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What is the Khalistan movement?


Recently, hundreds of followers of Amritpal Singh, a radical preacher and pro-Khalistan leader, clashed violently with police outside Ajnala police station near Amritsar, demanding the release of one of their colleagues who had been taken into custody in an alleged kidnapping case.


GS I: History

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is the Khalistan movement?
  2. When and why did the movement start?
  3. What was the Anandpur Sahib Resolution?
  4. Operation Blue Star

What is the Khalistan movement?

  • The Khalistan movement is a fight for a separate, sovereign Sikh state in present day Punjab (both India and Pakistan).
  • Over the years, it has survived in various forms, in various places and amongst different populations.
  • The movement was crushed in India following Operation Blue Star (1984) and Operation Black Thunder (1986 and 1988), but it continues to evoke sympathy and support among sections of the Sikh population, especially in the Sikh diaspora in countries such as Canada, the UK, and Australia.

When and why did the movement start?

  • The origins of the Khalistan movement can be traced back to India’s independence and the subsequent Partition along religious lines.
  • The Punjab province was divided between India and Pakistan during Partition, leading to communal violence and the displacement of millions of Sikhs and Hindus to the east.
  • Lahore, the capital of the Sikh Empire under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, went to Pakistan, along with holy Sikh sites like Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.
  • Despite being a minority in India, with only around 2% of the population being Sikh, the community began a political struggle for greater autonomy, starting with the Punjabi Suba Movement for the creation of a Punjabi-speaking state.
  • The States Reorganisation Commission rejected this demand in its 1955 report, but after years of protests, the state of Punjab was eventually reorganized in 1966 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.

What was the Anandpur Sahib Resolution?

  • The Akali Dal became a major political force in the Sikh-majority Punjab after the Punjabi Suba movement, giving the Congress tough competition in the state’s legislative assembly elections in 1967 and 1969.
  • However, after Indira Gandhi’s victory in the 1971 Lok Sabha elections, the Akali Dal’s performance in the state was lackluster.
  • In 1973, the Akali Dal held a meeting in Anandpur Sahib, the birthplace of the Khalsa, and released the Anandpur Sahib Resolution, which outlined several demands.
  • The resolution demanded autonomy for the state of Punjab, identified specific regions that would be included in a separate state, and sought the right to frame its own internal constitution.
  • The Akali Dal was trying to capitalize on the growing demand for an autonomous state, which had emerged alongside the Punjabi Suba movement and had gained global attention by 1971.
  • Despite the Akalis’ insistence that they were not seeking secession from India, the Indian state viewed the Anandpur Sahib Resolution as a serious threat.
Background of Operation Blue Star:
  • The Khalistan movement had gained momentum in Punjab during the 1980s.
  • In 1984, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a Sikh separatist leader, and his followers took refuge in the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar, Punjab.

Operation Blue Star:

  • On June 1, 1984, the Indian Army launched Operation Blue Star to flush out the militants from the Golden Temple complex.
  • The operation lasted for six days and involved more than 50,000 troops.
  • The militants had fortified the complex and engaged in heavy gunfire with the army.
  • The army used tanks, artillery, and helicopters to neutralize the militants.
  • The operation caused significant damage to the complex and resulted in the death of many civilians, militants, and army personnel.
  • The Indian government faced severe criticism for its handling of the operation.
  • Many Sikhs felt that their religious sentiments had been hurt and that the attack on the Golden Temple was an attack on their faith.
  • The operation also led to a rise in Sikh separatism and militancy in Punjab.
  • In October 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in retaliation for the operation.
  • The assassination triggered anti-Sikh riots in which thousands of Sikhs were killed across India.


  • In the years following the operation, efforts were made to reconcile with the Sikh community.
  • The government set up a commission of inquiry, known as the Nanavati Commission, to investigate the events leading up to the operation and its aftermath.
  • The government also granted greater autonomy to Punjab and made efforts to address the grievances of the Sikh community.
  • In 1995, the Akal Takht, the highest seat of temporal authority for Sikhs, issued a resolution forgiving the Indian government for the operation and urging Sikhs to move on.

-Source: Indian Express

February 2024