Reviving Khalistan: Analysing the Current Movement and its Impact on National Security

August 05, 2023 Amandeep Kumar


This research article aims to critically analyse the demand for Khalistan and its implications on national security. The article examines the historical context, ideological underpinnings, current status, and the perceived threat posed by Khalistan proponents. By exploring various dimensions, including political, social, and security aspects, this study seeks to provide an informed assessment of the situation and its ramifications for national security.

The article aims to analyse, how the Khalistan movement which started in the late 1970s, still pose a great threat to India’s internal security. The movement continues to receive sympathy and support among a section of the Sikh population, especially the Sikh diaspora in countries such as Canada, the UK, and Australia.

This research uses a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods and deductive reasoning. The data collection will depend on both primary and secondary sources such as various Indian and Foreign newspaper reports, articles, books and Home Ministry white paper reports on Operation Blue Star in 1984.


The great scholar Chanakya had mentioned in Arthashastra, that there are four types of threats to National Security. A state could be at risk from four different kinds of threats – internal, external, externally-aided internal and internally-aided external. “The danger to national security emanating from inside, aided and abetted from outside is the most serious threat to integrity and sanctity of a nation. It ought to be addressed at war footing.”

The same goes for the issue of the Khalistan movement which once considered dead after the blood-soaked years of the 1970s and 80’s again started to show its colours with different versions in recent times under the current political dispensation, be it damaging Hindu places of worship in Australia or seeking to takedown the national flag from the Indian embassy in Britain and now taking out a tableau in Canada celebrating the assassination of the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

The Khalistan movement is a fight for a separate, sovereign Sikh state in present-day Punjab with demands of separate special provisions as mentioned in Anandpur Sahib Resolution which was passed in 1973. In recent history, it started with an advertisement in the New York Times On October 12, 1971, by Jagjit Singh Chauhan, a politician who left Punjab for London and declared himself the President of Khalistan in 1971. Announcing the founding of Khalistan, the first proclamation of a distinct Sikh state. "today, we are beginning the last crusade until victory is won... We are a nation unto ourselves," it declared. Things have come a long way since then, witnessing Operation Blue Star which aimed to crush the militancy in Punjab. It ultimately led to the assassination of PM Indira Gandhi. It was followed by the tragic anti-Sikh riots in Delhi.

The movement is aided and abetted by Pakistan, which also shares border with the state of Punjab. After the Bangladesh liberation war of 1971, the then leader of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto furiously declared that “Pakistan would tear off a piece of India to avenge the loss of East Pakistan.”

History of the Khalistan Movement

The Khalistan issue in India refers to the demand for a separate Sikh state, Khalistan, in the state of Punjab. It emerged as a significant socio-political movement with major religious overt tones to it, in the 1980s, seeking to address the supposed grievances of the Sikh community. Different groups have come up with their version of maps of Khalistan. These maps however do not include the original Khalistan territory consisting of the Western Punjab on Pakistan side clearly indicating Pakistan’s involvement. Dr Jagjit Singh Chauhan, the leader of the Khalistan movement, provided important insights in an interview in 1993, in which he discussed his encounter with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in New York. Not out of a sense of brotherly affection for the Sikhs but rather out of Pakistan's desire for vengeance for Pakistan’s partition, Bhutto offered Chauhan, Pakistan as a base for his organisation.

Largely after the partition of 1947, the Punjabi Suba Movement had a long-driven demand for an autonomous Punjabi-speaking state with some administration powers being solely given to them. They got the support of Shiromani Akali Dal (a party who started supporting the movement when they faced tough competition from Congress after the division of Punjab into Haryana and Himachal in 1966). However the Centre Government, declared Chandigarh as a shared capital with Haryana and distribution of the river water through the canal system between the two agrarian economy states. The Indian government since independence, followed a strict policy of not having the formation of any state on religious grounds as it had already witnessed a religious partition and its result in 1947.

Anandpur Sahib Resolution

The Anandpur Sahib Resolution was a statement with a list of demands made by the Punjabi Sikh political party, the Shiromani Akali Dal in 1973 to gain the support of the local Sikh people. After the 1966 partition of Punjab, this further amplified the hostilities as both Punjab and Haryana now had Chandigarh as their Joint Capital, along with distribution of water with the neighbouring states of Haryana and Rajasthan. The canal system was constructed over the rivers Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej, which flowed through Punjab, with Punjab receiving 23% of the water, while the remaining 77% going to the other two States. Discontent against Congress led Centre government increased as a result of the Centre’s decision to not to review the subject despite appeals.

In the state elections for Punjab in 1972, the Akali Dal was defeated. The party introduced the Anandpur Sahib Resolution in 1973 to call for a dramatic devolution of authority and increased autonomy for Punjab to restore public support.

The resolution text addressed both political and religious issues, calling for the transfer of Chandigarh and other regions to Punjab as well as the acknowledgement of Sikhism as a distinct religion from Hinduism. It also proposed a fundamental transfer of authority from the federal to the state governments.

Following its adoption, the document was mostly forgotten before regaining popularity in the decade that followed. The Dharam Yudh Morcha was established in 1982 by the Akali Dal and Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to carry out the resolution. Thousands of people joined the movement because they believed it offered a practical response to requests for more water for irrigation and Chandigarh's return to Punjab.

Political instability in Punjab before 1984

Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale famously rose to infamy and gained large-scale support and traction among the local Sikh population in the name of passing the Anandpur Sahib Resolution. His fierce style of oratory mixed with his anti-governement rhetoric in the guise of demanding greater rights for Sikhs, created a dangerous concoction which attracted a large crowd of youth towards him, especially from the rural belt in Punjab. In 1982, he formally joined hands with Akali Dal to launch Dharam Yudh Morcha for their demands.

It was during the early 1980s that there was a rise in the local killings. Anyone opposing the Anandpur Sahib Resolution demands were considered an enemy. This was the most turbulent time in the history of Punjab with a heavy increase in violence and demand for a separate Sikh
State. Both the Centre as well the State governments were grappling with the rising militancy in the state under Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. He moved to Akal Takht inside the Golden Temple complex to evade arrest from the authorities.

The militancy led to killing of people, women were targetted for not abiding to
the religious dressing, liberal voices from the Sikh community as well as from the outside were crushed, with the assassination of Lala Jagat Narain, the head of the Jalandhar-based Punjab Kesri group of publications, being the most prominent. Avtar Singh Atwal, the DIG of the Punjab Police's Jalandhar range, was also killed outside the Golden Temple Complex, for being what they perceived to be a traitor to the cause.

With the increasing anarchy in the state due to the inability of the state machinery
to deal with the law and order situation, Articles 355 and 356 were imposed, which led to the President's rule. With the President's rule being declared in the state of Punjab on June 6, 1983, various events transpired in a way which culminated in Operation Blue Star intending to put an end to militancy which was since growing its branches in the state.

This is the front page of The Indian Express published on April 26, 1983.


Operation Blue Star

In June 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered the Indian military to conduct Operation Blue Star to drive out armed followers of militant religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale from Sikhism's holiest site, the Harmandir Sahib complex in Amritsar, Punjab. As the reports suggested, Bhindranwale took shelter in Golden Temple premises after every assassination attack on targeted leaders who used to oppose him. He secretly raised his own fauj (military). Large number of Machine guns and Chinese-made RPGs were found inside the temple complex when Indian Army conducted the operation. Bhindranwale and other militants were extensively trained by Major General Shahbeg Singh who had been dismissed by the Indian Army over the corruption charges just a few days before his retirement.

On June 3rd, 1984, a 36-hour curfew was imposed to start Operation Blue Star with all lines of communications and public transport services suspended, electricity lines were cut and complete media censorship was enforced. On 5th June, the Army’s Vijayanta tanks shelled the Golden Temple’s Akal Takht - one of the five seats of power as per Sikh belief. This was as per intelligence, that Bhindranwale was hiding there. Tanks were initially avoided over possible structural damage to the complex due to the religious sensitivity of the location which could anger the Sikh community further.

While several of Bhindranwale's supporters were able to flee, Bhindranwale was neutralised during the operation.

Aftermaths of the Operation

Although the operation was successful, Khalistani militancy persisted. Beyond the casualties, there were effects felt all around the nation and it led to the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984. The assassination was the most severe manifestation of the bitterness among certain Sikhs over the operation Blue Star. Her assassination triggered some of the worst communal violence ever witnessed in India as Sikhs were targeted and killed, and their houses were set on fire in North Indian states especially Delhi. Some experts term in as a politically motivated attacks against the Sikh comunity rather than communal riots.

Many members of the government and the ruling Congress party, including Congressman Sajjan Kumar, were charged with actively participating in the anti-Sikh riots at that time and was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Delhi High Court in 2018 for the murder of five people in Delhi in 1984 riots.

After this, Khalistan militants conducted various terror attacks to avenge the 1984 riots. They had peddled the narrative that Sikhs were being discriminated by the Hindu majority government and that is one of the reasons that no strong action was taken against the 1984 rioters. The following are incidents of militancy and terrorism by Khalistani separatists:

  • On 23rd June 1985, Air India Flight 182 a Boeing 747 operating on the Montreal-London-Delhi-Bombay route was blown up by a bomb off the coast of Ireland killing 329 people aboard.

  • In 1986, when the insurgency was at its peak, the Golden Temple was again occupied by people belonging to the All-India Students Federation and Damdami Taksal demanding the separate state of Khalistan; they were flushed out by conducting Operation Black Thunder on 30 April 1986.

  • Numerous incidents, including the 1987 massacre of 32 Hindu bus passengers near Lalru and the 1991 death of 80 rail passengers in Ludhiana, were the result of the Khalistani insurgent actions.

  • Early in the 1990s, Indian security forces put an end to the insurgency, although Sikh political organisations like the Khalsa Raj Party and SAD (A) the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) persisted in their nonviolent pursuit of an independent Khalistan.

    The present scenario under the Modi government

    Situation did improve when the BJP-led NDA government came to power in 2014. PM Modi had emphasised on the importance of national security, which led to special attention on the challenge of insurgencies in the country including Punjab militancy. The government underscored the importance of border management for India’s internal security. Therefore, all the modern state of art facilities has been provided to the Border Security Force, which is responsible for keeping an eye over the Punjab border where drones have been reportedly used to deliver drugs and weapons consignment by Pakistan.

    There has been not a single incident of Khalistan-related events within the country apart from the presence of few Khalistani flags raised at farmers’ protest to repeal three farm laws in 2021. But a new trend has emerged where frequent protests are organised on in countries with strong presence of Sikh diaspora.

    Recent Killings

    The Indian government has continuously raised its concerns bilaterally with these countries w
    here the growing Khalistani elements possess a threat to Indian diaspora and diplomats. Recently the suspicious killings of some of the prominent Khalistan leaders took place. These includes:

  • Khalistan Commando Force Chief Paramjit Singh Panjwar was shot dead by two men on a bike in Lahore.

  • In January 2023, Harmeet Singh alias Happy PhD was killed on the premises of a gurdwara near Lahore. Harmeet Singh was involved in narco-terror and training of Khalistan recruits.

  • In 2020, Hardeep Singh Nijjar was declared a terrorist by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). Nijjar was the head of the proscribed Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF), one of the organisations committed to the cause of Khalistan. He was shot dead in Surrey, Vancouver on June 19th, 2023.

  • July 2023, Avtar Singh Khanda, a leading exponent of Khalistan and handler of separatist Amritpal Singh, died in a hospital in the UK. Khanda was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. But interestingly, his death was also attributed to poisoning.

    Although Western media has pointed fingers at the role of Indian intelligence, however there has been no concrete evidence to prove the same.

    Conclusion and Way Forward

    The Khalistan issue in India remains a complex and sensitive matter. Understanding its historical context, political implications, socio-cultural dynamics, security concerns and potential resolution is crucial for fostering dialogue, healing divisions and charting a path towards a harmonious and inclusive society.

    Resolving the Khalistan issue requires a comprehensive approach that acknowledges the aspirations and grievances of the Sikh community while preserving the unity and integrity of the country.

    The government should swiftly act against anti-social elements who deliberately try to create rifts between the communities. The government should also direct the media to not sensationalise any sensitive event that could possible lead to disharmony and report the facts in a more responsible way.

    The Indian government also must take a strong stand on the issue of protecting Indian interests in foreign countries. The repeated failure of these countries to curb anti-India elements in their backyard is a cause of concern and must be raised through diplomatic channels.

    Lastly, Disinformation campaign on social media by various rogue elements based in countries like Pakistan creates an atmosphere of mistrust. Therefore, fact checking, blocking fake news and other related digital mechanisms should be in place to ensure India’s internal security in the digital age.


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  • The Wire website,

  • IndiaToday webpages

  • The Quint News articles

  • Online Livemint

  • The Wion News

  • National Herald News

  • The Outlook


  • Jetly, R. (2008). THE KHALISTAN MOVEMENT IN INDIA: The Interplay of Politics and State Power. International Review of Modern Sociology, 34(1), 61–75.

  • Retrived from Britannica website

About the Author:

Amandeep Kumar is currently working as a Research Associate at Indic Researchers Forum


This Article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views of the organisation.

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