By Alankrita Sinha and Namrata Hasija
Punjab is again in headlines with people predicting a resurrection of terrorism in the state which has previously witnessed two waves of armed upsurges in the form of the BKI and Naxalism. A recent recovery of huge amounts of RDX from a car near Ambala has added more fuel to this fire and speculations about a BKI (Babbar Khalsa International)-Naxal tie-up in Punjab run rife. In countering this speculation, this article asks a basic question: is there a possibility of a BKI-Naxal nexus in Punjab?
The hypothesised collusion between the BKI and Naxals in Punjab can be countered at the basic level of ideology. Ideology is an important factor when talking about an uprising because it is this element which is used to not only identify the target audience, but also shape the mobilization process and the desired political outcome thereafter. Ideological divergences highlight the inherent difference between the BKI and the Naxals making it impossible for them to work together. Whereas the BKI has been a secessionist armed group which has employed the idea of Sikh nationalism to mobilize support in Punjab; Naxalism in Punjab has traditionally focussed on eliminating class and caste enemies through an armed struggle by peasants in an effort to restructure the ‘comprador’ Indian state which sustains exploitation.
While the BKI initially used the 1978 clash between the Akhand Kirtani Jatha and the Nirankaris to mobilize support against the latter, in the years to come the BKI has utilized the idea of decline of ‘Sikhism’ in Punjab to call for an uprising. To this end the target audience of the BKI has been Sikhs who are vary of the changes in the traditional set-up. Naxalism in Punjab, on the other hand, initially sought to mobilize support against the socio-economic inequity that followed the Green Revolution in the 1970s; but has now become a restive point for the Naxals operating in other parts of India. Their target audience has been middle level peasants who could not reap the benefits of the Green Revolution because of the costs involved. They used student groups to voice this inequality and mobilize resources for the movement.
Moreover, while the desired political outcome sought after by the BKI has remained the formation of a separate Sikh state called Khalistan that is independent of the Indian state; the Naxals have for long visualised a class uprising that would compel the restructuring of the Indian system and end class-divides. In fact, their ideologies have been so incompatible that it is believed that the upsurge of the BKI in 1978 heralded the end of the Naxal movement in Punjab.
Apart from the ideology of the militant groups, the willingness of people to join these groups is also another factor that plays an important role. Here, the uniqueness of the Sikh identity and nationalism has to be reckoned with. The Sikh identity itself has always been reactive since its inception. In the 1980’s when the Sikh community felt marginalized, Bhindranwale started the religious purification movement. Many people who did not identify with God including many Naxals were assassinated. In fact one of the top leaders of the BKI, Wadhwa Singh was earlier a Naxal and then abandoned it to join BKI. The Blue Star operation in 1984 and the incidents that unfolded thereafter gave terrorist organizations like BKI a larger opportunity to fill in cadres invoking the religious identity. In the present scenario, there are not many issues that will be able to rekindle the Sikh identity like was the case in the mid-1980s. This is a decisive point which needs to be taken into consideration when it comes to mobilizing people in Punjab.
What needs to be understood is that while the Naxals belong to an extreme left wing group, the BKI belongs to an extreme right wing group. The socio-economic condition of Punjab might not have changed much since the 1970’s so how can the Naxal movement now gain ground when it could not do so earlier in the similar conditions? On the other hand, BKI remnants are also at work to revive the movement for a long time with attacks like the 2005 Liberty Cinema but have not been successful in resurrecting themselves. Also neither concrete evidence has been found nor has any government authority commented on them coming together. In fact evidences of a link between BKI and Pakistan based terrorist organizations have come into news. In conclusion it may seem that the BKI and the Naxals are trying to reinvent themselves separately in Punjab, but both colluding is a remote possibility if we take into consideration the ideological difference as well the historicity of the people of Punjab.