Is the Khalistan movement still alive? Should a memorial have been built at the Golden Temple in memory of the militants who died during Operation Bluestar in 1984? The troubling questions were back with the assassination attempt in London on Lt Gen (retd) KS Brar, who led the Indian Army
operation into the Golden Temple 28 years ago.
Even though London's Metropolitan Police have not confirmed the identity of the four attackers with "long black beards", Brar's statement that the attack was the handiwork of Khalistani activists has brought the focus back on Punjab.
The state saw a blood-stained phase of Sikh militancy between 1981-1992 as separatist elements resorted to violence to demand Khalistan (land of the pure) - a homeland for Sikhs. Even though the Khalistan movement is nowhere active in the state, certain radical elements and groups have unsuccessfully tried to revive it in the last nearly two decades.
Most of the Punjab-based radical Sikh organisations and Sikh leaders have refrained from commenting on the Brar incident, saying the attackers have not been identified.
"No comments," was the quick response from Dal Khalsa leader Kanwarpal Singh.
Pressed further, he told IANS: "The London police have not yet identified anyone for the attack. It is not known who has done it. The details are sketchy."
The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, the mini parliament of Sikh religion, has cautiously refrained from saying anything.
It has also issued a diktat to SGPC members, saying their comments were not the official line of the SGPC.
Following the London attack Sunday evening off Oxford Street, Brar, 78, who gets 'Z' category security in India as he is on the hit-list of Khalistani militants, openly blamed the Punjab government, led by the Akali Dal, for encouraging fringe Khalistani elements by allowing a memorial to be built in June this year for "martyrs" of the 1984 Operation Bluestar. Brar has been opposed to the memorial.
Operation Bluestar was conducted by the army to flush out heavily armed militants from inside the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar, 250 km from here. The complex, except for the sanctum sanctorum, suffered heavy damage.
"The motive was not robbery. The motive was assassination. They wanted me dead," Brar told CNN-IBN news channel.
"Had I not fought back, I would not be here speaking to you," said Brar, who had a bandage around his neck and is now back in Mumbai. His wife was also injured in the attack.
Radical Sikh organisations like the Damdami Taksal, Dal Khalsa and pro-Khalistan factions of the Akali Dal had been demanding the memorial for years but the Sikh clergy, led by the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikh religion, and the SGPC, had ducked the issue for 28 years before giving in.
Kanwarpal Singh blamed Brar for linking the London attack to the raising of the memorial.
"He is trying to become a hero by raising the memorial issue," Kanwarpal Singh said.
Another radical leader, who sought to remain anonymous, said the attack could be a "staged drama".
While the Akali Dal, which indirectly controls the SGPC, had washed its hands off the memorial, saying it has nothing to do with it, its alliance partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had opposed the memorial.
"There are certain fringe elements still in Britain, Canada and the US who try to keep the Khalistan issue alive. The London attack could be linked to that. Punjab Police officers who are on the hit list, take precautions when travelling to these countries," a senior police officer told IANS.
Punjab government spokesperson Harcharan Bains told reporters here: "The incident happened in London. Punjab has nothing to do with it."
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