with all neighboring countries, particularly those which have within their borders Sikh population and Sikh shrines. The Akali Dal is of the firm view that the foreign policy of India should in no case be one of playing second fiddle to any other country.
and look, gun rights!
6. The Shiromani Akali Dal is of the firm opinion that all those persons, including women, who have not been convicted of any criminal offence by a court of law should have the right to possess any type of small arm like revolvers, guns, pistols, rifles, carbines, etc., without any license, the only obligation being their registration.
Now the trouble with advocating federalism which is revolutionary in the Indian context is that if you have a ruthless dictator at the helm of things, she thinks you’re advocating secession. And the clampdown after that was so strong that secession actually became the nature of things. But I digress. The federal bits of the ASR itself are:
The Shiromani Akali Dal realizes that India is a federal and republican geographical entity of different languages, religions and cultures. To safeguard the fundamental rights of the religious and linguistic minorities, to fulfill the demands of the democratic traditions and to pave the way for economic progress, it has become imperative that the Indian constitutional infrastructure should be given a real federal shape by redefining the Central and State relation and rights on the lines of the aforesaid principles and objectives.
The concept of total revolution given by Lok Naik Jaya Parkash Narain is also based upon the progressive decentralization of powers. The climax of the process of centralization of powers of the states through repeated amendments of the Constitution during the Congress regime came before the countrymen in the form of the Emergency (1975), when all fundamental rights of all citizens was usurped. It was then that the programme of decentralization of powers ever advocated by Shiromani Akali Dal was openly accepted and adopted by other political parties including Janata Party, C.P.I. (M), D.M.K., etc.
As such, the Shiromani Akali Dal emphatically urges upon the Janata Government to take cognizance of the different linguistic and cultural sections, religious minorities as also the voice of millions of people and recast the constitutional structure of the country on real and meaningful federal principles to obviate the possibility of any danger to the unity and integrity of the country and, further, to enable the states to play a useful role for the progress and prosperity of the Indian people in their respective areas by a meaningful exercise of their powers.
Now all this sounds brilliant and federalistic. But that’s just resolution 1. The Akali Dal then issued 11 more resolutions which demanded that the Central government do a bunch of stuff, which sort of makes the whole demanding that it stay out of everything except Defense, Foreign Relations, Currency and Communications sort of worthless. But such is life. Some of the interesting demands were:
The Shiromani Akali Dal calls upon the Central government to make an international airport at Amritsar which should also enjoy the facilities of a dry port. Similarly, a Stock Exchange should be opened at Ludhiana to accelerate the process of industrialization and economic growth in the State. The Shiromani Akali Dal also desires that suitable amendments should be made in the Foreign Exchange rules for free exchange of foreign currencies and thereby removing the difficulties being faced by the Indian emigrants.
Capital and Current Account Liberalisation, in the early 1970s. Heh.
The Shiromani Akali Dal also calls for the rapid diversification of farming. The shortcomings in the Land Reforms Laws should be removed, rapid industrialization of the State ensured, credit facilities for the medium industries expanded and unemployment allowance given to those who are unemployed. For remunerative farming, perceptible reduction should be made in the prices of farm machinery like tractors, tubewells, as also of the inputs.
This was long before farmers were dying in Vidarbha.
This session seeks permission from the Government of India to install a broadcasting station at the Golden Temple, Amritsar, for the relay of Gurbani Kirtan for the spiritual satisfaction of those Sikh who are living in foreign lands.
The session wishes to make it clear that the entire cost of the proposed broadcasting project would be borne by the Khalsa Panth and its over all control shall vest with the Indian Government. It is hoped that the Government would have no hesitation in conceding this demand after due consideration.
I find this one particularly fascinating. It’s a mix of public goods financing, overwhelming licensing, and the inadequacies of technologies then – now, of course, this could be accomplished by just having a satellite uplink from the Golden Temple. Or even a webcast. The fact that technology, government control of broadcasting, and the particular politics of the period made this impossible is particularly poignant.
This mammoth gathering of the Shiromani Akali Dal strongly urges upon the Government of India to make necessary amendments in the following enactment for the benefit of the agricultural classes who have toiled hard for the sake of larger national interests:
1. Hindu Succession Act be suitably amended to enable a woman to get rights of inheritance in the properties of her father-in-law instead of the father’s.
2. The agricultural lands of the farmers should be completely exempted from the Wealth Tax and the Estate Tax.
Honestly, not sure how this would impact on the ground – I’m unaware of the debates surrounding inheritance law. But again – fascinating.
They had demands that make me cringe too:
The 18th session of the All India Akali Conference take strong exception to the discrimination to which the minorities in other states are being subjected and the way in which their interests are being ignored.
As such, it demands that injustice against the Sikhs in other states should be vacated and proper representation should be given them in government service, local bodies and state legislatures, through nominations, if need be.
The Congress government is called upon to vacate the gross injustice, discrimination done to Punjab in the distribution of Ravi-Beas waters. The Central government must also give approval for the immediate establishment of six sugar and four textile mills in Punjab so that the State may be able to implement its agro-industrial policy.
The Shiromani Akali Dal emphatically urges upon the Indian government to bring about parity between the prices of the agricultural produce and that of the industrial raw materials so that the discrimination against such states that lack these materials may be removed.
The Shiromani Akali Dal strongly feels that the most pressing national problem is the need to ameliorate the lot of millions of exploited persons belonging to the scheduled classes. For such a purpose the Shiromani Akali Dal calls upon the Central and State governments to earmark special funds. Besides, the state governments should allot sufficient funds in their respective budgets for giving free residential plots both in the urban and rural areas to the Scheduled Castes.
So the ASR as a whole is utterly fascinating. It starts out as a call for federalism – something I sympathise with hugely – but then reverses direction and starts demanding that the Central government do something. The two aren’t necessarily incompatible if you’re transitioning to federalism and still want to get Central support until you achieve ‘true federalism’ – but the ASR is a reminder of one of the biggest obstacles to federalism.
This is that states aren’t just competing with the Central/ Federal government for resources and power. They’re also competing against each other – for investment, for taxpayers, and for resources which the other states might have a hold on. Which means that states are always going to have an interest in maintaining a federal government which they can milk. It’s comparable to the Prisoner’s Dilemma problem – everyone would be better off with no federal government interference whatsoever, but each state would be even better off if it manipulated the federal government into favouring it over the other states. This will play out in Tamil Nadu – Karnataka disputes over the Cauvery, Punjab – Haryana disputes over Chandigarh, and Maharashtra – Karnataka disputes over Belgaum.
So states coming together and demanding power from the Centre will always be hijacked by one state which would rather have a powerful Centre to fall back on. And of course the Centre could cut quid-pro-quos; so that even something where there was no inter-state conflict like law-and-order could be bargained against infrastructure or tax sharing. Or plain old horse trading. So even if Narendra Modi is serious about making himself the saviour of the states and getting more power from the centre (can’t find the link anywhere, sorry), it’s not going to happen until a whole bunch of things get sorted out between the states first.
The gradual decline of the national parties will mean things will become even more complicated. Either things will be as they are now, even more so, with each regional party determined to prop up the centre in order to extract concessions from it, or a bunch of regional parties will get together and decide to emasculate the centre altogether and start transferring power to the states. I’m not sure how many regional politicians there are today in India who would actually think long-term enough to go after federalism – but it might just arise.