Chandigarh, August 6: None took couple of Chandigarh based young Sikhs seriously when they announced the setting up of Dal Khalsa at Aroma Hotel in Sector 22 of the City Beautiful on August 13, 1978. The decision to set up this organisation had earlier been taken in a city gurdwara on August 6, 1978. The Akali Dal-Janata Party government ruled in Punjab with Parkash Singh Badal as the chief minister in his second term. This new organisation set its political objective as the setting up of Khalistan.
The Khalistan slogan had already been raised by some Sikh leaders in UK but it was Dr Jagjit Singh Chohan who gave it a new meaning. The Dal Khalsa was to start struggle on this very slogan. The five member apex committee announced on August 13 included Harsimran Singh working in Panjab University, Mohinder Singh, Satnam Singh, Surjan Singh Thekedar and H S Dilgeer. Gajinder Singh replaced Dilgeer after a few days.
This body initially remained confined to organising seminars and conferences. It was its seminar on April 6, 1980 at Chandigarh that came under focus in the context of demand for Khalistan as an appeal was issued for political and financial support for the achievement of this objective from that platform. The Badal government had already been dismissed by that time and the political discourse in the state was entering a new phase.
The first action associated with Sikh militancy was the killing of Nirankari chief Gurbachan Singh in Delhi on April 24, 1980. Although this action was initially linked to Damdami Taksal chief Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, it had been carried out by a ‘lone wolf’ Ranjit Singh, an unknown face in the crowd. His only link with Sant Bhindranwale was just one meeting that had been arranged to get him a weapon. The first major action that can be linked to Sant Bhindranwale was the killing of Jalandhar-based newspaper owner-editor Lala Jagat Narain on August 9, 1981. The Dal Khalsa shot into limelight in the action associated with this killing.
At the political level, Dr Chauhan, the Dal Khalsa and the All India Sikh Students Federation were carrying on whatever little political activity that was going on in the radical stream. The Dal Khalsa, while reiterating Khalistan agenda at a seminar on August 3, 1980 in Chandigarh, gave a call to the Sikhs to boycott Independence Day on August 15. This was followed by a joint convention by Dal Khalsa and Dr Chauhan’s National Council of Khalistan on Khalistan on August 15, 1980 in the Golden Temple complex. Khalistan posters appeared all over Punjab. The Hindu organisations, for the first time during that period, opposed this demand by announcing Punjab Public Front on August 10 in Ludhiana. This meeting was attended by Congress leaders including Yash, MLA, Lala Jagat Narain and Kali Charan.
Next call given by the Dal Khalsa was on January 2, 1981 and it was to boycott the Republic Day on January 26, 1981 and celebrate it as ‘Sikhs are a Separate Nation Day’. This body, at the same time, was trying to rope in support from other bodies. The first such attempt was the presence of Syed Abdullah Bukhari, the Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama masjid at a seminar at Chandigarh on February 1, 1981. He supported political objective of Dal Khalsa. It was Gajinder Singh who had accompanied the Imam from Delhi to Chandigarh.
This organisation, however, caught international attention with the hijacking of Indian Airlines plane to Lahore on September 29, 1981 to protest against the arrest of Sant Bhindranwale in the case of assassination of Lala Jagat Narain on August 9 earlier. The Sant had offered arrested onSeptember 20 at a big gathering at his headquarters at Mehta Chowk at his own terms.
Here was a case of hijacking having been executed without any weapon. The hijackers included Gajinder Singh, Satnam Singh, Tejinderpal singh, Jasbir Singh and Karan Singh. They were arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment in Pakistan and were released after completing their sentence.
Their case has now posed a major question before the Indian State in the context of Sikh political discourse of victimhood after 36 years. Two of them have been booked in yet another case after serving jail term in Pakistan. Satnam Singh and Tejinderpal Singh now face sedition charge in a Delhi court in the same case.
There is another case of hijacking dating back to 1978 in which the hijackers were set free within no time and they were elected to the UP assembly subsequently.
They were Bholanath Pandey and Devendra Pandey who hijacked the Indian Airlines flight 410, Boeing 737 with 126 passengers, that took off from Lucknow airport on December 20, 1978 at 5.45 pm on the last leg of its journey from Calcutta to Delhi. They were protesting against the arrest of former prime minister Indira Gandhi.
The Congress rewarded them with party tickets for 1980 Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls and they achieved the unique distinction of being the first hijacker MLAs in the world. Earlier, the Congress had defended them during debate on the incident in the Lok Sabha on December 23, 1978. The case against them was finally dropped when Chaudhary Charan Singh took over as the prime minister replacing Morarji Desai.
The newspaper headlines screamed on September 30, 1981: “Khalistan men hijack Boeing to Lahore”. The demand for Khalistan had never received such publicity. Their purpose had been served.
The Dal Khalsa continues to be committed to that political objective even as the organisation enters 40th year. The only change is at the tactical level. The objective is to be achieved democratically.