Baba’s Explainer – Sikh Separatism

  • IASbaba
  • May 18, 2022
  • 0
History and Art and Culture, Indian Polity & Constitution
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  • GS-1: Post-Independence Issues
  • GS-2: Federal Challenges

Why in News: Symbols of Sikh separatism that appeared at the Himachal Pradesh Assembly complex in Dharamshala suggest that forces promoting it are active and capable of mischief.

What were the recent events that has triggered Khalistan issue?
  • Purported flags of imaginary Khalistan were put up on the gate of the complex, and slogans scrawled on the walls.
  • The announcement of June 6 as Khalistan “referendum day” made the State police seal the border.
  • A U.S. based Khalistani separatist has been charged in Himachal Pradesh under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
  • On the same day, the police in Punjab said they had averted a terror attack after arresting two men, said to be Khalistani sympathisers, with explosives.
What is Khalistan movement?
  • The Khalistan movement is a Sikh separatist armed movement seeking to create a homeland for Sikhs by establishing a sovereign state, called Khalistān in the Punjab Region. Such a state existed in Punjab from 1709 to 1849.
  • In early 1980s, the movement had emerged as a major separatist movement that was fed on arms under the patronage of Pakistan’s ISI who was seeking revenge for creation of Bangladesh.
What are the historical events responsible for Khalistan?
  • 1947 Partition of India –Independence of India was not a joyful event for Sikhs, and partition left Sikhs in a lot of discontentment with regard to their traditional lands being lost to Pakistan.
  • The fight for a separate Sikh state owes its origins to the Punjabi Suba Movement. The Akali Dal – a Sikh-dominated political party – sought to create a separate Sikh Suba or Province.
  • When the States Reorganization Commission, constituted to assess the demand for separate states by linguistic groups, made its recommendations, it rejected the Akali Dal’s demand.
  • But after a series of violent protests, the Indira Gandhi government relented in 1966.
  • The state was trifurcated into Punjabi-majority Punjab, Hindi-majority Haryana and the Union Territory of Chandigarh. Some hilly regions of the state were merged into Himachal Pradesh.
  • The Sikhs were now a majority in the truncated State of punjab.
  • However, the Anadpur Sahib resolution reignited the passion of Sikhs and sowed the seeds of Khalistan movement
What was the Anandpur Sahib Resolution?
  • After the reorganisation, the Akalis came to power in 1967 and then in 1977. On both the occasions it was a coalition government.
  • The Akalis discovered that despite the redrawing of the boundaries, their political position remained precarious.
    • Firstly, their government was dismissed by the Centre mid-way through its term.
    • Secondly, they did not enjoy strong support among the Hindus.
    • Thirdly, the Sikh community, like all other religious communities, was internally differentiated on caste and class lines. The Congress got more support among the Dalits, whether Hindu or Sikh, than the Akalis.
  • It was in this political context that during the 1970s a section of Akalis began to demand political autonomy for the region.
  • This was reflected in a resolution passed at their conference at Anandpur Sahib in 1973.
  • The Anandpur Sahib Resolution asserted regional autonomy and wanted to redefine centre-state relationship in the country.
  • The resolution also spoke of the aspirations of the Sikh qaum (community or nation) and declared its goal as attaining the bolbala (dominance or hegemony) of the Sikhs.
  • The Anandpur Sahib Resolution was a plea for strengthening federalism, but it could also be interpreted as a plea for a separate Sikh nation.
  • The Resolution had a limited appeal among the Sikh masses.
  • A few years later, after the Akali government had been dismissed in 1980, the Akali Dal launched a movement on the question of the distribution of water between punjab and its neighbouring States.
  • A section of the religious leaders raised the question of autonomous Sikh identity.
  • The more extreme elements started advocating secession from India and the creation of ‘Khalistan’.
  • The Anandpur Sahib resolution found an admirer in Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale – a religious scholar who’d been travelling across Punjab advocating a return to the Khalsa or a more orthodox form of Sikhism.
    • If the Akalis were a moderate faction espousing Sikh pride and politics, Bhindranwale represented the extremist view that among other things called for a separate state.
  • Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale inspired by the Khalistan ideology led the Khalistan as an extremist movement and turned against Indian government
  • Demands for separate nation-hood for Punjab was carried out through violent protests and killings of high profile persons in Indian government.
What are the events which intensified Khalistan movement?
  • Soon, the leadership of the movement passed from the moderate Akalis to the extremist elements and took the form of armed insurgency.
  • These militants made their headquarters inside the Sikh holy shrine, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, and turned it into an armed fortress.
  • In June 1984, the Government of India carried out ‘Operation Blue Star’, code name for army action in the Golden Temple.
  • In this operation, the Government could successfully flush out the militants, but it also damaged the historic temple and deeply hurt the sentiments of the Sikhs.
  • A large proportion of Sikhs in India and abroad saw the military operation as an attack on their faith and this gave further impetus to militant and extremist
  • Still more tragic turn of events complicated the punjab problemfurther.
  • Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated on 31 October 1984 outside her residence by her bodyguards. Both the assassins were Sikhs and wanted to take revenge for Operation Bluestar.
  • While the entire country was shocked by this development, in Delhi and in many
    parts of northern India violence broke out against the Sikh community.
  • The violence against the Sikhs continued for almost a week.
  • What hurt the Sikhs most was that the government took a long time in restoring normalcy and that the perpetrators of this violence were not effectively punished.
What was the road to peace?
  • After coming to power following the election in 1984, the new prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi initiated a dialogue with moderate Akali leaders.
  • In July 1985, Rajiv Gandhi reached an agreement with Harchand Singh Longowal, then the president of the Akali Dal. This agreement, known as the Rajiv Gandhi – Longowal Accord or the punjab Accord, was a step towards bringing normalcy to punjab. It was agreed in the accord that
    • Chandigarh would be transferred to punjab,
    • A separate commission would be appointed to resolve the border dispute between Punjab and Haryana
    • A tribunal would be set up to decide the sharing of Ravi-Beas river water among punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.
    • Compensation to and better treatment of those affected by the militancy in punjab
    • Withdrawal of the application of Armed Forces Special powers Act in punjab.
  • However, peace did not come easily or immediately. The cycle of violence continued nearly for a decade.
    • From early 1980s to early 1990s, Punjab went through a phase of wide-spread terrorism, where Pakistan’s ISI tried to forment the violence by providing support to extremist groups (it was also the same time that Pakistan began to use terrorism as its strategy to defeat India in Kashmir)
    • Manifold extremist groups like the Khalistan Liberation Force, Khalistan Commando Force, Babbar Khalsa and umpteen others gained prominence and roamed around freely across Punjab.
    • On 31 August 1995, a suicide bomber took out Punjab CM Beant Singh inside the Punjab civil secretariat in Chandigarh. Singh was credited with wiping out terrorism, which had spiked in the aftermath of Operation Bluestar.
  • There was counter-insurgency operations which was led by the State Police.
  • Militancy was eventually eradicated by the security forces. Peace returned to Punjab by the middle of 1990s.
  • Though religious identities continue to be important for the people, politics has gradually moved back along secular lines
What is present status of the movement?
  • At the present, Khalistan movement is a dormant movement in India.
  • It does not hold much traction in the urban or local populace of Punjab.
  • But the movement gets ideological support from Sikhs living in Canada, UK or USA.
  • These groups command little respect in the Sikh mainstream at the moment. They campaign among the Sikh diaspora, alleging mistreatment of the community by the Indian state.
  • They pump money, ideological support to the struggle, ISI of Pakistan is still pumping money and effort in reviving the movement.
  • Though isolated and feeble, Sikh separatism continues to flicker. It must serve as a constant reminder for social cohesion and impartial state policy.

Mains Practice Question – Separatism of various kind in India is a constant reminder for social cohesion and impartial state policy. Elaborate.

Note: Write answers to this question in the comment section.


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