Security Issues

India must take Khalistan extremism seriously and address its underlying causes

The return of Sikh extremism in the form of self-styled Sikh extremist preacher Amritpal Singh, who models himself on the legendary Bhindranwale, has caused worry in countries with a sizable Sikh diaspora. The true source of concern is that the current security regime has not learned from past mistakes and must take adequate action before the situation spirals out of hand.

Background Information on the Bhindranwale Phenomenon

  • The likeness between Amritpal Singh, a self-proclaimed Sikh extreme preacher, and Bhindranwale is superficial and superficial.
  • However, the imposter’s attempts to resuscitate the Bhindranwale myth appear to have galvanised the extremist fringe among Sikh youngsters, notably the Sikh diaspora in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
  • This ‘core group’ has formed alliances with pro-Khalistan organisations such as the Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), the Babbar Khasla, and the Khalistan Liberation Force. (KLF).

History’s Lessons

  • Inadequate current security regime: The current security regime does not appear to have learned from previous failures.
  • The Bhindranwale phenomena was not a sudden development, and if it had been managed properly, it could have been checked long before 1984, and the subsequent violence that led to ‘Operation Blue Star’ and the damage done to Akal Takht could have been avoided.

What was the Khalistan movement all about?

  • Pre-independence era dates: The Khalistan movement, which began during British control in the 1940s, advocates for the establishment of a separate nation for Sikhs. When India gained independence and Punjab was partitioned, the state’s leaders wanted special treatment. However, the Central Government ignored these demands, leaving Sikhs feeling deceived, and the idea of a separate nation grew significantly.
  • Bhindranwale’s Ascension: Many individuals and organisations contributed to the Sikh revivalist movement; however, after becoming the head of Damdami Taksal on August 25, 1977, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale emerged as a charismatic leader.
  • Failure to meet regional needs: Punjabi political groups, such as the Sikh Akali Party, have failed to meet regional demands over river flows and the transfer of Chandigarh as Punjab’s capital city. The devolution of power gave rise to Bhindranwale’s public persona.
  • Finally, between June 1 and June 10, 1984, the military expedition, OBS, was carried out to seize control of key gurdwaras, notably the Golden Temple in Amritsar, from Bhindranwale’s supporters. Bhindranwale was slain during the operation, but his picture has recently come to life.

Why is it being resurrected?

  • Political instability: In recent years, Punjab has seen a political crisis that has resulted in a change in governments, dominant political parties, and chief ministers, allowing extreme groups to flourish.
  • Economic challenges: Punjab state has a high employment rate (the state’s unemployment rate is greater than the national average, according to statistics from the Centre’s Periodic Labour Force Survey 2019-20). Furthermore, the year-long Farmers’ Protest in 2021 and railway blockades have created bad perceptions among investors about the state’s investment environment, resulting in lower investments and growing unemployment in Punjab.
  • Rising communalism: many blasphemy incidents have occurred in the state, igniting the fires of communalism among the people of the state.
  • Pakistani provocation: Security investigations have revealed linkages between Khalistani organisations and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), raising the possibility of emotions of separatism as a result of drug trafficking and networking through Sikh pilgrimages.
  • Images of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and the theme of the non-persecution of the rioters are being used to argue that Sikhs are a persecuted minority and hence require their own land in the shape of Khalistan.

Source of worry

  • Threat to national security and integrity: The resurrection of the Khalistan movement, like the Kashmir and NE insurgencies, poses a threat to national security.
  • A poor law and order environment may dissuade investors from investing in Punjab, further degrading its economy and causing spillover effects in the social and political sectors.
  • Diaspora involvement: While the idea of building a separate state for Sikhs has died down in Punjab, it has piqued the interest of a vast audience in the diaspora who have now moved in other nations for a long time and hence have lost their affiliation with India as their homeland.
  • Misuse of social media: because it transcends international borders, separatists in Pakistan and other countries have exploited it.
  • Bilateral relations may suffer: the Khalistan issue has already strained Indo-Canada relations, and the Referendum 2020 is being held in these nations over the Indian government’s disapproval.

Avoiding Misreading of Sentiments

  • Taking everything that is happening today as evidence of a foreign conspiracy rather than recognising the truth that this could be more than an emotional outpouring of the Sikh extremist fringe is a grave error.
  • Finding the true cause: Blaming the current violence on the drug mafia with ties to Pakistan is only a proximate cause, not the true cause.

Confronting the Threat

  • Innovative approaches: India must discover new ways and means to combat the “siren call” of extreme extremists of all stripes, whether they are Khalistanis or other types of extremists.
  • Maintain balance and a sense of unity: It must maintain a better sense of unity within the country while adhering to individual dignity and human growth and exhibiting leadership in the community of countries.

Way Forward

  • To avoid a repeat of the violent events that occurred from the late 1970s to the 1990s, the rise of Sikh extremism, increased insecurity among Sikh youth, and discontent among the Sikh peasantry must be addressed.
  • Priority should be given to intelligence analysis in order to detect symptoms of growing unease and discontent.
  • To deal with the problem, good intelligence is required.

@the end

India should resist the temptation to resort to harsh measures without first understanding the root causes and join the ranks of nations that rely only on coercion. India must address the threat posed by radical extremists such as the Khalistan Liberation Front (KLF) and the Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) while upholding liberal ideals and guaranteeing national unity.

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