CHANDIGARH: One state that is vociferously raising its voice in support of the people of Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A by the central government is neighbouring Punjab. Right from the government to various political organizations and civil society activists and organizations both in India and abroad, there has been opposition to the step taken by the Centre, particularly the manner in which it was done by silencing the voice of the Kashmiris.

There are many reasons, similarities in experience and also certain distinct historical reasons for Punjabis coming out to voice support. Many are drawing parallels between the eve of Operation Bluestar in 1984 and the build up in Jammu and Kashmir before Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced the government's decision in Parliament.

“It needs to be understood that both Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir are places where national minorities (Sikhs and Muslims) are in a majority. Both have witnessed a divide between the communities. But while Punjab has displayed a composite culture, things have been a lot different in Kashmir over the recent past. Another major difference is that while Pakistan has been directly involved in Kashmir, this was not the case in Punjab,” senior political commentator Jagtar Singh said.

Underlining the similarities in the build up, he said that in Punjab to the centre had muzzled the voice of the people in 1984 by cutting off communication links and imposing a curfew. “The role of the media was also the same where nobody spoke for the people and those who did were treated as suspects. At present some of the portals are at least trying to give a clear picture of what is happening in Kashmir,” he told The Citizen. He is of the view that there would be repercussions. He pointed out that till date the Sikh issue continues to raise its ahead at regular intervals. He also aired concern over the possibility of Khalistani and Kashmiri separatists joining hands in future.

Singh further made an interesting observation that whether it has been Kashmir or Punjab; those carrying the gun have never bothered for Article 370 or any other law. The main issue in both these states has basically been autonomy.

Poet Rajwinder Meer who has been touring the hinterland of Malwa region trying to gauge the mood of the common masses said there is a lot of anger among the people on how the Kashmiris have been treated by the centre. They are particularly annoyed at the irresponsible comments that are being aired by the Hindutva elements with regard to Kashmiri women.

“The general sentiment is that humiliation of any community backfires. In the recent past whenever we saw the state targeting the people protesting peacefully like in Tuticorin we were reminded of Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, but now we are witnessing the creation of a West Bank and Gaza here itself,” he said. Meer Said that there had been several protests in the Malwa region against the Centre’s decision but these had gone largely unreported by the mainstream media.

He further said, “Those who are politically aware are peeved at the people in other states who are celebrating the abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A. They feel that Kashmir has lost whatever partial autonomy it had. Instead of striving for similar autonomy for their own respective states, it is a sad state of affairs that people are celebrating what has been done.”

In fact, taking strong exception to the comments from Hindutva elements about Kashmiri women, one of the Akal Takht Jathedars Giani Harpreet Singh has come out with a statement saying that these are serious offences against women and cannot be ignored. Recalling how the Sikh women were treated by people of the same mentality in 1984, he stated that Sikhs will not allow anyone to repeat 1984 with Kashmiri women.

Not missing out on the Punjabi sentiment, state chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh came out with a strong reaction to the centre’s move. He was among the very few Congress leaders who categorically attacked the centre for the move terming it unconstitutional and undemocratic while calling it ‘a dark day for the Indian democracy’.

Objecting to the arbitrary manner in which things were done, Amarinder Singh said the constitutional provisions had been abused as never before.

The issue is all set to play out in state politics in the days to come as the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) that has always claimed to hold the flag of federalism and autonomy has supported the BJP government at the centre, and is facing a strong reaction from the Sikhs in particular.

Another interesting perspective on how the issue is playing out in the state comes from an open letter written by Dal Khalsa chief Harpal Cheema to the US President Donald Trump. The once hard line Dal Khalsa is a group that is pursuing radical politics through democratic means even as it propagates the right to self determination.

In his letter Cheema while endorsing the unequivocal right to self-determination of Kashmiris and expressing solidarity with them said, “India’s retrograde step to convert the state into a union territory is not only an assault on the territorial status of the region but also a concerted attempt to revert to the pre-1953 status of Kashmir, clearly carried out to evade India’s international obligation and subjugate the people of Kashmir.”

He has favoured American intervention on Kashmir saying that it is quite evident from the history of the last seven decades that India and Pakistan cannot resolve the issue bilaterally and hardly any effort has ever been made to make Kashmir and pro-Kashmiri leaders as part of the conflict resolution process.

Meanwhile, Punjabis living abroad are also speaking out on the issue and are planning protests to register their anger. One such protest has been planned in Surrey in Canada on August 18 by an organization called Indians Abroad for Pluralist India.

It needs to be recalled that it was Punjabis who had come forward to help Kashmiri youth that was being targeted by right wing groups in the aftermath of Pulwama attack on Indian security forces earlier this year. The state had gone all out to ensure that the youth reached home safely.