The Khalistan movement that seeks to create an independent Sikh state is seeing a resurgence in Punjab in India. This time a separatist leader is openly talking about the creation of Khalistan and his supporters have brought Punjab Police and the administration to their knees.
The demand for Khalistan, the insurgent movement, and the violence it caused has left Punjab with deep scars in the last few decades and the state has lost an entire generation to this.
The movement which emerged in the 1970s and gained momentum under the leadership of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in the early 1980s, is seeing a revival in the state, this time being led by Khalistani pressure group 'Waris Punjab De''s chief Amritpal Singh, who many are calling Bhindranwale 2.0.
On February 23, hundreds of followers of Amritpal Singh clashed with police outside Ajnala police station near Amritsar, demanding the release of one of their colleagues who had been taken into custody in an alleged kidnapping case.
This individual, Lovepreet Singh Toofan, was released from Amritsar Central Jail on February 24 after a court issued orders to discharge him based on an application by the police.
This was the second such attack on the police in Punjab in a fortnight. On February 8, over 30 policemen were injured and dozens of police vehicles damaged after armed protesters, allegedly a pro-Khalistani mob, seeking the release of Sikh prisoners, went on the rampage.
The Khalistani elements even snatched some arms and ammunition, and tried to kill policemen, reported India Today.
Amritpal Singh Sandhu, who openly supports the cause of Khalistan, heads an organisation called Waris Panjab De. He rose to prominence in September 2022 after he returned from Dubai to India to become the leader of the organisation after the death of its previous leader Deep Sidhu.
Amritpal, since announcing his presence in September last year, has been on a tour of Punjab and has been saying that their aim for Khalistan shouldn't be seen as evil and taboo. He also started a Ghar Wapsi (religious conversion) campaign where hundreds of Sikhs, Hindus, and Christians became Khalsa Sikhs.
Singh has been known for making controversial remarks and Christians has demanded his arrest last year after he allegedly made some objectionable comments on Jesus Christ. In December 2022, Singh's social media account on Instagram was erased worldwide and he has previously been banned from Twitter. Neither Instagram or Twitter gave their reasons for the banning but it was most likely due to is controversial remarks and statements on the Khalistan movement.
The Khalistan movement is a political and separatist movement that seeks to create an independent Sikh state called Khalistan in the Punjab regions of India and Pakistan. The movement emerged in the 1970s as a response to perceived discrimination against Sikhs by the Indian government and the domination of the Punjabi language and culture by the Hindi-speaking majority.
The demand for a separate Sikh state gained momentum after the Indian Army's Operation Blue Star in 1984 aimed to flush out militants hiding in the Golden Temple in Amritsar, a holy site for Sikhs. The operation resulted in the deaths of many militants and civilians, as well as the destruction of the Golden Temple.
The movement peaked in the 1980s and early 1990s, with militant groups such as the Khalistan Commando Force and the Babbar Khalsa carrying out violent attacks against the Indian government and security forces. The Indian government responded with a massive crackdown, resulting in the deaths of many militants and innocent civilians.
The movement has lost much of its momentum in recent years, although some Sikhs continue to demand a separate state. The Indian government continues to view the Khalistan movement as a threat to national security and has taken steps to curb its activities.
The Indian government's crackdown in the last 3 decades has significantly weakened the movement, but, there are still some elements within the Sikh diaspora who continue to promote the idea of Khalistan.
What Amritpal Singh is doing will make the movement relevant again. If most people in the state are talking about it, it can no longer be seen as something illegal, and that's what makes the current Khalistan sentiment so dangerous. Singh said that Khalistan is an ideology and ideology never dies. "We are not asking for it from Delhi," he said.
Not only that, Singh has also threatened Union Home Minister Amit Shah, saying that he will meet the same fate as Indira Gandhi who was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984.