Dangers Of Neo-Terrorism In Punjab
The situation that we are likely to face in Punjab and Delhi in the coming months due to the attempts being made by some elements to revive anger in sections of the Sikh community in Punjab and abroad would be qualitatively different from the situation that we faced during the Khalistan movement between 1981 and 1995.
What we faced between 1981 and 1995 was a politico-religious movement claiming that the Sikhs were treated as second class citizens in India because of their religion and that the only way of redressing their grievances was through the creation of an independent Sikh State to be called Khalistan. We faced the entire gamut of classical terrorism such as hijackings and blowing-up of aircraft, planting improvised explosive devices in crowded places, indiscriminate use of hand-held weapons against soft targets and targeted assassinations of Hindu and pro-government Sikh leaders and VIPs.
What we are seeing today is an attempt to create a revanchist (reprisal) movement by re-kindling the dormant feelings of anger, inner hurt and humiliation in sections of the Sikh community in order to motivate them to seek vengeance for the alleged desecration of their holy temple during the military action code-named OP Blue Star in June 1984.
Our success in bringing the movement under control was due to the fact that the terrorist organisations were not able to win many adherents for the cause of an independent Khalistan despite the widespread anger caused by OP Blue Star.
Today, the terrorist remnants of these organisations would face difficulty in using such political and economic arguments which would not make an impact on the Sikh community. They are, therefore, seeking to use revanchist arguments and symbols to persuade the people to support a neo terrorist movement.
The attempts of the SGPC to build a memorial inside the Golden Temple for those killed during OP Blue Star, to pay homage to the memories of the assassins of Gen A Vaidya, who was the Chief of the Army Staff during OP Blue Star, and Beant Singh, the former Chief Minister of Punjab, and to kill Lt.Gen (retd). KS Brar, who played a prominent role in OP Blue Star, during his recent visit to London are indicators of the revanchist thinking being encouraged by some elements in Punjab and abroad.
At least in the initial stages, a revanchist movement is likely to focus more on acts of revenge against political leaders, and military and police officers, who had played a prominent role during OP Blue Star and during the subsequent counter-terrorism operations. It is important to review the security already provided to them and further strengthen it in India and abroad.
How to deal with the activities of the SGPC in encouraging symbolic acts like the construction of a memorial for those killed during OP Blue Star and paying homage to the assassins and to prevent the new brand of terrorists from again establishing control over the Golden Temple? This is a tricky question calling for careful handling without over-reaction.
We have faced two tricky situations in the Golden Temple in 1984 and 1988.The occupation of the Golden Temple by some terrorists in 1984 was handled by the Army under OP Blue Star resulting in many fatalities on both sides and damages to the Akal Takht, the sanctum sanctorum. The re-occupation of the Golden Temple by another group of terrorists in 1988 was handled without the use of the Army by a group of police officers led jointly by KPS Gill, Ved Marwah, MK Narayanan and Shri Ajit Doval.
The government should consult these officers on the options available before deciding on a strategy. So far as attempts to revive terrorism outside the Golden Temple are concerned, the Akali Dal Government has been saying that it is all for strong action to curb them in the bud and claims that it is already doing so. But there is considerable ambivalence in its attitude to the revanchist activities of the SGPC inside the Golden Temple. This needs to be tackled without unwittingly aggravating the situation as these police officers successfully did in 1988 without unnecessary and unwise dramatisation.
I saw a TV interview of KPS Gill after the attack on Lt.Gen.Brar. I got the impression that he was also cautioning against over-dramatisation of the worrisome situation developing in Punjab and abroad. The Government of India has a leadership role to play in this in consultation with the SAD and the BJP. It should not be self-complacent.
By B Raman
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi)