The recent claims made through declassified documents that Margaret Thatcher government of Britain may have helped former Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi in flushing out the Sikh separatist leaders from the Golden Temple shrine during Operation Blue Star in 1984 has brought back the ghosts of the insurgent movement that had haunted India during the 1980s. The declassified documents also reveal Indira Gandhi’s desperation to eliminate Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale from the Golden Temple as early as February 1984.[1] The Sikh Diaspora led by the All India Sikh Students Federation (AISSF) and the Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) held a protest march in front of the British High Commission. Meanwhile, Sikhs across the globe undertook protest marches against the alleged role of Britain in the Operation Blue Star. Pritpal Singh, coordinator, American Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee demanded instant clarification from the Indian government on its position over recent revelations[2]. Similar protest marches were held in India too.

 

The off-the-wall claim has apparently reopened the flaming pages of the Sikh secessionist movement also known as the Khalistan movement and related violence in India. Despite residing abroad, there is a strong sense of attachment among Sikhs to their culture and religion. There is persistent demand for justice for the Sikh victims during the violent phase of the Khalistan movement.  In some ways, the Diaspora is still seen as a torch-bearer of the Khalistan movement – highly political and military in nature – even long after its demise.  Recent reports clearly indicate a rise in the pro-Khalistan sentiments among the Sikh Diaspora overseas, which could potentially revive the secessionist movement. Inputs based on intelligence and technical surveillance suggest financial support from European countries like Britain, Germany, the U.S. and Canada for the Khalistan movement. According to a senior Home Ministry official “Operatives based in the U.K., Germany and North America such as Canada, who are members of the Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) and its front organizations, are transferring huge amounts of monetary resources to the BKI sleeper cells in Punjab and other places.”[3]

 

The Khalistan movement was fought on various grounds mainly though in the name of cultural and religious identity, political insecurity and self-determination[4]. The territorial definition of the proposed country – Khalistan – includes current Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, part of Rajasthan and a small part of Uttar Pradesh[5]. The secessionist movement witnessed extraordinary amount of violence unleashed on/by both sides. The separatists and a few Sikhs living abroad saw it as violence perpetrated by the state against the Sikh community, driving large-scale violent retaliation by the community promoted and patronized by the Sikh Diaspora.  The Operation Blue Star had a huge impact on the Sikh community across the globe, as it left around 600 people dead and deeply hurt the religious sentiments of the Sikhs.

 

The most concerning issue today is the role of the Sikh Diaspora in organizing and promoting the separatist movement from abroad. The Diaspora is known for promoting the cause through financial support as well as through propaganda and political lobbying in their respective countries. On December 18, 2013, an Indian American Balwinder Singh aka Jhajj aka Happy was arrested by the US agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on charges of rendering material support to the Sikh separatist groups in India, who were allegedly planning a major attack[6]. Similarly, in September eight people were arrested by the Punjab Police in Gurdaspur district on charges of planning to execute a terrorist attack with the financial help of their two associates based in the U.A.E and New Zealand[7].

 

According to the Punjab Police, currently there are around 290 listed terrorists groups on the wanted list of the Punjab Police, out of which about 125, including heads of all major terrorist outfits are operating from foreign countries, especially the U.K., the U.S., Canada and Germany. India has raised the issue with the U.K., Canada and the U.S. in recent months, clearly confirming that the notion of Khalistan still exists in the psyche of some members of the Diaspora, if not in most of them[8]. The Sikh Diaspora with enormous political and financial networks has reportedly provided diplomatic and financial support for the Sikh insurgent movement in Punjab through its local and international institutions like the Gurdwaras. Similarly, their vast network across the globe has helped to mobilize Sikhs across the board for the Khalistan cause through new modes of communication like the internet and social media.[9]

 

There are numerous examples and cases of the Diaspora promoting the secessionist movement, yet the outcome has rarely been analyzed, and this could prove to be fatal for the future course of action against any such movement. It is a crude fact that in the case of Punjab, the biggest sufferers were the Sikh community on whose behalf the secessionists fought. According to South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), of a total of 11,694 persons killed by terrorists in Punjab during the period 1981-1993, 7,139 – more than 61 per cent – were Sikhs[10].

 

The funds and leadership from the Sikhs abroad repress the possible chances of a future political transformation in Punjab. Incessant ideological, cultural and political vivifications tend to dent the concept of heterogeneity of the Indian State. Punjab which has long overcome the horrors of the movement is in the process of refurbishing its social fabric and spurring its economy. The Sikh Diaspora needs to look into the issues of the Khalistan movement beyond the narrow concept of its religious identity, ideology and territory. The idea of Khalistan, for a section of the Sikh Diaspora could be singular and exclusive; however, myriad dimensions of social bonding and the concept of heterogeneous society in Punjab have evolved more powerfully after end to the bloodbath of the pro-Khalistan movement. The fact that there have been no major religious riots or terrorist attacks after 1997 in the state, speaks volumes of the present situation in Punjab. Any act of supporting divisive movements is intended to create a state of chaos and violence. In the case of the Sikh community, it could be worse for the widely dispersed community in various other parts of the country.

 

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.

 

Notes:

 

[1] UK docs on Operation Bluestar: Time to probe Indira Gandhi’s role. January 15, 2014.

 

 http://www.firstpost.com/politics/uk-docs-on-operation-bluestar-time-to-probe-indira-gandhis-role-1338879.html?utm_source=ref_article

 

[2] Sikhs express anger, Pain over Margaret Thatcher's role in Operation Blue Star, January 15, 2014.

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2014-01-15/india/46223778_1_sikh-gurdwara-management-committee-uk-government-british-pm-david-cameron

 

[3] Now, foreign funds fuel Khalistan cause. April 7, 2013.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/Print/1038681.aspx

 

[4] The Sikh Diaspora and the Quest for Khalistan: A Search for Statehood or for Self--preservation? [Pdf] December 2007,

http://www.ipcs.org/pdf_file/issue/1787132181IPCS-ResearchPaper12-SimratDhillon.pdf

 

[5] Overview of Sikh History

http://www.khalistan.net/?p=570

 

[6] Suspected Babbar Khalsa member Balwinder Singh arrested in US on charges of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, December 18, 2013.

http://www.dnaindia.com/world/report-suspected-babbar-khalsa-member-balwinder-singh-arrested-in-us-on-charges-of-conspiracy-to-provide-material-support-to-terrorists-1937578

 

[7] 8 held in Fatehgarh Sahib for planning ‘terror attacks’, September 7, 2013.

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-09-07/india/41854488_1_gang-member-social-networking-sites-fatehgarh-sahib

 

[8] Delhi raises ‘resurgence’ of Khalistan movement with West, January 9, 2013.

http://www.financialexpress.com/news/delhi-raises-resurgence-of-khalistan-movement-with-west/1056945

 

[9] Diaspora Involvement in Insurgencies: Insights from the Khalistan and Tamil Eelam Movements {Pdf], 2005

http://home.comcast.net/~christine_fair/pubs/Diasporas.pdf

 

[10] Hindus of Punjab not expendable, April 17, 2013.

http://www.niticentral.com/2013/04/17/hindus-of-punjab-not-expendable-66836.html