Analysis: Khalistan Issue

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Earlier in the month of September, a bomb blast happened in the district of Tarn Taran in Punjab, in which two persons were killed. An investigation conducted by the Punjab Police exposed the connection of a terror group of the revived Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF) with the blast. In the past too, the district of Tam Taran had witnessed Khalistan activities demanding a separate state of Khalistan for the Sikhs.

What were the outcomes of the investigation into the Tarn Taran bomb blast?

On 20th September 2019, the Punjab police busted a number of terrorists belonging to the Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF) in the Tarn Taran district of Punjab. The police said that the terrorists were planning to carry out a number of attacks in the states of Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and in other neighbouring states.

In total, four persons were arrested and a large number of firearms were seized from them, which includes five AK-47 rifles, pistols, satellite phones and other items. The terror module of KZB is said to have reorganized with the help of sleeper cells and by manipulating local people.

The Punjab Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, handed over the further investigation into this incident to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) so as to find out the truth behind what happened and to ensure that similar events do not take place in the future.

The preliminary investigation by the police revealed that drones were used for delivering weapons and for communication across the border. This finding poses a major security threat. Therefore, the Chief Minister has asked the Centre to direct the Border Security Forces (BSFs) and the Indian Air Force (IAF) to take adequate counter-measures to check any possible threat. 

What is the Khalistan Movement and how did it start?

Khalistan movement was started by the Akali Dal, a Sikh-dominated political party, which demanded a separate Sikh state or Subha.  Although their demand was first rejected by the Indira Gandhi government, it later relented in 1966. As a result, Punjab was trifurcated into Punjabi –speaking Punjab, Hindi-speaking Haryana and the Union Territory of Chandigarh.

Peace prevailed for some time. But, then came Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who advocated a return to Khalsa or the orthodox form of Sikhism. The protest for Khalistan once again rose and the movement transformed into a violent one which unleashed terror.

The Indira Gandhi government decided to conduct ‘Operation Blue Star’ to remove the Sikh militants stationed inside the Golden Temple, which had been turned into an armoury. Under this operation, the Indian Army forcefully entered the Golden Temple despite facing stiff opposition from the supporters of Bhindranwale. Thereafter, the army killed Bhindranwale inside the Temple. This hurt the feelings and sentiments of Sikhs

A few months later, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards who wanted to avenge the attack on the Golden Temple. This led to the anti-Sikh riot of 1984 which resulted in the killing of many Sikhs. All these developments led to the weakening of the Khalistan movement.

However, the recent attack by the KZF indicates that even now there are factions who support the notion of separate nation of Khalistan and who are ready to fight for it. They demand a separate nation consisting only of Sikhs, speaking the language of Sikhs and which will be governed by their own laws and rules.

Most importantly, a campaign named “Referendum 2020” has been launched with the objective of seeking a separate homeland for the Sikhs.

Does the Indian Constitution permit referendum?

The question that needs to be answered is the legality of referendum as a measure to decide whether Punjab should secede from India. Referendum is a process by which a political question is referred to the people for their decision by way of direct vote.

The Indian Constitution contains no express provision for conducting referendums, neither does it prohibit it. In fact, one referendum had happened in India on the question of statehood for Goa.

 In that referendum poll, people were asked decide as to whether they want Goa to be a Union territory or to merge with the state of Maharashtra. The outcome of this poll is history and needs no mention. Since then, no referendum has happened in India.  

Anyway, the practice of referendum does not appear to be a good idea for a country like India. Unlike US, India is not a group of independent states. Rather, the Indian states come under the direct control of the Centre.

Therefore, practically, a referendum would not happen if the Center does not allow for it. Also, in a country like India, where there is so much diversity in religion, language, castes etc., resorting to referendum to decide the Khalistan issue would set a bad precedent and then every other day one or the other community will demand referendum for secession from the Indian Union.  This will create imbalance and a chaotic situation in the country and hamper its growth and development.

Way Forward

As mentioned, a referendum for the creation of Khalistan is a bad idea, the consequences of which will be utter chaos and communal violence. In fact, though the Referendum 2020 campaign draws support from groups of Sikhs in foreign countries like he US-based secessionist group, Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), it does not have much support from the Sikhs in India. Hence, the community itself is divided on this issue.

One thing is for sure. A hasty, forceful creation of Khalistan driven by religious impulses would lead to a situation similar to partition, especially when there are no proper plans or procedures in place to oversee the formation of Khalistan smoothly.

-This article is brought to you in collaboration Sheetal Dhyani from Guru Gobind Singh Indrapastha, New Delhi.

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