Borrowing its name from the Sutlej Yamuna Link project, Moosewala’s posthumous release focuses on several issues that Punjab has faces, including water scarcity, Sikh prisoners being wrongfully kept in custody, and more. It had 22 million views in three days.
Three days after it was released, Sidhu Moosewala’s much awaited song, ‘SYL’ was on Sunday, June 26, deleted from his official YouTube channel. The song had garnered over 22 million views and was released posthumously on June 23 by his team.
The message on the singer’s YouTube page said: ‘This content is not available on this country domain due to a legal complaint from the government.’
The video was blocked in India shortly after the results of the Sangrur bypoll were announced, where SAD (Amritsar) chief Simranjit Singh Mann, a hardline Sikh leader, won with a decisive mandate, defeating AAP candidate Gurmail Singh.
The development assumes significance as ‘SYL’ is based on the Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) canal between Punjab and Haryana, evoking strong support from Moosewala’s emotional fans across the world. The Union government’s assessment is that the song has the potential to affect the politics of Himachal Pradesh and Haryana, where assembly elections are forthcoming.
Shortly after the song was made unavailable, the Shiromani Akali Dal’s (SAD) official Twitter handled posted its opposition to the move.
Sidhu Moosewala's song #SYL captures Punjabis’ sentiments on Riparian principle on river waters and on Bandi Singhs. Any move to ban it on any pretext would be ill advised and against the Pbis’ democratic rights & freedom of expression. Shiromani Akali Dal opposes any such move. pic.twitter.com/YfnOlffm7v
— Shiromani Akali Dal (@Akali_Dal_) June 26, 2022
‘SYL’ is Moosewala’s latest song, released after he was shot dead by unidentified assailants at Jawahar Ke village in Mansa district on May 29, 2022.
With a video in black and white and featuring old images of protests, the song brought the spotlight back on the river water sharing plan and the alarming issue of desertification of Punjab.
In his typical bold style and catchy lyrics, Moosewala, in the song, questioned Punjab’s long-standing historical and political issues – the controversy surrounding the SYL canal; the victims of 1984 anti-Sikh riots; Sikh militants; Sikh prisoners languishing in jails despite the completion of their terms; and Sikh activist Balwinder Singh Jattana, whose name became synonymous with bringing the construction of the SYL canal to a halt on July 23, 1990.
Jattana’s photo on a motorbike has been used on the cover of the song as well as in the video.
Jattana belonged to Jattana village in the Ropar district near Chandigarh. He was studying in Government College, Ropar when he joined Babbar Khalsa, a pro-Khalistan militant group.
In protest against the construction of the SYL canal, Jattana and his three associates had killed chief engineer M.S. Sikri and superintending engineer Avtar Aulakh at the SYL office in Sector-26, Chandigarh on July 23, 1990. Since that day, the construction of the SYL stands halted.
Later, four of Jattana’s family members – Dwarki Kaur (80), Simranjit Singh (5), Jasmer Kaur and Manpreet Kaur were killed and burnt alive in their house after an attack took place on the erstwhile Chandigarh senior superintendent of police (SSP) and former director general of police (DGP), Punjab, Sumedh Singh Saini.
Jattana was killed in a police encounter on September 4, 1991.
Notably, the 214-km-long SYL canal project was launched on April 8, 1982 at Kapoori village in the Patiala district by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. It was meant to share the water of Sutlej River of Punjab with Haryana. However, over the years, SYL ended up becoming a political and legal issue between Punjab, Haryana and the centre government.
SYL’s catchy lyrics
The song begins with the statement of AAP Rajya Sabha MP from Haryana, Sushil Gupta, who after the formation of the AAP government in Punjab had said, “By 2025, SYL’s water would reach every field of Haryana. This is not our promise, but our guarantee.”
Raising the demand for ‘sovereignty’, Moosewala begins by saying: “Sanu sada pichokad te lana de dayo, Chandigarh, Himachal te Haryana de dayo, Jinna chir sanu sovereignty da raah nai dinde, ona chir pani chaddo, tupka nai dinde.” (Give us back our past and community. Give us Chandigarh, Himachal and Haryana. Forget about (river) water, we will not give you a single drop, until you give us sovereignty.)
Then he says, “Kalam nai rukni, hun nit nava ek gana ayu, je na tale pher mur Balwinder Jattana ayu, pher putt begane nehra ch dekan la hi dinde, ona chir pani chaddo, tupka nai dinde.” (My pen won’t stop and a new song will come every day. If you don’t step back then someone like Balwinder Jattana will return. The daring sons plant trees in canals.)
Moosewala also speaks about the release of Sikh prisoners, namely: Jagtar Singh Hawara, Davinder Pal Bhullar, Gurdeep Singh Khaira, Lakhwinder Singh, Gurmeet Singh, Shamsher Singh, Jagtar Singh Tara and Balwant Singh Rajoana and carries their photos in the music video.
Recently, Balwant Singh Rajoana’s sister, Kamaldeep Kaur, contested the Sangrur bypoll on a Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) ticket. Both SAD and SAD (Amritsar) chief Simranjit Singh Mann, who won the seat, contested the Sangrur bypoll on the platform of the release of Sikh prisoners.
In addition to the lyrics are some important English subtitles over a map of united Punjab, such as: ‘To stop being robbed of our water, we will have to completely abolish the 1966 Reorganisation Act and Section 5 of the 2004 Termination of Agreements Act’; ‘The causative agent of 1984 genocide’; and ‘Punjab’s extremely high water-stress level’.
Further, the song has visuals of the ‘Delhi Chalo’ march when the historic farmers’ protest began and the placing of the ‘Nishan Sahib’ (Sikh flag) on Red Fort in Delhi on January 26, 2021. The video also carried the statement of Deep Sidhu, who died in a car accident days before Punjab assembly elections this year.
The video concludes with the statement of Meghalaya governor Satya Pal Malik during the farmers’ protest in which he recommended that the Union government not test the patience of the Sikh community, as it is known for remembering the injustices meted out to it and taking revenge, even after many years.
Moosewala’s song signs off with three important messages to people of Punjab: ‘Each one of you is the last hope for protecting the Punjab River Waters to prevent Desertification of Punjab’; ‘Save Punjab Waters’; and ‘Release Sikh prisoners.’
Experts view on ‘SYL’ and Punjab’s issues-
Talking to The Wire, senior journalist and author Jagtar Singh, who was working with Indian Express in Chandigarh during the agitation against SYL in the 1980s, said, “Sidhu Moosewala’s song has brought the focus back on Punjab’s issues and militancy was rooted among these. The issue of Punjab’s River waters was the most vital to militants, especially those associated with Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) and Babbar Khalsa.”
“It was the Babbar Khalsa which was instrumental in stopping the construction of the SYL in the 1990s,” he continued. “Since the day Balwinder Singh Jattana and his two associates killed chief engineer M.L. Sikri and superintendent engineer Avtar Singh Aulakh, its construction could not restart.”
Jagtar Singh said that when the attack was carried out on SYL’s office, nearly 90% of the construction work on the canal had been. The remaining 10% stands incomplete till date.
On the massive support to Moosewala’s song, the Jagtar Singh said, “It will certainly shake up the dynamics of Punjab. The entire narrative of the song is based on the issue of the 1978 struggle, which can be revived.”
“Politically it might not have much impact, as both SAD and Congress are equal culprits in the construction of SYL, but it can mobilise the youth further,” he added.
Analysing the word ‘sovereignty’ in the song, Jagtar Singh said that historically, the only time Punjab enjoyed complete autonomy was during Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Sikh Empire.
“In the modern context, Moosewala is talking about giving autonomy to Punjab; to give back the state’s capital, Chandigarh. He spoke about Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, which were carved out of Punjab. The singer has touched upon all the key issues of Punjab, which have not been addressed in a long time,” he said.
Farmer union leader Darshan Pal said that Punjab’s unsettled issues had existed earlier too, but Moosewala’s song has brought them back into the spotlight.
“Being an agrarian state, and as per Punjab’s Riparian Act, Punjab has a right over its rivers’ waters. Ideally, the state’s river water should be shared after fulfilling the needs of its farmers and public, but that is not the case,” Pal said.
“Haryana, Delhi and Rajasthan were getting water from Punjab, when the ground reality is that Punjab’s groundwater was depleting fast. Our tube wells are drying up and we are heading towards desertification,” he continued.
On the reference to the farmers’ protest in the song, Pal said that it was because of the Punjabi identity of the agitation that the farmers movement gained momentum in the country.
“Punjab’s farmers manifested the identity of farmers across the country, and it is still continuing. There is an awakening among farmers; that is why we are still raising the demand for MSP. Farmers’ agitation has the potential to restart not just the pending issues of Punjab, but the country as a whole,” he said.
“Look at the June 24 protest against Agnipath,” Pal continued. “Farmers under the banner of Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) gathered across the country. It is the result of organic farmers’ protest, which grew from Punjab and spread across the country.”
Haryana-based farm leader from the Bhartiya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh (BKMS), Abhimanyu Kohar, while lauding Moosewala’s song, said that till date, the SYL issue was exploited by all political parties as per their requirement.
“Let us be clear that Sidhu Moosewala is questioning the centre and not targeting Haryana. Both Punjab and Haryana’s brotherhood was strengthened during farmers’ protest and we are proud of our association with farmers from Punjab. It has become a headache not just for the BJP-RSS, but for other parties too, as it will affect their politics. For us, Punjab is our elder brother and we value our bonding more than falling prey to politics,” he said.
Kohar said that Moosewala has talked about a united Punjab and unity among the people. “And that’s what we gained through the farmers’ protest. In fact, the Punjabi identity, Sikhism, langar culture and the massive NRI support, strengthened our bond, not just with Punjab, but with farmers in rest of India too,” he said.
He asked why the Union government, instead of focusing on the ‘SYL’, doesn’t focus on the international water treaty which results in Indian water going to Pakistan?
“The kind of brotherhood we enjoyed during Sir Chottu Ram’s time is what we have gained through farmers’ protest and we don’t want to lose it because of SYL or any other political issue,” he added.