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Worrying Khalistanisation of Indian Diaspora must be tackled NOW

While the Indian government has been able to contain the Khalistan movement within the country’s borders, it has been facing a growing challenge from Khalistani groups in the West -- namely the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and more recently, the United States, says Defence Analyst Girish Linganna

Opinion Growing Khalistani population among Indian Diaspora is a threat that needs to be dealt with NOW
First Published Mar 29, 2023, 12:29 AM IST

Since the last decade or so, the pro-Khalistan movement has re-emerged, particularly among a section of the Indian diaspora with a sizeable percentage of the Sikh community clamouring for a separate state in India. While the Indian government has been able to contain the movement within the country's borders, it has been facing a growing challenge from Khalistani groups in the West -- namely the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and more recently, the United States.

Pranesh Prasad, an author based in Australia, has shed light on the Khalistan movement’s links to the narcotics and drugs situation in Punjab and abroad. 

Says Prasad, "The movement directly relates to the narcotics trade, with the Anglo Imperium countries playing a pivotal role. The movement in these countries aims to make Khalistanis the dominant South Asian community. This has already been achieved comprehensively in Canada, and now, it is happening in Australia, where Khalistanis have become the dominant dispensation within the desi community. Most of them are manual labourers or their ilk. There is vertical integration of businesses happening with commissions and extortion taking undertaken by Khalistani goons." 

Prasad’s moot point is that, although India will never concede a 'Khalistan' state within its boundaries, in the Indian diaspora, Khalistanis could become the predominant force and, hence, a security threat to their adopted nations and other desis who have adopted them. 

Their strategy works because Punjab has -- over the years -- missed out on the industrialization bus. The youths are not highly skilled and the Sikh diaspora now comprises manual labourers, while, from other Indian states, it is often professionals and academically more advanced sections that migrate. Punjab must industrialize much more to resolve this issue and stop the manual labourer flow into other countries, feels Prasad.

In a letter written on March 14, 2023, to Mark Coure, Australia's Minister for Multiculturalism, and Stephen Camper, Shadow Minister for Multiculturalism, Amendra K Singh, President of the  Australian Hindu Association Inc. (Voice of Australian Hindus), raised serious concerns about:

a) The concerted campaign to attack, intimidate and vilify Australian Hindus and their institutions, which has intensified over the past several months

b) The abject failure of Victorian, NSW and Queensland police in their investigation of hate crimes against Australian Hindus

c) The rapid rise of the Khalistan movement in Australia -- a movement with strong links to terror and violence

d) The misuse of ceremonial weapons in public places

e) A systemic bias against Hindus on the part of the public service broadcasters -- the ABC and SBS

f) The use of registered charities to fund political campaigns and incite hatred against Hindus and the Indian state

g) The use of religious and visitors' visas by certain religious institutions to bring to Australia individuals who engage in violence, anti-Hindu acts and other anti-social activities

"While I appreciate that consultations take place between politicians and certain Hindu organizations and temples, I wish to point out that Australian Hindus belong to hundreds of different organizations," wrote Amendra, adding, "Whilst Australian Hindus have not voted as a bloc to date, if the criminal justice system continues to fail us, then it is only a matter of time before Hindus will decide to collectively vote for the political party that protects them and better represents their interests."

Singh then goes on to list chronologically -- supported by photographic evidence -- the concerted campaign by certain groups to attack, intimidate and vilify Australian Hindus and their institutions.

Opinion Growing Khalistani population among Indian Diaspora is a threat that needs to be dealt with NOW

Turbulent Past

The Khalistan movement, seeking an independent Sikh state, has left deep scars in India’s history. In the 1980s and 1990s, the movement sparked a violent insurgency, resulting in the deaths of thousands of people. The movement was fuelled by political and religious grievances, as well as tensions between the Sikhs and the Indian government. 

The Khalistan movement in the 1980s emerged as a response to the perceived -- and much-touted by the self-proclaimed upholders of the 'Sikh cause' -- "marginalization of the community" in India.

The movement was led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a militant Sikh preacher, who was killed in Operation Blue Star, an Indian military operation in 1984 to flush out militants from the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Despite Bhindranwale’s death, the Khalistan movement continued to gain momentum, especially among the Indian diaspora. 

The movement was marked by acts of terrorism, including the bombing of Air India Flight 182 in 1985, which killed 329 people, most of whom were Canadian citizens of Indian origin.

Today, the Khalistan movement is mostly dormant in India, except for the likes of the infamous Amritpal Singh Sandhu, who seem to be fanning the flames of separatism and jingoism. They are backed by organized forces -- enemies of the state -- based mostly abroad and are eyeing the radical space in Punjab, intelligence officers say. 

But the movement is fast gaining pace in the Indian diaspora, especially in Canada and Australia, where it has got significant support.

Melbourne Referendum

Coinciding with the 'Khalistan Referendums', this conduct has intensified over the past several months, said Amendra Singh in his letter. "On January 29, 2023, a 'Khalistan Referendum' event was held by Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) at Federation Square, Melbourne. The owners of that venue allowed attendees to bring with them, without restriction, various weapons and others items, including swords, metal flagpoles, sticks and gardening implements. Even children were seen carrying swords." 

Thousands had gathered in the city during the 'referendum'. Almost everyone who walked into the venue -- 65,000 Sikhs -- voted in the referendum.

"During the course of the day, a small group of people -- including members of the AHA -- were carrying out a peaceful protest near the entrance of the venue," added Singh in his letter. "In compliance with directions of police, they then walked along a public area. Suddenly, they were attacked from behind and from several sides. The assailants appear to be members of an armed militia of the SFJ who had stockpiled various weapons and implements at the venue. Only a handful of police was present, and no security personnel could be seen."

"The Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre accepted a booking by SFJ to hold a 'Khalistan Referendum' there on March 19, 2023. Searches show that there is no legal entity registered in Australia under the name 'Sikhs For Justice'. Indeed, I am not aware whether the persons who have made the booking are Australian residents. ‘Sikhs For Justice’ was declared an ‘unlawful association’ in India because of its links with terror. On January 8, 2022, the Indian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Tribunal, after hearing evidence and submissions from all parties, confirmed the Indian government’s decision declaring 'Sikhs For Justice' as an 'unlawful association'," added Singh.

The Khalistanis have been involved in various criminal activities, including drug trafficking, extortion, and money laundering, says Prasad. Those sympathetic to the cause view it as a "legitimate demand for self-determination", ignoring the fact that it is, in fact, a threat to India’s sovereignty and unity. 

The scars of the past continue to shape the present and the future, as the wounds of the Khalistani insurgency have not fully healed. As the debate over Khalistan continues, it is essential to recognize the complex history and emotions underlying the movement and work towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Old Foes, New Tactics

The rise of Khalistan in the Indian diaspora is not just the result of internal Indian politics or grievances. Anti-India forces inside and outside India have played a significant role in promoting the separatist movement. Pakistan's intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has been accused of supporting and funding, Khalistani groups. In addition, some Sikh extremists have received training in terrorist camps in Pakistan. The ISI’s involvement in the Khalistan movement is part of its broader strategy of opening dual fronts -- Jammu & Kashmir and Punjab -- to destabilize India.

Following Bangladeshi politician Tarique Rahman's self-imposed exile to evade arrest and a life term in jail after he was implicated on August 21, 2004, the Dhaka grenade attack that took place at an anti-terrorism rally organised by the Awami League. The attack left 24 dead and over 500 injured, including Awami League president Sheikh Hasina who sustained injuries. At least 40 of Tarique's henchmen, linked to the ISI, migrated to Australia. They collaborate with Khalistanis in various ventures like setting up restaurants and construction businesses there. Any Punjabi that moves into Australia has no option but to toe the line.

Opinion Growing Khalistani population among Indian Diaspora is a threat that needs to be dealt with NOW

Anglo Imperium Greed 

The rise of Khalistanis among the Indian diaspora is not just an internal Indian issue. The Khalistan movement has gained support from Anglo Imperium countries, such as Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which have a significant Sikh population. As in Canada, the number of Khalistanis in Australia has grown to 210,000, becoming the dominant dispensation within the desi community. 

Prasad believes the Khalistani movement is being allowed to fester by Anglo Imperium countries, who are supporting it as a negotiating leverage vis-à-vis India for trade and other concessions. 

IFS Needs Update

The Indian Foreign Service (IFS), for many years, played a critical role in representing India’s interests abroad. However, in recent times, the rise of the Khalistan movement among the Indian diaspora has presented a significant challenge for Indian diplomats -- both in terms of managing relations with foreign governments and engaging with Indian communities abroad. As such, there is a growing need for reforms within the IFS to address these challenges and ensure that India is better equipped to navigate the complexities of global politics in the 21st century.

For India to become a global power with the IFS that we have is asking for a lot. The IFS is one of the most understaffed diplomatic forces that any major country has. A decade ago, in 2014, there were only around 2,700 'diplomatic rank' officers in overseas missions and at headquarters. China, in comparison, has 10,000 officers in its Foreign Service.

With the Khalistan movement gaining significant traction abroad, particularly in Canada, the US and UK, the IFS has had to grapple with a range of issues related to it -- from managing protests and public demonstrations to engaging with foreign governments on issues related to Sikh separatism and security of other communities in the diaspora.

One of the key challenges for Indian diplomats is balancing India's national security interests with its commitment to upholding the rights of Indian citizens abroad. This requires a nuanced understanding of the complex political, social and economic dynamics at play in countries where Indian communities are located.

Several vital reforms could be implemented within the IFS to achieve these goals. First, there is a need to enhance training and capacity-building programmes for diplomats, particularly in cross-cultural communication, community engagement and conflict resolution. This could include targeted training programmes focused on the Sikh community and its history, culture and values, as well as training in how to respond effectively to protests and demonstrations.

Second, there is a need to improve communication and coordination between the Indian government, especially the intelligence agencies, and its diplomats abroad. This could involve the establishment of a centralized platform for sharing information, best practices and insights into the Sikh diaspora and its political activities. It could also involve the creation of a dedicated task force or working group within the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to focus specifically on Sikh separatism and related issues.

Third, there is a need to engage more actively with Sikh communities abroad to build trust and relationships and address their grievances and concerns. This could involve establishing formal dialogue mechanisms between the Indian government and Sikh community leaders and greater investment in community outreach and education initiatives. 

Finally, reforming the IFS in the context of the Khalistan movement will require a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach. It will require a willingness to listen to diverse perspectives, engage in constructive dialogue, even in the face of disagreement or criticism, and launch a strong propaganda offensive to counter the misinformation overload fed to the community by radicalized Sikhs. 

The Indian government has taken a hard-line stance against Khalistani groups, cracking down on activists and banning several organizations. However, some argue that the use of force, instead of persuasion, has only served to fuel the separatist movement and a more conciliatory approach is needed to address the underlying grievances of Sikhs in India.

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