In an incident that triggered high alert across Punjab, Khalistan Liberation Force chief, Harminder Singh Mintoo escaped from the Nabha jail in Punjab along with five other dreaded gangsters. At around 9 am on Sunday, six to eight armed men stormed Nabha jail and opened fire. They eventually helped the six inmates escape from the prison. Apart from Harminder Singh Mintoo, the other four gangsters who escaped included Gurpreet Singh, Vicky Gondra, Nitin Deol and Vikramjeet Singh Vicky. It is the escape of Mintoo though, that has been gaining nationwide attention because of his association with the Khalistan movement and masterminding several terror attacks.
Who is Harminder Singh Mintoo?
In November 2014, 47-year-old Harminder Singh Mintoo was arrested by Punjab Police from the Indira Gandhi International airport on his return from Thailand. At the time of his arrest, Mintoo was accused of being involved in 10 terror-related cases.
Mintoo was using Thailand as his base to mobilise funds for the banned organisation. He was using online resources to enlist support for the Khalistan cause and to radicalise youth. Using a fake Malaysian passport and identity card, Mintoo travelled extensively across Europe and South East Asia in order to develop contacts. He frequently made trips to Pakistan, where he was reported to have acquired funds and support.
In India, Mintoo was named as accused in several terror cases, including for the attack on Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and on three Shiv Sena leaders. He was allegedly tasked by the ISI of Pakistan to carry out an attack on Independence day in Punjab. However, the plan had failed.
What is the Khalistan movement?
The origins of the Khalistan movement can be traced back to the pre-independence period when a separate Islamic state was demanded by the Muslim League. In response to the the Muslim demand for Pakistan, the Sikhs, who historically had strained relations with Muslims, called for the creation of a separate Sikh state by the name of Khalistan. The name was coined by Sikh leader, Dr. Vir Singh Bhatti in 1940.
While the demand for Khalistan was not granted, Jawaharlal Nehru assured the Sikhs of a semi-autonomous state in India. When partition took place, majority of the Sikhs from the Pakistani territory moved to India. Despite carving out a separate state for the Sikhs on liguistic lines, they continued to be a minority in the country.
The Akali Dal party sought autonomy for Punjab, citing problems over sharing of water resources with neighbouring states. Some among the Akali Dal members, went beyond the party’s demand for greater autonomy and asked for sovereign Khalistan. The greatest proponent of a separate Khalistan state was Jagjit Singh Chauhan who travelled across the United Kingdom and the United States, gathering support for his demand from the Sikh diaspora.
While the support for Khalistan was largely restricted outside India for a long time, the movement gained ground in India following the arrest and release of Sikh religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Bhindranwale’s rise to fame was credited to the Congress as the party sought to polarise the state. While Bhindranwale did not exactly support the formation of Khalistan, majority of his supporters were those who also were in favour of the creation of a sovereign Khalistan.
The operation Blue Star enacted by the Indira Gandhi led government to root out Bhindranwale along with his supporters from the Golden Temple, the assassination of Indira Gandhi and the anti-Sikh riots that followed ripened the Khalistan movement in India. The immediate effect was a rise in militant activities by those favouring a separate Sikh state. A number of Khalistan militant outfits came into existence in India and abroad which included the Khalistan Commando Force, the All India Sikh Students Federation, the Babbar Khalsa and the like.
What is the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF)?
The Khalistan Liberation Force, which Harminder Singh Mintoo currently head, was one such Sikh militant group. It was founded in 1986 by Aroor Singh and Sukhwinder Singh Babbar. In 1995, the KLF was listed as one among four major militant groups in the Khalistan movement. Over the years they have been involved in a number of terrorist activities and assassinations, particularly in Punjab.