Sikh stereotypes

In South Asia the small minority communities have it difficult (always the danger of getting swallowed by the majority) and easy (they are lionized for some or other outstanding qualities). When we see the high social indicators of Jains, Sikhs, and Christians (but not the neo-Buddhists) then we subconsciously connect the good in the J/S/C philosophy and link it back to the indicators. Simply put, J/S/C good, H/M bad.

There is a good and bad part of this “boosting.” The good part is that the value of being a minority, of increasing diversity is not (often) questioned. The bad part is that well, things are really not what they seem to be. The most egalitarian ideology fails the acid test of the caste system/biradiri. And the most useful test is to observe how behavior patterns change when the minority becomes a (local) majority.

The best (worst) example is the case of the North-East (Naga) Christians who have often led blockades of Manipur valley (mostly Hindus) including one mega-blockade which went on for 250 (+) days. It was part extortion and part black-mailing and full-scale terrorism. Sick people could not reach hospitals, children could not get to schools and the common people suffered terribly. Of course these incidents barely ever reach the national press let alone international press. 

“The life has reached its most difficult stage without food and
essential commodities. There is acute shortage of fuel, which has
affected students not being able to go to schools and colleges.
Hospitals have run out of oxygen, there is shortage of medicines,” it

Then there are the Sikhs, who in our opinion are the most outstanding people on earth. They have been horribly victimized in Partition I and again due to Mrs Gandhi’s machinations in the 1970s culminating with the high crimes of 1984 (we tend not to over-use the word genocide).

Frankly speaking our (wrongly held) opinion of the Akali Dal was that it is a grass-roots organization run by a passionate and close-knit circle. But we had no idea that it is basically just one family which controls every switch on the switch-board. At this level it is akin to Shiv Sena, one organization we are a bit more familiar with. Stereotypes are still mostly true, but the Akali Dal is just another SAsian “family business.”


Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal runs the
northern Indian state of Punjab from his office in the secretariat
building. His son, a wealthy businessman, works next door as deputy
chief minister. A few floors away, the
deputy’s two brothers-in-law run key ministerial offices. Together, the
four men sit atop half of Punjab’s governmental departments, including
home affairs, justice, taxation and food supply.

in Punjab, a relatively affluent, agrarian state of 28 million, is
largely a family-run operation, which isn’t uncommon in a country
governed for decades by the Indian National Congress, the party of the
Nehru-Gandhi clan.
But frustration with family politics has
surfaced in India’s national elections, which end with the announcement
of results Friday. Political analysts and voters say this frustration is
an important reason why prime-minister candidate Narendra Modi—a critic
of dynastic politics who said he gave up family life for public
service—is the front-runner. He was leading in exit polls Monday. The father, grandmother and great-grandfather of his opponent,

Rahul Gandhi,

all served terms as prime minister in India’s postcolonial era.

the U.S. has its own dynastic family names—Kennedy, Bush and
Clinton—none match the depth of India’s family ties. A British historian
in a 2011 study found that two-thirds of India’s national
parliamentarians under 40 were related to other politicians. And voters
here have grown increasingly suspicious that such family networks use
policy-making and executive authority to enrich themselves and their

In Punjab, a Wall Street
Journal review of financial and government documents, as well as
interviews, found Mr. Badal’s relatives have benefited financially
during his administration, with government decisions on transportation
and electric power favorable to family enterprises. Badal family
connections in regional TV news broadcasting, meanwhile, have had the
effect of squelching voices critical of the arrangement, according to
political opponents.

A spokesman for Mr.
Badal, Harcharan Bains, said, “there is no unwritten convention or
written law” in India that people in public life can’t have business
interests. The Badals say their business deals are kept at arm’s length
and deny any abuse of power. Voters support them, they say, because they
improve the lives of constituents, expanding infrastructure and
development, for example.

“This family system runs because of
credibility,” said deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, age 51.
“Why do people want to buy a Mercedes car? Or a BMW car? Because they
know the credibility of that car. You come out with a new car that
nobody knows, nobody will buy it.”

Badal family hails from southern Punjab, where members have long been
affluent landowners. Mr. Badal, the 86-year-old patriarch, is an
energetic man with a long white beard who rose through the ranks of
Shiromani Akali Dal, an influential regional party formed in 1920 to
protect the interests of the Sikh community, who make up a majority of
Punjab residents.

Mr. Badal served two
brief stints as chief minister in the 1970s, and then a five-year term
from 1997 to 2002, earning a reputation as an effective grass-roots
politician. During visits, he would sit under a tree and ask villagers
their problems, residents recalled, then press officials to respond.

family fortunes turned up in the months after Mr. Badal’s re-election
to chief minister in 2007. The state cabinet, which he heads, overhauled
Punjab’s transportation policy, making it less expensive to operate
luxury buses.

Air-conditioned buses had
always been taxed at higher rates than ordinary buses. But a new
transportation policy slashed levies on air-conditioned buses and set
taxes—charged per kilometer—for a new category of luxury buses that was
lower than the tax paid by ordinary buses.

bus company owned by Sukhbir Singh Badal, the deputy chief minister,
saw profits grow to more than 105 million rupees, or $1.7 million, in
2013 from 2.5 million rupees, or $41,000, in 2007, according to the
company’s financial statements. He said his company, Dabwali Transport,
grew by acquiring other bus companies, and acknowledged the lower tax
rate helped his business.
The transport minister at the time, Master
Mohan Lal, told the Journal the change was made to improve services.
Sukhbir Singh Badal, who wasn’t in office when the change was made, said
it was designed “so that even the common man can travel in luxury
without paying high rates.”

The number
of air-conditioned buses has since grown, offering fares that are only
slightly higher than ordinary buses, according to transport department
officials. Fares of luxury buses are roughly twice the cost of ordinary

Since the tax cut, the family’s
business has grown to dominate luxury-bus travel in Punjab, particularly
in Bathinda, which has more than a million residents.

than half the permits for luxury and air-conditioned buses granted to
private operators by the regional transport authority statewide—and more
than 90% of those in Bathinda—belong to two transportation companies
owned by the family, according to government documents, and a third
company, Taj Travels, which is owned by a man who is a director in hotel
and real-estate companies also controlled by the family.

Singh Badal’s declared assets have grown to more than 1 billion rupees,
or about $16 million, from 130 million rupees, about $2.1 million, in
2004, according to documents filed to India’s election commission. In
2009, his wife won a seat in the national Parliament.

government guidelines require ministers to fully disclose business
interests and step away from management after taking office. The
guidelines also say ministers must divest themselves of all interests in
businesses that supply goods or services to the government or rely on
official permits or licenses. In states, chief ministers are charged
with making sure the guidelines are met but, according to an official in
the home ministry, the guidelines are rarely followed.

elder Mr. Badal, in a written response to the Journal, said he doesn’t
take an active role in any family related business. If family businesses
have grown, he wrote, “it is only a part of the success story of all
Punjabis over the past 60 years.” After another re-election in 2012, Mr.
Badal’s term goes to 2017.

In 2008, two
months after Mr. Badal’s 80th birthday, party delegates elected Sukhbir
Singh Badal as party president to succeed his father. Mr. Badal said
his son was promoted for helping return the party to power.

year later, Mr. Badal appointed his son as deputy chief minister.
Sukhbir Singh Badal, who has a master’s degree in management from
California State University, Los Angeles, had previously served in
India’s national Parliament. He was later voted into the state
legislative assembly, a requirement for deputy chief minister.

Badal said “it was natural” to give his son the job because of support
from voters and the party. Sukhbir Singh Badal said his father “wanted
me to take over, to share his responsibilities.” He also didn’t want to
abandon hundreds of thousands of party workers who feel more secure
under the Badals’ leadership, he said.

Mr. Badal’s daughter, Parneet Kaur, has also prospered during her father’s time as chief minister.

2009 to 2013, state-owned power enterprises awarded contracts valued at
3.9 billion rupees, about $64 million, to consortia that included a
company majority-owned by Ms. Kaur, her husband and her mother-in-law,
documents show. The contracts were first reported by the Tribune, a
regional newspaper, and viewed by the Journal, which verified them with
the Punjab State Power Corp.

Mr. Badal,
Ms. Kaur’s father, chairs the state’s power department, and Ms. Kaur’s
husband, Adesh Partap Kairon, works as Mr. Badal’s minister for food
supply and information technology.

Singh Badal sought to revitalize Punjab’s power sector through policy
directives that resulted in bids for a government contract to install
and upgrade electrical infrastructure. A 2.3 billion rupee deal, or
about $38 million, was awarded a year ago to a team of three companies
that included Shivalik Telecom Ltd., which manufactures and installs
electrical infrastructure, and is owned by Ms. Kaur and her relatives.

Kaur’s declared assets grew to $2.7 million in 2012 from less than
$800,000 in 2007. Ms. Kaur and her husband didn’t respond to requests to

“We have never favored any
company,” said K.D. Chaudhri, chairman of the Punjab State Power Corp.
The bids were judged on well-defined criteria, including technical
expertise, and the contract awarded to the lowest bidder, he said. He
didn’t identify the companies in contention.

Bains, spokesman for Mr. Badal, the chief minister, said, “No law, or
even established rules of propriety have been violated, nor has there
been undue favor,” in contracts awarded to Shivalik Telecom.

Badals have also expanded their media interests. In 2006, they started a
local TV company with a 24-hour news channel, PTC News, which has
become one of the most popular in the state, according to residents.

journalists say they also believe the family has tried to squeeze out
competition through close ties with Fastway Transmissions, which handles
the technical work of transmitting programs.

and two other companies control about 85% of the market, according to
the Competition Commission of India, a national government watchdog
agency. All three companies are co-owned by a man with close ties to the
Badal family.

Punjabi journalist
Kanwar Sandhu said he and his backers decided to launch their own news
channel, Day and Night News, in 2009. They hired Fastway and the two
other companies to broadcast the channel.
program would be disrupted during the broadcast of news critical of the
government, Mr. Sandhu said, with the sound sometimes overlaid with the
audio track of cartoon shows.

seven months, Fastway and the two other companies terminated their
contracts with Day and Night News, and the channel was taken off the
air. Fastway said the disruptions were caused by technical problems, and
the agreements severed for commercial reasons.

company that owns Day and Night News complained to the competition
commission, saying Fastway was establishing a monopoly and abusing its
position. In its complaint, the company alleged Gurdeep Singh, who had
ownership stakes in all three TV transmission firms, was “closely
affiliated” with the ruling establishment of Punjab.

Singh has bought and sold buses from Badal-controlled transit
companies, according to Mr. Singh and public records. He has also done
work for the family’s political party, according to two party members
and two other people familiar with the matter.

person with firsthand knowledge of the formation of Fastway in 2007
said Sukhbir Singh Badal helped set up the firm and asked Mr. Singh to
run it. Mr. Singh said he knows Mr. Badal, but wasn’t influenced by him
or the Punjab government. Mr. Badal said he knows Mr. Singh, but denied
any connection with Fastway.

A probe
ordered by the competition commission found in 2012 that Fastway and the
two other companies had snapped up a number of smaller companies and
“eliminated free and fair competition” in Punjab, amassing more than
four million subscribers, leaving its next biggest competitors no more
than 10,000.
The commission’s
investigation also found the disruptions of Day and Night News were
frequent and deliberate. The body ordered Fastway and the two other
companies to pay a fine of 80 million rupees. A lawyer for Fastway and
the other two companies said he has filed an appeal.

The commission’s report didn’t address any alleged ties between Mr. Gurdeep and the Badals.

the family, it is business as usual. Billboard images across the state
show chief minister Parkash Singh Badal; his son, Sukhbir Singh Badal;
and Sukhbir’s brother-in-law, Bikram Singh Majithia. Official cards that
entitle Punjabis to subsidized grain bear the photographs of the chief
minister and his son-in-law, Adesh Partap Kairon, who is the minister of
food supply. An oval cutout of Mr. Badal’s face was added to the
baskets of thousands of free bicycles given to female students.

a recent rally in Amritsar, Gurudev Singh, 35 years old, said he was
voting for the coalition run by the Badal family’s party for a national
Parliament seat in the current election. “I come from a family of
shopkeepers,” he said. “Their career is politics. It’s a one-family
rule, yes, but that’s how politics works in India.”


0 0 votes
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
10 years ago

' When we see the high social indicators of Jains, Sikhs, and Christians (but not the neo-Buddhists) then we subconsciously connect the good in the J/S/C philosophy and link it back to the indicators. Simply put, J/S/C good, H/M bad.'
That's brilliant. I never thought of it like that. Of course, it isn't really true of us when we live in the sub-continent. Then we are far more cynical. We know that any lucrative pilgrimage spot or Shrine will be bitterly contested by different sects but also family lineages within a sect. Thus 'Babri masjid' was the center of contestation not just between Shias and Sunnis but also priestly lineages within each sect. Similarly not just various Hindu sects but lineages contested the right to get rich of the Hindu pilgrims. Later, of course, things get even weirder with L.K Advani (who is probably either an Arya Samaji, opposed to image worship, or else a Savarkar type atheist) suddenly laying claim to it for a political, not monetary, purpose.
Now take any Jain place of worship. Not only do you have sectarian battles- Digambar vs Shvetambar, this type of Sthanakvasi with that other virtually identical Sthanakvasi- but also battles between this Acharya's brother's goons and that other Upadhyaya's nephew's goons. Non violence is all very well and good but mustn't get in the way of making money. Incidentally, I may mention, Post Mutiny- before Muslims were allowed back to Delhi- there was communal violence between Jains and Hindus- not on a big scale but that memory was preserved for three generations.
What about Parsis- surely everyone loves the Parsis- especially the Tata sort? Alfred Marshall even said 'India needs a hundred Tatas' Saklatvala. disagreed. Why, he was one himself but was then squeezed out of the family business by his jealous cousin. He exposed again and again the seamy side of the Tatas- thus proving Alfred Marshall was right when he warned that many Indian industrialists weren't really doing anything entrepreneurial and were rent-seeking compradors (as we would put it) merely. I won't go into the nasty side of Parsi religious politics or indeed their actual politics when they were virtually a dominant caste in Bombay. But, the fact is, Indian people aren't surprised when they find the Parsis are no better than the rest of us.
As for Sikhs- the Leftist view of their Politics has been presented by Paul Brass writing in the 1960's. He went too far- accusing the Jat Sikhs of being like Southern Plantation owners who wanted to have as many votes as they owned slaves. According to this view, a wrong one, Jats only ethnically cleansed Muslim service castes and replaced them by Mazhabis because they wanted to exploit them more thoroughly. Family domination (with contestation by nephews or Uncles or whatever) not just of Sikh shrines but also of reform movements like S.G.P.C is part of an all India pattern which we all recognize in our bones. Still, we may make silly speeches- but why exclude Hinduism or Islam from this type of hypocrisy? People will talk about the spiritual Hindu Guru who is either raping or looting everything or anything in his vicinity. Far from upholding Fraternal and Egalitarian values, the Bahreillvy Imam (who suddenly found supporters in the West because the Deobandis had been consigned to the same Hell as the Wahabbis) though extremely tolerant of every and any Hindu gangster/politician is also the greatest takfiri when it comes to his Uncle or nephews, or if not them, yet, then the descendants of the Uncles or Nephews of his ancestors.
What of the Christians? That's the only Religion where SC/STs constitute a definite majority. But is any wealthy Church really controlled by this majority? Are you kidding me? As for the Uncles or Nephews of Father X or Sister Y, not only are their goons attacking the goons of Father Z, they start whacking each other the moment the founder of their fortune gets senile.

10 years ago

I guess the point I'm really making here is that Religion in India, like Political Ideology, always has this dynastic/casteist dynamics even if the underlying Economic conditions (Marxist 'substructure') varies widely. Why? I guess it's because, as a People, we don't hate our parents enough. 'Beat your mother while still she is young' is a good slogan. Rose Macaulay has left a vivid account of the Late Victorian/Edwardian Upper Class Nursery (presided over by the Mary Poppins from Hell) where young children learn to stab or snitch upon each other. This makes for affable but lukewarm relations in adult life. People are allergic to their own families and so Civil Society gets a chance.

9 years ago

South Indians had their own Sikhs at one point, the militant and egalitarian Shaivite breakoff Lingayat caste who since have become quite placid and industrious. The same is going is on with this offshoot Vaishnava sect called Sikhs
Once they aided in the collapse of the Mughals(by siding with the British in 1857) they have in search of a role ,here serving the British, there fighting for independence. Here slaughtering Muslims in participation, there killing Hindus for Khalistan.
They have become a mercenary (combination of Kshatriya and baniya) people like Telugus and Tamils had become in the 17th century onwards unable to project their greatness after their star stopped shining.
It may take time but they will drift back to Hinduism only because there is no other choice.

9 years ago

My dear YSV, the years have mellowed you. As a matter of fact some keshadari Sikhs claim a South Indian origin. Incidentally, they were the first Sikh entrepreneurs in the U.K. back in the Twenties.
My own feeling, now we have Modi, is that Muslims- like you Niyogis- have great talent and must be allowed to take the top jobs. Glass ceilings are bad for Teams.

YSV, you yourself join this. You are very bright. Samuelson effectively said that Econ is empty unless Social Processes are ergodic- i.e. not history/hysteresis laden.
Modi, who did a 3 month course in U.S, understands this.
God bless.

Brown Pundits