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Spreading the virus With due respect

  • Published 28.04.07

The death last month of Dr Jagjit Singh Chohan (79) in his village, Tanda, reminded me of his case against me and my encounter with the other protagonists of a separate Sikh state, notably Ganga Singh Dhillon, Gurmeet Singh Aulakh and Simranjeet Singh Mann. I never met Chohan but he took me to court in London and Chandigarh. He had set up an Embassy of the Republic of Khalistan in London, with a Nihang guarding the entrance. He issued passports and currency notes of Khalistan. He made Sikhs a laughing stock. I wrote about him in volume II of my A History of the Sikhs. He claimed that I had libelled him and asked for damages of over a million pounds sterling from my publishers and me.

It was trial by jury. Chohan attended the hearings everyday, taking with him a few patriarchs with long, flowing beards. He produced some witnesses, including an English woman, Joyce Pettigrew, author of Robber Noblemen, a book on Sikh zamindars I had rubbished in my columns. I could not travel to London but sent affidavits signed, among others, by President Zail Singh, S.J.S. Chhatwal, retired high commissioner of Canada, and a couple of old fellow villagers of Chohan to the effect that as a young man he had not conformed to the Khalsa tradition of wearing his hair and beard unshorn.

The judge put two questions to the jury: Had I libelled Chohan? If so, what damages would they award to him? To the first question, the jury affirmed that I had libelled Chohan. To the amount of damages to be given to Chohan, the jurors fixed the amount at one penny. Chohan claimed victory. He never asked me for the one penny he had won. I still owe him a penny. I’ve no idea what came of the case he had some relation of his filed against me in Chandigarh.

I have strong views on the claim of a separate, sovereign state for Sikhs or any similar demand for an independent state to be carved out of India. I belong to the Sikh community but regard Khalistanis as the worst enemies of the Khalsa Panth and traitors to the country. I have often challenged them to draw me a map of what they conceive as Khalistan, in which Sikhs will have as much of a majority as they do in Punjab today. Not one has taken up my challenge. Twenty per cent of the community live outside Punjab: farmers in Ganganagar district of Rajasthan and the Terai in Uttarakhand, Sikh industrialists, professionals, and tradesmen prosper in all parts of the country. What will become of them if, god forbid, they get away with a Sikh state? Another mass immigration of refugees?

They never answer these questions because they never bother to think about them. They are singularly brainless and unconcerned about the future of the community. Another Khalistani, Simranjit Singh Mann, won his election to the Lok Sabha but refused to enter it because he was not allowed to carry a kirpan of the length he wanted. No other Sikh MP before or after him found that a problem.

Gurmeet Singh Aulakh and Ganga Singh Dhillon continued to live in Washington. Aulakh used to issue bulletins in support of Khalistan. (He sent me some in which he had written something nasty about me). He has fallen silent. Dhillon lives in a large house overlooking Potomac River. I had a long luncheon session with him. I advised him to change his name and that instead of polluting the Ganga, he should pollute the Potomac.

The demand for Khalistan met the fate it deserved. It died an ignominious death. But let it be a lesson to others who periodically make noises about separating the states in which they live from India. We have heard them in Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. They are voices of treason which the people themselves should silence.

Spreading the virus

It is a new disease which, like HIV and AIDS, is acquiring epidemic proportions in our country. It is not spread through sexual intercourse, buggery or injection by an infected needle, but by a match-box sized gadget called cellphone. Since a majority of Indians are as prone to talking endlessly and without purpose, as they are to diabetes, this little gadget further propagates the habit of talking and converting it to a deadly boring disease. It is highly contagious and unless you quarantine those afflicted by it, you will fall prey to it.

I have developed an immune system to avoid contagion. No sooner visitors arrive, than I scan them to see if they are carrying the offensive gadget. If I detect one, I tell the owner to switch it off. If I fail to detect one, and it rings, I stop talking and tell everyone to fall silent while the guilty party is pacing up and down the room conversing sotto voce. And when he or she (it is usually a she) is finished and says innocently “Sorry! Where were we…?” I reply, “Waiting for you to finish with that damned mobile.” It is bad manners to carry it to the cinema, theatre, dance or music recital or while calling on a friend. That pretty well ends the party. I now plan putting a table next to my entrance door with a placard reading, “Please deposit your cellphones here before you enter the premises.”

With due respect

Narain Dutt Tiwari, former chief minister of Uttarakhand, has been lampooned in doggerel verse more than he deserved. During the Emergency, when Sanjay Gandhi ruled the roost, it was: “Main Narain Dutt Tiwari hoon/Main Sanjay kaa sevak hoon.”

K.J.S. Ahluwalia from Amritsar has compiled a list of names given to the initials of the hapless CM — ‘No Delay’ Tiwari; ‘New Delhi’ Tiwari; ‘No Dictation’ Tiwari; ‘Natural Defiant’ Tiwari, ‘National Disaster’ Tiwari; ‘Nothing Doing’ Tiwari; ‘Never Die’ Tiwari; ‘Now Discarded’ Tiwari!