by Prof Rajiv Chopra

Khalistan is a separatist movement that seeks to create an independent state for Sikhs in Punjab, India. It emerged in the 1970s as a response to the perceived discrimination and marginalisation of Sikhs in India. However, the movement has become increasingly militant and violent, losing thousands of lives. The Khalistan movement has been a major threat to the unity and integrity of India. This essay will discuss how the Khalistan movement is trying to break the nation’s unity.

Historical Background

The Khalistan movement has its roots in the 1947 Partition of India. The Sikh community, which had been an integral part of the Indian freedom struggle, felt betrayed by the Partition. The majority of Punjab, where the Sikh population was concentrated, went to Pakistan, while the rest remained in India. This division caused a sense of insecurity and mistrust among the Sikh community. The situation worsened in the 1970s when the Government of India launched an operation against Sikh militants who had taken up arms to demand a separate Sikh state. The operation, known as Operation Blue Star, was launched in 1984 to flush out Sikh militants from the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest shrine of the Sikh religion. The operation resulted in the death of thousands of Sikhs, including innocent civilians. The aftermath of Operation Blue Star led to widespread resentment among the Sikh community. The assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984 further aggravated the situation. This event triggered anti-Sikh riots in which thousands of Sikhs were killed in Delhi and other parts of India.

The Khalistan Movement Today

The Khalistan movement has evolved over the years. Initially, it was a peaceful demand for a separate Sikh state. However, it soon turned violent, with militant groups such as the Babbar Khalsa, Khalistan Commando Force, and the International Sikh Youth Federation carrying out terrorist activities in Punjab and other parts of India. The militants targeted not only the Indian security forces but also innocent civilians, including Hindus and moderate Sikhs who opposed the idea of a separate Sikh state. The violence continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s, leading to the loss of thousands of lives. The Government of India responded with a heavy-handed approach, launching counter-insurgency operations in Punjab. The military crackdown, coupled with political and economic reforms, weakened the Khalistan movement. By the early 2000s, the movement had lost much of its popular support, and the violence had subsided. However, the Khalistan movement has not entirely disappeared. Some extremist groups still exist and continue to espouse the idea of a separate Sikh state. These groups have taken their struggle to the international stage, seeking support from Sikh communities in other countries.

Impact On National Unity

The Khalistan movement has had a profound impact on the unity and integrity of India. The movement has created a sense of mistrust and suspicion between the Sikh community and the rest of the country. The anti-Sikh riots of 1984 and the subsequent violence in Punjab have left deep scars in the psyche of the Sikh community. The Khalistan movement has also given rise to separatist movements in other parts of India. The demand for separate states based on linguistic and ethnic lines has become a recurring theme in Indian politics. This trend poses a serious threat to the unity and integrity of the country. The Khalistan movement has also had a negative impact on India’s relations with other countries. The movement has been supported by some foreign governments and organisations, which has led to diplomatic tensions between India and these countries.

Modi’s Government’s Responses To Khalistani Movement

The Modi Government, unlike AAP’s leadership in Punjab, has taken several responses against the Khalistani movement, which seeks to create an independent Sikh state in the Punjab region of India. Some of these responses include:

(1) Banning Khalistani Organisations: The Government of India has banned several organisations associated with the Khalistani movement, including the Babbar Khalsa International (BKI), Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF), and the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

(2) Arresting Khalistani Leaders: The Indian authorities have arrested several Khalistani leaders and activists for their involvement in violent activities and for spreading separatist ideology.

(3) Tightening Security Measures: The Government has tightened security measures in Punjab and other parts of the country to prevent any terrorist activities by Khalistani groups. It has also deployed additional security forces to maintain law and order in sensitive areas.

(4) Diplomatic Efforts: The Government has made diplomatic efforts to counter the propaganda and misinformation spread by Khalistani groups in foreign countries. It has also sought the cooperation of foreign governments to extradite Khalistani leaders and activists wanted in India.

(5) Promoting Sikh Culture: The Government has taken steps to promote Sikh culture and heritage to counter the separatist ideology of the Khalistani movement. It has also initiated various development programs in Punjab to address the socio-economic issues faced by the Sikh community.

Views expressed are personal. The writer is the Principal of Delhi College of Arts and Commerce, University of Delhi