The US indictment of an Indian national in an alleged murder-for-hire plot against a Sikh separatist in New York threatens to damage US-India ties, just as the Biden administration has courted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. .
The allegations stem from a decades-long dispute: the demand by some Sikhs for a sovereign state known as Khalistan established in northern India, which the Modi government opposes.
In addition to leading the failed plot in New York, the indictment alleges that an Indian official orchestrated the killing of a Sikh separatist in Canada who was gunned down in June by masked gunmen outside a Vancouver temple.
The idea of Khalistan is rooted in Sikhism, a religion with 26 million followers, approximately 23 million of whom live in the Indian state of Punjab. Sikhs make up less than 2 percent of India’s population of 1.4 billion.
India has banned the Khalistani movement, which has only limited support in Punjab. Nevertheless, it remains a rallying cry among the approximately 3 million members of the Sikh diaspora, particularly in Canada, Australia and the UK.
Sikhism was founded in the 15th century in Punjab, and in 1699 an influential leader of the religion, Guru Gobind Singh, supported the idea of Sikh rule.
After India was partitioned in 1947, some Sikh leaders tried to establish a Punjabi-speaking Sikh state. That effort never materialized, but the dream survived. In the 1970s and 1980s, it gained traction among Sikhs in Punjab and the Sikh diaspora. The movement inspired an armed rebellion that lasted more than a decade. India responded with torture, illegal detentions and extrajudicial executions.
In June 1984, Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India, ordered troops to storm the Golden Temple, Sikhism’s holiest site, in Amristar, to arrest rebels hiding there. Hundreds were killed.
In October of that year, Gandhi was assassinated by two Sikh bodyguards, a death that triggered a wave of violence that claimed thousands of lives.
In 1985, separatists associated with the Sikh diaspora planted a bomb on an Air India flight en route from Toronto to London, killing more than 300 people.
By the early 1990s, the insurgency had been largely crushed in Punjab, with hundreds of insurgents arrested, killed or driven underground.
During and after the Sikh insurgency, the growing diaspora began to demand accountability for human rights abuses committed by Indian forces in Punjab.
However, political observers said these activists, while often participating in anti-India protests, have remained largely unorganized.
Sikhs waving Khalistani flags have become commonplace at Indian consulates. Alarmed, India has demanded that countries crack down on Sikh activists, who New Delhi views as a “threat” to its sovereignty.
India’s relationship with Canada was strained before the June assassination of Canadian Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who supported independence. New Delhi has accused Canada of harboring separatist militants.
The Government of India has stated that the failure of foreign governments to deal with Sikh separatism would be an obstacle to good relations.
By: Sameer Yasir
THE NEW YORK TIMES
BBC-NEWS-SRC: http://www.nytsyn.com/subscribed/stories/7017062, IMPORTEDate: 2023-12-06 20:00:07