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People will not fall prey to the Khalistan rhetoric

THE RECENT attack in London on Lt Gen (retd) KS Brar, who led soldiers and tanks into the Golden Temple during 1984’s Operation Blue Star, and the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee’s decision to honour the killers of former army chief Gen AS Vaidya by building a memorial have made many people wonder whether these incidents signal the resurgence of the Khalistan insurgency. Former Punjab DGP KPS Gill, who is credited with stamping out the insurgency in the trouble-torn state, tells Avalok Langer why such fears are unfounded.

Do you think the recent attack on Lt Gen Brar, the SGPC’s memorial proposal and the arms recovered from the Samjhauta Express in Punjab point to a revival of the Khalistan movement?

There is no Khalistan movement in Punjab. The bigger problem today is the drug addiction among the youth. The chain of incidents — the attack on Lt Gen Brar, the proposal for the memorial and the arms being found — created a media frenzy, but the situation is not all that serious.

Building a memorial is not a good step because it will violate the temple’s sanctity, but the issue shouldn’t be treated with such seriousness. I don’t think it will be a rallying point as a museum already exists at the Golden Temple. The pro-Khalistan groups have been raising these kind of demands on and off.

As for the attack on Lt Gen Brar, it is difficult to say what exactly happened. What is clear is that he was attacked by Sikh gentlemen because he is Lt Gen Brar. Maybe they were in the same restaurant and recognised him. I think it is a case of “opportunity ambush” — they saw an opportunity and took advantage of it.

Do you feel that the drug problem, coupled with Punjab’s waning prosperity, has created an opportunity for vested interests to tap into residual emotions?
The economic situation is the same as it was before. But there is a sizeable young population that doesn’t have proper education; landholdings are getting smaller, so people can no longer live off them, and there has been no major industrialisation because of power shortage. But that sort of situation exists in almost every state of the country. At the moment, there may be anti-government or anti-corruption sentiments, but people will not fall prey to the Khalistan rhetoric.

At the moment?
The problem will come when the US withdraws from Afghanistan. Historically, Punjab extended almost to the border of Afghanistan, so the impact of the US withdrawal will have to be watched carefully. Because as they withdraw, it will have to be seen what the US does with its weapons: Will they take them back? Will they give some to the Afghani forces that they are raising? The US weaponry is much better than what is available with the Punjab Police and even the Indian Army, and they could find their way into India. The 4-5 years after 2014 will be crucial for India’s border states — Jammu & Kashmir, Rajasthan and Punjab.

Do you think that people have lost the emotional connect with the Khalistan movement?

It’s interesting to note that former terrorists are not honoured in the villages; they are looked down upon and no one gives them any importance. So, they go abroad and make statements that are reported in the media, but the people know what happened to them at the hands of the terrorists. They were semi-literate men with no political astuteness and ended up becoming thugs. They were supposed to be fighting for a Sikh homeland but it was the Sikhs who suffered. No matter how much false propaganda there is, the people haven’t forgotten the facts.

There are reports that some groups outside India are collecting funds in the name of Khalistan and are supported by the ISI. Will the funds find their way into India?
While the fundraising abroad has never stopped, these groups don’t have a route into India at present, so there is no revival. As far as the ISI is concerned, the spy agency has had a long-term plan for years, but given the internal and external pressure that Pakistan is under, I don’t think they will take up such activities with as much vehemence as they used to.

So, is the Khalistan armed movement still relevant?
Not at all. An armed insurgency is impossible.

Interview Source: Tehelka.com
Avalok Langer is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.

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