Punjab insurgency

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Punjab insurgency
Shown in red is the Punjab state in India from 1966–present
(11 years)
LocationPunjab, India
Result Indian government victory
India Sikhs
Commanders and leaders
Zail Singh
Ramaswamy Venkataraman
Shankar Dayal Sharma
Indira Gandhi
Kanwar Pal Singh Gill
Kuldip Singh Brar
Ranjit Singh Dyal
Rajiv Gandhi
Vishwanath Pratap Singh
Chandra Shekhar
Pamulaparti Venkata Narasimha Rao
Krishnaswamy Sundarji
Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale 
Bhai Amrik Singh 
Shabeg Singh 
Manbir Singh Chaheru 
Labh Singh 
Kanwaljit Singh Sultanwind
Paramjit Singh Panjwar
Ranjit Singh Neeta
Aroor Singh
Avtar Singh
Gurjant Singh Budhsinghwala 
Navroop Singh 
Navneet Singh Khadian
Pritam Singh Sekhon
Gurbachan Singh Manochahal
Balwinder Singh
Talwinder Singh Parmar
Sukhdev Singh Babbar
Wadhawa Singh Babbar
Units involved
No specific units
Casualties and losses
Over 12,000 civilian deaths[2]

The insurgency in Punjab originated in the late 1970s, was a threat to the unity and integrity of India due to the militant sikh ethno nationalism known as Khalistan movement.[3]. In the 1980s the movement had developed into a secessionist movement under the leadership of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.[4] The Green revolution brought several socio-economic changes which along with factionalism of the politics in the Punjab state increased tension between a section of sikhs in Punjab with the union Government of India.[3] Pakistani strategists then began supporting the militant dimension of the Khalistan movement.[3]

In 1972 Punjab state elections, Congress won and Akali Dal was defeated. In 1973 Akali Dal put forward the Anandpur Sahib Resolution resolution to demand more autonomy to Punjab.[5] The Congress government considered the resolution a secessionist document and rejected it.[6] Bhindranwale then joined the Akali Dal to launch the Dharam Yudh Morcha in 1982, to implement Anandpur Sahib resolution. Bhindranwale had risen to prominence in the Sikh political circle with his policy of getting the Anandpur Resolution passed, failing which he wanted to declare a separate country of Khalistan as a homeland for Sikhs.[7]

Bhindranwale symbolized the revivalist, extremist and terrorist movement in the 1980s in Punjab.[8] He is credited with the launching the Sikh Militancy in Punjab.[4] Under Bhindranwale, the number of people initiating into the Khalsa increased. He also increased the level of rhetoric on the perceived "assault" on Sikh values from the Hindu community.[4] Bhindranwale and his followers started carrying firearms at all times.[4] In 1983, to escape arrest, he along with his militant cadre occupied and fortified the sikh shrine Akal Takht.[9]

On 1 June Operation Blue Star was launched to remove him and the armed militants from the Golden Temple complex. On 6 June Bhindranwale died in the operation. The operation carried out in the temple caused outrage among the Sikhs and increased the support for Khalistan Movement.[3] Four months after the operation, on 31 October 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated in vengeance by her two Sikh bodyguards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh.[10] Public outcry over Gandhi's death led to the killings of Sikhs in the ensuing 1984 anti-Sikh riots.[11] These events played a major role in the violence by Sikh militant groups supported by Pakistan and consumed Punjab till the early 1990s when the Khalistan movement eventually died.[12]


In the 1950s there was a demand for linguistic reorganisation of the state of Punjab, which the government finally agreed in 1955 after protests and recommendation of the States Reorganisation commission.[3] The state of Punjab was later split into the states of Himachal Pradesh, the new state Haryana and current day Punjab.[13]

While the Green Revolution in Punjab had several positive impacts, the introduction of the mechanised agricultural techniques led to uneven distribution of wealth. The industrial development was not done at the same pace of agricultural development, the Indian government had been reluctant to set up heavy industries in Punjab due to its status as a high-risk border state with Pakistan.[14] The rapid increase in the higher education opportunities without adequate rise in the jobs resulted in the increase in the unemployment of educated youth.[3] The resulting unemployed rural Sikh youth were drawn to the militant groups, and formed the backbone of the militancy.[15]

Anandpur Sahib Resolution and Khalistan[edit]

After being routed in 1972 Punjab election, the Akali Dal put forward the Anandpur Sahib Resolution resolution in 1973 to demand more autonomy to Punjab.[5] The resolution included both religious and political issues. It asked for recognising Sikhism as a religion separate from Hinduism. It also demanded that power be generally devoluted from the Central to state governments.[3] The Anandpur Resolution was rejected by the government as a secessionist document. Bhindranwale then joined the Akali Dal to launch the Dharam Yudh Morcha in 1982, to implement Anandpur Sahib resolution. Thousands of people joined the movement, feeling that it represented a real solution to demands such as a larger share of water for irrigation and the return of Chandigarh to Punjab.[16]

Bhindranwale had risen to prominence in the Sikh political circle with his policy of getting the Anandpur Resolution passed, failing which he wanted to declare a separate country of Khalistan as a homeland for Sikhs.[17] Indira Gandhi, the leader of the Akali Dal's rival Congress, considered the Anandpur Sahib Resolution as a secessionist document.[6] The Government was of the view that passing of the resolution would have allowed India to be divided, making a Khalistan.[18]

Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and the Akalis[edit]

Attempts were made by the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi to prop up Bhindranwale to undermine the Akali Dal, a sikh religious political party. On 13 April 1978, the day to celebrate the birth of Khalsa, a peaceful Sant Nirankari convention was organized in Amritsar, with permission from the Akali state government. The practices of "Sant Nirankaris" sect of Nirankaris was considered as heretics by the orthodox Sikhism expounded by Bhindranwale.[19] From Golden Temple premises,[20] A procession of about two hundred Sikhs led by Bhindranwale and Fauja Singh of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha left the Golden Temple, heading towards the Nirankari Convention. In the ensuing violence seventeen people were killed.[21] A criminal case was filed and accused were acquitted on self defence.[22] The Punjab government Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal decided not to appeal the decision.[23]

Bhindranwale increased his rhetoric against the enemies of Sikhs. A letter of authority was issued by Akal Takht to ostracize the Sant Nirankaris. A sentiment was created to justify extra judicial killings of the perceived enemies of Sikhism.[24] The chief proponents of this attitude were the Babbar Khalsa founded by the widow, Bibi Amarjit Kaur of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, whose husband Fauja Singh had been at the head of the march in Amritsar; the Damdami Taksal led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who had also been in Amritsar on the day of the outrage; the Dal Khalsa, formed with the object of demanding a sovereign Sikh state; and the All India Sikh Students Federation, which was banned by the government.

In the subsequent years following this event, several murders took place in Punjab and the surrounding areas allegedly by Bhindranwale's group and the new Babbar Khalsa.[22] The Babbar Khalsa activists took up residence in the Golden Temple, where they would retreat to, after committing "acts of punishment" on people against the orthodox Sikh tenets. Police did not entered the temple complex to avoid hurting the sentiments of Sikhs.[22] On 24 April 1980, The Nirankari head, Gurbachan was murdered.[25] Bhindranwale took residence in Golden Temple to escape arrest when he was accused of the assassination of Nirankari Gurbachan Singh.[26] Three years later, a member of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, Ranjit Singh, surrendered and admitted to the assassination.

Pakistan involvement[edit]

After the operation Blue Star several modern weapons found inside the temple complex with the Pakistan or Chinese markings on them.[27] Pakistan has been deeply involved in the training, guiding and arming Sikh militants. Wadhawa Singh, Chief Babbar Khalsa International (BKI), Lakhbir Singh Rode, Chief, International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), Paramjit Singh Panjwar, Chief, Khalistan Commando Force (KCF), Gajinder Singh, Chief, Dal Khalsa International (DKI) and Ranjit Singh Neeta, Chief, Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF) permanently based in Pakistan, have been co-ordinating militant activities of their outfits in Punjab and elsewhere in India under the guidance of Pak ISI. Pak ISI agents regularly escort Sikh militants for trans-border movement and provide safe havens for their shelter and dumps for weapons and explosives.

Interrogation reports of Sikh militants arrested in India suggest training of Sikh youth in Pakistan (including arms training in the use of rifle, sniper gun, LMG, grenade and causing explosions using gunpowder) and possession of arms and explosives by the Pak-based Sikh militant leaders. These IRs also suggest plans of Pak ISI through Pak based terrorists to cause explosions in big cities like Amritsar, Ludhiana, Chandigarh, Delhi and targeting of VVIPs.[28] [29] [30]


A section of Sikhs turned to militancy in Punjab; some Sikh militant groups aimed to create an independent state called Khalistan through acts of violence directed at members of the Indian government, army or forces. Others demanded an autonomous state within India, based on the Anandpur Sahib Resolution. A large numbers of Sikhs condemned the actions of the militants.[31]

By 1985, the situation in Punjab had become highly volatile. In October 1985, Sikh militants stopped a bus and shot six Hindu bus passengers. On the same day, another group of extremists killed two officials on a train.[32]:174 The Congress(I)-led Central Government dismissed its own Punjab's government, declaring a state of emergency, and imposed the President's Rule in the state. During the five months preceding Operation Blue Star, from 1 January 1984 to 3 June 1984, 298 people had been killed in various violent incidents across Punjab. In five days preceding the Operation, 48 people had been killed in the violence.[32]:175

Operation Bluestar[edit]

Operation Bluestar was an Indian military operation carried out between 1 and 8 June 1984, ordered by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to remove militant religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his armed followers from the buildings of the Harmandir Sahib complex in Amritsar, Punjab.[33] In July 1983, the Sikh political party Akali Dal's President Harcharan Singh Longowal had invited Bhindranwale to take up residence in Golden Temple Complex.[34][10] Bhindranwale later on made the sacred temple complex an armoury and headquarter,[35] for his armed uprising for Khalistan.[36] In the violent events leading up to the Operation Blue Star since the inception of Akali Dharm Yudh Morcha, the militants had killed 165 Hindus and Nirankaris, even 39 Sikhs opposed to Bhindranwale were killed. The total number of deaths was 410 in violent incidents and riots while 1,180 people were injured.[37]

Indira Gandhi ordered the army to launch the Operation Blue Star.[38] A variety of army units along with paramilitary forces surrounded the temple complex on 3 June 1984. The army kept asking the militants to surrender, using the public address system. The militants were asked to allow the pilgrims out of the temple premises, before they start fighting the army. However, nothing happened till 7 PM.[39][39] The army had grossly underestimated the firepower possessed by the militants. Militants had Chinese made Rocket-propelled grenade launchers with armour piercing capabilities. Tanks and heavy artillery were used to attack the militants using anti-tank and machine-gun fire from the heavily fortified Akal Takht. After a 24-hour firefight, the army finally wrested control of the temple complex. Casualty figures for the Army were 83 dead and 249 injured.[40] According to the official estimate presented by the Indian government, 1592 were apprehended and there were 493 combined militant and civilian casualties.[41] High civilian casualties were attributed to militants using pilgrims trapped inside the temple as human shields.[42]

Anti-Sikh Riots[edit]

The Operation Bluestar led to an uproar amongst Sikhs, and many Sikhs had interpreted the military action as an assault on Sikh religion.[43] Four months after the operation, on 31 October 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated in vengeance by her two Sikh bodyguards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh.[10] Public outcry over Gandhi's death led to the killings of more than 3,000 Sikhs in the ensuing 1984 anti-Sikh riots.[11] The rioting mobs were allegedly led by Congress leaders, who are still facing the court cases.[44] The police "worked to destroy a lot of the evidence about who was involved with the killings by refusing to record First Information Reports" [45] Hundreds more were refused because the victims wanted to name Congress leaders like Sajjan Kumar, HKL Bhagat and Jagdish Tytler. Human Rights Watch reports "In the months following the killings, the government sought no prosecutions or indictments of any persons, including officials, accused in any case of murder, rape or arson."[46] Hundreds of murders are yet to be even registered by police.[44] The New Delhi Police was reported to be doing nothing to stop the rioting, as was the state and central government.[44]

After the riots[edit]

The Anti-Sikh riots across Northern India had repercussions in Punjab. A number of Sikhs were killed by Hindus.[47] Trains were attacked and people were shot after being pulled from buses. In 1986, 24 Hindus were pulled out of a bus and shot near Lalru in Punjab by Sikh militants.[48] According to Human Rights Watch "In the beginning on the 1980s, Sikh separatists in Punjab attacked non-Sikhs in the state.[49]

Indira Gandhi's son and political successor, Rajiv Gandhi, tried unsuccessfully to bring peace to Punjab. Between 1987 and 1991, Punjab was placed under an ineffective President's rule and was governed from Delhi. Elections were eventually held in 1992 but the voter turnout 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.


Gurharpal Singh, Asian Survey, Vol. 32, No. 11 (Nov. 1992), pp. 988–999 JSTOR 2645266</ref>
Punjab Insurgancy Chronology Outline
Date Event Source
March 1972 Akalis routed in Punjab elections, Congress wins
17 October 1973 Akalis ask for their rights through Anandpur Sahib Resolution
25 April 1980 Gurbachan Singh of Sant Nirankari sect shot dead.
2 June 1980 Akalis lose election in Punjab [50]
16 Aug 1981 Sikhs in Golden Temple meet foreign correspndents [51]
9 Sep 1981 Jagat Narain, Editor, Hind Samachar group murdered. [52]
29 Sep 1981 Separatists killed on Indian Jetliner to Pakistan [53]
11 Feb 1982 US gives Visa to Jagjit Singh Chauhan [54]
11 Apr 1982 USA Khalistani G.S. Dhillon Barred From India [55]
July 1982 Armed Sikh militants storm the parliament in a protest related to the deaths of 34 Sikhs in police custody [56]
4 Aug 1982 Akalis demand autonomy and additional regions for Punjab [57]
11 Oct 1982 Sikh stage protests at the Indian Parliament [56]
Nov 1982 Longowal threatens to disrupt Asian Games [58]
27 Feb 1983 Sikhs permitted to carry daggers in domestic flights [59]
23 April 1983 Punjab Police Deputy Inspector General A. S. Atwal was shot dead as he left the Harmandir Sahib compound by a gunman from Bhindranwale's group [21]
3 May 1983 Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, talks of violence being perpetuated against Sikhs and for India to understand [60]
14 Oct 1983 3 people killed at a Hindu festival in Chandigarh [61]
Oct 1983 6 Hindu passengers killed [62]
Oct 1983 Hindus pulled off a train and bus and killed [63]
9 Feb 1984 A wedding procession bombed [64]
14 Feb 1984 Six policemen abducted from a post near Golden Temple and one of them killed by Bhindranwale's men [21]
19 Feb 1984 Sikh-Hindu clashes spread in North India [65]
24 Feb 1984 6 more Sikhs killed in Punjab by police [66]
29 Feb 1984 By this time, the Temple had become the centre of the 19-month-old uprising by the separatist Sikhs [67]
28 March 1984 Harbans Singh Manchanda, the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee (DSGMC) president murdered. He had demanded ouster of Bhindranwale from Akal Takht few days back [68]
3 April 1984 Militants cause fear and instability in Punjab [69]
8 April 1984 Longowal writes – he cannot control anymore [70]
14 April 1984 Surinder Singh Sodhi, follower of Bhindranwale shot dead at the temple by a man and a women [71]
17 April 1984 Deaths of 3 Sikh Activists in factional fighting [72]
27 May 1984 Ferosepur politician killed after confessing to fake police encounters with "terrorist" killings [73]
2 June 1984 Total media and the press black out in Punjab, the rail, road and air services in Punjab suspended. Foreigners' and NRIs' entry was also banned and water and electricity supply cut off. [74][75][76]
3 June 1984 Army controls Punjab security [77]
5 June 1984 Heavy fighting, Punjab shut-down from outside world. [78]
6 June 1984 2000 Sikhs killed in Punjab following 3 June invasion, daylong battle in Amritsar [79][80]
7 June 1984 Harmandir Sahib over taken by army. Army enters temple on a Sikh festival day [81]
7 June 1984 Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale dead [82]
8 June 1984 27 Sikhs killed in protests in Srinagar, Ludhiana, Amritsar after Government forces fired on protesters [83]
9 June 1984 Weapons seized, troops fired on [84]
10 June 1984 Reports of anti-Sikh riots and killings in Delhi [85]
11 June 1984 Negotiators close to a settlement on waters [86]
31 October 1984 Indira Gandhi assassinated [87]
1 November 1984 1984 anti-Sikh riots begin in Delhi [88]
3 November 1984 Anti Sikh Violence a total of 2,733 Sikhs were killed [88]
23 June 1985 Air India Flight 182 was bombed by Sikh terrorists killing 329 people (including 22 crew members); almost all of them Hindus
20 August 1985 Harcharan Singh Longowal assassinated [89]
29 September 1985 60% vote, Akali Dal won 73 of 115 seats, Barnala CM [90]
26 January 1986 Sikhs have a global meeting and the rebuilding of Akal Takht declared as well as the five member Panthic Committee selected and have draft of the Constitution of Khalistan written [91]
29 April 1986 Resolution of Khalistan passed by Sarbat Khalsa and Khalistan Commando Force also formed at Akal Takht with more than 80,000 Sikhs present. [92]
1 December 1986 Militants kill 24 Hindu passengers [93]
19 May 1987 General Secretary CPI(M) Comrade Deepak Dhawan was brutally murdered at Village Sangha, Tarn Taran
7 July 1987 Sikh terrorists from Khalistan Commando Force attacked two buses. They singled out and killed 34 Hindu bus passengers in 1987 Haryana killings [94]
12 May 1988 Harmandir Sahib invaded by Indian Government during Operation Black Thunder II [95]
10 January 1990 Senior Superintendent of Batala Police Gobind Ram killed in bomb blast in retaliation of police gang raping Sikh woman of Gora Choor village [96][97]
16 June 1991 80 people killed on two trains by extremists [98]
25 February 1992 Congress sweeps Punjab Assembly elections [99]
3 September 1995 CM Beant Singh killed in blast [100]

See also[edit]



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