The Khalistan movement no longer has any traction
Khalistanis are hopping on to the secessionist bandwagon in Catalonia and Kurdistan, though there’s a major difference between their effort and these — lack of grassroots momentumUpdated: Oct 14, 2017 17:03 IST
The nativist yen that has gained currency in recent times, has cashed in further on the navel-gazing within Catalonia and Kurdistan, with a pair of referendums for independence. Each has predictably attracted furious pushback from Madrid and Baghdad, but both point to a zeitgeist zeroing in on going native.
This is a process that has gained ground since the Scottish referendum in 2014, which was narrowly defeated and actually preceded Brexit by over two years. A similar simmering sentiment persists in Canada’s Quebec province, though a vote on separation there hasn’t occurred since 1995. And depending on the result of the Presidential election in the United States, there are petitions of disunion in Texas (see 2012 after Barack Obama was re-elected) and California (see now).
It isn’t surprising that others will seek to piggyback upon this burgeoning movement towards secession. That group certainly includes a section of the diasporic Sikh community that’s hopeful this trend will help them gather support prior to its own non-binding referendum in 2020. That process began with a meet in a suburb of Toronto this spring succeeded by a series of events centred around this theme across North American cities.
The groups behind this effort have attempted hopping on to other separatist bandwagons, shilling for Kurdistan at one point, and then sending representatives to Barcelona to join the Si list prior to the vote. Curiously enough, they never pipe up about Tibet or Balochistan.
But what separates the Khalistanis from the Kurds or Catalans is that these proponents have little traction in what they consider their backyard – Punjab. So, ironically, activists are trying to export their angst there.
In a sense, that may be history repeating itself. Shinder Purewal, a professor of political science Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, Canada, outlined the evolution of Sikh secessionism in Western liberal democracies in the International Journal of Business and Social Science. He wrote that a “discussion paper on de-classified operations of Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) agency states that the agency supported” the original 1960s Sikh Home Rule movement, with the “tacit approval” of “the United States and its Cold War allies.”
What’s changed is the leaders of the movement are generals without an army on the ground, unlike in the past. Most of these torchbearers haven’t travelled to India in a quarter-century. One prominent Khalistani told this writer that among his regrets is that he is unable to make a pilgrimage to the Golden Temple in Amritsar. He was last there in the early 1980s, after his marriage and not quite of the religious right, a space he now occupies. That disconnect is what differentiates this endeavour from its distant cousins in Catalonia or Kurdistan, which are grassroots uprisings. And the West, beyond wilful blindness to such divisive forces, has little appetite for actual division.
And that may be why Khalistanis abroad will find that breaking up is hard to do.
Anirudh Bhattacharya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs.
The views expressed are personal