In the year 2007, Gurpatwant Singh Panun, a New York based attorney providing legal services to asylum seekers in the US decided that he would create a new country. The region he chose for his bizarre dream was Punjab, a small landlocked state of India that shares borders with Pakistan. Gurpatwant roped in his brother Avtar Singh Panun in his scheme and created an organisation called “Sikhs for Justice” (SFJ). He appointed his brother as President of the organisation and became its legal advisor himself. The organisation could find only a few supporters from within the Sikh community and, as such, existed in isolation for many years. It then hit upon the idea of leveraging online means to grow further and it initiated an online campaign named “Sikh Referendum 2020,” to find support for the objective of establishing an independent and sovereign country in Indian Punjab to be called “Khalistan.”
It is difficult to clearly substantiate whether the Pakistani spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was the mastermind of the plan or became a part of the same later, but, what is certain is that, as the activities of the group gained momentum, the signature of ISI became more visible. SFJ sought political support from Pakistan to ‘liberate Punjab from Indian occupation;’ its websites, www.sikhsforjustics.org and www.2020referendum.org, shared domains and sourced content from a Karachi-based website http://snip.pk. The personal websites of several SFJ activists, including that of Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, were linked to the same Pakistani website.
The efforts of SFJ need to be analysed in historical context. The mighty Sikh empire was the last to fall to the British post the second Anglo-Sikh War in 1849. The British realised that the Sikhs were not an easy community to subjugate and hence, they removed the young Maharaja Duleep Singh from Punjab altogether and divided the empire into small parts. For control, a British Lieutenant Governor was established at Lahore, the center of Sikh power.
When independence of the Nation and the attendant partition was being considered, the first to be considered as an integral part of the Indian Union should have been the erstwhile Sikh Empire. Had the progeny of Maharaja Ranjit Singh been ruling in Lahore, as was the case of the other 500 plus Princely states of India, Punjab would not have been arbitrarily cut between India and Pakistan. Thus, the division of Punjab between India and Pakistan is a historical travesty that needs to be corrected.
There is also a need to subject the word “Khalistan” to debate. Khalsa is a holy word coined by Guru Gobind Singh Ji to define the community that he raised to fight against injustice and in aid of the suppressed and marginalised. It cannot be trivialised by use in a word in a manner that has a distinct Muslim connotation. It is only Muslim countries that use the word “istan” to define themselves viz, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan etc. If such had been the intention then Maharaja Ranjit Singh would have named his Empire Khalistan, but he did not. The word used at that time was “Sarkar Khalsa” and in English the “Sikh Empire.” Under no circumstances has the holy word “Khalsa” been changed, distorted or amended in Sikh history. The Khalsa would not like to merge its identity with that of Muslim theocratic states. Gurpatwant Singh Panun and his SFJ have no authority to do so, in fact, their act of a even attempting thus needs to be subjected to censure.
Sikh for Justice could have been deemed to be doing yeoman service for Punjab in general and the Sikh community in particular had it attempted to integrate its campaign with the wider aspiration of the Indian sub-continent uniting once again to set aside the British perfidy that led to its partition. It should have rooted for a unified Punjab including the areas that are presently with Pakistan.
It would have been deemed to be working in the best interest of the Sikh community if it had asked for an explanation with regard to the complete disappearance of the proud Sikhs from the soil of their ancestors in Pakistan and called for resurrection of the community once more.
The fact that it is not speaking of Lahore the seat of the Sikh Empire and holy places like Kartarpur Sahib and Nankana Sahib being a part of its vision for “Khalistan” and nor is it pressurising Pakistan to look into the interest of the Sikh community within the country indicates an agenda driven not with the interest of the Sikhs and the Punjabis but at the behest of a power that is inimical to India.
It is because of it flawed ideology and inherent contradiction that the SFJ movement found no takers in Punjab; its obnoxious tilt towards Pakistan further exposed it as a stooge of the ISI with financial gain as the only objective.
It is no wonder then that the appeal to clip the wings of SFJ gained a universal political signature in Punjab. It is one of the rare issues in which the Congress led Government in Punjab was on the same page as the NDA Government in the center and fully supported a ban on the organisation. On July, 10, 2019, the Union Cabinet announced ban of SFJ, for its anti-national activities. The ban was imposed under Section 3 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh welcomed the ban, but also said that Punjab government would have preferred labelling of SFJ as a terror organisation.
Punjab Police has registered 10 cases against the SFJ and its members, while the NIA is also probing the group in one case. In all 11 cases, investigators have found that the SFJ was providing money and logistical support to local terrorists in Punjab to carry out subversive activities.”
Pakistan is always on the lookout for such elements that can spread dissension in Punjab and especially create a rift between the Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims, since, harmonious coexistence between these communities does not suit the evil neighbouring country at all.
In particular, Pakistan wishes to sow seeds of discord between the Hindus and the Sikh of Punjab so as to weaken the state and it in this direction that organisations like SFJ come into play. Talk of Khalistan is only a method to sow seeds of distrust between communities. Fortunately, the brave, hardworking people of Punjab have warded off all such challenges imposed by the enemy and will do so in future also.
(Jaibans Singh is a reputed analyst and writer)