25 years after death, Bhindranwale lives on
Twenty-five years after he was killed in an army operation on the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar, Sikh ideologue Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale continues to live on in Punjab through stickers, posters, T-shirt photos and even key-chains.
Be it a rural fair or a big religious congregation or the ever-busy markets in the congested surroundings of the Golden Temple complex, accessories carrying the photographs of Bhindranwale, still referred to as 'Sant (Saint) Bhindranwale', are a common sight.
Bhindranwale, a former head of the radical Sikh religious organization Damdami Taksal, had organized and led a big force of heavily armed Sikh volunteers, demanding a separate Sikh nation - Khalistan. In early 1980s, Bhindranwale shifted his base to inside the Golden Temple complex.
He was killed on June 6, 1984, inside the Akal Takht (the highest temporal seat of Sikh religion) building after Indian Army units attacked the shrine complex to flush out heavily armed militia. Over 400 lives were lost in Operation Bluestar - an action that left the Sikh psyche and polity scarred.
The accessories with his pictures are being lapped up by many, especially youth all over Punjab.
Vehicles carrying stickers and posters of Bhindranwale on the rear windscreen are not an uncommon sight in the state.
"Many people come asking for things having the photo of santji. Others get interested on seeing the accessories while they are buying something else. His things are quite a hit," shop-owner Swaran Singh told IANS as he showed the Bhindranwale accessories in his shop on the road leading to 'Harmandar Sahib' (popularly known as Golden Temple), the holiest of Sikh shrines.
But the revival of the pro-Bhindranwale wave is not setting any alarm bells ringing among security agencies in Punjab.
"A number of things associated with his name and photo are being sold in Amritsar and many places across Punjab. The craze is more among youth owing to their respect for him. Most of these people are those who have not seen what happened in 1984. The sale of his accessories is symbolic to give a feeling of pride. Many people hold him to be a martyr for the Sikh cause," radical Sikh leader Kanwarpal Singh of the Dal Khalsa told IANS.
"We know that articles carrying his pictures are being sold here and other parts of Punjab. But to say that a campaign is building up again or that this could lead to revival of terrorism in Punjab would not be proper," said a senior police officer, unwilling to be named.
Punjab saw a bloody phase of terrorism between 1981 and 1995 with over 25,000 lives lost in violence.
"Initially, some people used to say that he (Bhindranwale) will re-appear after 15 years. But nothing of that sort happened. The myth was broken," Kanwarpal Singh said.
Bhindranwale may have been killed by security forces and gone down as someone who waged war against the country, but he has been hailed in the Golden Temple's museum with a portrait and a citation in November 2007.
The man revered by Sikh hardliners and widely criticized for unleashing violence has been described as: "The great Sikh general of the 20th Century, the 14th chief of the Damdami Taksal, Sant Giani Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who along with numerous valiant Sikhs attained martyrdom on Wednesday, the 6th of June, 1984, fighting against the Indian Armed Forces for the honour and prestige of Sri Harmandar Sahib and Sri Akal Takht Sahib."