Dharam Yudh Morcha, Rasta Roko and other morchas to fight for Punjab’s rights
After the victory of Congress party in the parlimanetary elections of 1980 the Akali coalition government was unconstitutionally dismissed and President’s rule was imposed. During the subsequent closely fought Assembly Elections held in 1980 the Congress won 63 seats and the Akalis and their allies won 51 seats.
The Akalis had earlier gone to the Supreme Court against Indira Gandhi’s award concerning distribution of River Waters. However, despite repeated assurances by the Prime minister to the Akali leaders to ensure that Punjab’s resources would remain with her Indira Gandhi gave a unilateral and unfair award against Punjab. She also decided that the Satluj-Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal carrying Punjab’s water into Haryana should be completed in two years. The three concerned Chief Ministers of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan signed the SYL agreement. The Punjab Chief Minister, Darbara Singh also then withdrew Punjab’s suit filed by the earlier Akali Dal led government from the Supreme Court. Subsequently, Indira Gandhi laid the foundation of the SYL canal at Kapuri in Haryana.
To protest against these injustices the Shiromani Akali Dal with the support of the Communist parties, organized a ‘block the canal’ (nahar roko) agitation on 24 April 1982 at a village close to Kapuri from where the water of the Satluj was to be diverted to Haryana. Some of the volunteers were arrested. A month later another agitation was launched at Kapuri itself. Then, after adequate preparation, on 26 July the Akalis decided at last to launch their ‘righteous war’ (dharm yudh) with effect from 4 August. Sardar Prakash Singh Badal led from the front and was arrested along with a large number of party workers.
The Dharm Yudh Morcha gained increasing momentum in August and September 1982. It became more and more difficult for the Government to find room for the protesting volunteers in the existing jails. On 11 September a bus carrying the arrested volunteers collided with a train near Tarn Taran and thirty-four of them died on the spot. An impressive procession in their honour was taken out in Delhi on 10 October. Five days later Indira Gandhi decided to release all Akali volunteers on the auspicious day of the Diwali. Before the end of October, Sardar Swaran Singh was negotiating a settlement with the Akali leaders on behalf of the Prime Minister. He hammered out a mutually acceptable formula on several important issues like Chandigarh and the river waters and the Centre-State relations etc. Indira Gandhi appointed a cabinet subcommittee consisting of Pranab Mukherjee, R. Vankataraman, P.V. Narasimha Rao and P.C. Sethi to consider the formula. Despite the appointed cabinet sub-committee approving the formula, Indira Gandhi back tracked resulting in the failure of the negotiations.
On 4 April the Akali leaders launched another agitation and organized a peaceful ‘block the roads’ (rasta roko) campaign. Twenty-six persons were killed in this peaceful demonstration. On 17 June the Akalis organized a ‘stop the train’ (rail roko) campaign, and the Government decided not to run any trains. The campaign of the Akalis to ‘stop work’ (kam roko) on 29 August was also a great success.