Khalistan Issue: A brief Analysis
Author: Isha Pandey
In 1929, Motilal Nehru came up with a proposal of Poorna Swaraj, the declaration of independence at the Lahore session of congress which was rejected by Muhammad Ali Jinnah from the Muslim league, B R Ambedkar campaigning for the rights of Dalits, and Master Tara Singh from SAD (Shiromani Akali Deal). This was the first-ever articulation for the demand of the Sikh homeland. By 1947 it turned into a movement called the Punjabi Suba movement. The Akali Dal wanted their own Punjab in India based on linguistic grounds. The State reorganization commission rejected their demand. The Indira Gandhi government trifurcated the state of Punjab into Punjab for Punjabi-speaking people, Haryana for Hindi majority, Chandigarh a UT, and shared capital of Punjab and Haryana, and some of the hilly regions were merged into Himachal Pradesh.
The inception of the secession:
The Akalis were not happy with the trifurcation; they demanded more autonomy in 1973. They came up with a resolution called Anandpur Sahib which was formulated in 1973, and it became more prominent once Akali dal lost the assembly elections, namely 1973-1977.
The demands in the resolution included
i) adjustment /transfer of power between the Centre and the state;
ii) all states of India to be equally weighted;
iii) the UT of Chandigarh, and Punjabi speaking areas which were 'deliberately left out' post-1966 trifurcation to be transferred to Punjab;
iv) demand relating to halting the diversion of Punjab's river water.
There was a growing frustration as the Centre was not ready to acquiesce to their political demands. This provided a route to the dharma yudh morcha led by Sant Harchand Singh Longowal. It became widespread to an extent that it managed to draw the attention of all Akali dal factions including their popular preacher- Bhindranwale. One instance led to another and there was burgeoning mistrust amongst the average Sikh mind that their community was not trusted by the Indian government.
During this course, the Akalis led various rokos/strikes to make their demands conspicuous to the Indian government but they didn't receive the reply they had hoped for. All these instances led to a political stalemate which somehow undermined the mainstream leaders of the parties and increased the credibility of more militant sections who openly endorsed the use of violence and tended to view the Hindu Punjabis as a mere extension of the 'Indian state enemy.' Bhindranwale used such opportunities and widely propagated the use of violence to achieve their goal. This tide of anger was indiscriminately pointed at Hindu Punjabis and one such incident was evident in September 1983 when a bus filled with passengers passing through Kapurthala district was halted by Sikh terrorists who separated Sikhs from the bus and killed the remaining Hindus.
This tragedy led to the downfall of the Congress government in the state, with chief minister Darbara Singh tendering his resignation and proclamation of emergency afterward. "6 Hindus are killed and the Government falls, two hundred Sikhs have been gunned down by the police and nothing has been done."(quoted in Tavleen Singh 1984:41)
Bhindranwale took up residence in the Akal Takht, located inside the sanctum sanctorum, the golden temple. For two long years, the government of India didn't act. Finally in June 1984 to flush out the militants out of the holy place Indian Army under the orders of the Centre started Operation Blue Star which resulted in the death of many Akali leaders along with Bhindranwale but the operation culminated in damaging the Akal Takht which drew widespread revulsion from the Sikh community who ceased to consider themselves as Indians any longer. These events embedded deep humiliation in Sikhs. Then came operation wood rose which was started to catch the absconding militants thought to be hiding across rural Punjab led to another surge in Sikhs feeling isolated and unheard. Many impartial scholars agree that this operation terrorized innocent Sikhs who flew to Pakistan in fear only to return to India as trained militants.
After the assassination of the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi the pogrom, operation blue star, and operation wood rose collectively were the cataclysmic events that instilled a sense of isolation from fellow Hindu countrymen among Sikhs. This operation did not end the politics of religion. It was a miscalculated move; it did not end terrorism or separatist movement but left an indelible mark in the Sikhs of India and abroad a mark which is exploited till this day. The Khalistan movement in India is now past and it has lost the support of the Sikh community in India. But the ongoing protests near Delhi have turned the spotlight on this long-dead movement. Rallies that have been held by khalistanis outside India in demand of Khalistan.
The Khalistan movement and the operations of the government led to two decades of unrest in Punjab. Various retaliatory actions were witnessed like the Air India flight 1982 disintegration and bombing, killing of 13th army chief A S Vaidya and killing of the Punjab CM Beant Singh in a car bombing. Khalistanis today have found a haven in the west, by reinventing their narrative and glorifying and promoting militants as martyrs of faith they are trying to draw the attention of the Sikh diaspora for diplomatic and political support. Pro-Khalistan groups have popped up in Canada, the US, the UK, Germany, and Pakistan.
One of these is Sikh for Justice, Gurpant Singh Pannu is the face who wants to establish a Khalistan state with its headquarters in Lahore, Pakistan. In MacDonald Laurier's (MLI), "Khalistan: A project of Pakistan," veteran journalist Terry Milewski reached the Khalistan movement and discovered its realities as a geopolitical project nurtured by Pakistan, threatening the national security of Canadians and Indians. These elements are still trying to threaten the security by one way or another like recent activities of these groups include desecrating the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Washington, in UK protests khalistanis have been spotted, In Rome, they vandalized Indian embassy offices, installed Khalistan flags, and scribbled, "Khalistan Abhi Zinda hai."
Some elements of the society are using these long-dead movements as a tool to stoke unrest in India. But in India, it's long dead. Sikhs in India are not creating upheaval and clamoring for an independent state. No Sikh in India should be tagged as a "Khalistani" just because he is protesting. The right to speech and expression is a fundamental right that is most vital to every citizen. One should not forget that the Sikh regiment is the highly decorated regiment in the Indian Army. In India, the Khalistan movement has long perished though it is active in some parts of countries like the UK, Germany, the US, Canada, and most importantly Pakistan. Khalistanis here are trying to garner the support of the Sikh diaspora so that they have a majority of people supporting their cause to carve out Khalistan.
Khalistan: a project of Pakistan
The rise and fall of the Khalistan Movement: A chronology of events
What is Khalistan movement?