- Indian authorities seize separatist’s assets.
- Diplomatic tensions over Sikh leader’s killing.
- Khalistan movement and historical context.
Indian authorities have taken action to confiscate the assets of Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a prominent Sikh separatist, and a close associate of Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Nijjar’s recent killing has ignited a diplomatic dispute between India and Canada.
Indian authorities labelled Canadian lawyer Gurpatwant Singh Pannun a terrorist in 2020 and charged him with terrorism and sedition. He is also the founder of Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), a US-based group with a Canadian chapter once led by Nijjar until his tragic killing near Vancouver in June.
SFJ, which India has banned, has vocally advocated for the establishment of an independent Sikh homeland known as Khalistan.
This diplomatic tension escalated when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested that there were credible reasons to believe that agents of the Indian government were involved in Nijjar’s death. India dismissed Trudeau’s allegations, leading to diplomatic expulsions and a halt in processing visa applications for Canadians.
During an interview with an Indian news channel, Pannun revealed his close association with Nijjar for over two decades, describing him as a younger brother. He also held India responsible for Nijjar’s tragic death.
Following the interview, the Indian government issued an advisory to news networks, urging them not to provide a platform for individuals accused of heinous crimes.
Armed with court orders, India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) recently seized Pannun’s residence in Chandigarh, the capital of Punjab, a Sikh-majority state. Additionally, the NIA confiscated agricultural land owned by Pannun in Amritsar.
Pannun has been accused of actively encouraging Punjab-based gangsters and youth through social media to support the cause of Khalistan’s independent state, posing a challenge to India’s sovereignty, integrity, and security.
Sikhism, a minority religion with origins in northern India, dates back to the 15th century and incorporates elements from both Hinduism and Islam. The Khalistan campaign, once viewed as a fringe movement, gained prominence in the early 1980s when a Sikh fundamentalist initiated a separatist insurgency.
The conflict culminated with Indian forces storming the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the faith’s holiest shrine, where separatists had taken refuge. Two Sikh bodyguards then assassinated Indira Gandhi.
After the insurgency ended, Khalistan’s most ardent supporters became part of the Sikh diaspora, mainly in Canada, Britain, and Australia. India has outlawed the Khalistan movement and designated several associated groups as “terrorist organizations,” yet the memory of the violence still lingers.