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Khalistan: Danger Sign


The Telegraph, Calcutta, Jun. 10, 2005

Photo: Simranjit Singh Mann

Phoenix-like, the demand for Khalistan seems to have arisen from the ashes of Operation Bluestar. The resurrection occurred within the hallowed precincts of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The occasion was the anniversary of the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Singh as well as that of Operation Bluestar.

The prayers at the Akal Takht, which began in the morning, in no way anticipated the raucous political slogans demanding a state of Khalistan. At the forefront were kirpan-wielding young men who were following the leader of the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), Mr. Simranjit Singh Mann, and Mr. Jagjit Singh Chauhan, who styles himself as the 'president of Khalistan.'

With the demand for a separate Sikh state, there was also a gesture to Sikh militancy and extremism. The various separatist elements, for the first time, hailed Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale as a martyr. A placard was hung declaring the Martyrs' Gallery on the ground floor of the Akal Takht as the only monument to Bhindranwale. This was Bhindranwale's centre of operations before Operation Bluestar. The demonstration in support of Khalistan was so strident that Ms. Jagir Kaur, the chief of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, and Mr. Parkash Singh Badal, the former chief minister, were booed as traitors for their moderate views. Both of them had to beat a rather undignified retreat.

Sikh extremism and Sikh separatism are both somewhat out of tune with reality. If Operation Bluestar and the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 devastated the Sikhs, the presence of the first Sikh prime minister of India should tell the Sikhs that they have become part of the mainstream of Indian society and politics. Nobody in his right mind can deny the contribution the Sikhs have made and continue to make to the Indian nation. A reborn Khalistan movement can, however, do terrible damage just as a revival of violence can turn popular opinion. What is disconcerting is the deliberate use the Khalistanis are making of the Golden Temple. Politics should be kept out of places of worship. Bhindranwale used the same ploy with disastrous consequences.

It is a pattern of Punjab politics that when Akalis are out of power, there is a rise in Sikh separatist sentiments. The Akali leadership should know from past experience the dangers involved in trying to ride a tiger.