The Punjab Conflict



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The Punjab Conflict


This paper is a comparative case study of the events that occurred in the Punjab conflict of the 1980’s, and the case of the Punjab conflict in the 1990’s. The anchoring case conflict in this case study is the Punjab violence of the 1980’s, while the comparison case is the Punjab violence of the 1990’s. It is important to note that these two case of violence happened in the same geographical region, though at different periods. The degree of violence in these two cases varies, as the Punjab conflict of the 1980’s witnessed a higher degree of violence, compared to the Punjab conflict of the 1990’s. This is evident by the number of deaths experienced in these two cases. While the case in the 1980’s witnessed the highest number of deaths and negative effects on the area, in 1990’s, lower death levels were witnessed, as well as reduced negative outcomes of the violence (Deol 45). There is a main reason or cause for this variation in the degree of violence between these two cases of violence. The unfair intervention of the central government is identified as the causal factor in these cases, thus responsible also for the variance in the degree of conflict between the two cases.

An Overview of the Paper

In this paper, a theoretical causal argument will be developed. This will then be used to explain the differences between the two selected cases of Punjab conflict in the 1980’s and the Punjab conflict of the 1990’s. This will mainly base on evidence from the events, which transpired in both cases of conflicts. The conclusion will comprise a summary of the argument developed in the paper. This will also evaluate the relevance of this comparative case study to the argument developed.

The Description of Question or “Puzzle”

            One of the differentiating factors between the Punjab violence in the 1980’s and the Punjab violence in the 1990’s is the degree of violence witnessed in both cases. Both cases of violence occurred in one geographical location, Punjab, though at different periods. Punjab is divided into two major divisions, namely easy and west Punjab. The majority community in Punjab consists of the Shikhs. In the contrast, the Shikhs are a minority ethnic and religious community in the overall state, making up 2 percent of the Indian population. These have a history of resisting central control, and with historical ties to the territories, they occupy (Chenoweth and Lawrence 222). The problems experienced in Punjab mainly root from aspects that are associated with religion in the area. These attempted to separate the Shikhs from other ethnic communities in the area, for political gain.

In the 20th Century, conflicts erupted when various new ideologies were developed among the Sikhs. These therefore, had required that the central government meets their demands, which were both religious and political. When the central government failed to meet their demands, tension built up in the 1980’s among Sikhs in Punjab and those in New Delhi. The Shikhs had sought a greater autonomy; for fear that, they were being assimilated into the greater cultural Indian and Hindu (Chenoweth and Lawrence 226). This led to massive violence, with detention of some Shikh leaders, as well as hundreds of the Sikhs. More than 3,000 civilians were killed, including troops, priests, and pilgrims. Sacred buildings were destroyed and political assassinations increased. The killing of Indira Gandhi by the Shikhs led to massive killings in New Delhi, claiming more than 2,000 lives. However, in 1985, a peace agreement was reached between the Indian government and the Shikhs. There followed a dismissal of the state government, and Punjab was put under president’s rule, which lasted up to 1992, when Beant Singh won the elections (Chenoweth and Lawrence 230).

The Punjab violence of the 1990’s began when approximately 80 people were killed in two incidences of train bombings in 1991. In addition, the assassination of Beant Singh, the senior minister, together with other 15 security men and aides took place in 1995 in Punjab. Although tension remained high even in the 1990’s, the level of violence in this period cannot be compared to that of the 1980’s. Therefore, there are no reports of massive violence in the 1990’s as those in 1980’s.

The Causal Argument

            The government plays an important role in the intervention during different types of conflicts in a country. This is mainly through offering appropriate solutions, which are deemed effective to settle the conflict. However, the government must consider all the parties involved in the conflict, so that the solutions it develops favor all the concerned parties. Therefore, by intervening in a conflict, it is possible that the government intervention might help in alleviating the conflict or might contribute to the rise of the conflict, making it worse.

The Causal Factor

            Government intervention is core to the study of conflicts. The case of Punjab conflicts in the 1990’s and the 1980’s proves that the role of government in conflicts is critical. In these two cases, the causal factor is government intervention in the conflict. In both cases, the government had an influence, as it tried to intervene in different ways. However, to a larger extent, this government intervention was not fair enough, thus, there was lack of ethics on the government’s side. In this order therefore, it is conclusive that unfair government intervention fits as the causal factor in the context of the Punjab conflicts. In both cases, there was a difference in the level of government intervention. This difference in the level of government intervention is responsible for the variance experienced in the level of violence between the two cases.

Application to Cases, with Evidence

            In the Punjab conflict experienced in the 1980’s, it is clear that the central government was highly involved, in an attempt to intervene in the conflict. However, this resulted in increased conflicts, despite the intervention of the central government. Evidence will prove that the central government used wrong strategies to intervene in the conflict. The central government was biased; therefore, its intervention could barely yield fruit. However, in the Punjab conflict of the 1990’s, there was very little government involvement and intervention in the conflict. This little intervention by the government led to a difference in the level of the violence experienced during this period.

Prior to the Punjab violence in the 1980’s, the Shikhs were against the state government. Therefore, in order to maintain rulership, the congress in the 1960’s, had attempted to straddle the divide between the Hindu and the Shikhs (Telford Web). They mainly based on the low-caste and poor Shikhs. This strategy therefore, would present an obstacle to the polarization of the Punjab politics. When SAD failed to win an election in the 1970’s, which would see them in government, they advocated for Sikh nationalism among the Shikhs. However, the congress got into a rivalry with SAD, and looked for ways of destroying SAD, which represented the Sikhs. The congress manipulated sectarian loyalties in attempts to ideologically outflank SAD. This was the government’s act, which served as the starting point of the violence experienced in the 1980’s (Walsh 234).

When the government acted in a way to deny the Sikhs their political rights, this presented an element of bias in the government’s action. Therefore, the congress wanted power for itself, without considering the Sikhs, who were the minority group in the state. Apart from power, the Sikhs had demanded a greater autonomy of their region, including their own constitution as well as equal distribution of resources, such as water resources among the Sikhs and the Hindu. However, the central government did not consider the grievances of the Sikhs. This is yet another aspect of bias from by the government. The government was biased toward the Sikhs, who were a minority group. These were therefore, marginalized, compared to the majority population (Telford Web).

The central government was also biased when in 1984, it send the Indian militants to attack Sikhs in the holy shrine (‘Indian Child’ Web). This was in response to the betrayal of one Sikh Bhindranwale, who had been employed by the central government, with a hidden interest of using him to weaken Punjab politics, including SAD. This resulted in the death of approximately 1,200 Sikhs, in addition to the 3,000 Sikhs that were murdered in New Delhi, after the Sikhs counteracted the killings at the holy shrine by murdering Indira Gandhi, who was the prime minister in that year (Singh 49). Therefore, the attacks by the central government through the Indian army on the Sikhs forced the Sikhs to hit back, thus resulting in a cycle of violence. In 1985, the government through the new Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi ceded most of the demands of the Sikhs. However, later, the militants murdered Longowal, the Sikh, who signed the accord, and this called for fresh violence, which continued until the early 1990’s. The Gandhi-Longowal Accord had  indicated that elections be held to put an end to the control of the central government over the state governments, but this was not performed by the central government, since in 1987, the assembly in Punjab was dissolved and replaced with President’s Rule (Singh 54). This therefore, intensified violence in Punjab. If the government had not participated in this in a biased manner, the violence would not have occurred. However, it is clear that the government was the major contributing factor to this violence in the 1980’s.

The violence experienced in Punjab in the 1990’s was an extension of the violence in the 1980’s. However, the level of violence escalated, because the central government was less involved in the whole issue. For instance, the central government held the elections for parliament and state legislative assembly in 1992 (Gargan Web). However, the Sikhs did not participate in the elections, and the election turnout was 20 percent (Gargan Web). The congress won both at the parliamentary and state levels. During the leadership of Gill, violence was contained through the police. The election was an appropriate solution to the rivalry between SAD and the congress (Aspinall, Jeffrey, and Regan 34). Therefore, since the Sikhs did not turn up deliberately to vote deliberately, after being given the opportunity, they were not justified to engage in violence. Therefore, while the central government in the 1980’s had denied the Sikhs in Punjab their voting rights, starting the 1990’s the new government allowed for elections to be held, thus, helping in the alleviation of the violence.

In the 1990’s during the new governance, the level of participation in conventional politics increased remarkably. The voter turnout for the municipal elections in September 1992 increased by 50 percent. In addition, voter turnout also was also high for gram panchayats in January 1993, and exceeded 70 percent. Generally, violence in Punjab declined during the years that followed. However, tension was still high in the area, but not compared to the one experienced in the 1980’s. This shows that the central government’s involvement in 1980’s was negative and unfair, thus leading to increased violence in Punjab. However, in the 1990’s, the new government played a different role in the region, compared to that of the 1980’s. By increasing the political participation of people through elections and other ways, this reduced the level of violence in Punjab (Aspinall, Jeffrey and Regan 38).

In conclusion, the government plays a critical role in different types of violence in a country. The involvement of the government in a conflict might result in either positive or negative consequences. The outcome of government intervention can only be positive, if it aims at ensuring fairness and equality of the involved parties. If fairness and justice is denied to either party, it is probable that the violence will escalate. In the case of Punjab conflict, there are two instances, where the government intervened differently. In the 1980’s conflict, violence was high because the central government denied the Sikhs their political rights. The government then resorted to an inappropriate way of solving the issue by killing the Sikhs, with some of their leaders. This led to increased violence. However, in the 1990’s when a new government took office, people were allowed to vote, unlike the 1980’s. In addition, the political participation of people was increased in various ways. Although elements of unfairness toward the Sikhs were still present, this could not compare to the 1980’s. Therefore, this quite fair involvement by the central government in the 1990’s led the level of violence to decrease in Punjab.


Works Cited

Indian Child. “Kashmir Issue, Kashmir crisis, Punjab Issue (India).” n.d.

Viewed 26 March 2013 <>

Aspinall Edward, Jeffrey Robin and Regan Anthony. “Diminishing Conflict in Asia and the

Pacific.” London: Routledge, 2012.

Chenoweth Erica and Lawrence Adria. “Rethinking Violence: States and Non-State Actors in

Conflict.” New York: MIT Press, 2010.

Deol, Harnik. “Religion and Nationalism in India: The Case of the Punjab.” London: Routledge,


Gargan Edward. “Punjab Holds Vote but Threats Deter Many.” New York Times. February 20,

1992. Viewed 26 March 2013 <>

Singh Gurharpal. “Ethnic Conflict in India: A Case-Study of Punjab.” New York: Palgrave

Macmillan, 2000.

Telford Hamish. “Counter-Insurgency in India: Observations from Punjab and Kashmir.” 21(1),

2001. Viewed 26 March 2013 <>

Walsh Judith. “A Brief History of India.” New Jersey: Infobase Publishing, 2006.

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