Monday, August 8

Roots of Violence in Punjab

An account of the recent Sikh history by Vipul Mudgil, detailing what came to be known as the 'Punjab Problem'.

The roots of the Sikh identity, as we know it today, run parallel to the 'renaissance of Hinduism' brought about by the Arya Samaj, a Hindu revivalist movement led by the Punjabi Hindu nationalists. The Arya Samajis often criticised the political actions of their Muslim counterparts, but some of their leaders also questioned the existence of a distinct Sikh identity. The more the Hindu revivalists claimed Sikhism to be yet another of Hinduism's many branches, the more the Sikhs insisted they had a separate identity. The Government of India Census Reports of 1911 and 1921 show that out of as many as two dozen Sikh sects in Punjab in the beginning of the century, those which had varied identities moved towards a more unified and monolithic 'keshdhari' Sikh identity. It was feared that the assertion of 'superiority' by the Hindus might absorb Sikhism into the wider stream of Hinduism, as happened with Jainism and partly with Buddhism in India. As a result of this fear, the expansion of the Arya Samaj gave impetus to the Singh Sabha movement, which organised the Sikhs along much the same lines. Sensitive about Hindus denying them a separate entity, the Singh Sabha was extremely suspicious about the multiplicity of the Sikh identity. What was happening in Sikhism in the early century was not unique: it was something that many religions witnessed all over the world. A move towards organised religion was replacing the older pluralist paradigm by a more uniform identity. The Sikh Gurudwara Act, 1925, passed by the British rulers after a long agitation, defined the Sikh as 'one who believes in the ten gurus and the Granth Sahab (the holy scriptures) and is not a 'patit' (apostate)'. The definition under the Act did not include most sects listed as Sikhs in the census reports in the early part of the century.
A separate religious identity and consciousness was reinforced by the guiding principles British colonialism in India: to create and intensify the wedge between different caste, class and community groups spread all over the country (substantial academic research is available on the subject). The colonial rulers were the natural benefactors of the emergence and consolidation of various religious identities all over India, including Punjab. They did their best to keep Hindus, Muslims and the Sikhs divided by administrative and legal means. The British administration passed the Land Alienation Act, specially in Punjab, whose declared aim was to prevent the moneylender from exploiting the cultivator. In practice, the Act heightened communal tensions in the erstwhile Indian Punjab. It was felt by the predominantly Hindu moneylenders that it had been enacted to favour the Muslim and Sikh cultivators. The introduction of a communal electorate in Punjab further complicated the problem. The Cripps Mission of 1942 widened this divide and gave impetus to the demand for Pakistan, a course which later affected the Sikh leadership in its own way.
As a reaction to the possibility of the Muslims getting Pakistan in the forties, the Akali Dal issued a pamphlet proposing a Sikh-ruled 'Azad Punjab' (free Punjab). In 1944, when the Congress Leader Rajagopalachari published his controversial formula which suggested, among other things, that areas of Muslim dominance be demarcated, Akali leader Master Tara Singh stated for the first time that the Sikhs were a separate nation. Many scholars thought that this demand was more of a reaction to the demand for Pakistan. In July 1946, about a year before Independence, Jawaharlal Nehru, who later became the first prime minister of free India in 1947, promised to set up an area in the north where in the Sikhs could experience the 'glow of freddom'.
Punjab's worst time of the century came when it had to be partitioned between India and Pakistan in 1947. The aftermath of freedom and the process of partition saw unparalleled violence and massacres of all three communities: Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. The violence was unprecedented in history. Khushwant Singh (1961) has quoted Moon (1961) as having given the 'somewhat inflated' figure of 100,000 Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs killed on both the Indian and Pakistani sides.
Subsequently, in 1950, when the Constitution of India was finalised, the Akali leadership did not find Nehru's promise reflected in it. The draft so provoked the two Sikh members of the Constituent Assembly, Hukum Singh and Bhupinder Singh Mann, that they refused to endorse the Constitution, pleading that it was against the minorities' interests.

The Sikhs and the Indian Constitution
The overall framework of the Indian constitution (1950) was democratic and secular. A quasi-federal structure with a union government at the centre and several governments in the provinces offered an opportunity of limited self-rule to the states, with their own elections, cabinets and governments. A secular foundation to the nation's political system also kept religious and sectarian politics at bay, at least in the formative years. The first government of independent India abolished communal electorates and other legal provisions which were seen by the nation's leadership as British tools for dividing the people. In the first decade, political parties like the Akali Dal, Muslim League and the Hindu Jana Sangh backed by its militant front organisations, the RSS, had little success in the elections. In the 1952 general elections, the Congress party got an overall majority on a secular, social democratic programme. It returned to power in the next two successive elections in 1957 and 1962. (Interestingly, the Akalis did not fight the 1957 election as a political party, as it had got merged in the Congress in 1956. The merger lasted for a very short while.) A large section of the Sikh community supported the congress, even though it was not completely satisfied with its political programme. Its grievances resurfaced over a decade later during the 'Punjabi Suba' movement led by Master Tara Singh and Sant Fateh Singh. They demanded a new state out of the unified Punjab, with Punjabi as its official language.
The movement succeeded in rallying a cross-section of Sikhs behind it, and among the campaign's sympathisers was a section of Congress Leaders in New Delhi. After Mrs Gandhi became the prime minister of India in 1966, she proposed the division of Punjab. All major political parties of the opposition, except the Hindu Jana Sangh, supported her proposal. In 1966, what was left of Indian Punjab after Partition was further divided into Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. The Punjabi Suba was a major victory for its leadership which fought the Congress Party in the subsequent elections in 1967 and 1969 with the help of other opposition parties.
In the first general election after the state's division, a highly unlikely coalition consisting of the Akalis, the Jana Sangh and the Communist Party of India defeated the Congress. The coalition government could not complete its tenure mainly due to the Akalis' internal bickering, its own contradictions and en masse defections from the Akali Dal to the Congress. In the next two general elections in 1969 and 1970, Akali-led coalitions came to power twice, but each government lasted for a little over a year, instead of the full term of five years. Throughout these years, the Akalis were using gurudwara (Sikh temple) politics and the office of the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) for political and electoral gains. Although politically the Akali party was closer to the congress than to its two coalition partners (the Jana Sangh which opposed the Punjabi Suba movement and the Communists who were against religious parties), it declared the Congress to be it main enemy.
The Akalis were upset with the Congress for various reasons. The Sikh leadership felt betrayed when the Congress government in New Delhi, instead of helping out, chose to impose Presidents' Rule each time its coalition government was in crisis. (The same mistrust would be deepened after the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, in the aftermath of Mrs Indira Gandhi's assassination by her Sikh bodyguards). Another bone of contention was an Akali political programme called the 'Anandpur Sahib Resolution'. The Congress party, as also many other opposition parties including the Bharatiya Janata Party (a new incarnation of the old Jana Sangh), opposed the programme as antinational. Passed in 1978 by the general house of the Akali Dal in Ludhiana the resolution has been interpreted in many different forms. Mrs Indira Gandhi saw seeds of separatism in the Akalis' demand for more autonomy for Punjab, within a federal polity, even though the Communists and many more regional parties were raising the same demand.

The Rise of Bhindranwale
A Congress chief minister, Giani Zail Singh, who came to power in 1972, abandoned the party?s secular programme to a large extent and used sectarian politics to fight Hindu and Sikh communalists. During his tenure as chief minister of Punjab, Giani Zail Singh followed the appeasement of extremists, with New Delhi's blessings. In his fight against the Akalis, he openly used the Sikh fanatics, who were beginning to gain ground in the seventies. A good number of observers believe that the Congress party was responsible for the emergence of Sikh fundamentalism in Punjab (Patwant Singh and Harji Malik, 1985; Mark Tully and Satish Jacob, 1985; Kumar, 1984). Tully and Jacob have noted that Mrs Gandhi's younger son, Sanjay Gandhi, who had become an extra-constitutional authority in the party, hand-picked Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a priest of the landowning class (jat) on the giani's advice. Bhindranwale, who was known for his fundamentalist views, was encouraged to stand up to the Akalis with the help of an extremist platform, the Dal Khalsa. Bhindranwale piqued the Akalis with his demand for 'Khalistan' on the one hand, and on the other actively campaigned for Congress candidates in 1980, a charge Mrs. Gandhi's partly admitted in an interview given to the BBC's Panorama programme.
In 1977, when Mrs Gandhi returned to power after her post-emergency debacle, her loyal supporter Giani Zail Singh was made the federal home minister. By then, Bhindranwale's extreme views and his abhorrence for the Akali leadership had become common knowledge. It is debatable whether Bhindranwale was still being used by his earlier mentor, Zail Singh, or he was acting on his own, but one of his avowed aims was to counter the Akalis politically. In his religious congregations held inside the Golden Temple, he often ridiculed and challenged the Akali Dal president, Harchand Singh Longowal, a leader of considerable stature and repute. In August 1982, Longowal started a peasant's movement, 'Dharamyudh Morcha' (crusade), in order to strengthen his party. Their demands included both political ones, such as a fair share of river water for the farmers, and religious ones, like holy city status to Amritsar and the broadcast of Sikh religious hymns on All India Radio. New Delhi had several rounds of talks with the Akali leadership, but no compromise formula emerged on their charter of 15 demands. This gave Bhindranwale and his supporters more opportunity to ridicule the Akalis.
Bhindranwale shared a part of the more moderate Akali leader Longowal's methods and his political constituency. Longowal championed farmer's rights; Bhindranwale talked about injustice to the rural Sikhs; Longowal wanted Amritsar to be a holy city and 'gurbani' broadcast on radio; propagation of Sikhism was one of Bhindranwale?s cardinal missions. Both operated from the Golden Temple and launched their actions and movements from there, and inside the Golden Temple, both leaders had the support of armed followers who often challenged each other for supremacy. However, Longowal's long-drawn-out 'crusade' was slipping out of his grip in the early eighties around the same time when Bhindranwale's influence was increasing. For the orthodox, Bhindranwale was emerging like a symbol of Sikh revivalism. In his congregations inside gurudwaras, he often challenged skeptics and heretics among the Sikhs, and sects like the Nirankaris which still followed a living guru instead of the holy scriptures. He had also started a campaign against those in the faith who trimmed their beards or consumed tobacco or alcohol, banned by the Sikh gurus. Bhindranwale was in the national headlines in April 1978 when he led a procession of his angry supporters, right after a fiery speech, to a Nirankari convention a few miles from the Golden Temple. This resulted in a in a clash between the Nirankaris and the Khalsas in which 12 of Bhindranwale's supporters and a Nirankari were killed. A Nirankari agitation followed, which became a major crisis for the ruling Akali Party in Punjab.
For the next two years, Bhindranwale used this incident as a reminder to his followers that the true Sikhs were being persecuted. When the Nirankaris put on trial were acquitted as they were found to have acted in self-defence, Bhindranwale swore revenge. About two years after this clash, his supporters in Delhi gunned down the Nirankari's supreme leader, their guru, Baba Gurbachan Singh. Fearing action, Bhindranwale shifted to one of the rooms inside the Golden Temple.18 It was curious that Home Minister Zail Singh told the Indian Parliament that the sant had nothing to do with the murder, while Bhindranwale declared that the killers deserved to be honoured, and he would weigh them with gold if they came to him. Later, Bhindranwale was accused of bringing out a 'hit list' of his enemies, who were proclaimed as enemies of the Sikh religion. Apart from dissenting politicians and critical journalists, the 'hit list' carried names of several Sikh bureaucrats and intellectuals, or virtually anyone who stood up to Bhindranwale.
Among the first few target killings by Bhindranwale's supporters were two prominent journalists. In 1981, chief editor of the Hindi paper, Punjab Kesari and proprietor of the Hind Samachar group of publications, Lala Jagat Narain, were killed. 'Lalaji', as the editor was known, was one of the most committed opponents of Bhindranwale. About a year later, armed men struck again, killing his son, Ramesh Chandra, who had taken over as chief editor and had continued his father's aggressively pro-Hindu editorial policy. It was fairly well known that the names of both these journalists as well as that of the Nirankari guru had figured on Bhindranwale's hit list. After several cold-blooded murders in the next two years, of priests, prominent people in gurudwara politics and high-ranking police officers, the pattern of violence slowly began to adopt a more indiscriminate approach.
It was indeed intriguing that Bhindranwale was never tried for fomenting violence. He was once arrested from a gurudwara near Amritsar on his own conditions, which included a chosen time and place and permission to address a congregation before he gave himself up to the police. His supporters got violent when he was being taken and attacked the police. In the ensuing clash, 11 people were killed. Bhindranwale was let off without charges in a few weeks. Several academics and journalists believe that the preacher was released from custody on the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's orders.
The aftermath of Bhindranwale's arrest witnessed a convulsive spurt of violence. Within days of his arrest, Sikh gunmen killed four people and injured about 12 in an incident of indiscriminate firing on Hindus in Jalandhar. In a similar incident in Amritsar district the next day, one Hindu was killed and 13 injured. Apart from sporadic shoot-outs and incidents of sabotage like, derailment of trains, an Indian Airlines plane was hijacked to Lahore in Pakistan. In another daring incident in Patiala, a bomb explosion took place inside the office of the deputy inspector general police who was sent to arrest Bhindranwale. The officer escaped unhurt, but the blast exhibited Bhindranwale's penetration of the police force. In the next few months, Bhindranwale's supporters made headlines for either their utterances, or actions varying from bomb blasts to bank robberies. In January 1983, bombs were thrown at two Congress leaders' houses, one of them a minister, and a few weeks later a Sikh DIG of police was killed while coming out of the Golden Temple after offering prayers.
One of the early massacres took place in October 1983, when armed men struck on a bus in Dhilwan village near Jalandhar. They singled out six passengers and shot them because they were Hindus. This pattern of killing Hindus was to later become the most notable method of violence in Punjab with the advent of several new organisations. Apart from the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF), Khalistan Commando Force (KCF), Babbar Khalsa, Dashmesh Regiment and All India Sikh Students' Federation (AISSF), at least two dozen other pro-Khalistan organisations were floated in the mid- and late-eighties. The Panthic Committee, a coordinating body of these organisations, was later formed which itself got divided into several factions towards the end of the eighties. The violence perpetrated by these groups could be easily divided into two distinct phases. The first phase was contiguous with the rise of Bhindranwale. It began in the late seventies and continued till June 1984, when the Indian Army conducted an armed operation at the Golden Temple. Bhindranwale was among the hundreds who were killed during the operation. The second phase began in the aftermath of the operation and continued with its ups and downs till the end of the eighties. The violence subsided in the nineties, particularly after 1992, though sporadic incidents still continue.
The first phase of terrorism in Punjab was marked by Bhindranwale's undisputed command over almost all armed organisations. A large number of killings in this phase were of the 'targets' whose names would appear on the notorious 'hit list'. Bhindranwale was the fountainhead of power and the biggest living source of inspiration for those committing violence. In his many speeches at the Golden Temple and other gurudwaras, he quoted examples of martyrs from Sikh history and mythology to inspire his followers to take to arms.
Bhindranwale?s religious discourses offered his followers logic for using violence as a matter of right in their struggle against what was seen by him as injustice. Juergensmeyer (1988), who has analysed Bhindranwale's speeches made at his famous congregations, argues that all such violent actions which had religion's moral sanction were essentially political actions. According to him, 'By putting the right to kill in their own hands, the perpetrators of religious violence are also making a daring claim of political independence.'

Operation Bluestar
In December 1983, when pressure was mounting on the central government to a arrest Bhindranwale, he and a large number of his armed supporters moved to the Akal Takht-one of the most sacred buildings inside the Golden Temple complex. After the entourage had shifted to what was considered then a safe haven, a spate of 'punishments' inside the complex and other 'actions' all over Punjab started to take place. Several people who apparently disagreed with Bhindranwale and his supporters were severely tortured and their bodies thrown into the drain. Such was the state of lawlessness all over Punjab, that between 1 October 1983 and 31 May 1984, as many as 24 banks were robbed. Millions of rupees were looted in these incidents and several officials and guards killed. In the month of April, 39 railway stations, mostly unmanned ones, were brunt down in a three-day campaign by the movement's supporters. Several politicians and many Sikh priests were among those killed. Hardly any day passed during this time without a few killings being reported. While these incidents carried on all over Punjab, those inside the Golden Temple fortified the turrets and walls of the sprawling complex and placed sandbags at strategic points. Arms and ammunition were brought to the temple in kar sewa (voluntary service) trucks. The militants also hired private houses around the temple and forcibly occupied some in order to consolidate their positions. The Government's white Paper claims that the 'terrorist in the rural areas were instructed that in the event of any government action, they should go ahead on their own to kill Hindus and Central Government employees and to move in large numbers to the temple'.
The temple was fortified with the help of expert former army personnel (under the leadership of a former major general, Shubheg Singh), who also imparted weapons training to armed Bhindranwale supporters. The White Paper notes: 'Battle plans had been drawn up with ingenuity, maximizing the advantages provided by the basements, underground passages, niches, winding staircases, lookouts and towers in the temple complex.' The biggest advantage of those inside the temple was that they had the sanctuary of the precincts, considered inviolable till then. The operation started in the early hours of 4 June 1984. According to Subash Kirpekar, one of the very few journalists who witnessed the whole operation from a building close by, light and medium machine guns, grenades and a variety of other guns were used by both sides. The militants also used rocket launchers, anti-personnel mines, and according to the government?s claim, some anti-tank missiles and other heavy weapons were also recovered from their possession. The Army troops used tanks, helicopters and several types of artillery shells in the operation which lasted for over two and a half days.
Many journalists and academics believe that the official death toll during the operation was underplayed. Khushwant Singh has come to a final figure of 379 dead and 2,000 wounded. Singh has quoted the 'Akalis' figure? as well over a thousand. Subash Kirpekar puts the toll at 2,000, quoting unconfirmed reports and rumours in Amritsar. The operation caused an enormous degree of hurt in the minds of all Sikhs, whether in the Congress party, the defence services or in the opposition. Some scholars believe that the operation and the November riots in Delhi and elsewhere united the Sikhs, as their different identities like jat, bhapa, mazhabi, khatri, tended to merge into one single Sikh identity.

Indira Gandhi's Assassination and the Carnage of Sikhs
The immediate aftermath of the operation saw great discontentment among Sikhs in the Indian Army spread in different cantonments all over the country. Over 1,400 army men revolted at the Ramgarh Sikh Regimental Centre and deserted barracks with their service rifles and ammunition. There were protests by Sikhs all over the world, and some Khalistan supporters abroad threatened revenge. The Indian High Commission in London protested to the British Foreign Office against an interview given by a Khalistan leader in the UK, Jagjit Singh Chauhan, in which he reportedly said that Mrs Gandhi and her family members would be beheaded by the Sikhs. New Delhi took up this opportunity to reassert its claim that a 'foreign hand' was conspiring to divide India.
In Punjab's recent political history, 1984 was like a watershed. The sequence of events after Operation Bluestar changed the entire face of Punjab's - and perhaps India's - politics for a long time. Within less than five months of the operation, two Sikh bodyguards shot Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi on 31 October 1984. Within hours of the assassination, mobs went berserk, burning and rampaging shops and businesses owned by Sikhs. In the following two days, a large number of Sikh men, women and children were killed on roads, inside trains and buses and even in their own houses and gurudwaras. The violence also spread to other towns and cities in India. The incidents were referred to as the 'Delhi riots' or the 'November riots' by the media, but the reports brought out by India's human rights organisations and citizens? fora labelled them as a 'carnage' or ?massacre? of the Sikhs. They had a point, because at most places Sikhs were picked up and killed without any signs of a sectarian conflict.
Charges of official complicity, in at least ignoring violence and not deploying the army soon enough and with strict orders, gained currency after human rights organisations held some Congress-I leaders responsible for inciting the rioters. The death toll estimates by various non-official agencies is put at between 4,000 and 5,000 in Delhi and the nearby areas. The atrocities included abduction and rape of women, most of which could not be documented in a proper manner because of taboos among the victims and the fear of ostracism by their own community.
Several commissions were appointed by the government in the subsequent years, and one of them even implicated, though not charge-sheeted, several ruling party members. The process of bringing the 'culprits' to book is still on after more than 10 years of the carnage. Meanwhile, underground Sikh organisations shot down many of those thought to be behind the carnage and also killed ordinary people in residential colonies and public places. In one single day, over 100 residents of Delhi's slums and hutments were killed by planting bombs concealed in transistors. Incidents of terrorism continued in Delhi and Punjab throughout the eighties in a big way, and to a lesser extent in the early nineties.

The Rajiv-Longowal Accord
The first signs of a settlement emerged in July 1985 when the Central government headed by Mrs Gandhi's son Rajiv, who was appointed prime minister after his mother's assassination in 1984, but who won the subsequent election with a convincing margin, negotiated with Akali Dal President Longowal. Subsequently, an accord was signed by Mr Longowal and Mr Gandhi on 24 July 1985, which was followed by an election which the Akalis swept. The main provisions of the accord included the transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab, an inquiry into the November incidents, compensation to the innocent persons killed, and the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.34 The Government of India also agreed to enact an All-India Gurudwara Act. Among other important aspects of the accord was the understanding that the claims of Punjab and Haryana regarding the sharing of river waters would be referred for adjudication to a tribunal to be presided over by a Supreme Court judge. It was agreed that the decision of the tribunal would be binding on both sides. The transfer of Chandigarh was to take place on India's Republic Day, 26 January, the following year, simultaneously with the transfer of certain areas in lieu to Haryana, Punjab's adjoining province. Many other demands were not conceded immediately, but the government agreed to consider them.
The Longowal Accord was welcomed by Sikhs in Punjab and all over the country and this was reflected in his party's landslide victory after the accord. He followed a two-pronged strategy after the accord. First, he got his detractors in the party to unanimously endorse the agreement. Subsequently, he started a mass contact programme all over Punjab, particularly in the countryside, to win acceptability for his agreement. However, Longowal himself did not live to see that unprecedented victory in the elections which he had converted into some kind of a referendum on the accord. He was shot by armed extremists in less than a month after the accord was signed. His party was led to elections by his deputy, Surjit Singh Barnala, who became the Akali chief minister of Punjab. However, Chandigarh was not transferred to Punjab on the appointed day, which suggested that the government's view on the accord had changed after Longowal's assassination. The new-found shift in the government's attitude became handy to justify terrorist violence. It gave a nice opportunity for the dissidents in the Akali party to start a campaign against the chief minister.

The Second Phase of Violence
Barnala's truncated tenure as chief minister witnessed an unprecedented upsurge in terrorist violence. Hundreds were killed in less than two years. This was just the beginning of the second phase of violence, characterised by a clear lack of leadership. In this phase, the number of terrorist organisations was multiplying and the pattern of violence was fast becoming more indiscriminate and unpredictable. In 1981 and 1982, civilian killings were 13 each year, while only two police officials had been shot. In 1983, the figure of civilian killings went up to 75 and that of police officials to 20. The figures generated concern all over the country. But the indiscriminate phase of violence which began from 1985 onwards witnessed a completely disproportionate escalation of violence. The number of civilian killings in 1986 and 1987 were 520 and 910 respectively. In 1988, it came close to 2,000 and in the next two years the figure touched 2,500.35 This means that more than 200 civilians were being killed every month, or around seven every day.
The five-member Panthic committee, before it got splintered into several groups, announced the formation of Khalistan on 26 January 1986. The announcement was made at a dramatic meeting which took place in front of the Akal Takht and was given historical sanctimonious epithet of 'Sarbat Khalsa'.36 According to the declaration made on the occasion, the five members were also 'nominated' by the congregation, which then announced the formation of Khalistan. A demand was made in the declaration to the UNO and its member states to recognize Khalistan. The KCF, one of the several insurgent organisations, was declared as the 'nucleus of the future defence organisation of Khalistan' under its 'commander-in-chief'. The declaration directed Hindus not to put 'hurdles in the way of [the] Khalsa Panth' and announced that 'no particular community or sect will be allowed to impose [its] selfish will arbitrarily upon others through the medium of press, writings, education or other media of publicity'.
The government condemned the declaration and pointed out it eulogized terrorists and that it also expressed gratitude to neighbouring countries which were sympathetic to the activities of terrorists. It fitted in with the Indian Government's overall threat perception that certain external forces were out to destabilise India. Several Sikh organisations, many of them underground, did not approve of the declaration because they were not consulted, and, moreover it declared the supremacy of the KCF over other insurgent organisations. These differences were not made public, but they soon reflected in the way the Panthic Committee itself got divided into several camps. Many underground organisations stepped up violence in order to prove their worth in the struggle. Chief Minister Barnala was forced to send his police inside the Golden Temple, and the declaration prompted the government to intensify the counter-terrorism offensive.
Underground organisations were so strong in Punjab during this phase that they were able to frame their own laws. During 1986-87, they brought out a list of 13 do's and don'ts as a part of their 'social reform movement' aimed at reforming the Sikh masses. This included boycott of tobacco, liquor, meat and barber shops. Hundreds of barber shops were burned down or forcibly closed during the campaign. A dress code was announced for Sikh men, women and school-going children. The campaign called for killing those members of the sect who visited Radha Soami deras (camps). The dictat also ?prohibited? giving or accepting dowry and ostentatious displays during weddings. Many newspapers printed news to this effect and held editorial discussions on the movements 'merits' and 'demerits', thereby keeping the issue in the news agenda. Many other Punjabi dailies, including Aj Di Awaz, regularly carried such news items attributed to press releases received by post.

Counter-Terrorism: the Official Violence
Soon after the army?s operation at the Golden Temple, the security forces launched Operation Woodrose, a concerned counter-terrorism campaign, in July and August 1994. the operation was conducted all over Punjab by the army, police and paramilitary forces (including the BSF, CPRF and ITBP) covering practically every important village and gurudwara. A Delhi-based human rights organisation, Citizens for Democracy, has noted in its 'Report to the Nation' that the civil administration was replaced by virtual army rule during Operation Woodrose. The report has cited a case in which a junior commissioned officer of the army disobeyed a chief judicial magistrate's order inside a court and threatened to shoot him. The report has also presented copies of affidavits submitted by people illegally arrested and tortured by the security forces.
Complaints of excesses and torture of ordinary people by the police and the use of undercover and vigilance organisations continued in the subsequent years, though the situation improved after the Akali government led by Barnala came to power. There is little evidence to suggest that the people of the minority communities ever formed vigilante organisations in Punjab. However, a large number of such organisations were operating in Punjab in the mid-eighties. It was being alleged that the police were using unauthorised spotters and undercover agents to fight insurgents, passing them off as vigilance.
Towards the end of the eighties, the Punjab police were being helped in their anti-terrorism operations by several undercover organisations which operated in an extremely low-key fashion and never issued any press releases. When press reports about them appeared in the regional and national press, the police top brass either denied their existence completely, or called them vigilante organisations which were operating without their permission or concurrence. Two of the most notorious leaders of such vigilante organisations were Dalbir Singh and Santokh Singh Kala, both former employees of the state's police.
The police never officially conceded that they had backed or armed them until Dalbir Singh went astray and killed two senior police officers. The operation was completely exposed when Chaman Lal, an inspector general of police commanding operations in the border areas, fell out with the top brass and publicly criticised such unlawful activities. The officer's disclosures corroborated human rights organisations' allegations that the police were using questionable methods in their fight against terrorism. Two of Punjab's best known police officers, Julio Ribeiro and K.P.S. Gill, have justified the methods and from a police point of view, and both have found the role of the judiciary not up to the mark.
The security forces argued that they were being made to use ruthless methods because the judiciary was unable to perform normally. Between 1981 and 1986, the terrorists managed to kill as many as 69 police officials who were put on the 'hit list', but the government could not succeed in getting a single conviction for the policemen's murders. Those arrested by the police were easily granted bail by the intimidated local courts. The insurgents killed several judicial officials, including judges, in various parts of Punjab for failing to grant bail to their comrades.
In the meantime, Rajiv Gandhi's Congress party government was following the policy of tougher actions. He appointed Sidharath Shankar Ray, who is often accused of illegally liquidating Naxalites in the sixties, as governor, and J.F. Ribeiro, a tough officer from Bombay, as the police chief of Punjab. Ribeiro and his deputy, K.P.S. Gill, who later took his place, were following a 'bullet-for-bullet policy', ignoring allegations of fake encounters and human rights abuses. In 1989, the security forces conducted their second major operation at the Golden temple in Amritsar, where after a 10-day siege, several wanted men surrendered to the paramilitary forces. Ribeiro has denied ever having used the phrase 'bullet for bullet', but he has justified the substance of this alleged quote in his recent book, which incidentally bears the same title.
Punjab's police officers often complained that while the judges demanded strict procedure from the police, they were often lenient with the terrorists. Besides making police work difficult by granting bail to the most wanted men, the judges routinely questioned the methods used by the police in combating terrorism. The security forces also had a similar complaint against the press. Senior police officers expected the media to impose self-censorship on matters which gave publicity demanded their cooperation in combating terrorism. The state and its security forces' logic was that since they were fighting a 'war' against terrorism, they should be above the norms of civil scrutiny.

Beant Singh and the Return of the Akalis
The badly splintered Akalis decided to boycott the state assembly elections scheduled for November 1991. Initially, even the Congress was against participation, but it later changed its mind. All Akali parties, except the Shiromani Akali Dal (Panthic), led by Capt. Amarinder Singh, boycotted the polls. Nobody was surprised when the Congress party swept the elections. Unlike the Akalis, Congress Chief Minister Beant Singh did not need to mix politics with religion. Nor did he ever consider it necessary to appease the hardliners. Having come to power through an election in which less than one-fifth of the electorate participated, Beant Singh was not even accountable to many political lobbies of Punjab. His DGP complimented him for giving a ?free hand? to the police, and for the first few years of his tenure, the army stayed in control of the countryside.
Many analysts believe that the Indian state's victory over terrorism Punjab would not have been a reality without 'unconventional' methods. Hardly any documents or other primary material is available on this. It is hardly surprising that the two DGPs Gill and Ribeiro, who pioneered these methods and established an operational chain of command for encounters, both real and fake, have blacked out this crucial information in their recently-released books on Punjab. However, some light is thrown by the cases brought before the Supreme Court of India and the National Human Rights Commission. The court had, on the basis of some writ petitions, directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in 1995 to investigate allegations of mass cremations of victims of police action. The court observed on the basis of the CBI report that there had been flagrant violations of human rights on a mass scale in Punjab. Some of these cases are still pending in various courts, and many police officers fear reprisals for acts which they believe they committed in the national interest, mostly between 1984 and 1994.
The police in Punjab conducted some of its most successful counter-terrorism operations during the early nineties. The list of terrorists killed in police encounters during this period included such big names as Gurjant Singh Budhsinghwala of the KLF, Gurbachan Singh Manochal of the Panthic Committee, and Sukhdev Singh Babbar of the Babbar Khalsa. One of these reasons for this success, according to DGP Gill, was an unprecedented flow of information that the police was beginning to get in the nineties from common villagers. Besides, an unusually large number of underground militants surrendered to the police during the early nineties. By the mid-nineties, the terrorist operations had become fewer and more far between. The last major terrorist operation was the massacre of Hindu bus passengers between Moga and Ludhiana in 1993. One of the last major assassinations took place two years later when Chief Minister Beant Singh's car was blown up outside his office in Chandigarh, most probably by a suicide bomber.
Punjab was largely peaceful when the Akalis, most of their important factions united, and backed by the Bharatiya Janata Party, swept the next round of assembly elections in 1997 under Prakash Singh Badal. Apart from the Congress, the electorate comprehensively rejected hardliners like Simranjit Singh Mann, who had sought a virtual referendum for Khalistan.

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