[Burning Issue] Resurgence of Khalistan Movement



  • On February 23, hundreds of followers of a Khalistan leader clashed with police outside Ajnala police station near Amritsar, demanding the release of one of their colleagues who had been taken into custody in an alleged kidnapping case.
  • This was the second such attack on the police in Punjab in a fortnight. These incidents are being linked with the revival of the Khalistan movement of 1990s Punjab.
  • In this context, this edition of the burning issue will discuss this revival of Khalistan demand and the issue around it.

What was the Khalistan movement?

  • Dates to pre-independence era: The Khalistan movement, which started in the 1940s during British rule, calls for establishing a separate nation for Sikhs. When India became independent and Punjab was partitioned, its leaders demanded a special status for the state. However, the Central Government did not pay attention to these demands, and Sikhs felt betrayed, leading to the idea of a separate nation growing substantially.
  • Rise of Bhindranwale: Many individuals and organizations contributed to the Sikh revivalist movement; however, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale emerged as a charismatic leader after becoming the head of Damdami Taksal on August 25, 1977.
  • Failure to fulfil regional demand: Punjabi political parties, such as the Sikh Akali Party, failed to fulfil the regional demands concerning river waters and the transfer of Chandigarh as a capital city to Punjab. The devolution of power gave rise to Bhindranwale’s image among the masses.
  • Finally Military Operation: The military mission, OBS, was carried out between June 1 to June 10, 1984, to take control of key gurdwaras, including the Golden Temple in Amritsar, from Bhindranwale’s supporters. Bhindranwale was killed during the operation; however, in recent times, his image remains alive and well.

Why is it being revived?

  • Political instability: Punjab in recent years has witnessed a political crisis leading to a change in governments, ruling political parties and CM’s giving chance for radical outfits to grow.
  • Economic challenges: Punjab state has a high employment rate (According to data from the Centre’s Periodic Labour Force Survey 2019-20, Punjab’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average). Also, the year-long Farmers’ protest in 2021 and railways blockades have led to the creation of negative sentiments among investors about the state’s investment environment leading to decreasing investments in Punjab and rising unemployment.
  • Rising communalism: multiple events of blasphemy have taken place in the state which is flaming the fire of communalism among the people of the state.
  • Provocation from Pakistan: Investigations by security agencies suggest links between Khalistani groups and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) – further increasing the likelihood of feelings of separatism due to drug trafficking and networking through Sikh pilgrimages.
  • Feeling to of persecuted minority: images of the 1984 anti-sikh riots and the topic of the non-persecution of culprits of the riots are being used to suggest that Sikhs are persecuted minority and thus they must have their own land in form of Khalistan.

Role of diaspora and social media in the resurgence

  • Propaganda by parts of the Sikh diaspora: There is a threat of a re-emergence of the idea of Khalistan due to an increase in the propaganda by parts of the Sikh diaspora in Western countries, effectively utilizing social media.
  • Use of Social media as a uniting platform: it is pertinent to understand the re-emergence of Khalistan, wherein traditional propaganda machinery is being used to generate social media acceptance.
  • Misinformation campaigns: Organizations like Sikhs for Justice, Khalistan Liberation Force, and Babbar Khalsa International run misinformation campaigns on social media through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. The most recent campaign, which attracted enormous attention, was the Referendum 2020
  • Identity consciousness among the youth: Further, it signifies a trend of identity consciousness among the youth residing in the West and Punjab. As discussed in the following paragraphs, ISI and the terror outfits operating from Pakistan heavily oversee the internet presence of elements spreading Pro-Khalistani content. Such social media activity is generated through traditional networks that still work on the ground in collaboration with Pakistan’s ISI, seeking to create a groundswell for the idea of a Sikh homeland.
  • Involvement of Pakistan’s ISI: ISI is using a double strategy of tapping into the Jammu & Kashmir terror network to revive the Khalistan movement in Punjab. By using drugs as a means to radicalize the Punjabi youth, ISI means to destabilize Punjab.

Cause of concern

  • Threat to national security and integrity: the resurgence of the Khalistan movement is a threat to national security similar to the Kashmir and NE insurgency.
  • May darken Punjab’s future: a poor law and order situation may deter investors to invest in Punjab thus further deteriorating its economy and leading to spillover effects in social and political sectors.
  • Involvement of diaspora: The idea of forming a separate state for Sikhs has died down in Punjab; however, it has attracted the attention of a large audience in the diaspora who now have settled in other nations for long and thus have lost their affinity with India as their homeland.
  • Misuse of social media: which defies any international boundary, thus misused by separatists in Pakistan and other nations.
  • Bilateral relations may be harmed: the Khalistan issue has already harmed Indo- Canada relations and now straining Indo-UK due to the conduction of Referendum 2020 in these countries despite the Indian Government’s objection.

How to tackle the rise

  • Recognising new challenges: Recognizing the challenge posed by traditional stakeholders and new social media recruits is necessary.
  • Collaborate with foreign governments: The Indian security and intelligence forces need to collaborate with foreign governments to monitor anti-India activities carried out by the Khalistani forces and restrict their funding sources.
  • Enhance security efforts: The Indian government must heighten security efforts to counteract the increase in Khalistani social media activity since the opening up of the Kartarpur Corridor.
  • Promote economic and social development: At the domestic level, the Punjab and Union governments and security forces must collaborate to improve the economic condition of the state to again put the state on the path of development.
  • Engage with the Sikh diaspora: Indian agencies, such as the missions established in those countries, must diplomatically engage with the Sikh diaspora to tackle the misinformation campaign being peddled by Khalistani organizations. Such engagements will facilitate a positive relationship between the Indian state and the Sikh diaspora.
  • Beef up security: Indian security forces need to step up their preparedness to tackle the increase in drones used to deliver weapons and drugs to Punjab.
  • Engage Pakistan: In addition to Western countries, India should not back away from exercising diplomacy with Pakistan and should work to extradite terrorists hiding in Pakistan.

Steps taken

  • As part of recent actions taken against the Khalistan propaganda, the Indian government has banned influential Twitter accounts such as 1984tribute, Khalsa Kashmir, and Khalistan Centre.
  • Maintaining a Central Adverse List: of pro-Khalistani supporters


  • Until Sikhs get closure for the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 by means of court proceedings against the riot accused, the desire for a Sikh homeland will remain strong among the diaspora, who see themselves as a persecuted minority.
  • The violent Khalistani movement has vanished; however, the idea of a separate Sikh nation i.e Khalistan is yet to disappear.

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