Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) wants to revive the defunct Khalistan movement, which calls for a separate Sikh state to be created in India’s Punjab. Pakistanis think formation of Khalistan will land them Kashmir. Managing full blown secessionist militanices in multiple Indian states, simultaneously, is not an unknown territory for Pakistan. They’ve done it in the past. India must draw lessons from the past to shape the future strategy to overcome the foe from hell.
Origins of Khalistan
As a counterweight to Jinnah’s Pakistan scheme, Dr Vir Singh Bhatti floated the idea of independent Sikh state Khalistan in 1940(1). The Sikh leaders Master Tara Singh and Baldev Singh only paid a lip service to Khalistan from behind closed doors — not publicly — to thwart Jinnah’s designs(2) in Punjab. They never led a mass movement for the purpose. By 1946 this was evident. In his meetings with the Cabinet Mission Master Tara Singh explicitly said, “We are for a United India; but if Pakistan was conceded, I am for a separate Sikh state with the right to federate either with India or Pakistan”(3). The Sikh members in Punjab Legislative Assembly convention of 1947 opted for India. All Sikhs joined Hindu members supporting Punjab’s partition plan(4) striking a crucial blow to Jinnah’s wish to have all Punjab in his Pakistan. Jinnah’s half hearted last ditch attempt to cast a spell over the Sikhs came to nothing(5), he had to settle for a “moth eaten” state. After independnce the call for Khalistan was not heard until 1971; not even at the time when Sikhs agitated against New Delhi for the Punjabi speaking state, conceded in 1966.
Jagjit Singh Chohan was Punjab’s former Finance Minister who left India following his defeat in 1969 elections. Two years later Chohan was in Pakistan and in the same year he managed to place an advert in the New York Times in support of Khalistan(6). The timing of Chohan’s actions leaves no doubts who were pulling the strings. To avoid digression I won’t go into what was happening in 1971 at India’s borders, how Nixon was trying to intimidate India prior to the war and coming to Pakistan’s rescue at the Western Front after the fall of Dhaka. After 1971 Pakistanis were in no position to stir troubles in India. Most of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s five years in power were spent battling the Baloch freedom fighters in the mountains of Balochistan. Zia Ul Haq’s Pakistan would later come back to fish in the troubled waters. In 1970s the support base for Khalistan was amongst the Sikh living in England and Canada. The Gurudwaras in England were funding the Khalistani protagonists.
In India, the Sikh political outfit Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) sought more autonomy from New Delhi. Indira Gandhi was unwilling to give more concessions. SAD stood against Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. Congress were defeated in the Lok Sabha and Punjab elections of 1977; SAD came into into power in Punjab. Mrs Gandhi thought of SAD as soft separatists, she wanted to cut down their wings in Punjab. The way her younger son Sanjay Gandhi and Giani Zail Singh(8) handled the situation only ended up fueling the movement that only ever existed on paper. Sanjay Gandhi and Giani Zail Singh’s search for the charismatic Sikh religious leader — to minimise the impact of SAD — led them to the fiery 30 years old preacher from the important Sikh shrine Damdami Taksal, who until then was an unknown nobody.
Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was the man Congress chose to outmanouvre SAD in Punjab, they couldn’t have picked a worser guy. Bhindranwale was not a politician, he was a religious preacher with an extremist bent.
Bhindranwale came to limelight following the Sikh–Nirankari clashes(9) of 1978. His vitriolic attacks on Nirankaris — minority sect within Sikhs — should’ve warned Congress of the man’s divisive nature. Initially Bhindranwale returned the goodwill of his handlers by lending support to the Congress backed candidates in the local elections(10). As Bhindranwale’s popularity grew he became more erratic, his followers moved throughout Punjab with AK47s, his gun wielding hotheads were easy on the trigger. By the time Congress came back to power in 1980 (in New Delhi and in Punjab) Bhindranwale was already a star. Before Congress can think of how to take control of things in Punjab, Bhindranwale’s critics and rivals started getting killed by the gun wielding youngsters; who were either inspired by or directly linked to the man. Bhindranwale was arrested in connection to Lala Jagat Narayan’s murder but Congress allowed him to get away it without charging him. After that he never looked back. His popularity soared to a level that even less radical Sikhs started giving into him. He decided to lock horns with his makers by teaming up with SAD, the group against whom the Congress wanted to use Bhindranwale. The roles of Congress and SAD were now reversed, this time former was in power and the latter were in opposition. SAD always championed the Sikh causes, they revived the Anandpur Sahab Resolutuon of 1973 again and came into contact with Bhindranwale. SAD was not for Khalistan, they feared becoming irrelevant amongst the Sikh masses in the face of Bhindranwale’s rising popularity. Bhindranwale and SAD combined in 1982 to take on the Congress. SAD were more concerned in reaching a settlement with New Delhi but the radical Bhindranwale clearly lacked the political wisdom, his cockiness ruled out the chances of any agreement though SAD were willing at one point. Reign of terror was let loose in Punjab, civilians were taken off buses and shot after checking the religious identity. Hundreds of people were killed in the communal tensions. Bhindranwale’s derogatory remarks on Hindus was seen as an encouragement for violence by his followers who were killing in his name and even at his behest. Bhindranwale’s speeches contained hatred for the government, Nirankaris and Hindus. His men managed a high profile victim from each section. Gurbachan Singh (Nirankari) and Lala Jagat Narayan (Hindu) were killed but the most shocking murder was of DIG Punjab A S Atwal on the footsteps of the Golden Temple in April 1983. Yet Punjab Police could not muster the courage to pick up their slain officer’s body for few hours. Chief Minister Darbara Singh had to make a phone call to Golden Temple to seek Bhindranwale’s approval for Punjab Police to take A S Atwal’s remains in their custody. The state authority virtually collapsed in front of Bhindranwale’s terror. From 1978 there were plenty of warnings for the Congress to review their decision banking on the bigoted young cleric, they glossed over everything.
Khalistanis & Pakistan make a comeback
Bhindranwale moved into Golden Temple in latter half of 1982, set up his headquarters from the sacred shrine. Pakistanis started sending arms into Punjab; which were then smuggled into the Golden Temple. Bhindranwale was getting ready for the ultimate showdown. Pakistan’s military regime under Zia Ul Haq capitalised on the fault lines within India in 1980s. Creating an unrest in JK was already a part of their plans. Tensions between Punjab and New Delhi turned out to be a godsend opportunity for Pakistanis, they grabbed it with both hands. India’s diplomat G Parthasarthy was witness to many things as he was in Consul General in Pakistan from 1982 to 1985. Mr Parthasarthy says “Zia Ul Haq started upping the ante in Punjab…Jagjit Singh Chohan and Ganga Singh Dhillon met personally with them (Pakistanis in Pakistan)…worked out strategies to incite”.
Listen to Mr Parthasarthy for 6 minures between 29-35 mins in the link given below👇👇👇…
Jagjit Singh Chohan by 1980 had established himself in England. He had set up Khalistan Council and was printing Khalistan’s currency. By then Bhindranwale had become a blue eyed boy for the West based Khalistan ideologues. In his lifetime Bhinranwale’s impact on Punjab did not last more than 6 years but in the short span of time he managed to ride along with the Congress, SAD and Khalistanis in the West, which in many ways is self explanotary why he was so successful in winning over the segment of Sikh population to his side. Once he joined Khalistanis his game was up. Bhindranwale never asked for Khalistan but did say he won’t turn it down if it was offered to him by the Congress government in New Delhi.
Indian Prime Minister Mrs Gandhi finally acted. The events of June 1984, –Operation Blue Star with considerable damage to the Golden Temple — and Novemeber 1984, — Indira Gandhi’s murder at her Sikh bodyguards hands and anti Sikh riots — remain amongst darkest moments in India’s history. Bhindranwale and his terrorists were eliminated in June 1984 by Indian Army commanded by Maj General Kuldip Singh Brar. The terror in Punjab was far from over. Bhindranwale’s loyalists held the state at gun point for more than a decade. Tens of thousands perished including India’s former Army Chief General Arun Shridhar Vaidya and SAD leader Harchand Singh Longowal. It took a daring DGP of Punjab Police KPS Gill(12) to finally put the ISI backed Khalistani terror to bed in India for all times to come.
Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was dubbed “security risk”, spoiling ISI’s Khalistan gameplan was the biggest charges levelled against her. Bhutto in her lifetime credited herself for contributing towards the end of Khalistan militancy👇👇👇…
…”If anyone kept the word, it was I, not Rajiv (Gandhi)….How can anyone say I have not kept my promises when the single biggest result of that meeting was the end of the Sikh insurgency”…(11)
The jihadist General Hamid Gul was the ISI head during Bhutto’s first term in the office. Under his watch Pakistan were engaged in formenting the religious extremism not only in Afghanistan and JK but also the Sikh insurgency in Punjab. Gul never forgave Bhutto for the steps she took at that time, she probably gave too much away for ISI’s liking. Speaking to Shahid Masood on Pakistani channel Gul gives some insight to the attack on the Shri Harimandir Sahab.
Gul alleged Bhindranwale and General Shabeg Singh compelled Indian government to attack them in June 1984 after they’ve fortified the Golden Temple. Gul further argued Bhindranwale and General Shabeg Singh felt the attack on the holiest place of Sikhism would mobilise the Sikh masses against India. Gul had penchant for wild conspiracy theories, I believe for once he was not off the mark. There are 4 good reasons to believe Gul’s input.
A) Sikh militants received arms from Pakistanis. Gul was not ISI chief at the time but he was still there at the top. He knew much more than most ever did. Satish Jacob in Shekhar Kapur’s Pradhanmantari series says Bhindranwale disclosed to him that should army attack the Golden Temple he’ll escape to Pakistan through Khalrha and launch a guerilla war against India. Satish can be heard saying this between 37-39 minutes of the link given below👇👇👇…
B) The manner in which Shri Harimandir Sahab was fortified before Indian Army went in. According to Brig Israr Rahim Khan (who was Lt Col back then) Indian Army never lost as many soldiers — 83 of them — in one single night even in wars against Pakistan. At the end of the day Shabeg Singh was the product of Indian Army, he had Bhindranwale’s men well prepared. General Brar had to alter his plans due to the resistence offered. General Brar is a Sikh himself and nobody would want to be in such a position he found himself on that fateful night. A Soldier’s first loyalty lies to his nation and he did not fail in that.
C) Bhindranwale’s fiery speeches from the Harimandir Sahab provoking New Delhi, directly challenging government to lock horns with him.
D) Violence in Punjab. Murders of prominent figures. DIG of Punjab Police Avtar Singh Atwal was shot dead in the Golden Temple in 1983.
In the current times the Khalistan activists are mainly based in England, US and Canada, led by the Sikh diaspora holding nationalities of those countries. Back home, Punjab is as peaceful as other states in India save JK. Sikhs of Punjab and of other states have no enthusiasm for Khalistan that was witnessed 3 decades back. Sikhs For Justice’s Referendum 2020 rally in London was attended by the England based Pakistani activists and anti India elements hailing from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). British parliamentarian of Pakistani origin Lord Nazir Ahmed endorses Sikhs right to break away from Indian Union. He was present with the Khalistani gang on 12th August. Despite Indian objections, the British Government allowed the anti India rally to go ahead citing that anyone has a right to a peaceful protest. India’s Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar registered India’s concern👇👇👇…
….”We expected the UK government not to allow a group, whose intention is to spread hatred, and impact our bilateral relations. It has been conveyed that the fringe elements were seeking to spread hatred and communal disharmony, propagate secessionism that impinges on India’s territorial integrity,”….(13).
Khalistanis held rallies with the Kashmiri separatists. In connivance with the Pakistani diaspora they conducted anti Modi demonstrations over Prime Minister’s recent England visit.
Pakistan believes the road to Srinagar goes through Amritsar. Navjot Singh Sidhu’s reception in Pakistan and how he was forced to sit next to PoK’s so called President pretty much sums up the Pakistani mentally. I’m not accusing Navjot Singh Sidhu as Khalistani. It is a case of mind games being played by the enemy nation. Pakistan wants to sell the theory of Sikh victimhood in India. Just few days back Pakistani Qamar Cheema on India Today tried to lecture Gaurav Sawant on how India stereotypes against Sikhs👇👇👇…
India needs to be alert but not too worried. Sikhs in the West hold nationalities of the countries they live in, they’re not Indian citizens, legally speaking the Sikh diaspora has no stake in Punjab. They will never come to live in Punjab (Khalistan of their dreams). The proposed Khalistan can only become an issue on hand if there was such a movement inside Punjab, that ain’t the case. Pakistanis and the Sikh diaspora can’t invent a movement. In 1980s the enemy and anti India rogues were partly successful more because of India’s mishandling than their own efforts. Bhindranwale was a Congress prop up who later turned Frankenstein. India should be careful with the activities of Sikh diaspora –those with links to Khalistanis– when they enter India. Another thing which we can do is gather intelligence how many foreign based Sikhs visit Pakistan every year.
Pakistanis are wooing India they may allow Sikh pilgrims a visa free entry to visit Kartarpur Sahab. Pakistan’s ill intentions should not be lost on New Delhi and the Punjab government. The devil must be given his due. The year 2019 is very important for India –I don’t mean elections alone– it will be the 550th Prakash Purab of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Most of the Khalistani organisation will do it all to cash in on the occasion and that is Pakistan’s next move. Allowing visa free entry means more Sikhs are likely to attend the occasion at Shri Kartarpur Sahab; this will be a perfect platform for Sikhs For Justice and other Khalistani groups to create a mass hysteria in Indians Sikhs presence. Connecting with the Sikhs in India is the next goal of the Khalistanis and that is Pakistan’s gameplan.
On the positive side Indian governemnt objected not only to England allowing Khalistanis the go ahead for the rally, we’ve also made it clear to Canada we won’t tolerate attacks on the national unity. Credit must go to Punjab’s Chief Minister Amarinder Singh for sticking to his principled stand against pro Khalistan bent of the West.
On the downside, India must not ignore the ISI’s ability to flare up the communal tensions even amongst the 2 non Muslim religious groups. The case of Jaggi Johal(14) indicates the enemies are trying to flare up religious hatred in Punjab to bring back the old days.
The best way to respond to the Pakistani mischief, India starts supporting the sub nationalist movements of that country. The second thing we can do is whenever Khalistan question is brought to India’s attention we should respond how can there be a Khalistan without Lahore and Nankana Sahab. George Galloway and Lord Nazir Ahmed could be paid back in the same coin, how about Khalistan in Birmingham or Southall? Galloway was seen supporting the calls for Sikh Referendum 2020.