The Punjab Crisis: A disastrous case of failed negotiations

  • Marie Walter (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


I present in this paper the Punjab crisis until operation Blue Star as a case study of failed ne-gotiations and analyze it using the tools provided by negotiation theory. According to its main authors, (Fisher, Ury, Patton, Cohen and Pfetsch) everything is negotiable if negotiations are properly led. Why did the Central Government of Indira Gandhi fail to come to an agreement with the Akali Dal Party? The theoretical analysis of the negotiation process shows that negotiations were not conducted properly. If it had been the case however, would an agreement truly have been reached? I argue that all Akali demands could have been handled if the requirements of the model of "principled negotiations" had been fulfilled, and if the parties had followed Cohen's recommendations on cross-cultural negotiations to improve their mutual understanding. The negotiations failed be-cause they were polluted by electoral politics and by the consideration of party interests, resulting in the communalization of the Punjab-Sikh issue. Studying the Punjab case allows however to point out certain limitations of negotiation theory, mainly the static nature of its assumptions and its inability to deal with the problem of negotiating in a context of violence, which leads me to the conclusion that negotiation theory should be further developed in a more multidisciplinary perspective to overcome its defects. More generally, it appears that India provides western theories with interesting cases to test their hypotheses, and I suggest to explore this field.


Negotiation Theory, Cross-Cultural Negotiations, Punjab, Akali Dal Party, Indira Gandhi