The pro-Khalistan group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) has claimed responsibility for the rocket-propelled grenade attack on the Punjab Police Intelligence’s headquarters in Mohali, on Monday night. SFJ general counsel Gurpatwant Singh Pannu claimed the same in a suspected voice message addressed to Himachal Pradesh CM Jai Ram Thakur. According to Pannu, the organisation was also responsible for raising Khalistani flags at the Dharamshala assembly complex.
He further urged the chief minister to call a referendum for a Khalistani state on June 6, 2022, on the day of voting in Himachal, if he does not want to face consequences. Pannu said that Himachal must learn from the grenade attack in Mohali since Shimla’s headquarters could have been attacked instead. Punjab Police has not issued an official statement regarding the plausibility of the voice message yet. The message transcript reads, “Lesson for Himachal chief minister – learn from grenade attack at Mohali police headquarters – attack could have been at Shimla headquarters. CM Thakur SFJ advise – we raised flag at Dharamshala HQ, do not provoke the Sikh community. SFJ is going to announce Khalistan referendum 20-20 on June 6 in Himachal on day of voting. Do not provoke Sikh community and start violence because violence begets violence, CM Thakur. Message is from Gurpatwant Singh Pannu SFJ General Counsel.”
In Dharamshala, flags bearing ‘Khalistan’ were found tied to the gates of the assembly complex, and slogans were scrawled on the walls of the assembly building. As a result, both interstate and intrastate borders between Himachal Pradesh and other states have been sealed. DGP Sanjay Kundu has ordered strict vigilance of hotels and other possible hiding places of miscreants. According to the order, senior police officials are also tasked with ensuring that special security units and bomb disposal squads remain on alert, and strengthening the security of dams, railway stations, bus stops, government buildings, and vital installations. Himachal Pradesh has been placed on high alert following the announcement by the banned SFJ that it will hold a “Khalistan referendum” on June 6.
According to the Firstpost, Khalistan refers to the demand for a separate homeland for Sikhs in Punjab. According to a statement issued by the SFJ in August 2018, the separatist movement, dubbed “Referendum 2020”, aims to “liberate Punjab from Indian domination”. The “Referendum 2020” website states, “Once there is a consensus within the Punjabi people that independence from India is desired, we [Sikhs for Justice] will then approach the UN and other international forms and bodies with the goal of re-establishing Punjab as a nation state.”
Punjab was supposed to hold a vote in 2020, along with major cities in Australia, Europe, Kenya, Malaysia, the Middle East, New Zealand, North America, the Philippines, and Singapore. According to the Indian Express, voting took place in the United Kingdom in October 2021, and in Switzerland in December 2021.
Reportedly, over 30,000 Sikhs voted in the first round of voting in London, while over 6,000 Sikhs from France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland converged in Geneva to vote in the non-binding Khalistan referendum. On Sunday, more than 40,000 Sikh men and women gathered in the Italian city of Brescia to vote in the referendum.
The Khalistan Movement
Operation Blue Star, a military operation authorised by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, on Amritsar’s Golden Temple, to clear out terrorists, is at the heart of the Khalistan Movement. The operation that took place between June 1 and June 8, 1984, killed countless lives and damaged the temple. The rage culminated in Gandhi’s killing on October 31, followed by an anti-Sikh massacre that killed roughly 3,000 people. Gurpatwant Singh Pannu, a Panjab University law graduate and attorney at law in the United States, formed the SFJ in 2007, and is the group’s legal counsel.
The organisation’s initial campaign was against leaders linked to the 1984 pogrom, in which it encouraged US courts to prosecute Congress leaders Kamal Nath, Sonia Gandhi, and former PM Manmohan Singh for their “participation” in the carnage or for “supporting” the accused perpetrators. During Manmohan Singh’s September 2013 travel to the US, a Washington federal court issued summons based on the SFJ’s appeal, however, it didn’t amount to anything.
Since its separation from Punjab in 1966, Himachal Pradesh has faced Sikh militancy. Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur was warned by the SFJ in 2021 that he would not be allowed to wave the Indian flag in the state. It was predicated on the fact that Himachal was previously a part of undivided Punjab. In June 2021, “pro-Khalistan” phrases such as “Khalistan border starts here” were scrawled on a road milestone near the famed Naina Devi shrine.
The Himachal Pradesh administration has barred cars flying the banners of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a Khalistani insurgent slain during Operation Blue Star, from entering the state – a decision that has irritated the SFJ. Such an occurrence had been predicted in an intelligence alert released on April 26. According to NDTV, Pannu allegedly sent a letter to the Himachal CM, indicating that flags of Bhindranwale and Khalistan will be raised in Shimla.