BY VISHAL GULATI
Chandigarh, Nov 15 (SocialNews.XYZ) A rocket-propelled grenade attack on Punjab Police's Intelligence Wing headquarters in Mohali and installing Khalistan flags at the entrance of Himachal Pradesh assembly in Dharamsala, besides assassination threats to multiple Chief Ministers and other who's who via telephonic audio messages in recent months, all have been linked to the proscribed terrorist organisation, Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) founded by Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, operating out now of Canada.
On Tuesday, Pannun announced that the next round of Khalistan referendum will be held in the Australian capital of Canberra to express support for a separate Sikh nation-state.
Police in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh have registered separate FIRs against Pannun, a law graduate from Panjab University in Chandigarh, over threats and attempting to disturb peace, stability and communal harmony.
Despite the SFJ being a banned organisation in India since 2019 on grounds of secessionism and Pannu being declared a terrorist, countries like Canada, the UK and the US, with a sizable Sikh diaspora, have allowed the organisation to conduct anti-India activities, including holding illegal referendums to build a campaign for secession of Punjab.
In the Canadian city of Mississauga, the Sikh diaspora voted over Khalistan referendum, a major irritant in India-Canada ties, on November 6, the second in the country, and later Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown was heckled at a temple for allowing separatist elements to conduct the so-called referendum.
Videos on social media showed Sikh men and women with saffron Khalistan flags turning up at a polling station, while the Hindu community protesting near the referendum site by holding Indian national flags.
However, the authenticity of the videos cannot be verified by IANS.
Last month, Interpol had rejected a request by India to issue a Red Notice against Pannun, saying Indian authorities have not provided sufficient information on him.
"Since these handful Khalistanis (radicals) have no base in India, they are doing referendum and propagating the Khalistan agenda just to establish their base overseas in western countries by raising funds from Pakistan intelligence agency ISI and similar agencies in China," a senior Punjab Police official told IANS.
The western countries don't see crime to prosecute Pannun and other hardliners as they think it will be a violation of the freedom of expression, he added.
Videos of public display of Khalistan floats with images of slain separatist leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and other terrorists and hate speeches at the 'Baisakhi Parade' in Sikh diaspora dominated countries are common.
It is learnt that the Canadian authorities are cautioned time and again about the "anti-India propaganda" of the Khalistani elements by the Indian authorities.
Reacting to Pannun's calls for raising black flags to mark Independence Day in 2020, then Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said Punjabis in India were prosperous people and not interested in indulging in such acts at the behest of someone sitting in Canada or the US.
"Why should they (the people of Punjab) do it, if you have the guts, you come and do it," he had dared Pannun, adding that if the SFJ leader wanted, he could make his Khalistan at the place where he was hiding out.
"Pannun does not even look like a Punjabi, and does all this only for extracting money," he had warned the youth.
Haryana Gurdwara Management Committee chief Baljit Singh Daduwal has recently asked the youths to stay away from such allurements.
In a message, Daduwal said many Sikh families are suffering because their young sons are getting lured by payment of a few hundred to thousand dollars and promise of a job made by the SFJ in exchange for hosting Khalistan flags or painting its slogans.
In Punjab, 1,792 police personnel had sacrificed their lives while fighting terrorism between September 1981 and August 1992.
Since 2017, Pannun has been booked in 22 cases, including terrorism and sedition charges. Recently he was booked by Punjab Police for sedition after SFJ activists wrote a pro-Khalistan slogan on a glass box covering the statue of slain Chief Minister Beant Singh in Jalandhar.
Himachal Pradesh Police in May booked Pannun under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for hoisting of Khalistani flags outside the state Assembly complex.
Reiterating its concern over the so-called referendum in Canada, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said: "I think we have made our position clear a couple of times. Our position on the efforts by anti-India elements to hold a so-called Khalistan referendum is well known.
"The government of Canada has conveyed that it respects India's sovereignty and territorial integrity and will not recognise the so-called referendum."
Saying an atmosphere of fear is being created, Punjab Congress president Amarinder Singh Raja Warring on Monday urged the state government to explain what it planned to do to prevent targeted killings and hate crimes.
"There is a sense of fear among people that the ISI was trying to resort to selective and targeted killings in Punjab do disturb the peaceful atmosphere in the state and we have already seen a few killings, but the government remains inert and unmoved and is instead busy in Gujarat elections," Warring said in a statement here.
He also questioned the silence of the central government over such a serious situation in the border state wondering why it was allowing such a drift.
"Or may be someone wants polarization in Punjab to suit their designs," he said.
Warring warned that there are reports already in public domain as how Pakistan's ISI was desperately trying to revive militancy in Punjab and trying to indoctrinate and instigate youth to resort to violence.
"There has been no visible plan or action on part of this government as if nothing has happened," he observed, while warning against dealing with the situation as "business as usual".
Regarding Canada's stand on SJF campaigns for an independence referendum to carve out a separate Khalistan state, Consul General of Canada in Chandigarh, Patrick Hebert, told IANS in September: "Canada has made clear, on a number of occasions, that we respect the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of India. Canada does not recognize the recent unofficial Sikhs for Justice referendum."
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)