Chandigarh: Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and other Sikh bodies in Punjab have taken a strong objection to NCERT’s Class XII political science textbook painting the Anandpur Sahib resolution of 1973 as a separatist document.
This is mentioned in Chapter 7 of the book, Politics in India Since Independence. While the reference to the Anandpur Sahib resolution as separatist document was mentioned in earlier editions of the book as well, SAD has rasied the issue now as NCERT’s revisions have come under severe criticism.
There have been controversies about textbooks deleting content on Mahatma Gandhi, the RSS, Gujarat riots and the Mughal Empire.
SAD senior leader Daljeet Cheema told The Wire that for the party, it does not matter that the characterisation existed in earlier editions too. “The fact remains that the Anandpur Sahib resolution was wrongly interpreted. This is unacceptable to us as it reeks of a conspiracy to defame Sikhs,” he said.
“When the matter came to our attention, we immediately highlighted it and demanded the Union education minister to revise it along the factual position,” he added.
The Anandpur Sahib Resolution is one of the most frequently invoked documents in modern Sikh history. It has religious as well as political goals for the SAD to achieve.
It was adopted by the working committee of the Shiromani Akali Dal at a meeting held at Anandpur Sahib, a town sacred to Guru Gobind Singh, in October 1973. It later became popurlar as Anandpur Sahib Resolution.
The textbook says that during the 1970s, as the political position of the SAD remained precarious, a section of Akalis began to demand political autonomy for the region. This was reflected in a resolution passed at their conference at Anandpur Sahib in 1973.
“The Resolution was a plea for strengthening federalism, but it could also be interpreted as a plea for a separate Sikh nation, [Emphasis supplied]” the book added. The latter half of the sentence has drawn ire from Sikh bodies.
Cheema told The Wire that the document stood for unity and integrity of the country and only sought to promote federalism within the constitutional framework, a issue which is relevant even today.
The book continues that the resolution, after its adoption in 1973, had a limited appeal among the Sikh masses. It says:
“A few years later, after the Akali government had been dismissed in 1980, the Akali Dal launched a movement on the question of the distribution of water between Punjab and its neighbouring States. A section of the religious leaders raised the question of autonomous Sikh identity. The more extreme elements started advocating secession from India and the creation of ‘Khalistan’.”
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SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal in a statement on April 14 said that the “derogatory references” to the Anandpur Sahib Resolution “deliberately painted the patriotic Sikh community as separatist”.
He added, “Anandpur Sahib Resolution was approved by Parliament as a call for federal structure, accepted by Govt of India, referred to Sarkaria Commission, its recommendations implemented.”
Earlier, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), a Sikh body responsoble for the management of historical gurudwaras, too condemned the textbook’s characterisation of the resolution.
What do experts say?
The Wire spoke to experts, who were also of the view that the document adopted by the SAD did not have a separatist tone.
Sukhdev Singh Sohal, former history professor at Guru Nanak Dev University, told The Wire that the resolution was passed at a time when the Congress under Indira Gandhi was exerting a dominant position in the country, leaving little political space for opposition parties.
It is in this context, the Akali Dal passed a resolution seeking greater autonomy for the states, which, in no manner, demanded Punjab’s separation from the Union of India, said Sohal.
Sohal said that some of the ideas in the resolution may sound far-fetched but its central focus was to safeguard the fundamental rights of the religious and linguistic minorities. It also wanted to ensure decentralisation of power so that the Indian constitutional infrastructure can be given a real federal shape, he said.
This idea, Sohal added, is relevant even today, given that the political atmosphere today is similar to the one that existed in the 70s. There is a similar dominance of central authority, as seen during Mrs Gandhi’s time, he added.
Pramod Kumar, a political commentator as well as director of the Institute for Development and Communication in Chandigarh, is of the view that the problem with history writing in India is that it is not always evidence based.
As far as the Anandpur Sahib Resolution is concerned, he said there were as many as three versions that were put forth by different Sikh factions. One sought greater autonomy, which was the viewpoint of the mainstream Akali Dal. Another faction wanted India to be a confederation of states and the third version of the resolution adopted a separatist agenda.
“The book should have mentioned all these three versions of Anandpur Sahib and should have attributed each version to the respective political groups. If that is not mentioned, then it is wrongful interpretation,” he added.