VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - April 19, 2012) - Recently, I floated the idea of Punjab becoming a sovereign state within India, similar to how Scotland and Wales are separate countries but still a part of the United Kingdom. Perhaps the one country two systems arrangement between Hong Kong and China is a better analogy.
Punjab is dependent on India and India is dependent on Punjab. Punjab's future rests with closer integration and a new federal arrangement within India and increased cooperation with adjacent Indian states and Pakistan.
Some segments of the Sikh population feel outright independence from India and preferably a separate Sikh state is the only solution. Despite the historical reasons and merits of this proposal, I feel it may be a more realistic idea to seek increased autonomy for Punjab within India.
First of all, there are approximately nine million Hindus living in Punjab and smaller populations of Christians, Jains, Buddhists, and Muslims. Why would they agree to live in a Sikh-dominated state? Why would they want to live in a religious state based on Sikhism when the Hindus and non-Sikh minorities currently benefit from all the rights, freedoms, protections, and opportunities provided in a secular, democratic, growing regional-if-not-world power in India.
Furthermore, Punjab is a landlocked state with severe shortages of water and electricity. Punjab does not even have control over its dams. This is a major problem. The solution is to work cooperatively with India to resolve this issue. For instance, I don't see why India cannot harness fresh mountain water, whether by melting ice or collecting rain water from the Himalayas, and distribute it throughout northern India. Who knows how toxic water has become in Punjab already due to the use of fertilizers, chemicals, and sprays for agricultural production, all of which are leaching into the shrinking ground water tables?
Punjab also needs a state-of-the-art high-speed train and transportation routes connecting major cities in the area, such as from Delhi, Chandigarh, Amritsar, Lahore, and Islamabad. This will facilitate trade and tourism. Punjab needs to work cooperatively with India and Pakistan to better industrialize and develop its economy, and new transportation routes can facilitate the moving of new goods and people to new markets.
There are a number of other major issues. For example, Punjab has been partitioned many times and does not even have its own state capital or high court, I believe. These issues need to be resolved as a state capital and court system are part of the necessary institutional development of a final political arrangement with India.
But why should India negotiate with Punjab? The central government has not shown a major interest in decentralization or a renewed federalism. Well, times have changed. India even has a Sikh prime minister now. It's in Punjab's and India's mutual interest for social development and political peace to move forward.
Furthermore, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohandas Gandhi both promised Sikhs a degree of self-determination and sovereignty. It's time for India to live up to its promises. In 1930, Nehru stated that, "The brave Sikhs of Punjab are entitled to special considerations. I see nothing wrong in an area set up in the north of India wherein, the Sikhs can also experience the glow of freedom."
It is also important to note that both historically and legally that the leaders of Punjab never surrendered their territory to the British or India, to my knowledge. At partition the British simply handed over Punjab to India. Punjab at one time was a separate country prior to British colonial rule under Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Punjab is unceded territory, and the citizens of Punjab have a rightful claim for a final settlement agreement with the government of India. An agreement of this sort will only provide political stability in the region and settle historical wrongs.
However, Punjab becoming a sovereign state within India will have a huge practical and psychological benefit as well. The people of Punjab will feel more safe and secure in the development and protection of their land, culture, language, religion, religious shrines, and people. There is an important national healing that has to occur between the Sikhs and Punjabis and the rest of the citizens of India.
Giving each other the freedom and flexibility to develop each other's land, people, and society and live in harmony with each other cooperatively as part of a unified country would be one big step forward toward a final reconciliation.
Alex Sangha is a registered social worker in British Columbia and the author of the social-discussion book The Modern Thinker. He has an MSc in public administration and public policy from the department of government at the London School of Economics. Alex was voted by Canadians in a national peoples choice award to be one of the winners of the Top 25 Canadian Immigrants Awards of 2011.