Punjab insurgency

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The insurgency in the Indian state of Punjab originated in the late 1970s. There roots of the insurgency were very complex.

Roots of Insurgency

Punjabi Suba Movement

Punjab, after Indian independence, had large Hindi speaking areas in the south and the west. In the 1960s many Akali leaders started agitating for a Punjabi-speaking state. When the census was done to decide the division of Punjab, many Punjabi-speaking Hindus decided to put Hindi as their native language instead of Punjabi. Many Sikhs viewed Punjabi Hindus as traitors for abandoning the cause of Punjab and Punjabi language. After the division of Punjab on linguistic purpose, Punjab received a Sikh majority for the first time.

Economic issues

When the Green Revolution came to Punjab, it transformed the landscape of the state. Punjab saw increase on prosperity because of the Green Revolution. Punjab had occupational differences between Hindus and Sikhs. Most Sikhs were farmers and lived in the rural areas of Punjab. Most Hindus, were urban based and were involved in retail trade and manufacturing. Many Sikhs were still struggling despite the green revolution because the average farm size decrease after every generation. These economic causes also contributed a lot to the Punjab insurgency.

Bhindranwale and undermining the Akalis

The second reason was attempts made by the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi to use Bhindranwale to undermine the Akali Dal (Eternal Party), a religious party. The strategy backfired because Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale started challenging Indira Gandhi and the Indian government. Bhindranwale and his followers became a source of disruption and mayhem. Bhindranwale gained a lot of support from the rural Sikhs because they felt alienated from the Indian government. Their disruptions became so bad that in 1984, Indira Gandhi had to order the Indian Army to flush out Bhindranwale and his followers who were holed up in the Harimandir Sahib complex, Sikhism's most holy shrine, in Amritsar. The operation undertaken by the army was codenamed Operation Bluestar. Most Sikhs inside the complex were killed, the Akal Takht was bombed, and the temple was left in ravages. Bullet holes are still visible in the complex. Many Sikhs viewed Operation Bluestar as a political tool used by Indira Gandhi to win the elections that were to be held in few months after Operation Bluestar.

Operation Bluestar

Operation Bluestar was a mixed success. Negotiations were held with Bhindranwale and his supporters who were holed up in the Harimandir Sahib Complex. After all negotiations failed, Indira Gandhi ordered the army to storm the temple complex. A variety of army units along with paramilitary forces surrounded the temple complex on June 3, 1984. The army stormed the temple without giving any warning to innocent pilgrams trapped inside. The army had grossly underestimated the firepower possessed by the militants. Thus,tanks and heavy artillery were used to forcefully suppress the anti-tank and machine-gun fire. After a 24 hour firefight, the army finally wrested control of the temple complex. According to Indian Government sources 83 army personnel were killed and 249 injured while insurgent casualties were 493 killed and 86 injured. Un-official figures go well into the thousands. Along with insurgents, many innocent worshippers were caught in the middle. The estimates of innocent people killed in the operation range from a few hundred to thousands of people.

Effect of Operation Bluestar

The attack on the Harimandir Sahib inflamed the sikh community. Many saw it as an attack on their religion and beliefs. Operation Bluestar, instead of decreasing militancy, gave rise to it. It is widely believed that the two Sikh bodyguards who assassinated Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984, were driven by their anger over the Harimandir Sahib episode. In the wake of Indira Gandhi's assassination, mobs rampaged through the streets of Delhi and other parts of India over the next few days, killing several thousand Sikhs. The New Delhi Police did little to stop the rioters and order was restored only when the army had been called in, three days after rioting had begun.[1]

Repercussions of the riots

The Anti-Sikh riots across Northern India had repercussions in Punjab. Thousands of innocent Hindus and Sikhs were killed by extremists of both religions; trains were attacked and people were shot after being pulled from buses. Indira Gandhi's son and political successor, Rajiv Gandhi, tried, unsuccessfully, to bring peace to Punjab. Successive governments, like the Janata Dal government, also tried to bring peace to Punjab but failed. Between 1987 and 1991, Punjab was placed under President's rule and was governed from Delhi. Elections were eventually held in 1992 but the voter turnout at 24% was poor. A new Congress(I) government was formed and it gave the police chief of the state K.P.S. Gill a free hand. Gill was ruthless against the insurgents and his methods severely weakened the insurgency movement. However, Gill's reign is also regarded as one of the bloodiest in the history of the country, thousands of innocents were killed in fake encounters and countless disappeared from their homes in the dark. His police force was also accused of crimes such as rape and torture of women and children. The insurgency all but disappeared during the early 1990s because of the crackdown by the police and the general abandonment of the insurgent's cause by the Punjab populace.