On 19 September, over 100,000 Canadian Sikhs gathered in Brampton, Ontario to vote for the Khalistan Referendum, which was organised by Khalistani group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ). As known to all, Khalistan referendum is a demand of carving out a separate country for Sikhs that contains areas of pre-1966 Punjab, that includes Haryana, Himachal Pradesh along with Sikh majority areas of Rajastahn, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, with Shimla as the capital. The future plan is to establish before the UN that Punjabi people demand independence from India. The SFJ aims to approach the UN and other international bodies with the goal of re-establishing Punjab as a nation state.
But when did the demand of a separate state for Sikhs come into existence and who were the ones who fuelled the secessionist movement? The next big question is, Is India prepared to tackle the menace and what will be India’s foreign policy with respect to the nations who provide a safe haven to such separatists?
The emergence of Khalistan
The roots of Khalistan lie in the British colonial policies of Divide and Rule. It was in the late 1800s and 1900s, when Sikhs were recruited into the British Army in large numbers to use against Hindu rulers who were rebelling against the colonialists. During the independence, the demand for Khalistan came into existence that would contain Eastern Pakistan and Western India, the area that was ruled by the Sikh empire under Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The demand was not feasible owing to the lack of Sikh population as compared to other religions in Punjab.
Khalistan in independent India
29 days after the establishment of the 175-member Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee, the Sikh leadership got together and formed the Shiromani Akali Dal on 14 December 1920. Formed under the leadership of Sardar Surmukh Singh Jhabaal, the association’s primary mission was to promote and protect the rights of the Sikh community. The party prominently consisted of religious leaders like jathedars and morchas were formed to promote and protect panth. Akali Dal had holy men contesting the elections. This is what helped the Akalis climb the ladder of political success. The Akalis established a firm hold over the religious sect and the peasantry. They were hard to defeat and then Bhindrawale was born.
Although the entire story of Khalistan revolves around Bhindrawale , the real player was Jagjit Singh Chouhan. Chauhan was active in politics in the late 1960s. After losing the elections in 1969, he moved to the United Kingdom and began his campaign for creation of Khalistan. He even placed an advertisement in the New York Times proclaiming an independent state. He even went to Nankana Sahib in Pakistan in an attempt to set up a Sikh government. He established the Khalistan National council and maintained constant touch with Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale, who enjoyed a lot of respect within the community since he headed the Damdami Taksal, a century-old seminary, founded by Baba Deep Singh.
The entry of Congress and Indira Gandhi
The Congress was then the sole party with not so strong opposition in the entire nation. But, Congress’ rise to power was not an easy task in the state of Punjab, courtesy the clout of Akali Dal. To cut Akalis to size, Sanjay Gandhi suggested a sant be put forth to challenge the Akali Dal government. The “sant” picked by Indira’s son was Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale. Bhindrawale was expected to split the Sikh votes and weaken the base of Akali Dal. Congress supported the candidates backed by Bhindrawale in the 1978 SGPC elections. In the 1980 elections, Bhindrawale supported Congress candidates Gurdial Singh Dhillon and Raghunandan Lal Bhatia.
Then began the bloodiest chapter of Punjab- the series of killings by the followers of Bhindrawale. It began with the assassination of Lala Jagat Narain, the owner of Hind Samachar Group of newspapers. Then DIG Avtar Singh Atwal was murdered in broad day light. The secessionist movement was on the rise when Indira Gandhi launched Operation Blue Star and the Indian Army forced their way into the Harminder Sahib – which was by then converted into Bhindrawale’s fortresses. How the Army flushed Bhindrawale and his followers pushed Sikhs cradling secessionist sentiments to run to save their heads.
Khalistan movement outside India
By then, some waves of migration had already taken place. Sikhs from India who earlier migrated for jobs to the UK, America and Canada, now started migrating for their movement. These nations have a sizable Sikh population in the current times. The Caucasian people required labour and Canada became a heaven for migrants.
Canada wears multiculturalism on its hat as foreign-born people make up for one-fifth of Canada’s population. The country takes pride in welcoming immigrants and also rolls out the carpet for extremists in order to appease. Canada welcomed Sikhs too, who crossed the Atlantic in search of a paradise and settled around British Colombia, Toronto and Ontario. Over time, the Sikh diaspora in Canada transformed from a minority to ‘the biggest’ minority community.
This is how the Canada became the safe haven for extremists and terrorists. Then comes Trudeau who turned Canada into the headquarters for Khalistani separatists to appease the powerful Sikh community. Pakistan’s ISI has been fuelling the Khalistan secessionist movement as a revenge for the liberation of Bangladesh. Veteran journalist Terry Milewski published a report titled, ‘Khalistan: A Project of Pakistan.’ In it he explained how the Pakistani ISI is providing funds and manpower to revive the Khalistani movement in Punjab. The report also elaborates on how Canadian authorities provide a safe haven to the people connected with ISI.
Trudeau’s overt support to the Khalistan movement in Canada
The recent vandalism of BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir in Canada’s Toronto and Referendum 2020 has again brought in the debate of resurrection of Khalistani movement under Justin Trudeau. The catalyst behind the secessionist movement in Canada is Trudeau’s ally Jagmeet Singh. Singh enjoys a solid political base in the political spectrum of Canada and is the first person from a minority background to lead a major political party in Canada, left leaning New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP is the pillar upon which Trudeau’s government rests. And this is the reason why Trudeau has been silent on the anti-Hindu and anti-India havoc created by the Khalistanis. There have been many incidents that stand in deposition for the same, like on the 15th of January 2022, these miscreants wreaked havoc in Shri Hanuman temple in Brampton, Greater Toronto Area (GTA ) city. 10 days later, they vandalised Maa Chintpurni Mandir in the same city, and the attack on mandirs became a norm by then.
India’s plan to deal with the Khalistani menace supported by Trudeau
Recently, India’s external affairs minister Dr. S Jaishankar was in Ahmedabad to launch the Gujarati version of his book The India Way: Strategies for an uncertain world. During the launch he was asked about India’s plan to deal with extremism that has been flourishing outside the country. The example of Canada was cited, and Jaishankar was asked that since Canada has allowed the Khalistani extremists to flourish and run their anti-India movement, what would be India’s foreign policy to deal with such crises? Referring to his one tweet, in which Jaishankar wrote ‘EKTA’, Jaishankar said that the country must have the courage to call out such nations allowing secessionist activities flourishing on their soil. He asserted that India would not tolerate if someone does something that affects the unity and integrity of the country. India has also registered protest in regard to the anti-India activities taking place on the foreign soil.
As mentioned earlier, Trudeau’s palace rests on ally Jagmeet Singh’s mercy. Trudeau cannot afford to lose Singh and Singh thrives on the votes of extremist Sikhs who harbour Khalistani sentiments. Justin Trudeau is busy practising appeasement politics and Canada’s vote bank politics has become a threat to global peace, especially in Asia. Now, Canada is left with two options-either mend its ways or be isolated.
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