Canada investigates Indian government link to killing of Khalistani activist
Sept. 19, 2023

Why in news?

  • Canada is investigating possible links between the Indian government and the assassination of Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) chief Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada.
  • The Canadian government also said that it has expelled a top Indian diplomat as a consequence.

What’s in today’s article?

  • Khalistan movement in Punjab
  • News Summary

What is the Khalistan movement?

  • About
    • The Khalistan movement is a fight for a separate, sovereign Sikh state in present day Punjab (both India and Pakistan).
    • The movement was crushed in India following Operation Blue Star (1984) and Operation Black Thunder (1986 and 1988).
      • Operation Blue Star began on June 1, 1984 to flush out militants from the Golden Temple and neutralise Bhindranwale.
    • The Khalistan movement is banned in India, where officials see it and its affiliated groups as a national security threat.
    • But the movement still has some support in north India, as well as beyond, in countries like Canada and the United Kingdom which are home to a sizable Sikh diaspora.
  • Khalistan and Canada
    • As per the 2021 Canadian census, Sikhs account for 2.1 per cent of Canada’s population, and are the country’s fastest growing religious group.
      • After India, Canada is home to the largest population of Sikhs in the world.
    • In 2002, Toronto-based Punjabi-language weekly Sanjh Savera greeted Indira’s death anniversary with a cover illustration of her murder.
      • The magazine received government advertisements, and is now a prominent daily in Canada.
    • Last year in Brampton - home to Canada’s largest Sikh population - a pro-Khalistan organisation known as Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) held a so-called referendum on Khalistan.

When did the movement start and why?

  • Origin lies in India’s independence and subsequent Partition along religious lines
    • The Punjab province, which was divided between India and Pakistan, saw some of the worst communal violence and generated millions of refugees.
    • Lahore, the capital of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s great Sikh Empire, went to Pakistan, as did holy Sikh sites including Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.
    • While most Sikhs found themselves in India, they were a small minority in the country, making up around 2 per cent of the population.
  • Struggle for greater autonomy & States Reorganisation Commission
    • The political struggle for greater autonomy began around the time of Independence, with the Punjabi Suba Movement for the creation of a Punjabi-speaking state.
    • The States Reorganisation Commission, in its 1955 report, rejected this demand, but in 1966, after years of protest, the state of Punjab was reorganised to reflect the Punjabi Suba demand.
    • The erstwhile Punjab state was trifurcated into the Hindi-speaking, Hindu-majority states of Himachal Pradesh and Haryana, and the Punjabi-speaking, Sikh-majority Punjab.
  • Anandpur Sahib Resolution
    • In 1973, leaders of the Akali Dal met at the sacred town of Anandpur Sahib, the birthplace of the Khalsa.
    • They released a list of demands that would guide the political path of the Akali Dal.
    • Among other things, the Anandpur Sahib Resolution demanded autonomy for the state of Punjab, identified regions that would be part of a separate state, and sought the right to frame its own internal constitution.
    • The Akali Dal was trying to cash in on the growing demand for an autonomous state which had emerged alongside the Punjabi Suba movement.
      • This demand had gone global by 1971 — when an advertisement appeared on The New York Times proclaiming the birth of Khalistan.
  • Rise of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale
    • Many in Punjab sought to go beyond just a demand for greater autonomy. One such man was Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.
    • Bhindranwale was a charismatic preacher who soon positioned himself as the authentic voice of the Sikhs.
    • He found a captive audience in the state’s youth, especially those in the lower rungs of the social ladder, and massed a massive following.
    • By 1982, he took up residence inside the Golden Temple, directing demonstrations and clashes with the police.
    • The movement was geared towards the demands first articulated in the Anandpur Sahib Resolution.
    • However, amidst growing religious polarisation, sectarian violence, and Bhindranwale’s own harsh rhetoric against Hindus, the then government declared the movement tantamount to secession.
  • The aftermath of Operation Blue Star
    • This operation gravely wounded the Sikh community around the world. It also galvanised the demand for Khalistan.
    • Punjab saw the worst violence, becoming the hub of a long drawn-out insurgency that lasted till 1995.

News Summary: Canada investigates Indian government link to killing of Khalistani activist


  • Death of the Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) chief
    • Hardeep Singh Nijjar, wanted by the Indian government, was killed in a targeted shooting in June this year.
      • In 2022, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) declared a Rs 10 lakh reward on Nijjar.
      • This was after he was accused of conspiring to kill a Hindu priest in Punjab's Jalandhar.
    • Nijjar was shot dead outside a gurdwara in Surrey.
  • Issue raised on the sidelines of G20 Summit
    • On the sidelines the G20 Summit in Delhi, Canadian PM and PM Modi had discussed Khalistani extremism.
    • Canadian PM also raised the issue of foreign interference in this murder and asked India for cooperation in the investigation.
    • On the other hand, during the meeting, PM Modi had expressed his deep concerns to Canadian PM about the ongoing anti-India activities being carried out by extremist elements in Canada.
  • Recent anti-India activities in Canada
    • A massive controversy had erupted, in June 2023, over a social media video of a parade float in Canada depicting late PM Indira Gandhi's assassination.
      • A female figure was shown in a blood-stained white saree, with the hands up, as turbaned men pointed guns at her.
      • The parade seemed to celebrate the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
    • The parade was allegedly organised by pro-Khalistani supporters days before the 39th anniversary of ‘Operation Bluestar’ (celebrated on June 6).