Sunday, March 13, 2011

THE BLACK LIST: Dear Sukhbir, it’s time you clinched this one!

Preet Inder Singh

What is safer? That a few Indians who have been put on some kind of a Black List are permitted to return and report to law enforcement authorities, checked out and whetted, and allowed to participate in the country’s life as full citizens under the gaze of the law, or be permitted to stay out, and try and smuggle themselves into the country and remain out of the ambit of legal authorities?
India has a choice. In the case of Jammu and Kashmir, where an insurgency is still going on and where Pakistan has an abiding interest to fish in troubled waters, India is making the right choice. In the case of Punjab, where militancy is a thing of the past and where youth are miles removed from notions of separatism, New Delhi has displayed a poor judgement so far.
Now, thankfully, the Akali Dal government seems to have gotten serious about the issue. It has officially taken up with the Centre the issue of the so-called Black Listed Sikhs, and has given a political impetus to the demand with the Akali Dal’s Core Committee this week unambiguously asking the Union Home Ministry to do away with such a list.
The meeting also focussed on a list of 180 Sikhs that the Union Home Ministry has sent to the government, and urged the Centre to make the list public. The people of Punjab would ideally like the Punjab Government of Parkash Singh Badal to ensure that this list is displayed on not just the Home Ministry’s website but also publicised by the state government.
The best part of the whole imbroglio over the Black List of Sikhs is the kind of broadspectrum political support that the issue has garnered. The BJP’s Avinash Khanna has taken up a few cases, and the Congress’ Sukhpal Khaira and Jassi Khangura have spoken out for some who figure on the Black List. Former CM Amarinder Singh has also argued that the so-called prohibitory list should be scrapped.
Amarinder, in fact, has go gone so far as to oppose his own party’s Minister, P. Chidambaram, who had said that the surrender policy would be limited to Kashmiri youth and not include Sikhs who had crossed over to Pakistan during militancy in Punjab and were ready to return as law-abiding citizens. Most of those on the list were guilty of merely provocative utterances.
When Chidambaram came visiting Punjab sometime back, he had asked the state government to submit a list of the youth who were black listed. That had shocked many quarters as it was believed in good faith that the state would have done at least this much. Amarinder himself claimed that he had submitted a list of misguided Sikh youth to the Centre six years ago.
Now, the state government and the political parties in Punjab should rise to the occasion, dumping partisan politics to ensure that they put up a joint and united voice before the Centre.
Meanwhile, the old parents and relatives of the youth on black list are pining away to death, increasingly losing hope that they will see their loved ones again. Many of these youth have settled down in various countries, having got married and all, but the homesickness has become their bane.
Some youth may have been carried away by the passions of those times but so many years have passed since that they deserve another chance. One such was Rachpal Singh who was a student at Amritsar’s Khalsa College and whose father Gurdeep Singh Baggar still longs to see him. Off and on, the cops knock at the door of the family. It is time that Rachpal returned and the knocks stopped.
Sukhpal Singh Khera, the Congress’ MLA from Bholath, was recently successful in getting the name of one Daljit Singh removed from the black list. Daljit was forced to spend 25 years in the US.
Rajya Sabha MP Tarlochan Singh has urged Chidambaram in letter not to hesitate to give a chance to the Sikh youth who crossed borders in the wake of disturbances in Punjab after Operation Blue Star in 1984.
It is heartening to know that even Union Minister and National Conference (NC) patron, Farooq Abdullah, has assured that he will discuss the issue of amnesty for black listed Sikhs at par with those of Kashmir with CM Parkash Singh Badal. For Sukhbir Singh Badal, who also heads the Home Department in Punjab, the Black List issue can be a touchstone one and he can carve out a name in the state polity by getting this resolved. At this time in polity, the issue seems pretty resolvable. Will Sukhbir Singh Badal do enough to romp home with credit?

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