Attempts at reviving Khalistan movement is no worry but dismissing it altogether will be fatal
The platforms Khalistanis use to spearhead their movement are Babbar Khalsa International, Khalistan Zindabad Force and Pannu's Sikhs for Justice and Lashkar-e-Khalsa.
Traumatic memories of Khalistan movement that rocked the nation and Punjab in particular during late 70s and 80s still haunt. Hence, any attempt to revive it will naturally be viewed with exaggerated alarm. A few incidents in this context will be worth recalling. Last year in December, a bomb was exploded in the district court in Ludhiana, masterminded by Germany based Khalistani terrorist.
On Republic day this year, taking advantage of farmers' agitation, some miscreants raised Khaistani flag after taking down the tri-colour at the red fort. Gurpatwant Singh Pannu, the public face of Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) had earlier claimed that he had raised $ 1 million US dollars for this purpose. On May 7, two men were arrested with an improvised explosive device packed with 1.5 kg of RDX from Naushera village of Tarn Taran district, who had smuggled them from across the border to spread terror by attacking religious and public places. Two days later, intelligence wing of the police headquarters in Mohali was struck by a rocket propelled grenade.
In a bizarre move, some rogues tied up Khalistan flags on the main gate of Himachal Assembly in Dharamasala and wrote slogans on its walls. And, not to forget, on Nov 21, SFJ held its annual referendum drama asking Sikhs to vote for creating a separate nation.
The platforms Khalistanis use to spearhead their movement are Babbar Khalsa International, Khalistan Zindabad Force and Pannu's Sikhs for Justice and Lashkar-e-Khalsa. All these have been proscribed by India making their activities illegal and prosecutable. Their terror acts are mostly planned and orchestrated from Pakistan. ISI uses money coming from the delusional section of Sikh diaspora to recruit and train smugglers, drug addicts, gangsters and unemployed youths in firing weapons, rockets and explosives. It also launches drones to send weapons, explosives, money and drugs to its agents in Punjab, connect them with LeT, Afghan Talibans and Kashmiri terrorists and help in planning and coordinating violence and providing sanctuary and logistical support. This operational strategy serves ISI well; keep the bordering Punjab and J&K simmering with separatism and make some money in the bargain.
However, the current political, diplomatic and security scenario in India do not favour a repeat of what the movement was in 80s. BJP does not need a Bhidranwale to gain electoral foothold in Punjab and practices zero tolerance for secessionist movements. In each incident where Khalistanis are allegedly involved, cases have been registered and suspects arrested. Border Security Force and Punjab police have been regularly shooting down drones launched from Pakistan and apprehending smugglers and terrorists. Indians Sikhs who are closely integrated with country's security, economy, sports, education and health sectors have no interest in SFJ's crazy idea which excite only a section of ill-informed and wealthy overseas Sikhs with no stakes and roots in India.
Gone are the days when US, Canada, UK and Germany provided tacit support to Khalistanis. US no longer allows lobbying by Khalistani outfits, Germany is ready to arrest and punish those involved criminally in using German soil for terrorist purpose and UK of Johnson has openly disapproved the movement. President Justin Trudeau of Canada remains a black sheep who appeases Sikhs because his government won't survive without support from New Democratic Party of Sikhs.
However, he knows the limit of his support to Sikh separatists in the interest of bilateral relations. Pakistan is financially and diplomatically in a bad shape to offer open support. General Bajawa has his hands full with keeping the Kashmiri terrorism somehow going and Baluch separatists subdued. But he won't mind if ISI can make some quick buck from Khalistanis by providing operational and logistical support without leaving their footprints visible anywhere.
Still, India cannot take these incidents lightly. We have made mistakes in the past in handling insurgencies in the North East, Naxalites, Kashmiri separatist movement and Khalistani issue with kid gloves. We allowed them to fester and then reacted erratically, ending in brutal repression that did not go down well with people.
History records, India will always have groups fighting for what they believe is right. The government therefore will have to constantly keep a vigil on all secessionist groups and then act promptly against them while keeping eyes and ears open to their genuine grievances.
(Amar Bhushan worked with the Research and Analysis Wing for 24 years after briefly serving in the BSF intelligence, State Special Branch and Intelligence Bureau. He served as the Special Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat before he retired in 2005.)
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