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Explained: What was the Khalistan movement, who started and its fall

Khalistan flags were found tied on the main gates and walls of Himachal Pradesh assembly at Tapovan in Kangra district on Sunday.

Explained What was the Khalistan movement, who started and it's fall
India, First Published May 8, 2022, 7:02 PM IST

New Delhi: After successfully evicting the Imran Khan government from power, Pakistan’s spy agency ISI has once again attempted to destabilise India through the Khalistani movement. 

The new ISI chief, Nadeem Anjum, whose appointment to the top post was opposed by then Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, wants to use the global penetration of Sikh separatists to fuel unrest in Punjab and its adjoining states. 

Also read: Khalistani flags put up at Himachal Pradesh assembly's gate, CM says strict action against culprits

In this connection, some sympathisers of the Khalistan movement had installed a number of Khalistani flags on the gate and walls of Himachal Pradesh’s assembly on May 8. The state, which is being ruled by the BJP under Jairam Thakur, is set to go into polls later this year. 

Chief Minister Jairam Thakur has condemned the act and challenged them to come in broad daylight if they have courage. 


Every day, the terrorist organisation and its sympathisers post tweets with a video, calling people to join their ranks for a separate country as “Khalistan”. In their tweets, they also tag journalists, social activists and political figures. 

It must be noted that on May 6 Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannu had asked its cadres to install the Khalistani flag in Shimla after the Anti-Terrorist Front of India burnt their flag outside the deputy commissioner's office in Himachal Pradesh on April 29. 

In the past year, a series of attacks and terror activities were carried out by the secessionist force in Punjab and its adjoining areas. The attacks include a grenade attack on an Army Camp in Pathankot, an attack on the CIA police station in SBS Nagar, a blast in Jalalabad in Fazilka, and a grenade attack on a police post in Roopnagar and a tiffin bomb found from a well in Una.

The movement, which appeared to have been dead long ago, has once again assumed the centre stage. 

Also read: On Khalistan flag incident in Himachal, BJP takes sharp dig at Kejriwal's AAP

Let’s know more about the Khalistan movement:

The call for a separate homeland for the Sikh community began after the fall of the British Empire in the 1940s but it gained ground in the 1970s and 1980s. They wanted a separate country that consists of north India, parts of Western India and the Punjab province of Pakistan. 

Days after the 1971 Indo-Pak war, Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had proposed to help in creating a separate Sikh nation. The movement flourished in India with the Sikh diaspora’s financial and political support. 

Under Akali Dal’s leadership, the Punjabi Suba Movement was started for the creation of a new state for Punjabis post-independence. The States Reorganization Commission had rejected their demand. Later, Indira Gandhi had to relent over a large number of ongoing protests across the state in 1966. 

Two states — Haryana and Punjab and a Union Territory — Chandigarh were created by merging the hilly areas with Himachal Pradesh. 

The Akali Dal under Prakash Singh Badal gave a tough fight to Congress party in the 1967 and 1969 elections. As per analysts, to control the Akali Dal’s rising graph in the state, the Congress party bring Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a religious scholar. 

Bhindranwale’s target was Hindus and the Sikhs who used to cut their hair and consume alcohol. 

Also read: 4 suspected Khalistani terrorists nabbed in Haryana's Karnal; arms cache recovered

Chronology of Khalistani movement in Punjab 

In the 1970s-80s, the movement became violent and the chorus for a separate nation started growing rapidly. However, the movement was put down swiftly by the then Congress government under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984. For that, she had to pay a price with her life, four months later. 

In 1978, Bhindranwale preached against the Nirankaris which led to a clash between Sikhs and Nirankaris. About 15 Nirankaris were killed. 

In 1980, the Khalistanis killed Nirankari leader Baba Gurcharan Singh. Punjab Kesri editor Lala Jagat Narain was killed the next year. He was writing against the Khalistani movement. In all these incidents, Bhindranwale was the prime accused. He was arrested but released due to a lack of evidence against him. 

With the help of the Akali Dal, he launched a civil disobedience movement against the Punjab government in 1982. Deputy IG Police AS Atwal was killed when he was leaving the Golden Temple in Amritsar.  

In 1983, 74 Hindus were killed after they were segregated from a bus in Lalru. In December 1983, Bhindranwale made Golden Temple his residence. 

With his skill and acumen, 1971 Indo-Pak war hero Shubheg Singh fortified the Golden Temple with Bhindranwale’s foot soldiers in April 1984.

Indira Gandhi ordered Operation Bluestar to flush out all terrorists from the Golden Temple. Bhindranwale along with his accomplice was neutralised and the Indian Army took control of the shrine in June 1984. 

Also read: Khalistani outfit SFJ denies backing AAP, says letter of support forged by Bhagwant Mann

Aftermath of Operation Bluestar 

In October 1984, Gandhi’s two Sikh bodyguards killed Indira Gandhi when she was on a morning walk at her residence in Lutyens Delhi.

A number of Sikh politicians, including Amarinder Singh had resigned from the party. Several writers, including Khushwant Singh, returned the awards and recognition that they had received from the government. 

After Gandhi’s killing, over 8,000 Sikhs were massacred in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots across the country.

In 1985, Sikh extremists based in Canada attacked an Air India plane, killing 329 people.

In 1986, two bike-borne terrorists assassinated former Army Chief General AS Vaidya in Pune. He had led Operation Bluestar.

In 1995, Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh was killed in a suicide bomber attack inside the secretariat in Chandigarh. 

Since 2007, Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) which is a US-based Sikh separatist group has formed a secessionist campaign to free Punjab from India. 

It was formed by Gurpatwant Singh Pannu, a law graduate from Panjab University. Currently, he is an attorney at law in the US. He is also the legal adviser of SFJ.

In 2020, the Union home ministry declared him a designated terrorist under the UAPA and ordered the attachment of his properties.

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