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A Window of Opportunity For Mr Modi:
A Cri de Coeur From Canada

T. SHER SINGH, The Huffington Post






Some thoughts on the state visit of India's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, to Canada, on April 14 - 16, 2015 ...


My father used to say with great pride, for quite some time after we moved to Canada and made it our home, that no one was more or better representative of the best of India than Sikhs.

Specifically, he loved to boast that no one was, or could be, more Indian than a Sikh. Not even if he was not born on the subcontinent or had never stepped foot on it. Being an Indian was part of every Sikh’s DNA.

It was an honour, he would argue, that no other in India could claim, listing a string of reasons to prove his point.

Then came 1984. First June. Then, November.

Everything changed. Not only in my father but deep in the heart of most amongst the 30 million Sikhs around the world. No matter what situation or predicament they were in, regardless of whether they could voice their opinions or had to hide them thenceforth for one reason or the other, a disconnect had occurred.

Alas, it continues.

I believe it is not something India’s new, one-year-old government and prime minister can shrug off easily just because it was seeded under the Congress Party’s watch, or because India’s Sikhs are but one minority, and that too at a mere 2% of the population.

Because it is integrally intertwined with a general malaise.

Sikhs in Canada have an advantage over those either living in India or emotionally attached to the ’motherland’ because they live in a society which, despite its fair share of warts and all, is the most free in the world. They are able to look at events around the globe with relatively unjaundiced eyes and voice their opinions free of the tangles of patriotism, jingoism or other pressures.

This irks the powers in India to no end. It explains why every visiting Indian minister feels it obligatory to blindly paint Sikh-Canadians as militants, extremists and terrorists, almost as a ritual, during their visit. It’s like the smoke-screen used before an ambush.

The visitors also find it necessary to get the Canadian prime minister of the day to parrot their words. He invariably obliges. Even while knowing full well that it is not true.

Why wouldn’t he? Because the words are meaningless. Everyone -- the public, the politicians, the bureaucrats -- all shrug it off with the same indifference one shows to the fawning of the sari-seller in the bazaars of Karol Bagh who lays out a feast of fish tikkas and kebabs to impress you how much he has your interest at heart. Mr Harper, desperately drooling for trade opportunities, will say anything, particularly these days when he is in pre-election mode and his poll numbers are getting increasingly precarious by the day. It’ll mean nothing.

I know that it is difficult for Indians to understand the true mindset that we live in, in the free West, or why it is important for visiting politicians to first observe and listen and learn, without falling into the trap of grasping for short-term gains. If you don’t hear what we have to say or how we feel, whether it is right or wrong in your minds, or manage to drown our voices in the din of your visit, it serves you ill, not us.

A year ago, Mr Modi was handed a window of opportunity. I worry that it can so easily be squandered in a hail of inanities.

I recall how, a few years ago, when I personally launched a court challenge against the then Canadian prime minister (Brian Mulroney), alleging serious constitutional illegalities on his part, public opinion polls showed that the nation was almost unanimously behind me. Not long thereafter, I was cornered by the local Consul General of India at a party in Toronto; he was aware of my much-headlined court challenge, and that Mulroney’s party was decimated out of existence (with no contribution on my part, I’m sure) in the elections that followed.

But all he wanted to know, seeing that I was a turbaned and bearded Sikh, and unaligned with any political agenda or party, was: “Sardar Sahib, didn’t you feel afraid? That some harm may come to you? That someone may come after you?“

“Duh!” is all I could muster. Couldn’t he see, I mused loudly, that it was a democracy we lived in and all I was doing was exercising my rights as a citizen? In a country where the idea was given more than mere lip service!

He was from the Indian Foreign Service -- a cadre I knew to have the reputation of having the best and the brightest. It therefore puzzled me that he was surprised and thought I had been unusually courageous and possibly foolhardy, and had nevertheless expressed awe at my actions.

Years later, I still get the same reaction from Indians, and not others, who remember those days.

It explains to me why, when Sikh-Canadians agitate against what they see as human rights violations in India, it is deemed imperative for Indian politicians and authorities to try and silence them by painting them as extremists. It is a mind-set that Mr Modi has inherited from his predecessors.

As I’ve already said, it is symptomatic of a larger malaise which eats into anything and everything that India does to progress. Each step forward is countered by a staggering two steps backwards, it seems. I recall the promise of how the 20th century belonged to India as I grew up there during my formative years, and I’m sadly aware how that opportunity was lost.

Now, once again, it appears that the 21st century is out there for India’s taking. It’s a much coveted second chance which rarely comes to either individuals or nations in such a short span.

However, 15 years of this new century have already been frittered away.

Mr Modi has an extraordinary window of opportunity to change things and put India on track. Never before in India’s seven-decade long history has a leader and a party been given such a total carte blanche to change the landscape.

Despite all that you hear within India, here’s what the world outside currently sees and hears and knows and remembers about India: Devyani Khobragade, gang-rapes, burnt Christian churches, murdered nuns and priests, abject poverty and slums, desecration of non-Hindu places of worship, the plague of caste, pre-election massacres, no sanitation, no toilets, rampant pollution, police ‘encounters‘, corrupt politicians, religious riots, Air India cockpit fights, ultra-rich magnates, pre-historic Vedic inventions …

Mr Modi has a window of opportunity to change the narrative.

It’s not going to be easy. But it’s an opportunity that only two other prime ministers have had in the past: Jawaharlal Nehru, who rose to the occasion and made some headway. And Manmohan Singh, who squandered it.

For Mr Modi, it’s a call to carpe diem: to become the Man who turned this into India’s Century … or do an innings or two and be relegated as a hiccup of history.  

Distilled of rhetoric and obfuscations from both sides, here’s how the Sikhs of Canada see the present and visualize the future -- and, I believe, Sikhs everywhere share this in their heart of hearts:

They recognize that Punjab being a crucial and critical border state, India weighed two different options: first, to weaken the region and turn it into a virtual no-man’s land, ostensibly to make it more defendable; second, to nurture or even enhance its historical strengths as a perennial buffer against invading forces.

Sadly, India chose the easy route -- a la Barbara Tuchman‘s theory of “The March of Folly” -- of bringing the state to its knees. So that it is malleable and easy to manipulate as a front-line territory.

We see it akin to shooting yourself in the foot. Remember, it has always been the Sword Arm of India! You don’t cut it off as a measure of defence!

Wouldn’t the second option make more sense? Strengthen it! Surely a strong border state makes a better bulwark than a weak one. Try it. You’ll be surprised at the result.

When respected and given freedom, Sikhs have always risen to the occasion. Over and over again, they have shown -- around the world -- that they are nation-builders, loyal and patriotic to a fault. Moreover, they have the inbuilt trait of never settling for less.

I fear India has lost sight of these realities or sees things only through jaundiced eyes. In its frenzied desperation to bury Sikhs in a sea of obfuscations -- as Punjabis, Indo-Canadians, South Asians, NRIs, militants, extremists, terrorists, or even the constitutional misnomer of a ‘sect’ of Hinduism -- it needs to understand and accept the fact that Sikhs in Canada see themselves as Sikh-Canadians. No less, no more.

Accept it; it's a fact of life. Build on it. Use it to your advantage. Not react in knee-jerk fashion, but strategically. The ‘Sikh Question’ is a microcosm of both, your larger problems … and your overall solutions.

Address it and it’ll help you make this century yours.     
Mr Modi, you have a small window of opportunity. Going by a similar trajectory that two other powers -- first Japan, and then China -- experienced in recent decades and successfully elevated themselves into world-powers, I see you having no more than 5 to 10 years to seize the day. To make India whole again. And to make it more than a mere rich power -- a true world power.

And, guess what: those critical years have fallen within Mr Modi’s watch, like a windfall right into his lap.

It’s a window of opportunity.

[I'm not going to hold my breath, though.]


This article can also be read on The Huffington Post by CLICKING HERE.

April 10, 2015

Conversation about this article

1: Andy Singh (USA), April 10, 2015, 9:40 AM.

An excellent article that juxtaposes and provides insights into 'what Indian government should do' versus 'what Indian government is doing'. Sikhs are and have been the most loyal and patriotic of all and the hope is for everyone to realize it.

2: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), April 10, 2015, 12:10 PM.

As someone who was born in Canada, I can assure you that even if India reached out, I would never consider that hell-hole my "motherland" nor would I detract from exposing its barbaric culture to people whenever I get the chance. I will never ever work for the benefit of India. I hope it remains poor forever. Even after a decade of rape, murder and torture, our tiny little minority still does better than the rest of the country. Pathetic country.

3: Harsaran Singh (Indonesia), April 10, 2015, 12:24 PM.

Mr. Modi had his chance immediately after May 2014 but sadly it has been squandered in the usual Indian political way. He turned out as some wise men had predicted, to be nothing more than a dedicated "sanghchalak" who takes orders from the stone age thinkers sitting in Nagpur. The Modi of today bans beef in Maharashtra which has a large Muslim population but avoids doing so in Goa because the Christian majority will vote against his party. Modi does not object when one of his party's high profile lawyer-turned-politician says that mosques are mere buildings which can be pulled down anytime. This gentleman adds that every Indian has a hindu ancestry and only those who accept their it have the right to live in India. As for the 2% Sikhs, yes, Punjab as a political state is important to Modi, he wants to regain power in the state on his own in the next state elections even if it means shedding the excess baggage of the Badals. Punjab of today is farther away from what the P channels beam to viewers cross the world. Punjab has systematically been allowed to relapse into a abysmal situation where drugs and alcohol have become a big problem. There is a feeling that successive governments are deliberately turning a blind eye to a situation which is threatening to affect the very existence of our fatherland. Something has to be done before Punjab becomes the Mexico of the subcontinent and certainly it is not going to be Modi who can or will do it.

4: Kaala Singh (Punjab), April 10, 2015, 1:09 PM.

This is an excellent article vis-a-vis Modi and India. The views of the author mirror my views and many like me, vis-a-vis before and after 1984. But the raison d'etre of a Sikh is not to be drowned in the crowd, but to chart his/her own path. By its actions in 1984, India sent a message to the Sikhs that we are not equal citizens and not part of its national fabric. It should not concern any Sikh if India misses or makes use of this window of opportunity; instead, he/she should chart his/her own course. And to India, we say -- Je me souviens 1984 -- we will always remember 1984!

5: Sarvjit Singh (Millis, Massachusetts, USA), April 10, 2015, 2:00 PM.

So true indeed. Being a Sikh who was born in India and educated both in India and USA, I often face the same dilemmas, and am distressed by similar contradictions.

6: Gurtej Singh (New Zealand), April 10, 2015, 4:45 PM.

Succinct analysis. However I differ on one thing. Punjab has been 'brought to its knees' even though there is no threat to India now from the western frontier from Pakistan, which is now being widely recognized as a "failed state".

7: R Singh (Canada), April 10, 2015, 5:56 PM.

Sikhs never do well with fanatics of any kind. Modi is not the hero he is made out to be. He is at best a front for the backbone of indian fanaticism, the business houses from Gujarat. The encounters continue; baiting minorities has become mainstream' the propaganda shot about Pakistan being a failed state is a fact, as is the existence of the hindutava agenda. Forgetting that a nuclear armed state failing is not an option India or the world can risk. Modi does not possess the intellect to be a statesman, it will all depend on his business and religious partners how he manoeuvres himself. A paper tiger at best has already presided over decorations for ex prime ministers and persons tainted with religious strife. Now how much the Tory desperation for votes plays out, we need to look out for, either way.

8: Kulvinder JIt Kaur (Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada), April 10, 2015, 8:59 PM.

A thought provoking article. However that window of opportunity will not do much for the Sikhs. We will wait and see. Who knows? In the meantime Sikhs better start thinking seriously about themselves and their future as a community. One can't rely on others' windows of opportunities to determine one's fate and future. At some point every community has to self determine its stand collectively. Sikhs have to be clear about what they want and how to attain it. We are now international citizens (thank God!) and it is to our benefit that we can learn from these free and civilized countries that we live in as to how we want to establish ourselves as a community. I think it is we who have been given a window of opportunity to self actualize in the free world.

9: H. Kaur (Canada), April 11, 2015, 4:10 AM.

I remember when I was in Grade 2, I signed a book out at my school on India. I was so happy to do so. We had some visitors and one of them wanted to borrow it, but I said no. I felt he might not return it on time. Now, well, I certainly don't have that sense of being a part of India; haven't since the 1980s. Think it has become a despicable hell on earth. There are some Indians who fault me for this. Many of them are those who only think they care for India. Really, they go there for a month or two, every few years. They feel important by showing off that they are from Canada (or another part of the western diaspora) and harass their relatives when there; they exploit the poor by buying goods for super cheap. Then, instead of just staying there and doing something to back their so-called 'patriotism', back they come running to Canada. So much for those who claim they care for the god-forsaken place.

10: Dr Birinder Singh Ahluwalia (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 11, 2015, 10:56 AM.

I believe all leaders around the world, including the ones in the US vying for the 2016 Presidential elections (as well as Mr. Modi in India), should take a cue from President Obama who has time and again proven to be an effective, profoundly visionary, intelligent and courageous leader despite phenomenal, unprecedented opposition from both within the US and abroad. Hats off to him. Hopefully, Mr. Modi could learn from him and carve a similar path for his country.

11: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), April 11, 2015, 9:36 PM.

Firstly all Sikhs should never again put themselves in the 'Indian' camp, Sikhs are Sikhs, full stop. First and foremost, we must make it clear to the world -- and to our own -- that we'll we have no truck with Hinduism, that ours is a distinctly different and separate path.

12: Gurteg Singh (New York, USA), April 12, 2015, 1:00 PM.

Should we even care about the so called window of opportunity for India? It is naive to even think that a determined enemy who is bent upon the complete destruction of Sikh core values and supports the policies of genocide of the Sikh nation will ever change course when he has already achieved success beyond his wildest dreams in the mission of complete occupation and subjugation of the Sikh nation. The Indian state and specially this RSS administration is not backing away from their fascist beliefs inspite of their outwardly public charms offensive, but the 'bholey bhaaley' Sikhs keep "hoping" that they will somehow avail of the "window of opportunity" to do the right thing. Just last week they appointed a BJP MLA -- a Sikh look alike with a big saffron tikka on his forehead and with absolutely no knowledge of the Sikh ethos -- as the Head of the Takht Sachkhand Hazur Sahib administration where Guru Gobind Singh left for his heavenly abode. According to Jathedar Nandgarh most decisions of the SGPC are taken in Nagpur. The RSS and its associated agencies with full support and might of Indian government and its security forces is now infiltrating every nook and corner of Punjab for ultimate "final solution" where look alike Sikhs like Badal but who report to Nagpur and Indian home ministry, will run Sikh Gurdwara affairs and "integrate" Sikhs into 'mainstream'.

13: Kaala Singh (Punjab), April 14, 2015, 2:54 PM.

@12: Have we ever wondered who keeps Badal and people like him in power? It is our own people who have become addicted to drugs and doles! Badal and his ilk will not last a day in power if he was to stop the the free money he is distributing via subsidies.

14: Kaala Singh (Punjab), April 14, 2015, 3:32 PM.

Further to my comment above: On one hand there is no tax on agricultural income and on the other massive subsidies are given for agriculture, so the state gains nothing from agriculture. Agriculture in Punjab should have modernized and become self-sustaining by now, but that has not happened. Whatever little industry Punjab has and which fills the state coffers is mostly owned by the Hindus and the rest of the money comes from central grants and therefore Punjab has no option but to dance to the tunes of the Indian State. The destiny of Punjab and Sikhs will change the day when they succeed in building a modern, sustainable economy. At the moment this looks like a distant dream as Punjab in under a huge debt and is unable to pay even the interest on this debt, leave alone providing basic infrastructure and services to it people.

15: G. Singh (Scottsdale, Arizona, USA), April 15, 2015, 12:36 PM.

"Window of opportunity": A short period of time during which an opportunity must be acted on or missed ... Since Indians have no concept of time ever since they discovered that they invented shunya - zero - this article is meaningless. Things only happen in India despite itself.

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A Cri de Coeur From Canada"

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