This is the last part of the e book How the British sowed the seeds for the Khalistan Movement before the Indians took over. The earlier two parts were -
1.How the British divided Punjab into Hindu and Sikh http://www.esamskriti.com/essay-chapters/How-the-British-divided-Punjab-into-Hindu-and-Sikh-1.aspx
2.What are events that led to Operation Blue Star http://www.esamskriti.com/essay-chapters/What-were-the-events-that-lead-to-Operation-Blue-Star-1.aspx
This part covers the period 1984 to 1995. Read on -
There was widespread outrage in the Sikh community post Operation Blue Star. Amongst other protests, there was a mutiny in the 9th Battalion of the Sikh Regiment. This regiment is manned entirely by Jat Sikhs. The Sikh Light Infantry is manned entirely by Mazhabi or Scheduled Caste Sikhs. The largest mutiny took place in the Sikh Regimental Centre at Ramgarh in Bihar where Commandant Brig Puri was shot at and later succumbed to his injuries. Sepoy Gurnam Singh led nearly the entire other rank strength out of the cantonment in a convoy of army vehicles and headed towards Amritsar. They were intercepted and 35 people were killed in battles between the mutineers and the soldiers manning the roadblocks.
Meanwhile, Indira Gandhi did not want the high priests or SGPC to repair the shrines. She got a leader of the Buddha Dal, Baba Santa Singh Nihang to take the lead.
On 25 September 1984, Indira Gandhi announced that the army would be withdrawn from the temple and SGPC would resume control. An attempt was made to patch up relations between the high priests and the government. Giani Kirpal Singh urged the government to give up its anti-Sikh attitude, called for the ban on the All India Sikh Students Federation (the backbone of Bhindranwale's movement) to be lifted and release its members from jail. On 1 October 1984, the army withdrew from the Golden Temple.
K.P.S. Gill wrote, “The damage Blue Star did was incalculable. This was compounded by Operation Woodrose, the army’s ‘mopping up’ exercise all over Punjab that sought to capture Bhindranwale’s surviving associates and to clear all Gurudwaras in the state of extremist elements. Woodrose suffered from all the classical defects of army intervention in civil strife. Operating blindly, the army arrested large numbers of people, many innocent, others perhaps sympathetic to the militant cause, but by no means associated with any terrorist or criminal activity. Lacking in adequate information to distinguish effectively at the local level, the indiscriminate sweep of Woodrose pushed many a young man across the border into the arms of welcoming Pakistani handlers. And then, even as Woodrose drew to an end, the evil was incalculably compounded by the pitiless massacre of Sikhs in what were perceived to be Congress-I government-sponsored riots of November 1984.”46 The revenge sought for Operation Blue Star came swiftly and it was brutal beyond imagination. On 31 October 1984, Indira Gandhi was killed by her Sikh bodyguards.
It was followed by horrific anti-Sikh violence in Delhi and other parts of the country. It made a section of Sikhs wonder whether they were safe in India. “What no doubt fuelled an anti-Sikh sentiment was that hardly any Sikh leader of consequence had boldly spoken out against Bhindranwale or the killings of innocent Hindus by terrorist gangs.”47 The 1984 anti-Sikh violence was engineered by the Congress party. In Mumbai, Balasaheb Thackeray of the Shiv Sena ensured Sikhs were safe. Today, the violence is referred to as the 1984 riots. Note that a riot is between two communities. Here it was between the Congress party and Sikhs and so cannot be correctly termed as a riot.
During a public meeting Rajiv Gandhi condemned the violence but infamously added, “when a mighty banyan tree falls, the earth beneath it is bound to shake”. Rajiv Gandhi became the prime minister after the 1984 General Elections. He seemed like a breath of fresh air with a sincere desire to improve things. And it did seem as though things would improve for the better with him becoming the prime minister. Arjun Singh, an astute politician, was appointed Governor of Punjab. He opened channels of communication with the Akali Dal who appeared to be keen on a settlement.
Sensing a change in mood, Sikh extremists responded with violence. On 10 and 11 May 1985, 20 bombs exploded in Delhi and 18 in other parts of north India. 82 people were killed, Hindus being the targets.
Arjun Singh opened a channel with Longowal. After lot of ground work and meetings a Gandhi-Longowal meeting was announced. It covered eleven points. The three major issues which were unresolved in 1984 were Chandigarh, river waters and the Anandpur Sahib Resolution. Rajiv Gandhi gave Chandigarh to Punjab, set up a commission on border disputes and sent the Anandpur Resolution to a one-man commission on Centre-state relations set up by Indira Gandhi. The other two Akali members Gurcharan Singh Tohra and Parkash Singh Badal were upset when they learnt of the settlement. They had not been included in the talks, and considered it as a sell out. If this had been agreed to before, Blue Star might not have happened.
The result was the Rajiv-Longowal Award. "While this award was being discussed an Air India flight Kanishka, flying from Vancouver to London, blew up off the Irish coast killing 329. Two baggage handlers at Narita Airport, Tokyo, were killed as they were clearing baggage for a plane bound for India. In both cases the perpetrators of the crime were Sikh emigrants settled in Canada.”48 Rajiv Gandhi took another bold step and called for elections in Punjab in September 1985. A gang of terrorists shot Sant Longowal dead. The Akali Dal got a two-third majority in the Assembly elections and Surjit Singh Barnala became the chief minister.
K.P.S. Gill wrote, “One of the first acts of the Barnala government was the appointment of the Bains Committee which released, en masse, over 2000 extremists at that time under detention. The impact on terrorist violence was palpable – not only because those who were released simply resumed their activities, but also because others saw in this act a restoration of the immunity they had enjoyed in the pre-Blue Star phase. 1985 had seen a total of 63 civilians and eight policemen killed by militants. As the Bains committee began its work, in just the first three months of 1986, 102 civilians and 10 security men fell to the terror.” 49 The moderates within Akali Dal began arguing within themselves, giving a chance to the extremists to make their presence felt amongst the Sikh community again. Therefore, on the day Chandigarh was to be transferred to Punjab and it did not happen, extremists told the SGPC they were no longer responsible for the management of the Golden Temple. After taking control of the temple, they hoisted Khalistani flags and began demolition of the Akal Takht.
1986 began with protests in Punjab and Haryana. On 29 April 1986 extremists passed a formal resolution proclaiming Khalistan and hoisted the Khalistan flag in the Golden Temple.
The elected government could not remain a silent spectator. The next day, Barnala ordered the police to enter the Golden Temple and capture the secessionists. A large number of MLA's and ministers deserted Barnala after this move and his government was reduced to a minority. Barnala's government was dismissed on 11 May 1987. President's Rule was imposed and continued till February 1992.
Meanwhile an abortive attempt was made on the life of Rajiv Gandhi at Rajghat on 2 October 1986. The very next day, Director General Julio Ribeiro and his wife were shot at and wounded in Jalandhar. The sons of two senior police officers were killed. General A.S. Vaidya, Chief of Army Staff during Operation Blue Star was shot dead in August 1986.
The police were struggling to deal with the terror. K,P.S. Gill wrote, “Dictated by traditional notions of use of force in situations of civil strife, the dominant thinking emphasised the ‘minimum use of force’ against the unconstrained violence of the terrorists. This thinking persisted among many police officers at the senior-most level even after the introduction of the sophisticated Kalashnikov assault rifle [the AK-47] into the terrorist armory after May 1987. With the supply of Kalashnikovs to the terrorists, Pakistan had clearly increased the stakes of its covert war in India, and terrorism, at this point, entered a completely new and deadlier phase. At that time, the police and para-military forces were armed, in the main, with World War II vintage .303 rifles, or the equally obsolete bolt-action 7.62s. The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were marginally better off, with 175 Self Loading Rifles [SLRs] per battalion.”50 The highest fatalities occurred in the years 1988 to 1992. Here is the year-wise data. 87% of fatalities were of security forces.
Table 3 - Annual Fatalities in terrorists related violence 1988-1992@
% of total
@ Data from South Asia Terrorism Portal www.satp.org In January 1988, two senior Sikh police officers were shot dead in Patiala by Sikh terrorists. S.S. Virk, DIG Police was shot and seriously wounded outside the temple.
Notwithstanding these killings the government continued to be believe that terrorism could be dealt with through appeasement. On 4 March 1988, 40 high profile prisoners—the Jodhpur Detenues—including Jasbir Singh Rode were released. They walked into the Golden Temple, where Rode was installed as the Jathedar (head priest) of the Akal Takht (that was part of the deal). Soon thereafter, the terrorists began to build up internal defenses within the temple around the parikrama. The terrorists’ intent was very clear. An unprecedented 288 people including 25 policemen were killed in March and another 259 (including 25 policemen) in April.
The government decided to surround the Golden Temple, place marksmen at vantage points and cut off access to potable water. This was Operation Black Thunder II and it took place 11-18 May 1988. Executed by the Punjab Police, it was backed up by the National Security Guards and para-military forces and under full media glare. The operation forced terrorists out of the gurudwaras into the countryside.
Julio Riberio wrote in The Times of India, “During the Black Thunder operation in May 1988, Gill showed his mettle. He could not be located on the first day of the police siege of the Golden Temple, but after he arrived on the scene the next day, he took charge of the operations and proved himself a real general. His daily briefings to the media, particularly the electronic media, were flashed all over the world. The picture of a tall, strong, ramrod straight, totally in command, victorious general was impressed on every viewer's mind's eye for all time. Gill is a man of style and strength, and that is how he will finally be remembered, despite all his human frailties and follies.”51 India Today reported on 15 June 1988 about how militants had polluted the holy sanctum. “Here was, instead, an unbearable stink. Stink from the bodies that lay on the parikrama, stink of rotting food and stink of the indiscretions of the 46 men and one woman who had holed up in the Golden Temple's sanctum sanctorum for more than 72 hours, filling the vessels inside with excreta and subjecting it to the kind of desecration not even their staunchest critics had expected from the self-proclaimed defenders of the Sikh faith.”
A Chandigarh-based scholar adds, “A close IAS officer friend of mine told me the beautiful murals of the Shiva stories from Ramayana and Mahabharat on the walls of the basement of the Golden temple were all defaced during this barricade.”
2,432 lives were lost in 1988 (as against 1,333 in 1987) of which 1,949 were civilians, 373 terrorists and 110 security forces.
Here is my personal experience of an encounter with the situation in Punjab in April 1988. A senior colleague and I were returning to Chandigarh from a factory visit to Ludhiana. It was about 9 p.m. and pitch dark. A CRPF barricade forced the car to stop. A jawan walked up with a fully loaded weapon, pointed it to my throat and asked who I was and where was I going. My elderly colleague mumbled an answer and I gave my visiting card which showed me as an employee of Hindustan Lever. That saved the day for us. The jawan seemed as stressed as I was—what if I shot him dead!
During this period, the police force was completely demoralized. There was support for the terror groups within the force too. K.P.S. Gill wrote, “It was essential to segregate compromised elements within the Punjab Police and PAP from anti-terrorist work, and to reduce their involvement in sensitive duties. I soon found that their ‘demoralisation’ was, in reality, only the absence of clear directives from above; their ‘cowardice’ was only confusion caused by conflicting commands, administrative sanctions and political pressures; and their ‘ineptitude’ reflected only the absence of a coherent strategy and a clear mandate for action.” 52 In January 1989, Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh were hanged for Indira Gandhi's killing. As expected there was a backlash in Punjab where 10 innocent villagers were lynched by an irate mob.
Due to police action, the terrorists had, by January 1989, been pushed into a thin strip along the border, with over 70% of their strikes now restricted to three districts—Gurdaspur, Amritsar and Ferozpur. This proportion was a constant throughout 1989 and well into 1990.
Operation Black Thunder had revealed that the majority of recruits to the terrorist cause were actually common criminals and not driven by a commitment to Khalistan. Their sole motivation was to make money or enjoy additional benefits like access to women and enhanced status in the village. When the spoils are to be divided it is natural for turf wars to break out between various terrorist groups. What was at stake was control over narcotics trade and gun-running, power to settle disputes and personal ambition amongst others.
In 1989, 2,072 lives were lost (down by 15%). Importantly, the number of terrorists killed was 703, up 88% as compared to 1988. Clearly the Punjab Police, under K.P.S. Gill, notched up significant counter-insurgency successes.
In December 1989, V.P. Singh became the prime minister. He tried to broker peace but with no success. The killings continued and there was no coherent strategy to deal with terrorism.
Sensing the confusion, terror groups changed tack and “launched morchas to achieve other limited objectives, such as getting the Sikhs registered as a separate qaum (nation) under the Indian Constitution, or pressing for the implementation of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution, or other specific goals that would help systematically further the cause. This incendiary mix of politics, religion and intimidation culminated in a campaign of disruption that pinned down ever-increasing numbers of security personnel, progressively reducing the force available for operational duties.”53 Meanwhile, terrorists started targeting police families. “The year 1990 alone saw 506 policemen killed – a majority of them while they were at home on leave. 19 members of their families were also killed by the terrorists – a number that was to rise sharply to 134 in 1991.”54 Having a new prime minister, Chandrashekhar, did not change things. Different groups of terrorists ruled the countryside with rules of their own making. The new governor, retired General O.P. Malhotra instructed the army to seal the border with Pakistan (Operation Rakshak) and stop gun-running.
K.P.S. Gill wrote, “The years 1990 and 1991 unambiguously belonged to the terrorists. Almost as many civilians were killed by terrorists in these two years, as in the preceding 12 – the entire span of the terrorist movement in Punjab. The area of conflict now covered the entire state.” 55 During this period casualties amongst terrorists and civilians rose significantly (see table 4). This was because more terrorists were being recruited.
Table 4 - Annual Fatalities in terrorists related violence 1990-91@
% of total
@ Data from South Asia Terrorism Portal www.satp.org Director General of Punjab Police K.P.S. Gill was transferred to Delhi in December 1990 and returned to Punjab in November 1991. The highest ever fatalities were in 1991 (see table 4).
By mid-summer of 1991, the tide began to turn. Peasants had suffered extortion, murder and rapes for too long. PM Chandrasekhar made token gestures to appease the sentiments of the Sikhs. He called for state elections. By the first week of June 1991, 20 candidates were killed by terrorists and elections were postponed. Meanwhile Chandrasekhar was voted out of power and Narasimha Rao became the new prime minister.
There was an escalation in violence. “In November 1991, the Centre finally took action. The army was re-inducted in Punjab and the forces were given an unambiguous mandate – order had to be restored in the state, and grounds prepared for the election that fell due in mid-February, when the existing Parliamentary sanction for President’s Rule came to an end.”56 K.P.S. Gill was brought back as the head of the Punjab Police.
K.P.S. Gill wrote, “Unlike previous operations, the army and the police (both state and para-military) acted in complete concert, with a clearly defined institutional structure of cooperation and consultation. An officer of the rank of Inspector General (IG) from the Punjab Police was attached to each Corps of the Army deployed in Punjab. A Superintendent of Police (SP) was assigned to each brigade. Police contingents were attached to every army battalion, so that comprehensive and coordinated actions could be taken independently by each unit in all emerging circumstances. There was total sharing of all intelligence.”57 In 1992, Assembly elections were held. They were boycotted by the Akalis and the Congress came to power with 21.6% of the vote. Beant Singh was elected chief minister
Under Beant Singh, Gill got a free hand to deal with terrorists. The army combed the countryside for terrorists and their supporters. Terrorists were to be shot or captured. At the same time, the army tried to befriend the peasantry, as local support is essential to win a battle of this magnitude. By the end of 1993, the law and order situation improved in the state.
Beant Singh took the bold step of organizing the Gram Panchayat elections in January 1993 where Congress candidates won most of the seats. He tried to reform the SGPC but was thwarted by the Akali leaders.
Gill continued to focus on removing terrorism. He believed that maintaining internal security was the job of the police, not the army. The strength of Punjab Police increased from 35,000 to 60,000 with Mazjiabi (scheduled caste) Sikhs being recruited in large numbers.
However, the violence persisted. Terrorists killed voters, executives of a company in Sangrur, ministers and government officials, targeted policemen and their families.
“The response came in the form of three strategies. The first of these was based on the immediate identification of the perpetrators of the latest outrage, and the application of the fullest force to secure their arrest or elimination. The second strategy focused on the most important terrorists. The third element of the strategic response came, in the wake of the August killings of policemen and their families, in the shape of Operation Night Dominance.” 58 Gill sowed seeds of discord in terrorist gangs and won over informers to launch Operation Night Dominance. During one such operation two gang leaders G.S. Manochahal and Kauli were killed. This broke of the back of terrorism in the state. Peace returned to Punjab in 1994.
On 31 August 1995 a suicide bomber blew himself up taking Chief Minister Beant Singh and a dozen others with him.
No discussion on Khalistan is complete without a reference to Pakistan’s role. It provided the votaries of Khalistan with supply of arms, funding and safe sanctuary in their country.
According to a former diplomat who has served in Pakistan, “The blueprint for subverting Sikhs was drawn up in the late 1950s by Ayub's Foreign Minister Manzoor Qadir and put into operational mode by President Zia ul Haq.
“In the 1980’s, the diplomat learnt what the Pakistanis were doing to poison Sikh minds. Sikh pilgrims to Nankana Sahib and other holy places were subjected to a propaganda barrage proclaiming that Sikhism and Islam as monotheistic religions and religions of the book, had more in common than Sikhism and Hinduism. Constant reference was made to Guru Nanak having his head pointed to Mecca after he died.
“Finally, the Sikh pilgrims were told that Nehru and Patel tricked Master Tara Singh and did not give Sikhs the rights they had promised and that they would have got from Jinnah, if they cast their lot with him, instead of Nehru and Patel.
“The remnants of the Babar Khalsa still operate out of the Dera Sahib Gurudwara in Lahore and Chaudhuri Shujat Husssain who was Pakistan's PM for some time played host frequently to the likes of Jagjit Singh Chauhan and Ganga Singh Dhillon.
“This continued for years. In 1998, Nawaz Sharif set up b a Pakistan Gurudwara Committee headed by his handpicked former Director General of the ISI, Lt. General Javed Nasir, a fundamentalist associated with the Tablighi Jamat, who was responsible for the 1993 Mumbai Bomb Blasts.”
K.P.S. Gill adds, "The flood of weapons in the state also assumed new and disturbing proportions. Till this point, weapons acquisition had to be financed by the terrorists themselves through extortion and narcotics smuggling. Suddenly, in July, messages were sent out that weapons ‘which had accumulated in Pakistan for which no payment is to be made’ could be acquired by the simple expedient of sending ‘large numbers’ of terrorists across the border."59 According to a 2016 article by Ajai Sahni, Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management, “Intelligence sources indicate that the Khalistani leaders holed up in Pakistan are finding no volunteers for terrorist strikes in Punjab, and that some of these are now collaborating with the ISI to train Pakistani locals in the language and culture of Indian Punjab, and in the Sikh tradition, to facilitate their infiltration into, and operation in, the State. There have also been continuous efforts to engineer some kind of collaboration between Islamist terrorist formations and Khalistani formations in Pakistan for operations in India, but apart from occasional facilitation in the movement of weapons, explosives and cadres, this has not resulted in any significant operational cooperation.
“Pakistan’s efforts continue to be backed by radical elements in the Sikh diaspora, principally located across Europe and North America, with fragments in some countries of South-east Asia as well. The Khalistani presence is significant in USA, Canada, UK, Germany, Norway, and Italy, where various groups continue to engage in propaganda, fundraising and recruitment for the Khalistani cause, and to orchestrate occasional protests and demonstrations.” 60
Conclusion and Dedication I have shown, through this essay, how Hindu-Sikh lives were closely intertwined before 1850, and in order to further their objectives how the British divided Punjab into Hindus and Sikhs. The Tat Khalsa Movement accentuated the divide, the political developments in the state from 1947 to 1980, the events that happened in Punjab between 1981 and 1995 and how terrorism was wiped out from the state.
The most important learning from this is that mixing religion and politics nearly destroyed Punjab. Unfortunately, not much has changed.
Punjab and Punjabis have paid a heavy price for the Khalistan Movement. Once amongst India's fastest growing states free power, drugs, growing of water guzzling crops like rice have created numerous problems.
Yet, one cannot lose hope. 300 years of the Khalsa Panth was celebrated in March 1999. It was decided to make a memorial museum at Anandpur, where Guru Govind Singhji founded Khalsa. The Virat-e-Khalsa Museum was thus created. After having visited it, I can only say that it is a must see to understand the history and beauty of the Sikh Dharma.
Caption 7 - view of the Virat-e-Khalsa Museum, Anandpur
This essay is dedicated to:
Each of the 21,660 Indians who lost their lives in this violent movement.
Devotees in Hari Mandir who were killed during Operation Blue Star.
Indian Army personnel who lost their lives during Operation Blue Star.
Families of those who lost their lives in the 1985 Air India bombing.
To K.P.S. Gill and his team for cleansing Punjab of terror and the Indian Army.
To every government employee who tried to do his duty during that difficult period.
My father’s cousin’s husband who was shot dead by terrorists in 1992. He was employed by Chemtex, a sister company of Dupont. They were hired by Indian Acrylic who were setting up a polyester yard plant in Sangrur, Punjab. On 10 March 1992, some young Sikhs carrying guns first harassed the wife of one of the many consultants. When people in the plant came to her help, they shot about ten people at point blank range. Those without turbans were separated and shot. It did not matter whether you were Punjabi speaking or not.
May peace, prosperity and brotherhood prevail in the Land of Five Rivers.
I end this essay by offering pranams at the Keshgarh Sahib Gurduwara where Guru Govind Singhji founded Khalsa on 30th March, 1699.
Caption 8 - Keshgarh Sahib Gurudwara lit up for Hola Mohalla, 2014.
The author has taken inputs and quotes from the references below and expresses deep gratitude to the authors. He also thanks scholars who helped with insights and friends who reviewed the numerous drafts. First published https://swarajyamag.com/minibooks/how-the-british-sowed-the-seeds-for-khalistani-movement-before-indians-took-over-part-1 References
1. The Poets of Enterprise by Khushwant Singh in 29 March 1999 issue of OUTLOOK http://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/the-poets-of-enterprise/207206
2. Amritsar; Mrs Gandhi's Last Battle by Mark Tully and Satish Jacob
3. The History and Culture of Indian People, p. 317, Volume 7, published by Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan
4. The History and Culture of Indian People, p. 317, Volume 7, published by Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan
5. The Khalsa: Substratum, Substance and Significance by Dr Satish K Kapoor