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Economic Viability

Is Punjab, Khalistan Ecnomically Viable?

By Dr. Gurcharan Singh


This paper provides a political scientist’s perspective on the economic viability of Punjab (Khalistan). Hopefully, it would stimulate or provoke some economists to lend their wisdom to enrich the discussion.

Surprisingly, the question of economic viability of Punjab is frequently raised by the Sikhs, who should know the answer. Others, either do not care or they think that Punjab’s economic viability is beyond any doubt. Some political pundits believe that during the movement for independence, economic issues seldom attract much attention. They argue that economic problems can be confronted after .gaining the right of self-determination. They point out that the thirteen American colonies went virtually broke during the war of independence. However, soon after gaining their independence, they not only took care of economic problems but also developed a very strong socioeconomic and political infrastructure — which became the envy of many nations.

The dynamics of economic variables

One can think of many variables which constitute important components of a viable economy, e. g. the land and water, other natural resources like raw materials, the capital, industry and technology, energy resources, agriculture -particularly adequate food production and dairy products -and finally the people (the human capital and the size of work force and consumer market).

To be sure, the people (the human resource) are the most critical variable in any economy. It is not only the will and determination of a people to survive, but also their dynamism in transforming the natural resources into wealth. Abundance of natural resources alone cannot guarantee prosperity. These resources must be transformed into wealth, which involves the dynamics of the quality of leadership, managerial skills, institutional infrastructure,the team spirit, entrepreneurship, and the will of a people to work hard — with honesty and dignity — and take pride in doing what they do. If the abundance of natural resources alone could guarantee prosperity, the Soviet economy would not have crumbled along with its socio-political infrastructure. 2

By the same token, the thriving economies of Japan,and Singapore would not have been possible, because neither of the two have significant natural resources in terms of raw materials and energy.

Socio-cultural and political landscape

For centuries, Punjab remained the footmat of foreign invasions. Its economy has been f requently ravaged by the invading f orces. Many times, the economic devastation has been caused by the forces within India, e.g. the partition fiasco of 1947, and the ongoing reign of political oppression and instability of 1980’s and 1990’s.

Yet, this land of green revolution still remains the bread basket of India and is maintaining the highest per capita income in India. Punjab’s economic resilience has some analogy with Germany and Japan. Both, Germany and Japan had suffered, inter alia, economic devastation during WWII. However, their remarkable economic recovery and prosperity are classified as economic miracles of this century. The people of Punjab had demonstrated similar resilience after the devastations of two Anglo-Sikh Wars in 1845-46 and 1849, the partition of 1947, another partition in 1965-66 (reducing the territory and population of Punjab and carving out two states–Haryana and Himachal Pradesh), and the burden of more than 500,000 hostile and oppressive paramilitary forces. A whole generation of young Sikhs has been wiped out (hundreds and thousands have been killed, driven out of the country, and/or are still in Indians torture chambers) . Punjab is still bleeding and is in pain and agony. It is no wonder that the economy has taken a beating in some sectors yet there is an indication of resurgence in others.

In addition, Punjab’s economy has been subjected to other handicaps: I) New Delhi’s step-motherly treatment of Punjab and the diversion of 75% of Punjab’s river waters to other states in violation of the internationally recognized right of riparian states ii) fixing ridiculously below market prices of wheat and rice procured for central reserve, in violation of the free market principle, virtually robbing the Punjab’s farmers of their hard labor, iii) denying industrial licenses to Punjab, through a centrally controlled and colonial style licensing policy. For instance, Punjab is the major producer of sugarcane and cotton but it could not make full use of these raw materials because indusrial licenses were issued to the neighboring states like Haryana, which could make much greater profit by transforming these raw maerials into finished products, iv) the hydroelectric energey produced in Punjab, but controlled by New Delhi (in violation of the Constitution of India), is distributed at New Delhils whims, forcing Punjab farmers to find more expensive and environmentally less safer alternatives of coal and diesel, and v) the farmers in Punjab also had to resort to more expensive diesel tubewell irrigation–further lowering the subsoil water level. Unless corrected soon, this could seriously hurt Punjab’s agricutural production.

In reference to abov e Dr. G.S. Dhillon (Reader in History, the Punjab University, Chandigarh) has pointed out, inter alia,: in the history of colonialism, no imperial power has ever drained its colony of water resources” the procurement agencies exploit the helplessness of the Punjab farmers, the producers of wheat and paddy, who have made India self-sufficient in food, besides saving colossal amounts of foreign exchange each year. Instead of a reward or bonus… he is punished for his work and production.” ( India commits Suicide . Chandigarh: Singh and Singh Publishers, 1992, pp. 73 & 75)

Survival under heavy odds:

If Punjab’s economy could survive, despite all the above, it should thrive the moment New Delhils colonial control comes to an end and Punjab’s economic resources are managed for the benefit of Punjab.

The people of Punjab, particularly the Sikhs, have been playing a guerilla game to skirt around New Delhils discriminatory and often hostile policies. In the absence of heavy industry, Punjab has developed a significant smallscale industry for the production of small tools and equipment, farming equipment, automobile parts, spare parts for sewing machines, bikes and tractors. Consequently,Punjab not only provides more than 60% of wheat and rice for Indials central reserve (at below market prices),many industrial plants in India depend, at least partly, on the supply of spare parts from Punjab.

In addition to Punjab’s traditional handloom products, cotton textiles and woollen hosieries, furniture and carpentry, and jewelry, it has recently developed a growing carpet industry in Amritsar area. Besides, Amritsar has a large printing industry which goes back to pre-partition days. Punjab also has a large transport and trucking industry. Lately, the agro-industry is also gathering momentum — for the preservation of fruits and vegetables.

Punjab should get billions of dollars in past due payments on account of its 75% river waters diverted to the neighboring states. The future returns on mutually negotiated quantity and price of exported water should enable Punjab to import all the raw materials it needs from India and other countries.

Punjab has a vital private sector in education, housing, and community services. The religious institutions of various faiths, the Sikhs, the Christians, the Hindus and others have an elaborate network of educational institutions from elementary schools to medical and engineering colleges. This sector also maintains a network of community services, including homes for orphans and widows and health clinics. It OP generates significant employment opportunities. This sector also receives significant foreign remittances, particulary from Christian missionaries and the Sikhs in diaspora.

It is estimated that the Sikhs in diaspora remit more than one billion dollars annualy to families and friends,, and to educational and religious institutions and other charities-which constitutes a significant input in Punjab’s economy.

Though Punjab is not a tourist attraction, like Kashmir and Switzerland, 7-8 million Sikhs outside Punjab (3-4 million in other parts of India and 3-4 million in the rest of the world) often visit Punjab to meet families and friends and as pilgrims to various Sikh shrines. This tourist-cumpilgrims traffic is likely to increase in an independent Punjab. There will be increasing scope for the development of tourist and hotel industries.

Besides,, the Sikh entrepreneurs and professionals thriving all over the world would help Punjab in redesigning and modernizing its socioeconomic and technological infrastructure. The only other country which have had this benefit is Israel. One can reasonably anticipate that Punjab has the capacity to develop a self-sustained economy. If things go well, Punjab won’t seek foreign aid from Wesern industrial countries,, nor call upon the international agencies for help. It can certainly invite foreign corporations to bring investment and technology to Punjab for mutual benefit. Punjab with its own surplus capital can focus on service industry.

The Limitations and Handicaps

It is often pointed out that Punjab is a landlocked country, which imposes a formidable handicap. True, but there are almost forty landlocked countries, which include Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Mecedonia, Uzbekistan, Belaruse, Mongolia and others in Europe and Eurasia. Near home, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, and Kashmir are landlocked countries. Most of them have transit agreements with the littoral sates. Nepal has transit agreements with India and Bangladesh, while Afghanistan has with Pakistan and Iran. It does not depend entirely upon the generosity of the littoral states. There are international conventions which make it obligatory on the part of the littoral states to provide transit facilities. Besides, transit facilities do not come for free. The landlocked countries pay for the freight transport as well as substative users’ fees for the seaport facilities.

Punjab already has serious energy shortage. It faces a major challenge both to conserve energy and find environmentally saf e energy alternatives like solar and wind power and to augment its hydrolectric power sector.

Despite the tragedy of Punjab, or because of it, Punjab has to rekindle the spirit of Punjabi heritage so all the people of Punjab — Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Bhudists, Jains, Dalit’s and others feel proud of their Punjabi heritage and work togehter to rebuild its socioeconomic and political infrastructure–somewhat like the Sikh Commonwealth under Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

The Prospects in a new regional landscape

Both historical and socioeconomic landscape indicates that an independent Punjab has adequate resources for a viable economy. It has an area of 50,376 sq. kms., which is larger than Switzerland (41,283 sq. kms.) . In its landmass, population and economic potential, Punjab is larger than almost 80 countries. Given Punjab’s control over its resources without New Delhi draining its economic resources it has the potential to match the economic miracles of Singapore, Hongkong, South Korea, Japan or Germany. Its approximately 22 million people (70% of whom are Sikhs) provide a fairly strong consumer market.

The Sikhs and Kashmiris are striving for self-determination in accordance with Articles 1 and 55 of the U.N. Charter, and are yearning for ‘-freedom, justice and peace, II as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.                                              6

The freedom of Punjab and Kashmir would provide a useful neutral buffer between India and Pakistan. Besides, it would pave the way for a South Asian Commonwealth of free nations (consisting of India, Pakistan, Punjab, Kashmir, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and others). In this new geopolitical landscape , the existing arbitrary frontiers, guarded by lethal military machines, nuclear arsenals and electronic booby-traps, would be replaced by administrative lines of jurisdiction, such as between USA and Canada. As a matter of fact, all nuclear weapons can be wiped out of the South Asian region. With open frontiers, there should be a complete freedom of movement of goods, services, capital, and people on the pattern of the European Union.

By the same token, this insane armament race between India and Pakistan would become redundant. Billions of dollars,which are now being consumed by the gigantic military establishments and killing machines, would be utilized for meeting the basic needs of people. The industrial countries would be saved from subsidizing the production of weapons of mass destruction and genocide of enthnocultural minorities in South Asia.

Indians ruling political pundits should realize that brute force cannot crush the spirit of freedom in Punjab or Kashmir. As it were, all the military might could not save either the Supra-Russian Empire (Soviet Union) or SupraSerbian Empire (Yugoslavia). India should learn from the political sophistication and wisdom of the Czech and Slovaks who have found a modus-videndi for coexistence as independent nations — without bleeding each other to death, and without depleting the resources of international agencies for healing their wounds and feeding their hungry.

As this turbulent century is approaching its end, the year 2000 is increasingly assuming a talismatic significance. People all over the world seem to be yearning f or a better world, but hardly anybody knows how this rose garden is going to appear at the turn of the century. It is imperative that instead of living in the shadows of the past, we take positive and imaginative steps into the future with courage, faith and hope.

Prepared by Dr.Gurcharan Singh, International Studies Department, Marymount Manhattan College, New York, for presentation at the 1997 Annual Convention of the Council of Khalistan, Washington, D.C. (October 11-12, 1997)

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