By Medha Chaturvedi
With the arrest of two Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) Operatives during the last few days, is the resurrection of insurgency in Punjab a possibility? What are the reasons fuelling this phenomenon? Is there any evidence to point out links between BKI and the Naxals who are also gaining ground in the state? Is the state capable of handling the situation should insurgency return?
Resurrection of BKI
The arrest of the two BKI activists, Sarabpreet Singh and Jaswinder Singh from New Delhi and Ropar towards the end of 2011 has substantiated suspicions of latent efforts of the former insurgent group to regroup and restart militant activity in Punjab. Reportedly, the BKI was planning attacks in Delhi and Punjab and resurrecting its sleeper cells since 2010. This has come to light as nearly 40 BKI operatives have been arrested in Punjab and Delhi.
It is believed that most of the remaining operatives and sympathizers of the BKI, who had gone abroad following the defeat in 1995, are strengthening the group’s ideological and financial base. This may see a return of the demand for Khalistan.
Latent Naxal Activity and Issues of Contention
Today, there is a covert support base for Naxal activity in the state because of poor education, declining agricultural produce, rising unemployment and underemployment and caste divide. Heavily politicized Panchayats and lack of proper implementation of land ceiling laws add to this ferment. Only the agricultural sector witnessed growth in Punjab during the Green Revolution but this development was at the expense of other sectors. Declining soil quality, problems in land holdings and debt traps have led to a fall in the per capita income and assets of people. Due to the lack of opportunities in other sectors, mass protests by farmers and students have become common in Punjab and this is what the Naxals are taking advantage of, using these cons to abet their agenda. Unsurprisingly, as is evident from Naxal propaganda flyers and posters in the local language in many places, including government buildings like Courts and Police Stations all across the state, leftist ideology is gaining ground. While the problems stated are rampant all over Punjab, it is the Malwa region, bordering Haryana and Rajasthan which is reaching its boiling point faster.
Another issue that is encouraging Naxal activity in Punjab is the deep-rooted caste divide and the resulting repression towards the lower castes. About a third of the state’s population is composed of dalits who feel alienated and is thus, are vulnerable to take up the ideology and sympathize with the Naxal cause.
Perfect Storm or Just a Coincidence?
Revolutionary journals like The Comrade and Surkh Rekha (Red Line) are now easily available in the local language (Gurmukhi script) in the state, propagating the Naxal ideology in addition to the activities of over-ground workers, indicating popular support and readership for Naxal literature. BKI’s emergence in the same areas is no coincidence.
The motivations for these people to support the BKI and the Naxal movement, in addition to the above mentioned factors are also ideological because as popularly said – ‘one who has nothing has nothing to lose.’ The support base that the BKI enjoys is from the supporters of the Khalistan movement while the Naxals enjoy the support of landless peasants, farmers, students and unemployed/under-employed youth.
While BKI aims at achieving a separate state, the Naxals aim to overthrow the state and its machinery. With the huge diaspora-money coming in, the BKI has the means, while the Naxals have the strength and people’s support. Despite ideological differences between the two movements, visible links have surfaced in the state, which point to a kind of a temporary arrangement which will help BKI logistically and the Naxals to gain ground locally. Once established, the two insurgencies, whose fundamental ideas are contrasting, may not collaborate further.
According to senior officers in the Punjab Police, the state authorities are aware of these developments and steps like an active Naxal management cell are already in place. The state government is also aiming to set up more industries for creating more jobs and enhancing agricultural facilities especially in the bordering districts to check the flourishing contraband -trade across the border.
It is implausible that a combative restive insurgency will resurface in Punjab because it offers, neither the terrain, nor the place for guerilla warfare. However, the state as a planning centre and rest recoup hideout cannot be ruled out. BKI’s efforts may be futile if not combined with the efforts of top Naxal leadership as support from an established insurgency may help them find their own footing. Eventually, this collaboration may fork out in two different directions – one led by the Naxals and the other, a renewed demand for Khalistan.
Thus, the current wave of possible militancy puts Punjab in a much more dangerous situation. With the prosperity in the state seeing a steady decline and caste related discrimination reaching high, Punjab is sitting on a ticking time bomb.
Research Officer, IPCS
email: [email protected]