Dal Khalsa: The organisation that globalised demand for Khalistan turns 40

Chandigarh, August 6: The demand for Khalistan raised by the first organised body on August 6, 1978 in Chandigarh was globalised when the newspaper carried the headline on the front page on September 30, 1981-“Khalistan men hijack Boeing to Lahore”.

This was the first hijack associated with the Sikh separatist struggle with the main demand being the release of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who had been arrested earlier on September 20, 1981 in the case of assassination of newspaper owner-cum-editor Lala Jagat Narain near Ludhiana on September 9.

The situation has totally changed since then. However, more than 30,000 people died in that violent political conflict. The separatists are still active but mainly overseas.

For the rejuvenated Dal Khalsa, the tactics have changed, not  the objective. This body that once was part of the militant struggle now vouches for democratic methods. It is a different issue that despite change in tactics, there are few supporters for this idea in Punjab now and the leaders are fully aware of this fact and the limitations.

But then the idea survives, the struggle might not. The Dal Khalsa is mainly keeping the idea of Khalistan alive through peaceful methods.

With decision taken on August 6, the formal announcement was made at a well-known Sector 22 hotel at a press conference on August 13. This writer covered that press conference and a new entrant to the media world. The founders included Gajinder Singh, Satnam Singh Paonta Sahib, Tejinder Singh, Harsimran Singh, Jaswant Singh Thekedar and Manmohan Singh.

This formal announcement coincided with yet another press conference that was organised by former Punjab chief minister Giani  Zail Singh who offered to pay the bills of “these boys” too. It was this offer that tagged Dal Khalsa with Giani Zail Singh, as his creation.

Dal Khalsa hit the headlines repeatedly till Operation Bluestar despite its having been banned.

Manmohan Singh, among the founders, died a stateless man in England  a few months back. Gajinder Singh too is stateless.

This body had little role to play in Punjab during the post Operation Bluestar period as most of its activists escaped.

This body was revived with commitment to democratic methods in late nineties.

This basis issue that confront such organisations is how to be relevant to the changing situation as the religio-political dynamics of a section of Diaspora is different. The issues that are being drummed up by the Diaspora sections are not those that are rooted in Punjab.

The religio-political domain of the Sikhs provides enough space to the Sikh bodies to function depending upon the strength. It is for bodies like Dal Khalsa to make themselves relevant to the changing socio-political realities and capture some space in that domain. This is a challenge that this rejuvenated body faces. Functioning in a democratic space has its own compulsions. But then any organisation that is not rooted among the people can’t sustain itself for long.

Dal Khalsa had carved out its own space before 1984 and that is part of history.

The issue now is to carry forward that legacy by keeping the organisation rooted among the people. This is the problem with every such organisation.


Jagtar Singh


[email protected]

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