The assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, on 31 October 1984, led to a massacre of Sikhs — still remembered as one of the darkest chapters of history by Sikhs. Tracing the background of the anti-Sikh riots, in June the same year, Indian military invaded the Golden Temple and thousands of Sikhs were killed in what is called Operation Blue Star. Was the move meant to gain popularity in Hindu political circles to win votes or was it to crush the Sikh nationalism? Seeing the dynamics of conflict, violence has grown bigger with every coercive action.
Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguards prompted anti-Sikh sentiment. The outcome was a massacre of Sikhs, and attack on their religious sites. The worst approach was that the entire Sikh community was held responsible for the acts of Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh. Was it just to take revenge from thousands of Sikhs who were peaceful citizens of India and had no hand in the killing of PM Indira? This extremist approach has only ignited the divide. In the prevalent context, the Sikhs world over are gathering support for ‘Khalistan’ which is suggestive of the fact that the pain of Operation Blue Star is still alive, and the hate that started with the two bodyguards is now spread all across. In the words of Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) Counsel General, “Khalistan is the only solution as successive Indian regimes from Indira Gandhi to Narendra Modi have committed the genocide of Sikhs with impunity.”
The recent ‘Khalistan Referendum’ was held at Melbourne Federation Square. The Referendum witnessed a large gathering of Sikhs. Slogans of Ban Kay Rehay Ga Khalistan (Khalistan will be formed at any cost), Khalistan Zindabad (Long Live Khalistan) and Hindutva Namanzoor (Hindutva Unacceptable) were voiced. The Indian government has objected to the Khalistan referendum in Melbourne and has equated it with extremism. Spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs Arindam Bagchi reacted by saying, “We strongly condemn such attacks by extremist elements. We urge the local authorities to investigate and punish the perpetrators. We have been repeatedly taking up with the Australian authorities our concerns about actions by such elements, including the proscribed terrorist organizations.”
Khalistan referendum has also been conducted in the UK, Switzerland, Italy and Canada. Referendum is the right to express support or opposition to a political issue. Khalistan referendum is a peaceful expression by the Sikh community which does not want to be subservient to Hindus in India. Sikhs’ call for ‘Khalistan’ in Indian Punjab is to live and prosper in a politically and socially secure country, and that is an absolute democratic vision. Why then is it so that Sikhs’ call for freedom is being opposed?
Lastly, weakness is a curse; it invites aggression. The quest behind Khalistan referendum is a reaction to Hindu extremism. Sikhs being a minority could not respond to Indian military’s atrocities at that time but now they have unity and have the political will to defend themselves. Dr Jagjit Singh Chauhan’s vision that “no power on earth can suppress the Sikhs. They are a people with a destiny. There will always be a Sikh nation” is still alive today. Dr Chauhan was the leader of Khalistan Council in the UK and the former Finance Minister of Punjab. He was banned from traveling to India because of being pro-Khalistan. Another point that merits consideration in the quest for Khalistan is the Hindutva political construct. It seems that the minorities have accepted the mantra of Hindu India. The minorities should live independently, and Khalistan referendum is a step in that direction i.e. a peaceful liberation of Punjab from India.
Note: This article appeared in Tribune, dated 09 March 2023.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.