Noteworthy News and Analysis from Around the World

In-Depth Coverage of Issues Concerning the Global Sikh Community Including Self-Determination, Democracy, Human Rights, Civil Liberties, Antiracism, Religion, and South Asian Geopolitics

Home | News Analysis Archive | Biographies | Book Reviews | Events | Photos | Links | About Us | Contact Us

The Ghost of Khalistan

Balbir Punj writes, "It is noteworthy that there are more Sikhs outside Punjab than inside it." This is hard to accept as anything other than disinformation. According to the eminent Sikh historian Hew McLeod, the world Sikh population distribution in 1997 was as follows (Sikhism, p. xxi): Punjab, Rajasthan, Himachal, and Haryana: 14 million; Rest of India: 1 million; Rest of the World: 1 million. Furthermore, according to India's Census 2001 figures, over 75 per cent of India's Sikh population is in Punjab.

The Pioneer, Jun. 16, 2005

Photo: Balbir Punj

Punjab has, in the last 15 years, moved miles ahead in the direction of peace, prosperity, and harmony. However, there are still a few in the state who have refused to come out of the time warp. For instance, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale died in Operation Blue Star; Dum Dumi Taksal acknowledged this fact after 21 years.

The question is: Why has Bhindranwale's ghost come to haunt the country again? Recently, followers of a quixotic Simranjit Singh Mann, now a marginalised figure in Punjab politics, raised slogans like 'Long live Khalistan,' 'Long live martyr Bhindranwale,' creating disturbance in the echelons of the Akal Takht. The last time Mr. Mann made national headlines was when he tried to obstruct Mr. L.K. Advani's Bharat Uday Yatra in Punjab last year. The former I.P.S. officer, who resigned from his service in the wake of the Khalistan movement, had tried to force President Giani Zail Singh to follow suit.

Khalistan was back in the news also because of the arrest of Jagtar Singh Hawara, chief of Babbar Khalsa International in India. He is accused of the 1995 assassination of then Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh. The twin bomb blasts in Delhi's cineplexes on May 22 that killed two and wounded around 50 too were masterminded by Hawara. His two accomplices, Jaspal Singh alias Raja, and Vikas Sehgal, accused of planting bombs in the cinema halls, were arrested with him. Two more, Balvinder Singh and Jagganath (both shorn Sikhs) were arrested a week earlier. A significant quantity of R.D.X., weapons, gold, and cash was recovered from them.

The Khalistan movement, which raged in India in the 1980s taking the country by storm, sent a chill down the spines of Indians. The fact that a section of Sikhs - a community whose members were well known for patriotism - had turned secessionists came as a surprise to many. What added to the sense of disbelief was the insurgents courting death in order to carve an independent Punjab out of India - an ideal that was both nebulous and vague.

As Mr. Khushwant Singh wrote, 'I have failed to meet a single individual who could rationally explain to me its concept, its geographical boundaries, its religious composition and its proposed political and economic set up . . .'

'However, on a visit to England, I was able to acquire some documentation on the subject which reveals a total confusion in the minds of its supporters. One is a detailed map of Khalistan - the first that I have seen. It is published in England priced at £2 but no date of publication is mentioned. According to the map, Khalistan will include Jammu, the whole of Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi, chunks of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Saurashtra to give the state an outlet to the sea. Even by a rough estimate, the Sikh population of this state will not be more than 13 per cent of the total population. What kind of a Sikh state would this be? Clearly, far from a democratic one. Nevertheless, a boxed item explaining the concept describes it as a 'a sort of paradise on earth.' '

'It has ten signatories led by one Jaswant Singh Thekedar, the self-styled 'Defence Minister of Khalistan Government.' The question is, do Simranjit Singh Mann and his supporters accept this map as the geographical concept of Khalistan?' (My Bleeding Punjab, pp. 155-6)

Punjab has been divided more than once. In fact, till date it remains the most partitioned province of 20th century India. In 1901, when India was still undivided, N.W.F.P. was separated from Punjab. In 1947, Punjab was unequally divided between India and Pakistan accompanied by violent but near complete exchange of population on communal lines. Haryana and Himachal Pradesh were formed from the state in 1964 and 1968 respectively. While in the 1980s, Sikhs were the predominant community in Punjab, according to the 2001 census, Hindus at 37 per cent constituted a significant proportion of the Punjabi population. It is noteworthy that there are more Sikhs outside Punjab than inside it.

The Khalistanis wanted, through their terror tactics, an exchange of population like the one that took place during partition. The reign of terror that they unleashed against Hindus in the 1980s, was expected to culminate into their mass exodus from Punjab followed by backlash against Sikhs in the rest of India. They never pondered why industrious Sikhs who had made their fortunes in Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Kanpur, or Udham Singh Nagar would leave everything behind and flee to their 'homeland.' In fact, many of them had their roots in the pre-partition west Punjab and were complete strangers to east Punjab. Also, why would Hindus in Punjab want to become refugees for a second time in 40 years? And what would happen to the hallowed Sikh shrines in Patna, Nanded, Hemkunt Sahib, which would remain outside Khalistan?

Thus, reality presents a different picture. Terrorism failed to ignite communal passions triggering movement of population to and from Punjab. The heinous anti-Sikh riots in Delhi and elsewhere were perpetrated by lumpen 'secular' elements in politics. There was no plan to send all Sikhs to Punjab. In fact, violence failed to affect age-old relations between Hindus and Sikhs. The fact that both communities shared a common cultural heritage was enough to prevent the two being hostile to one another. Thus, Khalistan failed as a concept while terrorism completely disillusioned masses in rural Punjab.

In this era of 'war against terror,' the idea of Khalistan is completely out of sync with the reality. Mr. Jagjit Singh Chauhan, the former finance minister of Punjab then living in self-imposed exile in London, declared the existence of the 'sovereign republic of Khalistan.' Among his most prominent supporters were Ganga Singh Dhillon, a prosperous businessman from Washington D.C. However, the wave of terror in Punjab was masterminded by I.S.I. during the reign of Zia-ul Haq. It was in line with his Operation Topac launched to divide India into bits and pieces, which would in turn be devoured by Pakistan to create a larger Islamic state.

It was Ms. Benazir Bhutto who disclosed the details of Operation Topac to Rajiv Gandhi, thereby helping to close the chapter of I.S.I.-sponsored insurgency in Punjab. However, this does not belittle the role of paramilitary forces and Punjab Police who played an important role in eliminating insurgency in Punjab with a heavy hand.

However, its vestiges like Babbar Khalsa International continued to have their headquarters in Pakistan with Wadhwa Singh and Mehal Singh as the organisation's chief and deputy chief respectively. Ironically, the same country, which now entertains the subversive Sikh elements, was once created by the ethnic cleansing of the community from west Punjab. One only needs to recall the following slogan by Zafar Ali: 'Koi Sikh rahne na pae maghrabi Punjab mein.' In their entire history the Sikhs beginning with their founder Guru Nanak, have either resisted or fought against Islamic oppression through both non-violent and violent means.

The world has changed drastically since the emergence and the end of Khalistani insurgency. Today, to court Pakistan's I.S.I. is like getting caught on the wrong side of the fence. Being a party to Islamic fundamentalism is tantamount to working against the interests of not only India but entire humanity. The West, from where the idea of Khalistan originated, is in no mood to give its assent to the concept. Thus, the Khalistan propagandists will eventually rue their decision to court the jihadi style of terrorism.

The Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee, which was the standard bearer of protest against Sunny Deol's film Jo Bole So Nihaal, was right in distancing itself from the bomb blasts and condemn the act of terror. It later came to light that the explosions were planned at least six months ago, and the film's pretext was like godsend! There is an attempt to revive insurgency in Punjab at the behest of the I.S.I. to dismember India - not for the benefit of Sikhs but Islamist fundamentalists.

The concept of Khalistan, a landlocked state, was a product of minds which favoured fantasy to realism. Punjab and the rest of India should let its ghost disappear into oblivion.