Following voting in Punjab for its next government, the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B), on February 22, decided to ban the apps, websites, and social media handles of foreign-based ‘Punjab Politics TV’. The government believes that the media outlet is linked to pro-Khalistan group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ). The Centre claims to have intel proving that the online platforms linked to the media outlet are disturbing public order during the ongoing assembly elections.
The I&B ministry used its emergency powers under the new IT rules, which say that the secretary can pass orders of blocking any content circulating on digital platforms without waiting for a hearing. In a similar incident, in December 2021, the ministry used the same IT rules to suspend around 20 Youtube channels and two websites allegedly spreading ‘anti-India notion and fake news’.
This week, things were further exacerbated after former Aam Aadmi Party leader and poet Kumar Vishwas accused Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal of having ties with Khalistani groups and said that he is ready to compromise the security of this country to win in Punjab. Kejriwal, however, called these allegations baseless and ‘laughable’.
The ministry issued a statement saying, “The contents of the blocked apps, website and social media accounts had the potential to incite communal disharmony and separatism; and were found to be detrimental to the sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the State, and public order. It was also observed that the launch of new apps and social media accounts was timed to gain traction during the ongoing elections.”
Sikhs For Justice
Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), is a US-based group, which was founded in 2007, with the aim of seeking a separate homeland for Sikhs – a ‘Khalistan’ in Punjab.
The legal advisor and the face of SFJ, Gurpatwant Singh Pannu, once stated: “SFJ in its London Declaration [in August 2018] has announced to hold the first-ever non-binding referendum among the global Sikh community on the question of secession from India and re-establishing Punjab as an independent country.”
Subsequently, the SFJ was banned on July 10, 2019, by the government of India under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), for performing anti-India activities. SFJ leader Pannu was declared as an ‘individual terrorist’ by the state.
Later on, to further their propaganda, the group created an application and uploaded it on the google play store for people to register for Referendum 2020. After receiving severe backlash from users, the app was reported, leading to its removal. There are allegations that Khalistani groups like the SFJ receive funding from Pakistan’s ISI, although the link may not be as strong. Pannu had sought help from Pakistan PM Imran Khan with regards to Referendum 2020.
The Indian government has been very cautious concerning the activities of the SFJ as it remains in news for promoting secession in Punjab. Right after the ban, the I&B Ministry stated that the government of India will remain vigilant and committed to securing the information environment of the country. It added that any potentially endangering element which can undermine the sovereignty and integrity of the country will be taken care of.