For over three years, a revival of sorts has been visible in the movement for a separate Sikh state called Khalistan after the virtual decimation of the movement in the early 1990s when super cop K P S Gill ruled the roost with his unsparing ways.
When in 2015 the several incidents of the desecration of the Guru Granth Saheb under the Akali-BJP government disturbed a hornet’s nest, the Khalistanis saw an opportunity to foment fresh trouble. Pandering to the anger of Sikhs at the desecrations, certain Sikh groups in Canada and some other countries that had been lying low added fuel to fire.
Not to miss an opportunity was Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) which was itching to add to India’s troubles on Kashmir. It started liaising with Khalistanis overseas and in Punjab with a glimmer of hope that it would succeed in re-energising the separatist movement in the seat of the Sikhs. Recently, Congress president Rahul Gandhi unwittingly gave the Khalistanis a handle to beat the governments in Punjab and India with in his speech in London absolving the Congress party of any involvement in the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, which has piqued the Sikhs of Punjab no end.
There never was any doubt that the riots in which several Congressmen were involved in the wake of Mrs Indira Gandhi’s assassination were directed against the Sikhs because a Sikh security guard had fired the shots that led to Mrs Gandhi’s demise. Strangely, Mrs Gandhi’s son Rajiv, who succeeded her, had made a statement even as the funeral procession was wending its way to the place of cremation that when a big tree falls, its root do shake, alluding to and drawing a parallel to the anti-Sikh riots which had begun then. That was seen by many as a sign of Rajiv virtually justifying the riots obliquely.
Ironically, the riots cases have been on since 34 years without there being any closure to the charges against Delhi Congressmen of the time like Jagdish Tytler, late H K L Bhagat. Sajjan Kumar, Dharam Dass and others of their ilk. There is a common feeling that the Congress, which was in power at that time at the Centre, sabotaged the cases to make it difficult to convict the guilty among the Congressmen. Though part of the 34-year period has seen the BJP in power, it is the Congress which was in the saddle for the greater part of the period and especially at the crucial time when the cases were botched up.
With Rahul’s statement absolving Congressmen, the bitter and hurtful memories of those terrible times came back to haunt the Sikhs. The statement was shockingly ill-timed and will now become a poll issue when the country goes to the polls next year to elect a new Lok Sabha. But the Congress suffers from the syndrome arising from the story that ‘the Emperor has no clothes’ where no one had the courage to tell the proverbial King that he did not have a stitch of clothing on him and the King began to believe that he was duly clad.
Rahul has indeed not realised the grievous wrong that he has done by raking up the issue of Congress non-involvement in the anti-Sikh riots and there is no one in the party to tell him that he should not have done that. There indeed is too much servility and sycophancy in the Congress party for anyone to be able to tell Rahul that like the proverbial Emperor, he has no clothes. Surely, if he is mature and wise, he needed to understand, but he is oblivious.
Mercifully, the Punjab of the millennium is not the Punjab of the 1960s and 1970s when militancy was at its peak and tension ruled between rural and urban Punjab. Though there is an insidious attempt to infuse the youth of Punjab with drugs smuggled through the border with Pakistan, the State is as much emotionally one with India as any other state. The Congress’ misdeeds had been relegated to the background with time in the public mind with the party having bounced back to power under a dynamic Amarinder Singh, but old wounds have been opened up again.
Three years ago, there was realisation that it would be folly to be complacent as a Border Security Force (BSF) special operations squad spotted a Toyota Innova driving suspiciously close to the electrified security fencing along the India-Pakistan border in Amritsar’s Ramdas sector. On intercepting the vehicle, the BSF troopers detained two Nihang Sikhs with illegal weapons, a .315 rifle and a revolver. Maan Singh and Sher Singh confessed they were to pick up an arms consignment smuggled in the night before from Pakistan.
Zeroing in on the drop-point coordinates, the BSF team seized the biggest cache of illegal weapons and explosives in Punjab in recent years, close to 500 rounds of ammunition and firearms that include Chinese-made AK-47 and modified MP9 rifles, 7.62 mm pistols, a .32 bore revolver and a sack full of hand grenades. That was signal enough that the Khalistanis in league with Pakistan were up to dirty tricks again to cause subversion in Punjab.
There were other sporadic incidents, too and there was evidence also that money routed mainly by Canadian Sikhs was finding its way for subversion in Punjab. Perhaps, we have not heard the last of the attempts to fuel insurgency and there will be renewed attempts to raise the bogey of Khalistan. While the people themselves will defeat those designs, the Indian security agencies can ill afford to lower their guard.
Kamlendra Kanwar is a political commentator and columnist. He has authored four books.