The Khalistan movement- Historical and Contemporary Analysis

Author : Tanay Kulkarni, a student of VES College of Law, Mumbai

On 18th June, 2024 Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau along with other parliamentarian’s stood for a moment of silence to mark one year since Khalistai separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar was assassinated in 2023. This comes just one week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with prime minister Trudeau during the G7 summit in Italy. Many believe that this will yet strain the bilateral ties between India and Canada. 

Hardeep Singh Nijjar was shot by an unidentified person in a parking lot of a Gurudwara (Sikh temple) in Surrey, British Columbia. Soon after the assassination, Canadian Investigation Agencies, alleged that Indian authorities were involved in the death of the Canadian citizen. Indian authorities denied such allegations. Soon after that, Canadian government expelled an Indian diplomat from the country, Indian authorities too expelled a top-level Canadian diplomat from India as a Tit for Tat move. Just a few months before, both the countries were devising a free trade agreement but after the rift between them, the talks have paused.

This is just one of the instances in which the “Khalistan Movement” has got widespread notice. Yet another incident had occurred on 20th March, 2023 in London, where a Pro-Khalistan protest near the Indian High Commission took a turn when, one of the protestors climbed onto the flag pole and took down the Indian flag in the surveillance of the security forces. Soon after the incident, Indian authorities in Delhi summoned the British High Commissioner to Delhi, Alex Ellis to Ministry of External Affairs and withdrew all the security from British High Commission in Delhi.

So what is the Khalistan Movement and why are the members of Sikh community protesting in favor of it? In this article we will know about the history which comprises of prominent events like Anandpur Sahib Resolution, Operation Blue Star and its aftermath effects.


Before understanding the history of Khalistan let us understand what it means? Khalistan means the “Land of Khalsa” or a separate nation for Sikhs or Khalsa.

The history dates back to the year 1823, when Punjab, which comprised of present-day Punjab and major part of present-day Pakistan was ruled by Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Sikh Empire. During his reign the British East India Company maintained friendly relations with him, but after his death in the year 1839, the company took over Punjab. The company sent all the children of Ranjit Singh to Britain on the pretext of providing them with better education, but the main motive was to distance them from their own empire which would make it easy for the company to take control without any interference from the royal family. 

The Britishers had taken over some prominent gurudwaras like Golden temple and Akal Takt and were using it for political purposes. The rest of the gurudwaras were left under the control of the priests. The Britishers were using the priests to counter the rise of nationalism in Punjab. This can be said because the head priest of Golden temple, gifted a “Robe of Honor” to General Dyer of British Army. He was responsible to the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre of 13Th April,1919 in which around 1000-1500 people died and about 1200 people were injured. Many Sikhs did not like it and in 1920 they started the Akali movement and urged Britishers that priests cannot run the gurudwaras. It led to formulation of ‘Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee’ or SGPC which removed priests and bought reforms in the Gurudwaras. Even today SGPC looks after the gurudwaras and a president is elected by its members. 

The Sikhs believed that the British rule is temporary and they would get back their empire once they leave. This belief took a shook when Motilal Nehru started the “Purna Swaraj” movement according to which India would be an independent state and would follow democracy. Sikhs weren’t happy with it. In 1946, they stated that Britishers had taken Punjab away from them in 1839 and it should be given back to them. Britishers told that the current dynamic depends upon the population and as per the census report of 1941 in Punjab the Muslim community comprised of 53% followed by the Hindu Community of 30% and Sikhs comprised only 15%. Although unhappy, they went on and supported United India but during partition since Muslim population was higher, they demanded for partition and this made Sikhs more unhappy as more then 50% of Punjabi population was Muslim, which meant that even Punjab would be partitioned. The Sikh community then urged that if Hindu’s were getting India and if Muslims were getting Pakistan, then even Sikhs should be getting Sikhistan. 

Shiromani Akali Dal passed a resolution in favor of Sikhistan but only in a scenario of partition or else they were ready to be part of United India. Seeing this, INC leader Jawaharlal Nehru assures Sikhs that they would get a separate state for themselves. The Sikh community although comprised of 15% were scattered throughout Punjab and were not ready for being separated, yet after partition 62% of Punjab goes to Pakistan and only a small part stays with India. In this process more then 150 prominent gurudwaras were left in Pakistan. The Sikhs that stayed in Pakistan had to migrate to India leaving all their lands in Pakistan. That is why it is said that the Sikh community is the one that has suffered the most from Partition. 

The Sikhs that had come from Pakistan were earlier in minority but gradually became majority. After partition there were certain things regarding which Sikhs were not happy like the road transport, which comprised mainly of Sikh businessman and they held a monopoly but it was nationalized. Sikh community always had the culture of serving in the Armed Forces and preference was given to them but later there were certain changes in rules due to which their preference was lowered, this too made them unhappy and they demanded their own state.

In 1956, after the State Reorganization Act, States were divided based on languages like Kannada speaking states got Karnataka and Telugu speaking states got Andhra Pradesh. Earlier, Punjab had comprised of present-day Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. Sikhs demanded that since Haryana was a Hindi speaking nation it was to be separated and the state of Punjab should be formed which spoke Punjabi. This demand was rejected by the government. After this there were rise in tensions in Punjab. There were small riots that happened between Hindus and Sikhs. The Akali Dal started the “Punjabi Suba Movement”, which demanded for a separate Punjabi speaking state. From 1961-65 many movements were started for the creation of the state. Many leaders from Akali Dal were also arrested. 

In the year 1965, amidst all the backlashes from Sikh community the India- Pakistan war had started. The Sikh community showing their patriotism stopped all the movements and gave their unconditional support to the Indian Government. Sikh soldiers played a prominent role in winning the war. After the war, government realized the importance of Sikh community and then in 1966 their demands were accepted. Three states i.e. Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh were formed. Although the capital of Himachal Pradesh was Manali and for the capital for Punjab and Haryana Chandigarh was selected. The Centre changed the status of Chandigarh to that of a Union Territory (UT) and it was to be shared by both the states. Sikhs were unhappy with this and demanded Chandigarh.

After re-organization of Punjab in 1966, the first government was formed by Akali Dal under the leadership of Gurnam Singh in 1967, but the Akali Dal was not able to complete a single term. The reason being that Congress from center either bought new regulations or poached MLA’s due to which the government would collapse. In 1972, Congress won elections in Punjab and Zail Singh became the CM of Punjab.  

Anandpur Sahib Resolution-

Amongst all the problems being faced, the Akali Dal constituted a twelve-member committee on 11th December, 1973. The committee noted down all the issues that Punjab faced like Chandigarh should be the capital of only Punjab, it should be given higher autonomy, etc. They made a report about this and named it “The Anandpur Sahib Resolution”. Kapur Singh made its first draft.

After being drafted there were a lot of confusion regarding the actual draft as a lot of leaders made changes and propagated it. Finally, in 1977 Sant Harcharan Singh Longowal, the president of Akali Dal sent the original copies of the resolution to the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. Then Akali Dal became popular in Punjab and in 1978, it defeated Congress in the elections.

The Akali Dal used religion as a medium to gain support and the Congress lacked behind. Then comes Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale because of whom there is a significant shift in the Punjab politics. 

Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale-

He was a leader from Damdami Taksal, a local religious group. He urged people not to consume tobacco or alcohol and not to cut their hair. He mocked Hindus and modernized Sikhs. As he was gaining popularity in Punjab, Sanjay Gandhi decided to use him as a face for Congress in Punjab which would help them defeat Akali dal. Congress then showed widespread support towards Bhindranwale and gave him unlimited powers to continue his activities. 

He was involved in the murder of Gurcharam Singh, Head of Nirankari Sikhs yet no arrest was made against him. He even murdered Lala Jagat Narayan, the editor of newspaper Punjab Kesari still no arrest was made. Then after pressure from Hindu community, the government arrests him due to which a conflict between him and the Congress begin. But they could not keep him under captive for long time as all his supporters started protesting due to which 17 people lost their lives. Finally, he was released.

He joined hands with Akali Dal and starts Dharm Yudh Morcha. He was the involved in various crimes like assassination attempt of CM Darbara Singh and he was also involved in two plane hijacks in 1982. The situation in Punjab had worsen. In 1983, a bus travelling from Amritsar to Delhi gets hijacked and 38 passengers were killed as they were Hindus. After this incident, president rule is imposed in Punjab.

In 1983, Bhindranwale shifted his location to Akal Takt in Golden Temple complex which he believed would be a safe place for him.

Operation Blue Star-

Bhindranwale had taken residence in Akal Takt and he was supported by a huge crowd. He had sufficient Arms and Ammunition to defend himself. 

On 1st June after the negotiations between the Government and Bhindranwale had failed, Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India ordered the Army to enter the Golden temple Complex and flush out all the Sikh militants from there. 

In the initial days of the operation, the army used light weapons against the terrorist to cause minimal damage to the complex, later the Army brought heavy weapons, including Tanks and Artillery to kill the militants. The operation finally ended on 10Th June, 1984 killing Bhindranwale and other Sikh militants present there.

Although there is no official casualties’ number, but many claim that nearly 5000-10000 people were killed in the operation, which included mainly civilians.


After the operation had concluded, Sikhs from all around the world were agitated as many parts of the Golden Temple complex had been severally damaged due to the shelling of tanks by the Army. 1st June is the death anniversary of Guru Arjan Deva, and many worshippers were present in the temple. Despite knowing this Army mobilized its troops and started the operation. Many people criticized this move.

Many Sikh soldiers from different regiments protested against it. Sikh MP’s and MLA’s were resigning from their posts. The government was arresting the Akali leaders. The whole Sikh Community was grievously hurt after seeing the damaged Akali Takt.

Many members of the Central Govt and Army officers were provided with additional security as threat upon them had increased.

On 31st October, 1984 Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her two bodyguards Beant Singh and Satwant Singh in her residence. She was shot with 18 bullets. After her death tensions rose between Hindus and Sikhs. The Hindu-Sikh Riots had begun in which Hindus were targeting Sikhs and killing them. Sikh Shops were looted and women were raped. The police did not do anything and showed its support towards Hindu community. Many congress leaders were chanting slogans such as “Khoon ka Badla Khoon se” and then in Delhi nearly 3000 Sikhs were killed and 100’s of Gurudwaras were destroyed.

The Government arrested around 2000 people but they were later released. Many congress leaders who were involved in the riots were given MP and MLA tickets.

Although Bhindranwale had died, his ideas were still alive. Many of his supporters protested for Khalistan. Rajiv Gandhi became the prime minister of India and signed the Gandhi-Longewala Accord but later backed out. The tensions in Punjab were still at an all time high. Khalistani separatist were yet again flushed from Golden Temple Complex in Operation Black Thunder in 1986 and 1988. In this operation police forces were used rather then army and minimal damage was caused to the complex. It was planned by Ajit Doval, the current National Security Advisor of India.


Slowly the tensions lowered and many leaders brought new ideas that helped in the development of Punjab. Many reports even claim that Manmohan Singh was made the PM in 2004, to please the Sikh population. Many Sikh people migrated to countries like USA, Canada, UK and Australia. They showed support for Khalistan from foreign countries.

 Many reports even claim that Pakistan supports the Khalistan Movement and funds them with the sole criteria of causing internal disturbances in India. Pakistan even provides safe haven for Khalistani separatist.

Another point that is to be mentioned is that not all Sikh people support Khalistan. There is a considerable portion of Sikh community members who want to live in India. 

The separatist have started the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) which is deemed as a terror organization by India. They operate from Pakistan and Canada. The govts of UK, Canada and USA support the Khalistan protests in their countries as Sikh population comprises of 5-10% of their total population. 

This is the reason why the relations between India and Canada have strained. Sikhs comprise of about 10% of the total Canadian population and to secure its vote bank, Canadian Govt has showed its support to terrorist such as Hardeep Singh Nijjar and Gurpatwant Singh Pannu.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)-

  1. What is Khalistani Movement?

The Khalistani Movement is a separatist campaign seeking to create a sovereign state called Khalistan (Land of the Pure) in the Punjab region of India. The movement emerged in the late 20th century, primarily advocating for a homeland for Sikhs.

  1. What is Operation Blue Star?

Operation Blue Star was a military operation carried out by the Indian Army in June 1984 to remove armed militants led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale from the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar, Punjab. The operation resulted in significant casualties and damage to the holy site, leading to widespread anger and furthering the Khalistani cause among many Sikhs.

  1. How did Assassination of Indira Gandhi impact the Movement?

The assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984, by her Sikh bodyguards was a direct repercussion of Operation Blue Star. Her assassination led to anti-Sikh riots in Delhi and other parts of India, resulting in thousands of deaths and deepening the divide between Sikhs and the Indian government, further fueling the movement.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *