In multi-religious and multi-ethnic nations, that are diverse in a hundred ways, inter-societal tensions do crop up periodically. Nevertheless, enlightened governments and the public at large, acting with mutual respect and sensitivity towards each other, can tide over fissiparous tendencies and acrimony. Such differences also could be exacerbated by political leaders and religious clerics fomenting divisiveness among various sections of society for their own selfish ends, or trying to further the sinister agendas of hostile nations trying to achieve their own geopolitical ends.
Over the past year, the increase in violent protests and vandalism by sections of the Sikh diaspora in the United States, Britain and Canada, and of late in Australia, directed against India’s diplomatic missions, dishonouring the national flag, defacing of Hindu temples and anti-India agitations in general are a cause of concern. In Canada, on two occasions, the hooligans even had the temerity to damage the statue of the apostle of peace, Mahatma Gandhi. In Punjab, which had seen insurgency and a breakdown of law and order in the early 1980s, the current secessionist campaign by “Khalistanis” may not appear ominous, but it must not be
ignored. The activities of those hell bent on trying to revive communal trouble and inter-religious strife between Hindus and Sikhs, at home and abroad, sometimes at the behest of outside agencies, must be strictly monitored and countered.
The so-called “Khalistani” movement got crystallised in the late 1970s with Pakistani military dictator Gen. Zia-ul Haq unleashing his so-called “K2” strategy (Kashmir and Khalistan). Having realised the futility of war as an option for Pakistan against India’s interests, Gen. Zia and his Inter-Services Intelligence conceived of this strategy to “bleed India by a thousand cuts”, endeavouring to create mayhem and political unrest in two of India’s strategic border states: J&K and Punjab. That Pakistan did manage to foment violence and inter-religious disharmony in Punjab in the 1980s cannot be denied. Deft and firm handling by then Punjab Police boss K.P.S. Gill and, importantly, the unfortunate Army assault in June 1984’s Operation Bluestar to cleanse Sikh terrorists under Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale holed up in the Golden Temple, did bring back an uneasy peace to Punjab.
Nevertheless, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s tragic assassination at the hands of her Sikh bodyguards and the unwarranted carnage against Sikhs which followed did bring about some emotional divide among the two communities who were related to each other by blood, harmony and a unique commonality since centuries.
The scars of 1984 do remain in the minds of some Sikhs and are liable to be exploited by mischievous elements both within India and abroad. But India’s detractors don’t realise that all anti-national acts will always be decisively eliminated by our Sikh population whose patriotism, service and loyalty to the motherland is unparalleled.
Fast forward to the present. Peace and communal harmony has been prevalent in Punjab for the last three decades. However, in the past few years, Pakistan’s ISI, which has been losing out on all fronts, including in Afghanistan and inside Pakistan, have unquestionably redoubled efforts to provoke the Sikh diaspora in the West. They are also endeavouring to influence India’s Sikhs with religiously emotive gestures like the opening up of the Kartarpur Corridor and promises to link it with Nankana Sahib -- both in Pakistan and sacred pilgrimage spots for the Sikhs.
Around a year back, a young clean-shaven Sikh truck driver, Amritpal Singh, working in Dubai (where the ISI has a significant presence), has emerged from nowhere to push the “Khalistani” agenda inside India. Amritpal, well-funded by the ISI and some secessionist Sikhs overseas, has been going around Punjab in the last few months trying to revive the otherwise moribund “Khalistani” dream. With hundreds of his followers, he audaciously attacked the Ajnala police station in Amritsar district in mid-February to get one of his chief aides released. He managed to do that by pressuring the local administration and the police.
Since the Assembly polls in Punjab in mid-2022, the AAP government has been seen as soft on separatists. The Punjab police also appeared to be rather slow in apprehending some of these lawless elements. But now with Amritpal now having escaped the dragnet of the Punjab police and the intelligence agencies dragnet for the past two weeks or so, the security establishment and the Punjab police are definitely red-faced and now appear to be redoubling their efforts to nab the absconder. There is a lot of speculation all over the state that Amritpal, to give a religious twist to his nefarious activities, may surrender any day before the highest temporal Sikh body, the Akal Takht, and may now be negotiating the terms of his surrender. Nevertheless, as the Punjab police hunts for the “Khalistani” fugitives, it also must not be overly harsh on Punjabi youth.
India, meanwhile, needs to make it clear to the governments of the US, Britain, Canada and Australia that they must provide adequate security to India’s diplomatic missions and ensure that no vandalism or any form of anti-India activities by Sikh extremists will be permitted on their soil. Within Punjab and elsewhere in India, the security agencies must come down with a heavy hand and ensure that no “Khalistani” mischief and propaganda is permitted. Amritpal and his associates need to be sternly dealt with.
India and Punjab cannot afford a recurrence of the internal security environment which prevailed in the 1980s. It is imperative, therefore, to make sure there is synergy between the Centre, the state government and all security agencies. The patriotic and peace-loving people of Punjab will always ensure the machinations of anti-national elements are effectively razed to the ground.