In recent times, there have been attacks made by Khalistani protesters on Indian Embassies across the world. However, very few people know about the history of the Khalistani movement. The Khalistan movement sought to create a separate homeland for Sikhs. They want to establish a sovereign state called Khālistān in the Punjab region. The call for a separate Sikh state began after the fall of the British Empire, with the first explicit call for Khalistan made in a pamphlet in 1940. Let’s dive into the history of the Khalistan movement, from its origins to the present day. We'll take a closer look at how the movement has evolved over time.
How it Originated?
In 1839, the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the leader of the Sikh Empire, marked the beginning of a difficult period for the Sikh people. The British East India Company, with its political tactics and internal divisions strategy, weakened the empire. As a result, the state dissolved in 1849 following a defeat in the Second Anglo-Sikh War. Despite their hopes for a Sikh state, the people had to live under British rule.
Dreams of Purna Swaraj
In the 1920s, India started to dream of Purna Swaraj. However, the British had other ideas. During the partition, the British played a dirty game. They divided India on the basis of religion, creating Pakistan for Muslims and Hindustan for Hindus, in order to keep their legacy in India. So, the Sikhs felt they should have their own country too, but they were okay with India being a free country. This division caused widespread riots and led to the displacement of many people, who lost their homes and ancestral lands.
British Tactic and the Painful Partition
The British had a long history of ruling over India using their "divide and rule" policy. This strategy aimed to create internal divisions and conflicts within the country, which allowed the British to maintain control. Unfortunately, this policy had devastating effects on the Indian people, particularly during the partition of India in 1947. The partition led to the forced displacement of millions of people and caused immense suffering. The Sikh community, who had long hoped for their own sovereign state, were among those most deeply affected. They were forced to abandon their homes, families, and livelihoods. The legacy of the British "divide and rule" policy continued to be felt long after their departure from India.
The Punjabi Suba Movement
Following India's independence in 1947, the Akali Dal led the Punjabi Suba Movement to create a province for Punjabi people. The maximal position of the movement was the creation of a sovereign state called Khalistan, while its minimal position was an autonomous state within India. However, the Indian government was hesitant to create a Punjabi-majority state due to the religious-based partition that led to significant bloodshed. As a result, the demand for a separate Sikh country faced initial rejection.
The Punjab Reorganisation Act of 1966
Despite the Punjabi Suba Movement's demands, the Indian government passed the Punjab Reorganisation Act in 1966, dividing Punjab into the states of Punjab and Haryana. The capital city, Chandigarh, became a centrally administered Union territory. However, the government refused to make Chandigarh the autonomous capital of Punjab, leading to dissatisfaction among the Sikh population. Moreover, a canal system was implemented over the rivers flowing through Punjab, leading to the state receiving only 23% of the water, while the rest went to Haryana and Rajasthan, adding to Sikh anger against the Congress.
The Anandpur Sahib Resolution
After losing in the 1972 Punjab elections, the Akali Dal presented the Anandpur Sahib Resolution in 1973, asking for more independence and power to be given to Punjab. The resolution document addressed both religious and political issues, including the recognition of Sikhism as a separate religion from Hinduism and the transfer of Chandigarh and certain other areas to Punjab. The document remained largely forgotten until 1982 when the Akali Dal and Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale launched the Dharam Yudh Morcha to implement the resolution, leading to a movement that attracted thousands of people.
Rise of Bhinderwale
Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was a controversial figure in Indian history who was born on 2 June 1947, in the village of Rode, Punjab. He was the fourteenth jathedar or leader of the Damdami Taksal and an advocate of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution. In 1982, Bhindranwale and the Akali Dal launched the Dharam Yudh Morcha with the aim of creating a largely autonomous state within India. Bhindranwale grew to be a leader of Sikh militancy and established almost a parallel government in Punjab. In 1983, he and his militant cadre inhabited and fortified the Sikh shrine Akal Takht. He moved to the Golden Temple complex and made it his headquarters where he ruthlessly killed many of his opponents, including a former Jathedar of Akal Takht, Giani Pratap Singh.
The Politics Behind the Rise of Bhindranwale
The rise of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale is a contentious issue with many theories surrounding his ascent to power. One such theory is that Indira Gandhi's Congress party attempted to use Bhindranwale to weaken the Akali Dal, their chief rival in Punjab. Congress allegedly supported the candidates backed by Bhindranwale in the 1978 SGPC elections. However, this theory has been challenged by scholarship, which claims that Gandhi's imposition of President's rule in 1980 had essentially disbanded all Punjab political powers regardless. Congress was not required to take control, and Bhindranwale was beyond its control.
Operation Blue Star was a military operation ordered by Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in June 1984 to remove religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his armed followers from the Harmandir Sahib complex in Amritsar, Punjab. The operation involved the Indian Army, Central Reserve Police Force, Border Security Force, and Punjab Police.
Despite the Army's underestimation of the militants' firepower, they eventually took control of the temple complex after a 24-hour shootout. Bhindranwale was killed, and casualty figures included 83 dead and 249 injured soldiers. Civilian casualties are estimated to be over 5,000 by independent sources. The operation did not crush Khalistani militancy, which continued. The Soviets allegedly provided disinformation to Indira Gandhi regarding Pakistani involvement in creating religious disturbances, which may have influenced her decision to pursue Operation Blue Star.
Indira Gandhi Assassination and 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots
On 31 October 1984, the Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by her two personal security guards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, who were both Sikhs. This act of violence was seen as a retaliation for Operation Blue Star, which was a military operation to remove Sikh militants from the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
The assassination of Indira Gandhi led to widespread riots across North India, known as the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. A special commission called the Nanavati Commission was created to investigate the riots. Two major civil-liberties organisations issued a joint report on the anti-Sikh riots, naming 16 significant politicians, 13 police officers, and 198 others accused by survivors and eyewitnesses. The assassination of Indira Gandhi and the subsequent riots had a significant impact on India's political and social landscape, and the wounds of this tragedy are still felt by many today.
Pakistan's Secret Agenda to revive Khalistan Movement
Pakistan's long-standing desire to weaken India has led to the implementation of its Bleed India strategy. Even before the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, then a member of the military regime, spoke of his aspirations to occupy entire Eastern India and make it a permanent part of East Pakistan, along with taking Kashmir, Sikh Punjab, and turning it into Khalistan.
General Zia-ul Haq attempted to restore Sikh shrines in Pakistan, making them open for Sikh pilgrimage to ease tensions. ISI Chief General Abdul Rahman even opened a cell within ISI to support the Sikh's "freedom struggle against India," which led to the destabilization of Punjab. The Khalistan movement eventually declined after India fenced off a part of the Punjab border with Pakistan and agreed to joint patrols of the border.
However, in 2006, Khalid Awan, a Canadian of Pakistani descent, was convicted of supporting terrorism by providing money to the Khalistan Commando Force in Pakistan. The group had carried out deadly attacks against Indian civilians, causing thousands of deaths. In 2008, India's Intelligence Bureau revealed that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence organization was attempting to revive Sikh militancy.