At a time when almost the entire soil of the country is inundated with the fear of terror attacks, at a time when no corner or state of India can boast of a terrorism-free environment, at a time when several terror outfits are breeding comfortably in India, it is tough to comprehend how long the country has been facing the menace of insurgency. But if various reports are to be believed, India never rested in peace as, since its independence in 1947, the country not only woke up from a deep slumber entering into the realm of freedom but also opened its eyes to the grave problem of terrorism and insurgency in different parts of the country.

One of the ugliest and scariest scenes witnessed by India related to insurgency occurred in Punjab. Terrorism in Punjab raised its ugly head in 1981 as a partial culmination of communal politics since 1947 and the policy of appeasement towards communalism followed by the Punjab Congress leadership, especially since the early seventies.

During the 1970s, a section of Sikh leaders cited various political, social, and cultural issues to allege that the Sikhs were being cornered and ignored in Indian society, and Sikhism was being absorbed into the Hindu fold. This gradually led to an armed movement in the Punjab, led by some key figures demanding a separate state for Sikhs.

But it was not until 1980 that the insurgency gained prominence and the movement turned violent. The name ‘Khalistan’ resurfaced and sought independence from the Indian Union. Led by Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who, though not in favour in the creation of ‘Khalistan’, was also not against it, began using militancy to stress the movement's demands. Soon things turned extreme with India alleging that neighbouring Pakistan supported these militants, who, by 1983-84, had begun to enjoy widespread support among Sikhs.

Political games unknowingly fanned the movement by tacitly supporting Bhindranwale. The latter was backed by Punjab Congress led by Giani Zail Singh and the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who hoped to use him to undercut the Akali Dal. But the strategy backfired when he turned against his erstwhile patrons.

The terrorist campaign by Bhindranwale and the All India Sikh Students Federation, headed by Amrik Singh, began on April 24, 1980 with the assassination of the head of the Nirankari sect. The killing of many Nirankaris, dissident Akalis and Congress workers followed this. In September 1981, Lala Jagat Narain, editor of a popular newspaper and a critic of Bhindranwale, was killed.

Despite the bloodflow, Gaini Zail Singh, who had in 1980 become the Home Minister at the Centre, shielded Bhindranwale from government action. To protect himself, Bhindranwale moved in to the sanctuary of Guru Nanak Niwas on July 1982, a building within the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar from where he directed the campaign of terrorism in Punjab.

Till September 1983, terrorist killings were confined to Nirankaris, petty government officials and Sikhs who disagreed with Bhindranwale. But a new dimension to terrorist activity was added when from September 1983 he started targetting Hindus on an increasing scale, and indiscriminate killing of Hindus began.

All their activities were designed to prove that the Indian state was not capable of ruling in Punjab and, therefore, separation from India was a realisable objective. To achieve this objective, they made no distinction between Sikhs and Hindus. According to reports, nearly 55 percent of those killed from 1981 to June 3 1984 were Sikhs. But again, it has been cited in media that a secret third agency was also working to make Punjab situation unstable at the behest of the Central government.

Their disruptions became so bad that in 1984 Indira Gandhi had to order the Indian Army to flush out Bhindranwale and his followers. It was named Operation Bluestar.
Indira Gandhi ordered the army to storm the temple complex in Punjab. A variety of army units along with paramilitary forces surrounded the temple complex on June 3 1984. The army had grossly underestimated the firepower possessed by the militants. Thus, tanks and heavy artillery were used to forcefully suppress the anti-tank and machine-gun fire. After a 24 hour firefight, the army finally wrested control of the temple complex.

According to Indian Government sources, 83 army personnel were killed and 249 injured while insurgent casualties were 493 killed and 86 injured. Unofficial figures go well into the thousands. Along with insurgents, many innocent worshipers were caught in the crossfire. The estimates of innocent people killed in the operation range from a few hundred of people.

The Operation Bluestar inflamed the Sikh community. Many saw it as an attack on their religion and beliefs.
On October 31 1984, PM of India, Indira Gandhi was gunned down by her two Sikh bodyguards. In the wake of Indira Gandhi's assassination, rioting mobs allegedly led by Congress leaders, who are still facing the court cases, rampaged through the streets of Delhi and other parts of India over the next few days, killing several thousand Sikhs.
The anti-Sikh riots across Northern India had repercussions in Punjab. Hindus were killed by organised gangs of Sikh militants. Trains were attacked and people were shot after being pulled from buses. In 1987, 32 Hindus were pulled out of the bus and shot, near Lalru in Punjab by Sikh militants.

According to Human Rights Watch, in the beginning on the 1980s, Sikh separatists in Punjab attacked non-Sikhs in the state, Indira Gandhi's son and political successor, Rajiv Gandhi, tried, unsuccessfully, to bring peace to Punjab. Successive governments, like the Janata Dal government, also tried to bring peace to Punjab but failed. Between 1987 and 1991, Punjab was placed under President's rule and was governed from Delhi. Elections were eventually held in 1992 but the voter turnout at 24 percent was poor. A new Congress (I) government was formed and it gave the police chief of the state K.P.S. Gill a free hand. Gill was ruthless against the insurgents and his methods severely weakened the insurgency movement. However, Gill's reign is regarded as one of the bloodiest in the history of the country, thousands of innocent Sikhs were killed in fake encounters and countless disappeared from their homes in the dark. His police force was also accused of crimes such as rape and torture of women and children according to several reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Although Punjab remained peaceful through 2009 and this being the 16th consecutive year the state has remained relatively free of major political violence after the widespread terrorist-secessionist movement for ‘Khalistan’ was comprehensively defeated in 1993, there are specific intelligence reports categorically citing attempts at revival of terrorism in the state.

Recent intelligence reports have cautioned the government about renewed efforts by the ISI and Pakistan-based terror groups, including Babbar Khalsa International, to send consignment of arms, explosives, fake currency and drugs for spreading terror-incidents and drug menace in the state and disrupting its economy.
Just a couple of days after the massive RDX haul from a car parked at Ambala railway station, apparently on its way to the capital, top sources in the Delhi police said, they have confirmed inputs that Khalistani militant Jagtar Singh Tara and his terror module present in Delhi had carried out a survey of at least two lower courts - Patiala House and the Karkardooma complex.

Tara, wanted for murder of former Chief Minister Beant Singh, had absconded from Burail jail in Mohali by digging out a tunnel nearly 100 km long and is still at large.
Central intelligence sources, however, indicate that a concerted attempt to revive militancy in the state is under way. In February 2009, a joint meeting between militants of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and the Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) chief Wadhawa Singh was held at Rawalpindi in Pakistan, where they planned terrorist attacks in Punjab during the Parliamentary elections held in the fourth and fifth phases on May 7 and May 13, 2009.
The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s external intelligence agency, continues to give support to the Khalistani terrorist groups. The Director General of Punjab Police, Paramdeep Singh Gill, said on August 17, 2009 that the ISI is actively engaged in reviving militancy in the State by providing arms and money to Sikh extremists. He also said on October 10, 2009 that groups like the BKI was being provided with funds through a leading money transfer agency and hawala operation.

Despite the dismal failure of the Khalistan movement, steady Pakistani support has been pouring in for various Sikh militant groups which retain residual capacity to cause local disruption in Punjab, an exigency that very much merges with Pakistan's long-term strategic intent in India.

JPN