THE BLOG

How to Strike a Better Deal For Punjab and India

04/09/2014 11:05 EDT | Updated 06/09/2014 05:59 EDT

Punjab has a rich history and has contributed a lot to India.

My ancestors originate from Punjab which is the land of five rivers in northern India. Punjab has been consistently ranked as having the best quality of life, best infrastructure, lowest hunger level, and status as the best overall state in India for a number of years. It has been described as the "granary of India" because it produces much of the country's cotton, wheat, and rice. About 25 million people live in Punjab with 15 million Sikhs and 9 million Hindus and with smaller populations of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and Jains.

The Punjabi Sikhs are well known for their contribution to India's military and defence forces as well as the historical role they played in battles for the British Empire. In fact, much of Punjab and northern India formed part of the sovereign Sikh Kingdom of Maharaja Ranjit Singh prior to British colonial rule.

The Punjabis are a mixed people. The British, Turks, Persians, Afghans, and Greeks among others invaded northern India. The farthest extent of Alexander the Great's empire was the Indus River. The Indus Valley and Vedic Civilizations flourished in northern India.

I am writing this article because I feel Punjab's future lies in a renewed federalism with India and greater cooperation with its neighbours. It may be a good idea for Punjab to have greater autonomy over certain areas of its economy and resources such as electricity and water and to allow it to better develop its land and people and society.

India is a growing world power. It is a secular English speaking democracy. Punjab can position itself well and take advantage of this. It can develop transportation routes that link Delhi, Chandigarh, Amritsar, Lahore, and Islamabad. This will facilitate trade and tourism. Already the Golden Temple in Amritsar attracts more visitors every year than the famous Taj Mahal near Delhi.

Punjab can work out an autonomy agreement with the Government of India. I feel having the freedom and flexibility to take control of your own destiny can lead to mutually beneficial results for all parties involved. In a country as large as India, decentralization can lead to socio-economic and political peace and progress. The Canadian and Australian federal systems are an example of decentralizing working to create highly developed countries with a high standard of living. Perhaps the one country two systems approach between Hong Kong and China are a better example for a renewed federalism between Punjab and India.

Punjab and India are interdependent and always will be. The politicians in Delhi and Chandigarh need to work together to give Punjab the ability to reach an even higher level of development and achieve its fullest potential.

A new proposal for Punjab within India

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 do not feel this idea is compatible with a modern-day Punjab and 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 or theocracy based on Sikhism when they 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 needs to work cooperatively with India and Pakistan to better industrialize and develop its economy, and new transportation routes for example 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. 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, renewed federalism for Punjab 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.