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Fight for India Sikh homeland fades 30 years after temple raid

Posted: 01 Jun 2014 11:24 PM PDT

AMRITSAR, India, June 02, 2014 (AFP) - As retailer Sukhdeep Singh visits the Golden Temple in northern India, Sikhism's holiest shrine, he laments the bloodbath 30 years ago that catapulted his religion into controversy.

The military's 1984 assault on the Golden Temple in Amritsar - called Operation Blue Star - was aimed at flushing out militants holed up inside demanding an independent Sikh homeland.

Thirty years later, support for such a homeland is all but dead, with Sikhs, particularly younger ones, more interested in jobs than a separate nation, according to experts.

"I regret the events of 1984," said Singh, ahead of the June 6 anniversary of the assault that killed at least 400 people.

"People don't want any more violence and bloodshed," the 31-year-old, who is based in Melbourne and was visiting his family in Amritsar in Punjab state, said.

"I think we are better off remaining with India," he added as he toured the temple and its museum, which attract scores of visitors every year.

Sikh hardliners' struggle for "Khalistan", or the land of the pure, peaked during the 1970s with demands for its creation in Punjab, between India and Pakistan.

The struggle culminated in the deadly storming of the temple, ordered by the government, which also substantially damaged the building.

The Sikh community was enraged by what it felt was desecration of the revered shrine, and later that year India's then-prime minister Indira Gandhi was shot dead by her own Sikh bodyguards.

The assassination triggered anti-Sikh riots in which some 3,000 people were killed, many of them on the streets of New Delhi. 

- 'Employment not guns' -

By the mid-1990s, demands for "Khalistan" were fading away, although the anniversary of the raid is still observed every year with protests, especially in Punjab.

"People in Punjab have moved on from 1984," said Sukhdev Sandhu, a prominent Sikh in Punjab opposed to "Khalistan".

"The movement flourished in the past because of the support from the youth but now the younger generation has different priorities," he told AFP. "They want employment not guns."

Support, however, for the independence movement still exists among the Sikh diaspora in Britain, Canada and the United States.

The overseas population of Sikhs, estimated to number between 18 to 30 million, has maintained strong connections with Punjab ever since migrants first left the subcontinent in the 19th century.

The diaspora still tries to mobilise support for "Khalistan", and even provides funds to keep the separatist idea alive, said Kanwar Pal Singh, spokesman of Dal Khalsa group, which is still pushing for the homeland.

Still-simmering anger over the temple raid was evident when Kuldip Singh Brar, commander of Operation Blue Star, was attacked on a London street in 2012. A Sikh gang was found guilty of the revenge knife attack, which the commander survived.

"The aspirations of the diaspora for a Sikh country are very strong," said Singh, whose outfit publishes literature to promote the idea of "Khalistan" and organises June 6 protests.
"They feel history has been unkind to Sikhs. While Hindus got India, Muslims got Pakistan, but Sikhs missed the bus."

Singh was speaking at the Amritsar office of the outfit, adorned with posters of prominent Sikh figures, including rebel icon Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale holding a machine gun.

Bhindranwale, a dominant leader who almost ran a parallel state from within the temple complex at the height of Sikh militancy, was gunned down by Indian troops during the 1984 raid.

He tapped into widespread anger among Sikhs over their perceived discrimination by the government, which he said had refused to recognise the linguistic, cultural and religious rights of their community.

To avenge Bhindranwale's killing, Sikh nationalists based in Canada blew up an Air India flight a year later, killing 329 people. 

- Sikh prime minister -

Analysts say Punjab's geopolitical significance - the landlocked region shares borders with Pakistan and restive Kashmir - means sovereignty is almost impossible.

"Also, the Sikhs have integrated nicely with the Hindus and there is no longer any discrimination against the community," said Beer Good Gill, professor of history at Amritsar's Guru Nanak Dev University.

"We have had a Sikh as our prime minister for 10 years," she said referring to Manmohan Singh, who retired at the just-concluded election.

"(Besides) We have already lost hundreds of our people in mindless killings, we can't afford to lose another generation."

Gill says in her interactions with students in the last 20 years, "not even one of them had raised the bogey of Khalistan".

Sandhu said public opinion in Punjab, where the movement was strongest, turned over the years against the militants who became embroiled in deadly crime.

"They (the public) started informing police of their presence when they saw they were killing their own neighbours," said Sandhu.

"It was the beginning of the end of Khalistan. Today it's been reduced to mere tokenism.
"It only exists in pamphlets and slogans raised each year when the Blue Star anniversary is observed," he said. - AFP

Australia backs US comments on China's 'destabilising' acts

Posted: 01 Jun 2014 10:38 PM PDT

SYDNEY: Australian Defence Minister David Johnston has backed comments by his United States counterpart Chuck Hagel accusing China of "destabilising" actions in the South China Sea.

Speaking in Singapore on Saturday, Hagel accused China of a number of alleged infractions, including against the Philippines and Vietnam, the two most vocal critics of Beijing's territorial claims.

"In recent months, China has undertaken destabilising, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea," the US Secretary of Defense told the annual Shangri-La Dialogue.

In opening the forum, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged countries to respect the rule of law, in apparent reference to perceived Chinese aggression in the South and East China seas.

Johnston told the Sydney Morning Herald, in an interview from Singapore published Monday, that he supported their view.

"The US, Australia and Japan are very concerned that unilateral action is destabilising the region of the South China Sea particularly, and the East China Sea."

Asked whether he supported Hagel's comments, the Australian minister said: "I do to the extent that it is destabilisation.. in a previously very successful region that has been able to deliver enormous amounts of prosperity to countries in the Asia-Pacific.

"This instability is unwarranted and quite damaging to the future economic prospects. So I do share Secretary Hagel's concerns."

Johnston said that Australia did not take sides in territorial disputes between China and other countries, but said Canberra would attempt to persuade the Asian superpower there was "another path".

His office confirmed to AFP the remarks were correct.

China has denounced Hagel's "provocative" comments along with those of Abe. -AFP

Celebrations as India gets new state of Telangana

Posted: 01 Jun 2014 10:09 PM PDT

HYDERABAD, India: Celebrations erupted in southern India to mark the creation of the new state of Telangana on Monday at the culmination of a separatist campaign stretching back nearly six decades.

Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao, who at one stage went on hunger strike as part of the push to create what is India's 29th state, was sworn in as chief minister during a morning ceremony in Hyderabad.

Residents broke into celebrations on the stroke of midnight, with a fireworks display lighting up the skies over the city.

India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the first to congratulate Rao, promising his "complete support to the people & Government of Telangana" in a message on Twitter.

"India gets a new state! We welcome Telangana as our 29th state. Telangana will add strength to our development journey in the coming years," Modi added.

"Telangana's birth comes after years of struggle and sacrifices by several people. We pay our respects to them today."

Telangana has been created by splitting the state of Andhra Pradesh in two. Hyderabad, an IT hub, will serve as the capital of both states for the next decade.

The campaign to create a separate state in one of India's most economically deprived regions began in the late 1950s, with its champions arguing it has been neglected by successive state governments.

However wealthier coastal regions of Andhra Pradesh fiercely opposed the split, fearing that it would trigger economic upheaval.

Andhra Pradesh's chief minister resigned earlier this year on the eve of a vote by parliament to approve Telangana's creation.

The build-up to the vote was marred by chaotic scenes in parliament, with lawmakers coming to blows while one representative even squirted pepper spray at colleagues.

Analysts had seen the decision by the then Congress government to back the state's creation as a strategic move designed to increase its support in the south in a general election year.

However Congress won only two of the 42 seats in the undivided Andhra Pradesh when the election results were announced last month.

India last redrew its internal boundaries in 2000, with the creation of three new states in economically deprived areas in the north.

Critics say the bill could open a "Pandora's box" of demands for statehood by other regional groups in the ethnically diverse nation, which also has a host of separatist movements. -AFP

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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