By Sanjeev Sharma
New Delhi, Mar 26 (IANS): The Khalistan movement continues to evoke a level of sympathy from some Sikhs, particularly in Canada, the UK, and Australia.
The Khalistan movement is outlawed in India and considered a grave national security threat by the government -- a number of groups associated with the movement are listed as "terrorist organisations" under India's Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Indian consulates in the United Kingdom and the United States have been vandalized by Amritpal Singh's supporters who tore down the Indian flag, replacing it with the Khalistan emblem. Protests also broke out in Canada as the police search for him continues, CNN reported.
Canada, the US, Australia, and the UK are home to sizeable Sikh communities, many of whom left Punjab following Independence in search of better economic opportunities.
A small but influential number of those Sikhs support the idea of Khalistan, with referendums periodically held to reach a consensus to establish a separate homeland within India, CNN reported.
Vested interests, including from Pakistan and West-based elements, particularly from US, UK and Canada have constantly been trying to keep the Khalistan movement simmering by providing funding/logistic support to such elements, as per an article in Indian Defence Review.
With Jagjit Singh Chohan, the former Finance Minister of Punjab in the 1960s, emerging as the founder of the Khalistan movement, the demand for a separate Khalistan reached its peak during the 1980s after originating in the 1970s. Jagjit Singh initiated (Nankana Sahib, 1971) the setting up of a Sikh government in Pakistan and subsequently visited the United States, and collected millions of dollars there for forming Khalistan. He supported Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, another radical in India fighting for an independent Khalistan. Bhindranwale's violent campaign, supported by the Pak ISI, posed national security threats to India in the 1980s, the article said.
Post-2015 there has been a rise in attempts to revive militancy in Punjab, with most of the perpetrators based in Pakistan/western countries. It also noted that the diaspora in the US, Canada, UK and other European countries were also channeling funds and radicalising the youth in Punjab, it added.
Prominent Khalistan terrorists active from various foreign countries include Germany-based Gurmeet Singh Bagga and Bhupinder Singh Bhinda of the Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF); Lahore-based KZF chief Ranjeet Singh Neeta, BKI chief Wadhawa Singh Babbar and KCF chief Paramjit Singh Panjwar, all based in Lahore; Vancouver-based Hardeep Singh Nijjar and New York-based founder of ‘Sikhs for Justice' (SFJ)'s Gurpatwant Singh Pannu.
"The year 2023 is proving to be challenging for the Indian political leadership. However, it is about parroting the same old tale. The old money and deep state have begun to systematically strike the stability of an emerging India. A classic pet project of the anti-Indian establishment, the issue of Khalistan has resurfaced", The Organiser reported.
United Nations (UN)-affiliated organisations, like a NGO named United Sikhs, are also deeply entwined in this propaganda against India. United Sikhs also has offices in Pakistan and Canada and has the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) as its partner. They have stated that the Indian state is oppressing and violating the human rights of the Sikhs and questioned the grounds for the arrest of Amritpal Singh.
Canadian politicians like New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh who is well-known for his pro-Khalistani views, recently drew ire as he sought the intervention of Canadian PM Justin Trudeau on the issue, The Organiser reported.
Another Canadian politician, Tim S Uppal, wrote, "Very concerned about reports coming out of Punjab, India. The government has suspended internet services and restricted gatherings of more than 4 people in some areas. We are closely following the situation".
The Canada-based ‘World Sikh Organisation' claimed, "The World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) condemns the security operations in Punjab to arrest Sikh leader Bhai Amritpal Singh", The Organiser reported.
Canada-based poet, Rupi Kaur, claimed, "Mass arrests of Sikh activists are taking place in Punjab. at least 78 people taken. Internet and SMS have been shut down in areas along with crackdowns on gatherings. Sikh media outlets and pages have been blocked."
Similarly, UK-based politicians like British Sikh Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi expressed his views on the ongoing situation and was slammed for his instigating remarks.
Khalsa Aid (Canada) director, Jindi Singh KA, alleged, "The burden of fighting for Sikh Rights yet again falls at the feet of Sikh Youth Activists, who are now being rounded up by Punjab Police, with the internet cut & gathering of 4+ banned." "Is this the behaviour of a mature democracy? We remember the State Violence of the 80s & 90s," he added, The Organiser reported.
The Hudson Institute said in a report last year that although the Khalistan movement has no resonance within India, groups in the diaspora, especially in North America and Europe, continue attempting to resuscitate the movement.
Four of the nine Khalistani activists designated as terrorists by the Indian government in 2020 are based in Pakistan, and SFJ's websites have been linked to Pakistani addresses. Also, SFJ spokespeople in the West have taken part in events organised by the Pakistani embassy in the United States in collaboration with groups such as Friends of Kashmir - a Houston-based organisation with close links to the Pakistani regime and proscribed jihadist organisations, the report said.
The Hudson Institute report Pakistan's Destabilization Playbook: Khalistan Separatism within the US, emphasizes the need for law enforcement in Western countries to be vigilant with respect to Pakistan-backed extremist groups. The activities of Khalistani groups located in North America should be investigated, within the limits prescribed by law, to prevent a reoccurrence of the violence orchestrated by the Khalistan movement in the 1980s.
During that period, along with numerous attacks on civilians, the Khalistan movement was linked to the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182 from Montreal to London, which left 329 dead, and the failed bombing of an Air India jet in Tokyo on the same day.
In the 1990s, federal agents accused a leading Khalistani activist, Bhajan Singh Bhinder, of seeking to procure explosives, rifles, rocket launchers, and Stinger missiles. In 2006, a New York federal court convicted Pakistani-Canadian Khalid Awan of providing support to the Khalistan Commando Force, "a terrorist organisation responsible for thousands of deaths in India since its founding in 1986", the report said.
The statue of Mahatma Gandhi was vandalised in California by a group of miscreants in January 2021 in a nefarious act against the embodiment of peace. The statue given by the Indian government to the City of Davis in 2016 was installed in a park that fell prey to the anti-India and anti-Gandhi organisations. sA similar incident was also reported in Washington DC in December 2020, when a group of miscreants defaced Mahatma Gandhi's statue, which made headlines in both Indian and the US media.
The media reported that the key organisation behind these acts in the US was the Organisation for the Minorities of India (OFMI). The organisation was founded by Pieter Friedrich, a self-proclaimed expert on South Asia, and Bhajan Singh Bhinder aka Iqbal Choudhary, a pro-Khalistani operative residing in the US, as per a recent report by The Disinfolab.
Bhajan Singh Bhinder was a member of the Sikh Youth of America (founded in 1989), which was the pro-Khalistani group spearheading the Khalistani activities in the US and Canada. The group was under the radar of the Canadian and the US government on various occasions for their links with the International Sikh Youth Federation based in Canada, in the drug trafficking case. Bhinder was named in the infamous Lal Singh vs State of Gujarat case, where he was named as the financier of the planned terrorist attacks in India.
Lal Singh along with four others, Mohammad Sharief (ISI agent), Tahir Jamal, Mohammad Saquib Nachan, and Shoaib Mukhtiyar, all worked with the ISI for a conspiracy called K-2 (Kashmir-Khalistan) in 1991-92, which was hatched in Lahore under the patronage of Amir ul Azeem, the then Secretary of Jamaat-e-Islami, and was actively supported by several Pakistani establishment players including Choudhary Altaf Hussain, eventually the Governor of Punjab (Pakistan) and uncle of the former S&T Minister of Pakistan, Fawad Choudhary, the report said.
The OFMI adopted alternative methods to dent India's image of non-violence, Yoga, and chai. The alternate narrative was designed to hit India's image as a democracy and deem it as a ‘Fascist state', with degrading democratic values. A group of pseudo-experts was thus created to bolster the alter-narrative, The Disinfolab said.
Pieter Friedrich, who was being promoted in the mainstream as an ‘expert' wrote books on ‘Fascism in India', against Mahatma Gandhi, and even whitewashed Pakistan's role in the Kabul Gurdwara blast; all of Pieter's literary masterpieces were published under Bhajan Singh Bhinder's publishing house Sovereign Star Publishing.
The World Sikh Organisation, Canada that came into being in the 1980s on the plank of ‘Khalistan' over the years set its footprint as a human rights champion while following the agenda of yesteryears.
It started roping in educated and talented youth into its fold that today has penetrated into the entire system of the governance of Canada, sources said.
Despite some decrease in the Trudeau Cabinet, the organisation has increased its grip over various arms of the government. The organisation's primary agenda is raking up issues against India.