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Bluestar Fans Khalistan Embers


The Telegraph, Amritsar, Jun. 7, 2005

Photo: Protesters, holding Bhindranwale posters, shout pro-Khalistan slogans at the Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) complex, June 6, 2005

The demand for an independent state of Khalistan sprang back to centre-stage today after kirpan-wielding youths led by several Sikh separatist leaders raised slogans in the Golden Temple complex, vowing not to let Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale's 'sacrifice' go waste.

Cries of 'Khalistan zindabad' rose in the air as the 30,000 devotees, who had gathered for the 21st anniversary of Operation Bluestar and the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev nearly 400 years ago, nodded in agreement.

When the day began at 7 a.m. with special prayers at the Akal Takht, the highest Sikh temporal body, there was no hint the calm of the temple complex would be shattered for the first time in many years.

But by 9, kirpan-wielding youths, led by Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) leader Simranjit Singh Mann, self-styled 'President of Khalistan' Jagjit Singh Chauhan, Kanwarpal Singh of the Dal Khalsa and Harnam Singh Dhuma, the chief of Damdami Taksal, a seminary Bhindranwale headed, had taken over.

They forced Jagir Kaur, the chief of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (S.G.P.C.), which manages all gurdwaras in the country, and Shiromani Akali Dal president and former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal to beat a hasty retreat. Both had earlier been booed as 'traitors' for their moderate views.

It was also the first time that the separatist elements acknowledged Bhindranwale as a martyr. They hung a placard declaring the Martyr's Gallery on the ground floor of the Akal Takht as the only memorial to Bhindranwale, who spent his time there before the army surrounded the temple on June 2, 1984 during Operation Bluestar, and distributed free posters and booklets containing Bhindranwale's speeches.

'We demand the creation of Khalistan. After the new state is formed, it should act as a buffer between India and Pakistan. Bhindranwale's sacrifice will not be allowed to go waste. Sikhs are a nation and (we) demand a separate state for us,' Mann said.

The S.G.P.C., which had earlier announced the construction of a memorial, Shaheed-e-Minar, in memory of those who died during Operation Bluestar, failed to lay the foundation stone. 'The design and place are yet to be finalised,' Kaur said.

In an exclusive chat with The Telegraph, Chauhan said he was pleased by the reaction of those who were present at the temple.

'I am in regular touch with Wadhwa Singh of the Babbar Khalsa International, Paramjit Singh Panjwar of the Khalistan Commando Force and Lakhbir Singh Rode of the Sikh Youth International to try and evolve a strategy to create Khalistan. I have also asked them to come back to India like I have done and work among the community here.'

'Sikhs have suffered a lot under Delhi and it is time for a new non-violent movement to be launched for the creation of Khalistan. Since Sikhs do not interfere in the working of any other community, we would like to warn the state and the centre against driving us to the wall. The Manmohan Singh government is a failure not only for the Sikhs but for the country as a whole.'

Damdami Taksal chief Dhuma said Bhindranwale's death anniversary would be observed in a big way at the seminary on June 12.

'This is the first time we have accepted he is dead,' Dhuma added.

Akal Takht Jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti rued that even after 21 years, the centre 'has not found it fit to pass a resolution in Parliament condemning' the 1984 army action, ordered by the then Congress government to flush out militants from the temple.

He also said Congress leaders 'involved' in the 1984 riots after then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination 'continue to enjoy prominence' in the government. This 'failure,' he added, 'continues to unnerve the Sikhs.'