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A brief history of the Khalistan movement

GS Paper 1

 Syllabus: Post-independence consolidation


Source: IE

 Context: Hundreds of followers of a radical preacher and pro-Khalistan leader (Amritpal Singh) clashed violently with police near Amritsar, demanding the release of one of their colleagues.


Background: Amritpal Singh is a follower of the slain Sikh militant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, and took the reins of the ‘Waris Punjab De’ organisation following the death of its founder (Deep Sidhu).


What is the Khalistan movement?

  • It is a Sikh separatist movement seeking to create a homeland for Sikhs by establishing a sovereign state, called Khalistan (‘Land of the Khalsa’), in the Punjab region.
  • Its origins have been traced back to India’s independence and subsequent Partition along religious lines.
    • The Punjab province, which was divided between India and Pakistan, witnessed communal violence and generated millions of refugees.
    • The historic Sikh Empire’s capital, Lahore, as well as sacred Sikh sites like Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak, went to Pakistan.
  • While most Sikhs found themselves in India, they were a small minority (2% of the population) in the country.
  • The political struggle for greater autonomy began with the Punjabi Suba Movement for the creation of a Punjabi-speaking state.
  • The States Reorganisation Commission report (1955) rejected this demand, but the state of Punjab was reorganised (trifurcated into the Hindi-Hindu-majority HP and Haryana, and Punjabi-Sikh-majority Punjab) in 1966.
  • The Punjabi Suba movement had galvanised the Akali Dal, which concluded the Anandpur Sahib Resolution (1973) demanding autonomy (not secession from India) for the state of Punjab.
  • This demand had gone global by 1971 – when an advertisement in The New York Times proclaimed the birth of Khalistan.
  • By the 1980s, the appeal of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale had started creating trouble for the government.
  • He and his followers (mostly from the lower rungs of the social ladder) were getting increasingly violent.
  • In 1982, with support from the Akali Dal’s leadership, he launched a civil disobedience movement called the Dharam Yudh Morcha and took up residence inside the Golden Temple, directing demonstrations and clashes with the police.


What was Operation Blue Star?

  • The Khalistan movement was crushed in India following Operation Blue Star (by the Indian Army to flush out militants from the Golden Temple and neutralise Bhindranwale in 1984) and Operation Black Thunder (1986 and 1988).
  • While the operations were ostensibly successful in their aims, they gravely wounded (by the desecration of the Golden Temple) the Sikh community around the world and also galvanised the demand for Khalistan.


Aftermath of the Operation Blue Star:

  • PM Indira Gandhi was assassinated (on October 31, 1984), triggering the worst communal violence since Partition.
  • Punjab became the hub of a long drawn-out insurgency (allegedly supported by Pakistan) that lasted till 1995.
  • The movement continues to evoke sympathy and support among sections of the Sikh population, especially in the Sikh diaspora.
  • Today, the movement is fuelled by vote bank politics, social issues (unemployment, drug menace in Punjab), dissatisfaction among the Sikh diaspora and support from non-state actors.


Conclusion: In order to curb the Khalistan movement and ideology, the Indian government needs to address the above-mentioned issues.


Insta Links:

NIA chargesheets ‘Khalistani’ activists


Mains Links:

The political and administrative reorganisation of states and territories has been a continuous ongoing process since the mid-nineteenth century. Discuss with examples. (UPSC 2022)