Who is a Khalistani Terrorist & Why is the Movement in the News?

The escaped Khalistani terrorist Harminder Singh Mintoo was involved in an attack on MSG in 2008.

3 min read
Sikhs hold sabres during a demonstration. The protesters demanded the establishment of a separate state of Khalistan. (Photo: Reuters)

With the escape of Harminder Singh Mintoo from the Nabha Jail in Punjab on Sunday, everybody’s been asking one question – what is a Khalistani terrorist?

In the times of Islamist terror, ISIS, Al Qaeda, Pathankot and Uri, the Khalistan movement has taken a backseat or, perhaps, even been forgotten. So, what’s the big deal about Mintoo’s escape (and subsequent recapture)?

Who is Harminder Singh Mintoo?

Mintoo is the leader of the Khalistan Liberation Force. The group’s goal is to establish an autonomous sovereign Sikh state of Khalistan. He was arrested in 2014 from Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi on terror-related charges. According to reports, he was based in Thailand for many years and also travelled to Pakistan to receive money and training. Mintoo was involved in an attack on three Shiv Sena Leaders. He was also involved in a 2008 attack on Saint Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insaan, the leader of Dera Sacha Sauda.

Yup, he tried to kill MSG.

Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) chief Harminder Singh Mintoo. (Photo Courtesy: Twitter/<a href="https://twitter.com/YudhvirJaswal/status/802750149244157952">@YudhvirJaswal</a>)
Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) chief Harminder Singh Mintoo. (Photo Courtesy: Twitter/@YudhvirJaswal)

What is the Khalistan Liberation Force?

The group was founded in 1986 by Aroor Singh and Sukhwinder Singh Babbar. Almost a decade later, in 1995, it was listed as a major Khalistan militant group.

In 1990, the Force killed a Punjab Government Minister, Balwant Singh. In 1991, it kidnapped a Romanian diplomat to barter the release of two top militants. It also launched attacks in 2009 that killed a Dera Sacha Sauda manager in Ludhiana and the 1984 Anti-Sikh riots main accused Dr Budh Parkash Kashyap.

What is the Khalistan Movement?

The movement wants to create a separate country called Khalistan for followers of the Sikh religion. It began before India’s Independence and was a reaction to the Muslim demand for a separate state at the time.

In 1940, Sikh leader Dr Vir Singh Bhatti coined the name Khalistan. The movement was founded by Dr Jagjit Singh Chauhan. He was a medical practitioner and a politician who also served as Punjab’s Finance Minister during Lachhman Singh Gill’s nearly one year Chief Ministership.

So it Settled Down After Partition, Right?

After Partition, a majority of Sikhs migrated from the Pakistani side to the Indian side of Punjab. Initially, the Indian government did not feel comfortable with the idea of a Sikh majority state, having just undergone a Partition on the lines of religion, but it eventually gave in and created a Sikh-majority Punjab – also creating the new state of Haryana.

And THEN Things Settled Down?

Nope. The Akali Dal wanted an autonomous Punjab and Dr Jagjit Singh Chauhan travelled to the United Kingdom and the USA to gain support among the Sikh diaspora, which he received.

But by the 1980s, the support for a Khalistan had grown within India as well and some Khalistan supporters turned to militancy to achieve their means. Around this time, the following of another leader – Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale – had also grown. His saying of ‘Sikh ik vakhri qaum hai’ was very popular, even though he is not known to have called for a separate state of Khalistan.

Sikh protestors show a poster of slain Khalistan militant leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. (Photo: ANI video grab)
Sikh protestors show a poster of slain Khalistan militant leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. (Photo: ANI video grab)

Wait, Bhindranwale of ‘Operation Blue Star’ Fame?

Yup, the very same. The infamous Operation Blue Star took place in 1984 when then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sent the army into the Golden Temple in Amritsar to overpower Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers who had holed themselves up in the holy site.

The operation was led by the Sikh General Kuldip Singh Brar and many Sikhs believed that it desecrated the shrine. In the same year, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her own Sikh bodyguards. So Prime Minister Gandhi can be said to have been a victim of blowback from the Khalistan movement.

But What Terror Activities Were the Khalistanis Involved in?

Much like the Islamist groups today, the Khalistani militant organisations were involved in bombings, indiscriminate firing at civilians and some targeted attacks. From the beginning of 1984 till the time that Operation Blue Star actually took place, around 298 people were killed in Khalistan-related violence.

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