There is a sordid saga behind the rise of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Punjab Kesari group head Lala Jagat Narain’s murder on November 9, 1981, was to put fear of God in common people’s hearts so no one dare speak against Bhindranwale. His strategy was to cause communal tension so that Hindus leave Punjab in fear and he hoped that a Hindu backlash in other parts of India would make Sikhs realise that they were safe only in Punjab.
It was a trying time for the nation. It showed how political expediency can almost destroy a nation. It was a testing time for RSS swayamsevaks who were seen as enemies of the Khalistani movement and were targeted. RSS fought against this separatist terror tooth and nail and had to sacrifice its people and also suffer organisationally.
RSS could clearly discern the seeds of separatism being sown during this time with mischief being played to divide the society that never was divided and never even thought in terms of separate Hindu and Sikh identities. Both respected each other’s identities and none ever felt threatened. The RSS resolution of 1982 underlined all these points.
RSS meeting of ABKM (Akhil Bharatiya Karyakari Mandal) was intensely anguished by the way the atmosphere of ill-will and hatred generated by some extremist elements during last few months in Punjab with the cry of Khalistan, plunging that strategic border area in internecine conflict. It noted incidents like throwing cigarette butt-ends and severed heads of cows into Gurudwaras and temples and said that this was done “with a view to desecrating them and inflaming passions as it can never be the handiwork of anyone with love for the integrity and unity of the country.”
RSS was the first to raise a finger of suspicion on foreign hands behind the divisive games and stated, “In view of the asylum extended by countries like Pakistan, England, America, Canada to extremist elements, existence of an international plot also cannot be ruled out. The indirect support to Khalistan extremists by certain political leaders for achieving their immediate political ends is most unfortunate.”
It condemned such pernicious attempts at engineering strife and conflicts in the Indian society. It reminded India again about pluralism of our tradition, “Various religious persuasions and faiths in the Hindu Society such as the Sikh, Sanaatani, Arya Samaji, Jain, etc. are diverse paths to reach the same goal, drawing as they do, inspiration from the same spiritual values and ideals.” Reminding the people of the history behind the birth of Khalsa Panth, resolution said, “When these ideals were faced with mortal danger, Guru Teg Bahadur recognised it as a threat to the Hindus and whole of Hindustan and volunteered to offer his supreme sacrifice at its altar. And it was Guru Govind Singh who, with the clarion call of ‘May Hindu Dharma rise and the evil forces flee,’ roused nation’s martial spirit through the Khalsa. In response, countless heroes rose from the four corners of the land to plunge into the fire of martyrdom for the cause of Dharma. The inspiring saga of the Khalsa faith and its followers is therefore the proud heritage of the entire nation and not confined to any particular province. The Khalsa Gurus too had chosen the entire land as their field of action. No person with genuine faith in those Gurus would ever dream of chaining them within the bounds of a province, language or faith and thus slashing down their stature.”
Realising that it was the common person who can ultimately control this conflagration, it noted, “We express our satisfaction at the courageous restraint displayed by the common people of Punjab even in the face of grave provocation. We are confident that they will be vigilant enough to frustrate all such machinations of foreign stooges and self-seeking politicians who create internecine strife and weaken the country. We call upon our enlightened countrymen to denounce the mean and mischievous acts of extremist elements and keep aglow the inspiring tradition of our great forbears of standing foursquare against untruth and atrocity, under any guise or form.”
The resolution did not shy away from pointing its finger towards politicians and leaders of state and central governments for the deterioration of public peace and security.
This year saw the beginning of the bloodiest effort to vivisect India with Punjab as the launch pad. Pakistan, smarting under the failure of the 1965 Operation Gibraltar and the subsequent 1971 loss of entire East Pakistan, had declared its objective to ‘bleed India by a thousand cuts.’ Khalistani insurgency was part of this ambitious strategy. Sharing an easy to cross over border, Punjab seemed an easier prey. In the earlier days, Pakistan and UK were the main playgrounds of Khalistani leaders. Canada became a hub later. The entire episode blew up so suddenly, without any build up, that it seemed a clear case of conspiracy.
The heightened tension and violence is reflected in India Today report dated, April 30, 1983, “The change in political attitudes has come suddenly, and its consequence has been extremist and bloody. Less than two months after the last round of negotiations between Akali Dal leaders and Congress (I) broke down in New Delhi, Punjab is ablaze again. Violence on an unprecedented scale has gripped the state. Acts of terrorism, bomb blasts, murders and looting have become a daily routine. Over twenty agitators were killed in a single day during the successful ‘rasta roko’ campaign last fortnight. Ten days later a Home Guards armoury was looted in Ferozepur by terrorists. Rampant bomb explosions in Punjab’s towns-some eight blasts have been recorded since September 1981-have followed a pattern: the attempt has been to terrorise sections of the population, but not kill. In contrast to the recent spurt in deaths, only eighteen people died from blasts and in shoot-outs with the police since late 1981. The increased militancy of the protest in the last two weeks could prove to be, Akali leaders point out, only the beginning of a long and bitter battle. Already the Akali Dal is gearing itself for yet more serious confrontations in months to come.”
The report further adds, Dr. Attar Singh, chairman of the School of Punjabi Studies in Chandigarh, formerly a close adviser of Giani Zail Singh, said: “The most dangerous development in Punjab today is the total tribal confrontation between the two communities. This has eroded rational thinking and promoted emotional responses.” “As long as Bhindranwale continues to have his way, Punjab will continue to burn,” says Virendra, editor of the popular Jalandhar daily Pratap.
According to this report, handling of this matter by PM Indira Gandhi was not thought through. Handing over the matter first to Foreign Minister PV Narasimha Rao, then former foreign minister Swaran Singh, then to unofficial mediators like J&K CM Farooq Abdullah, Congress (I) MP Amarinder Singh and Communist Party of India-Marxist MP Harkishen Singh Surjeet, was an attempt to pass the buck and buy time. It quotes the then BJP General Secretary LK Advani: “I must say that if the Akalis were adamant about certain issues, the government was yet more unreasonable on other issues.”