On May 3, less than a month after PM Modi touched down in three cities in Canada the first bilateral visit by an Indian PM after 42 years a gathering of more than 1,50,000 Canadian Sikhs unanimously passed the Punjab Referendum Resolution in Toronto. They called for global support to Referendum 2020: demand for a separate country of Khalistan.

In front of the UN in June, marking the 30th anniversary of the Indian military operation in the Golden Temple Complex, expat Sikh separatists reiterated their support for holding of sovereignty referendum among the diaspora in the year 2020 in more than 20 countries. Another organisation Sikhs for Justice is making all kinds of boycott calls on advertisements placed on radio shows, community newspapers, and social media and in gurudwaras.

Sikh activists hold swords in support of Khalistan, the name given for the envisioned independent Sikh state, at the Golden Temple in Amritsar on June 6, 2013. Pic/AFP
Sikh activists hold swords in support of Khalistan, the name given for the envisioned independent Sikh state, at the Golden Temple in Amritsar on June 6, 2013. Pic/AFP

‘Referendum 2020’ is so far only restricted to the Sikh diaspora, though supporters have got very active on the social media. It will not be long before Sikh militant groups leverage the huge fan following that this movement has gathered and call for the spread of the ‘Referendum 2020’ movement to ground zero, that is Indian Punjab.

The Khalistani movement is trying to stage a revival. A dark and bloody period in India’s recent past that should never be allowed to rise again. The Times of India quotes an RTI activist who got precise data from the internal security department of the Union home ministry: from 1980 to 2000, 11,694 citizens lost their lives in terror attacks; 1,784 security force personnel were either killed or injured in that period in the line of duty. The Gurdaspur incident is a spark.

Dal Khalsa leader Manmohan Singh is quoted in a Pakistani newspaper Ummat as having said that the Gurdaspur attack was executed by the Shiv Sena and RSS. He goes on to even identify the attackers: Duresh Thakur, Chaman Kumar and Vijendra, who, he claims his RSS source told him, were trained at an RSS centre as part of a grand plan to “suppress the Khalistani movement in Punjab”. He said this attack is being built up in the media so that there is public acceptance when the Indian Army carries out search and capture operations in the coming weeks in Punjab to nab pro-Khalistan activists.

Sardar Manmohan is on India’s blacklist and vice-president of the Dal Khalsa, a banned outfit that carried out several terror attacks, including the 1981 hijacking of Indian Arilines Boeing 737 against the arrest of Bhindranwale. The leader of the hijacking group then got asylum in Pakistan.

The rest of the Urdu press in Pakistan took its cue from the Ummat and carried similar articles claiming that India is blaming Pakistan-based terror groups for carrying out the Gurdaspur attack to tarnish the country’s image internationally while it was actually a ‘grand saazish’. Fed on ‘topi drama’ all their lives, Pakistanis see military conspiracies in just about any event within or outside their borders.

Dr Shahid Masood, well-known Pakistani columnist and anchor, went on to parrot the same line…. a tad too well choreographed, that CCTV footage of the Gurdaspur incident, beautifully copy-pasted from Indian channels that seemed to show, at least to him, that the perpetrators were non-Muslims. i.e. they were clean-shaven. So he too went on to proclaim in his TV show that the Gurdaspur incident was scripted by the Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to scuttle the soon-to-be-held peace talks between India and Pakistan. Dr Masood said that it was a botched-up operation and “any dhobi, bhangi, chaprassi from Pakistan could conduct a better operation.” Here one has to probably give credit. Conducting fake operations is a Pakistani specialty, ‘maan gaye ustaad’. He goes on to say how Sikhs are ‘bhais’ of Pakistanis (conveniently glosses over the Sikh-Muslim riots during Partition) and that the Khalistani movement is growing by leaps and bounds in India.

Kashmiri separatist groups in Pakistan have also been proclaiming their solidarity with the attempts to rekindle the Khalistani movement.

Within the ISI there are legends that many have grown up with Pakistani support to the Khalistan movement. There has always been a sense of disappointment in many ISI cadres of Pakistan having abandoned support to Sikh separatists.

In the Indian media, there are some reports quoting IB sources that Babbar Khalsa and jehadis of various denominations, like the LeT, might have gotten together to stage the Gurdaspur attack. If they have, then it is an ominous warning for Indian security agencies. It is time to nip this right in the bud; whether the propaganda or the militancy on the ground, it has to be met with and dealt with.

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash