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40th anniversary of ‘Operation Bluestar’

2024 JUN 15

Mains   > Post Independence Consolidation   >   Post liberalisation era   >   Regionalism


GS 1 > Post Independence Consolidation   >   Reorganisation   >   Regionalism


  • June 2024 marks the 40th anniversary of Operation Blue Star. During the commemoration at the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar, slogans in support of Khalistan were raised.


  • The Khalistan movement is a Sikh separatist movement seeking to create a homeland for Sikhs by establishing a sovereign state, called Khalistan (Land of the Khalsa)
  • The proposed state would consist of land that currently forms Punjab region in India and Pakistan.



  • The Punjab region, historically a Sikh-majority area, came under British control after being ruled by Sikhs for about a century. 
  • In the 1940s, the Muslim League's Lahore Resolution proposed making Punjab a Muslim-majority state, which alarmed a section of Sikh leaders. 
  • In response, these leaders, predominantly Akalis, floated the idea of Khalistan—a theocratic state envisioned to encompass the greater Punjab region across India and Pakistan.

Early days of Independence: 

  • Post-1947, the Akali Dal, a Sikh political party, pushed for a separate Punjabi-speaking Sikh state through the Punjabi Suba Movement. 
  • The initial rejection by the States Reorganization Commission led to violent protests, prompting the formation of Punjabi-majority Punjab, Hindi-majority Haryana, and the Union Territory of Chandigarh after the Punjab Reorganisation Act of 1966.


  • Following electoral setbacks in 1972, the Akali Dal proposed the Anandpur Sahib Resolution in 1973, demanding an autonomous region for Sikhs and recognition of Sikhism as a distinct religion. 
  • The 1980s saw Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a radical leader, amplifying these demands. 
  • Tensions escalated with violent clashes and the imposition of emergency rule in Punjab after attacks on Hindus and Nirankaris by Bhindranwale's followers.


  • In 1983, Bhindranwale and his followers took up residence inside the Harmandir Sahib complex (aka the Golden Temple) in Amritsar. He converted the holy shrine into an armed fortress from where he ran a virtual parallel government.
  • To capture them, Operation Blue Star was carried out by the Indian army.
    • The Army, equipped with tanks and heavy artillery, rolled up to the Temple on 5th June.
    • But they faced stiff resistance from the militants, who were armed with Chinese-made anti-tank and machine-guns.
    • Operation Bluestar finally ended in the afternoon on 10 June 1984. According to the government, 493 militants and civilians were killed in the attack.
  • Clean-up operations, codenamed Operation Woodrose and Operation Black Thunder were initiated in the subsequent years.


  • Death of civilians: Operation Bluestar coincided with the annual commemoration of the martyrdom of the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev, which led to a large number of pilgrims flocking to the temple complex. Because of this, many innocent civilians were killed in the cross fire between the Indian Army and the terrorists.
  • Assassinations & riots:
    • On 31 October 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards.
    • More than 8,000 Sikhs were killed in the ensuing anti-Sikh riots in 1984.
    • In June 1985, Canadian Sikh extremists blew up an Air India flight (Flight 182) killing all 329 people on board.  
    • On 10 August 1986, former Army Chief General AS Vaidya, who led Operation Bluestar, was assassinated by Sikh militants of the Khalistan Commando Force.
    • On 31 August 1995, a suicide bomber took out Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh inside the Punjab civil secretariat in Chandigarh.
  • Rajiv-Longowal Accord: In 1985, the Government attempted to seek a political solution through the accord. It agreed to establish commissions and independent tribunals in order to resolve the Chandigarh issue and the river dispute.
  • Human rights violation: Various human rights organisations have strongly criticized the Punjab police for their misuse of power during the 1980s and early 1990s.
  • Creation of NSG: The National Security Guard was created as an elite counter-terrorism unit following Operation Blue Star and the assassination of Indira Gandhi.
  • Strain in India-Canada relations: Strain in India-Canada relations has intensified due to the significant Sikh expatriate population in Canada and the presence of active pro-Khalistan groups. Khalistan remains a contentious issue in Indo-Canadian relations, particularly following tensions heightened by allegations from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Indian involvement in the murder of Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar.


  • Social media:
    • The present re-emergence of ideas related to Khalistan is mainly done through social media, especially by some sections of the Sikh diaspora who have pro-Khalistan sentiments in Western countries.
    • Also, various pro-Khalistan organisations like Sikhs for Justice, Khalistan Liberation Force, and Babbar Khalsa International run misinformation campaigns on social media through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.
    • For instance, the Referendum 2020 campaign in social media, which attracted enormous attention, was designed to get the opinion of the Sikh diaspora across Europe and North America regarding the establishment of the Republic of Khalistan.
  • Identity consciousness:
    • The sudden increase in activity on social media reflects that the interest groups are seeking a platform to unite and target the Sikh population, and it signifies a trend of identity consciousness among the youth residing in the West and Punjab.
    • Through the calculated use of social media as a tool to mobilize the Sikh diaspora and rural Punjabi youth, Khalistani elements are infiltrating young minds with selective information regarding Operation Blue Star and Bhindranwale.
  • Pakistan’s role:
    • Intelligence agencies report that Pakistan’s ISI's active role is in reviving the Khalistan movement in Punjab by using drugs as a means to radicalize the Punjabi youth.
    • For instance, although the Kartarpur corridor was exclusively established for pilgrimage purposes, intelligence agencies have reported that ISI is facilitating and promoting the exchange of pro-Khalistan thoughts among pilgrims visiting Pakistan through the Kartarpur Corridor.
    • A report by a social media monitoring lab working with the Punjab Police states that the number of propaganda social media posts has increased since the Kartarpur Corridor's announcement.
  • Propaganda during the farmer's protest:
    • Some extremist elements in the diaspora have used the 2020–2021 Indian farmers’ protests as grounds to portray how the Indian state mechanism works against the Sikhs, implying that agriculture and Sikhs are in danger due to the proposed farm bills.


  • Collaborate with foreign governments:
    • In order to track the anti-Indian actions carried out by the Khalistani forces and restrict their financing sources, the Indian security and intelligence agencies need to collaborate with other countries.
  • Positive relationship with the Sikh diaspora:
    • Indian missions in the United Kingdom, the United States, and other countries must diplomatically engage with the Sikh diaspora to tackle the misinformation campaign being peddled by Khalistani organizations.
    • Also, such engagements will facilitate a positive relationship between the Indian state and the Sikh diaspora.
  • Improved preparedness:
    • Indian security forces need to step up their preparedness, especially in border areas, to tackle the increase in drones used to deliver weapons and drugs to Punjab.
    • Also, the government should monitor and identify any organizations pumping money into protests and spreading false propaganda.
  • Improve socio-economic condition of Punjab:
    • The governments and security forces must collaborate to improve the socio-economic condition of Punjab and again put the state on the path of development, which will curb the spread of extremist ideologies in the state.


  • The 40th anniversary of Operation Blue Star serves as a stark reminder of the persistent and evolving challenges of the Khalistan movement. The revival of this separatist sentiment, largely fueled by social media, underscores the need for a nuanced approach to national security and diplomacy. It's crucial for India to not only strengthen its internal security mechanisms but also to engage constructively with the global Sikh community, fostering understanding and addressing concerns without inflaming further tensions. This approach will be key in navigating the delicate balance between preserving national unity and respecting diverse identities.


Q. "The violent Khalistani movement has diminished, yet the concept of an independent Sikh state still persists." Discuss the factors that are associated with the recent revival of Khalistan sentiments and suggest measures to tackle them. (15 marks, 250 words)