Pro-Khalistan movement; new headache to India

The spate of Khalistani attacks overseas comes in the wake of the arrest of Khalistan supporter Amritpal Singh. The posters inciting violence outside the Indian consulates in the UK, US, Canada and Australia, are creating a new headache for the Indian government.  One of the factors that can be attributed to the Khalistanis’ reason behind stepping up their violent activities in these countries was due to the Central force’s arrest of Amritpal Singh, who created mayhem in Punjab. As a result, the pro-Khalistan groups even dared to announce their plans for a “Kill India” rally in these countries tomorrow. The Indian government has condemned in unequivocal terms making it loud and clear that the misuse of freedom of expression to propagate separatism and terrorism is just not acceptable and urged host governments to protect Consulates and Missions under the Vienna Conventions.

Over the past few days, the Indian side has been particularly irked by Canada’s response to activities of pro-Khalistan groups, and Canadian envoy Cameron Mackay was summoned to the external affairs ministry on Monday and served a demarche or written protest over the threat to Indian diplomats. The unofficial “referendum” of voting exercise organized across several countries by the US-based Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) organization, has begun way back in 2007. However, the SFJ was banned by the Modi government in India in 2019 for “espousing secessionism and militant activities”. The referendum seeks to forge an agreement among Sikh communities to establish Khalistan, a separate homeland within India. It is generally proposed that this be accomplished by carving out the Indian state of Punjab, the country’s only Sikh-majority state. The campaign group says it would then approach the UN and other international human rights bodies with the demand to re-establish “Punjab as a nation-state”.

On the contrary, the US authorities responded with alacrity, the poster campaign inciting violence against senior diplomats and the call for a rally tomorrow began in Canada and was then spread by Khalistani elements in other countries. There are clear signs that SFJ is playing a leading role in these campaigns. India is pressing the Canadian side to “ensure that our diplomats can carry out their normal functions without fear or intimidation”. The campaigns by pro-Khalistan groups have been linked to the killing of Khalistani separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a designated terrorist, in Canada last month. These groups have portrayed a so-called “Indian hand” in Nijjar’s death and incited violence against Indian diplomats. The Indian side has consistently taken up threats by the SFJ and its so-called “Khalistan referendum” and asked partner countries to prevent such activities since the group is proscribed. Meanwhile, due to the threat posed by Khalistani radicals, Australia closed down an Indian embassy last week. The consulate, located near Swann Road in Brisbane’s Taringa district, had to close due to a blockage by Khalistani radicals. In the past, on India’s Republic Day in January 2021, Khalistan extremists vandalized the Indian embassy in Rome.

And a violent group of Khalistani separatists also desecrated a statue of Mahatma Gandhi outside the Indian consulate in the United States in December 2020. Hundreds of Sikhs from the Greater Washington DC area, Maryland, and Virginia drove to the Indian embassy in downtown Washington DC, carrying Khalistani flags and anti-India posters and banners. And, the genesis of the Khalistan movement can be traced back to the early 1980s during the Indira Gandhi headed Congress government in power.  She was responsible for creating a monster called Bhindrenwala for her political gains. The Sikh separatist movement seeks to establish a sovereign state in the Punjab region called Khalistan (‘Land of the Khalsa’).

The proposed state would be made up of land that currently forms Punjab in India, and Punjab in Pakistan, with Lahore as its capital, and would be located in the past geographical region of Punjab, where the Khalsa Empire was once established. Since the separatist movement gained traction in the 1980s, Khalistan’s territorial ambitions have included Chandigarh, sections of Indian Punjab, including the entirety of North India, and some parts of Western India. The concept of an independent Sikh state was prominent in the lengthy negotiations that preceded the partition of Punjab in 1947. For a decade in the 1970s and 1980s, a violent secessionist movement to create Khalistan paralyzed the Punjab.

And it reached its pinnacle in the late 1990s, after which the insurgency petered out and the movement failed to achieve its goal for a variety of reasons, including a heavy police crackdown on separatists, factional infighting, and disillusionment. Meanwhile, the Union Home Ministry in 2020 identified nine dreaded group chiefs as terrorists under the terms of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for ‘driving the Khalistan movement in Punjab,’ and started chasing them down. And the majority of them got shelter in Pakistan for their operations; while very few are in countries like Germany, Australia, the UK, and the United States. And, the Modi government’s strong resolve to pressurize these nations either to deport these fugitives from their soils or restrain them from terrorizing Indian consulates and Missions, appears to be loud and clear. This is evident from the External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s tough talk, too!