Sandeep Singh: In Conversation with WPD's new leader, Amritpal Singh Sandhu
A Baaz one-on-one interview with the new head of Deep Sidhu's Waris Punjab De - Amritpal Singh Sandhu.
April 1, 2022 | 10 min. read | Original Reporting
After actor and Sikh activist Deep Sidhu’s untimely and unfortunate death, Amritpal Singh Sandhu was appointed the new head of Waris Punjab De (WPD).
The 30 year old was not well known by most of the world at the time of his appointment, but he is quite popular on social media in Panthic circles.
In an interview with Baaz, Amritpal openly talks about his vision for Punjab, future plans, relationship with other Sikh groups, caste, and the left.
We have translated the interview from Punjabi to English and shortened it for brevity.
What is your vision for WPD?
I will work to fulfill the vision of Deep Sidhu while completing my Seva for WPD, and tackling social issues such as education, legal aid, or village traditional governance. We will connect with each village physically and digitally.
We will reduce our reliance on the Indian state, such as law or education. We will also try to make villages more self-reliant. Whenever you try to rely on governments or their funding or depend on state structures, then they control your fate, including your politics as a community. Our hope is to provide alternative and parallel structures that provide us independence from the state.
We are not saying all of these issues will be solved, but we will work towards them.
Where will you get the resources to do this?
Resources are within the villages. Our initial plan is for 10 villages, as well, and manage production to consumption. We will connect with the grassroots. We are putting power back in villages, which was lost in recent history of slavery. We will focus though, in the beginning, on things like legal aid as that will reduce reliance on state structures quickly.
We will bring Sikh lawyers from local and international levels to support villages. We will also attempt to solve as many legal issues outside the Indian legal system as possible. That is separate from also supporting village governance structures.
Does WPD have any plans to get involved in politics?
Most of our resources will go into social activities, with limited use of them for political ones. We did support Mann’s SAD(A) this election, and we will support those that have long-standing credible positions for Sikh causes, but we will not jump into electoral politics ourselves.
On one hand, you are talking about reducing the reliability on Indian state systems, while on the other hand, you want to support people who contest elections in that very system?
Your question is justified. But we cannot abandon any power structure within a state. For example, if under Indian law someone gets released from jail, we accept it, even if we do not like the system it happened under.
When SAD(A)’s Mann does well, it helps Sikh causes or Sikh sovereignty everywhere. It shows that there are people in the Sikh world that support those things. There are those that boycott elections too. But our effort is that Panthic groups should keep fighting, even if they have no power in electoral structures.
The most important thing for us is that our voice is present on all platforms to explain what has happened to us, and what will happen to us, as a people that have faced genocide. Infrastructure issues are important too, but we are having an identity crisis.
So where power structure exists, we should be there. Completely abandoning them is not prudent. We cannot ignore who the local MLA is for example, even if they are useless.
So what do you have to say is that you are against the Indian system and at the same time you want to participate in the system?
This is modern warfare. You have to use every opportunity and structure available to you.
With so many issues facing Punjab, what is your position on Sikh sovereignty, do you support it and do you think it is possible?
Yes, it is possible.
The biggest problem is the taboo built against a Sikh homeland or rule. Whether it is its possibility of survival in the future or its feasibility, there has been a false narrative built that Sikhs cannot survive independently, or they cannot govern themselves.
We support Sikh sovereignty, no doubt about it.
When we speak about Punjab and its issues, we have to centre that what has happened to us is a symptom of slavery.
For example, there is a lot of water in India. But they steal Punjab’s. It is a manufactured environmental genocide necessary to break a people’s identity.
It is like Farmer’s Protest, where union leaders told us it is only a farming issue, do not bring Sikh issues here. These same people will pick up the water issue and say it is just an environmental problem. The left’s problem is they silo these issues and refuse to look at root causes. They do not understand other issues intersect with these problems, like caste, religion, and more.
What will your organization will do about the caste system?
The issue of caste is a product of the Indian state and is part of the Brahmanical system. Some of our people have adopted this caste system. If the system of the Indian state is removed from the equation, then the caste system will disappear because the caste system is not a product of our way as Sikhs.
This structure has been imposed on us, from the Indian state and the colonial state before that. Also, many people are moving into Punjab, and they are bringing in the caste system as well. We must do what we can to stop it, but do not ignore the structures it is happening within.
People who come from other states as migrant labourers, most of them live on the margins and in poverty, and they do not have the capacity to discriminate on the basis of caste. What is your organization’s plan in fighting the caste system?
WPD is against caste discrimination. We will set up a committee to work with like-minded people that are already active in fighting the issue of caste. Sikhi is clear about caste and rejecting it.
The caste system should not be used as a tool to demonize the Sikh community. Sikhi is against the concept.
We cannot avoid the issue of caste in Punjab, but we should avoid sterotyping or using such incidents to undermine our larger issues. Whenever such incidents come to light we will try to address issues of caste in Punjab. But we have to recognize the root causes, and the influence of oppressive Indian state structures.
You do not live in Punjab, so how do you plan to run this organization from Dubai?
The world has changed and it is interconnected. It also does not mean I cannot come to Punjab when required and necessary, as declared by the organization.
For example, I addressed Sikhs through video conferencing in Bargari as well. The limitations of not being on the ground has been eliminated via new technology.
How many units of WPD have been formed and how do you plan to expand?
While we visit villages we have built units. We have started online registration as well. We will analyze the data of those requesting to join the organization and assign duties to them depending on their background and interests. Within this month, we will announce WPD’s Punjab and district-level organization.
It takes time for us to do background checks to ensure we do not promote someone that is problematic, but we do promise that we will expand to every village.
Who are you - Amritpal Singh, the new WPD leader?
Amritpal is nothing. If someone wants to know, then we can say we have been working on Sikh issues for a long time. And institutions that work against the Panth, we fight them. Amritpal as a person does not matter much. We have to think from an idea and organizational level. Amritpal is just a person representing an organization.
I am from a small village in Punjab’s Amritsar district. But, I have called UAE home for a while now. However, it is only a short flight to Punjab, and so I am not far away.
These days I am working full time on building this organization. Because in initial stages it is very important to invest yourself in building the movement.
I am a class 10+2 pass in Punjab, and went to engineering college for three years but never got a degree. I never had much interest.
Before joining WPD, I was working in the transport industry.
The last time I went to India was roughly July 2019. I had no major issue getting into India at the time.
You had hosted a Twitter space and it has been claimed that you used pics of girls without their permission and then those girls were bullied and harassed. What do you say about those accusations?
First of all, we did not commit any crime by calling out individuals for debate by using their pictures available in the public domain.
Secondly, I did not abuse anyone verbally on social media, and you cannot control other people on social media from abusing others. We requested people to not abuse anyone.
The problem with some people, such as those on the left, is that they are not willing to have a discussion openly. If you do challenge someone, they say you are abusive. Growth is important for all of us, and things are constantly moving, and that should necessitate important dialogue rather than unconditional support for their opinion. Our collective growth stops because of this.
It is a common perception that the Amritpal group is close to Prabhsharanbhir, is this true
We are close to every Sikh intellectual and supporter of Sikhs. We have learned a lot from Prabhsharanbhir and we have differences with him too. We are open to cooperating with others on wider issues, with the condition that they are Punjab centric and Panthic in thinking.
What do you have to say about Bhai Mandhir Singh’s group and Sikh Siyasat? After Deep Sidhu’s funeral ceremony they were bullied on social media?
We cannot control for the behaviour of individuals acting in their own capacity. Our organization played zero roles in anything against them. We are not wasting even single percent of energy targeting the Sikh Siyasat group. We have differences with them that we can discuss but not forgot them.
The way you are close to the Prabhsharanbhir group, are you close to the Sikh Siyasat group? Do you have open lines of communication?
No, we are not close with Sikh Siyasat group. There are reasons for that, but we are not interested in relitigating the controversy.
Our closeness to the Prabhsharanbhir group is due to our common principles and fewer differences.
We have not closed any doors to discussion with other group.
For us Deep is not a random individual, he is highly respected person. We required to maintain our own respect as an organization and for the legacy of Deep Sidhu.
Do you have any plan to bring all the Panthic organizations on one platform?
For panthic causes we are willing to sit down in a coalition, and contribute what we can. But we do not have any plans to invade the space of others or replace them with our own way. It is better to make common ground on certain issues.
We should learn from past mistakes and experiences where organizations have failed to work together. Our concern is that many organizations have not played this role in the past and the outcomes have not been good.
A program was held to bring left and Sikhs on one platform at Kendri Singh Sabha in Chandigarh. What do you have to say about this?
Bringing left and Sikhs together is like bringing the North and South Pole together. The left’s problem is its ideologies limitations, focusing to much on economy at the expense of intersecting issues, like religious oppression. They do not understand us, they instead try to ban us. It is at the level of hate. The left cannot play a positive role in Sikh issues because of that limitation. It has continuously failed to uplift or platform Sikh perspectives and issues.
If we accept your argument that the left is anti-Sikh, then how come BKU(Ugrahan) is the largest union organization in Punjab? We noticed as well that many Amritdhari Sikhs attend Urgahan’s protest.
The problem is Ugrahan banned Sikh slogans and they stopped people from talking about more rights in Punjab, because their ideology cannot make sense of it. They have not allowed a deeper conversation about the intersecting issues, and in fact criminalize it.
If Ugrahan is so anti-Sikh, then how have they managed to be bigger than many Sikh organizations? Is that a failure of Sikh organizations.
I do not think Sikh organizations have failed. The state has provided fertile ground for the left to flourish, for example you can see them operate freely in universities. Most Sikh organizations usually get banned. Around six to seven lakh people attended Deep Sidhu’s ceremony. As they don’t have any other option, they may go attend Ugrahan’s rally tomorrow.
Do you have any plan to provide them with the option?
Yes, we, WPD, will provide people with that option. That is our job. All of us want Sikhs to take charge of Sikh spaces. We will not let leftists dominate Sikh spaces, like Gurdwaras.
A Sikh space is a Sikh space. It is not bounded by the left-right binary.
We want pure Sikh spaces.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us.
Sandeep Singh hails from Machhiwara, Punjab. As an independent journalist, he has worked with many prominent Indian news organizations. Sandeep has been following the farmer’s protest in Punjab since its onset and traveled with them to Delhi. You can follow Sandeep on Twitter @Punyaab
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