‘Khalistan’, Himachal: Puzzled parties wonder what’s common, except Punjab polls

THE APPEARANCE of flags dubbed “Khalistani” on the gates of the Himachal Pradesh Assembly complex in Dharamsala has set political circles abuzz in the election-bound state, especially as it never saw such activity even at the height of militancy in nearby Punjab.

The political mud-slinging continued on Monday, with Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur showing a picture on his mobile phone of Leader of the Opposition Mukesh Agnihotri with a man wearing a Khalistani T-shirt. “This is a strange situation before us, and what it indicates, I do not want to get into it. Many things will come out during the investigation,” Thakur said, adding that the flags had been placed by people who had come from outside the state.

The Opposition parties questioned the ruling BJP’s claims, particularly coming so soon after the Punjab Assembly elections where it had levelled similar pro-Khalistani charges at the Aam Aadmi Party. Having trounced the other parties, including the BJP, in Punjab, AAP is planning a serious political fray into Himachal with the coming election.

The Congress called the planting of the pro-Khalistan flags and banners on the Assembly complex walls a security lapse. About the photo displayed by Thakur, Congress leader Agnihotri said: “This is Jai Ram Thakur’s government, asking people to change their clothes is not my job.”

Agnihotri also said that the event where the photo was taken was attended by a senior BJP leader as well. “All this is a ploy to deflect attention from the real issue of paper leak in police recruitment,” he said.

The constable recruitment exam, held on March 27, is being investigated for paper leak, with around a thousand candidates on the radar.

The Congress has been staging a dharna on the issue, and on Monday, its Mahila Morcha president Janeb Chandel said the Thakur government had failed on law and order and security, and was not able to even secure the Assembly building. The Assembly is in session in Dharamsala only in winter, and the security is lax the rest of the time.

A Congress leader called the incident suspect, pointing out that Himachal didn’t witness any Khalistani support even during the 1980s when Punjab was caught up in a violent agitation for separate statehood. “In the name of nationalism”, and political gains, “the BJP leaves no stone unturned”, the leader charged.

The leader also talked about how there has been a spurt in these alleged Khalistan-linked incidents as elections approach. Last year, the banned Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) was said to have issued threats to CM Thakur and other political leaders. Then, on New Year’s Eve, the security agencies got a tip-off about a bomb placed on the historical Ridge Maidan in Shimla, which is frequented by thousands to mark the end of the year. The tip-off was later found to be fake, with security agencies not coming up with anything in searches.

Last month, days after AAP won in Punjab, alleged Khalistani flags had sprung up in Una, Himachal. In June, the SFJ is set to hold a “referendum” for Khalistan in Himachal.

AAP in-charge of Himachal Durgesh Pathak called the incidents “strange”. “The Khalistanis have nothing to do with Himachal. If their activities are being witnessed in Himachal, there might be two things — either the Jai Ram Thakur govt is totally uncompetent or defunct, or that the BJP is hand in glove with these Khalistani elements.”

With “a powerful man like Amit Shah” as Union Home Minister and the BJP in power in the state, how could such activities happen, Pathak asked. Besides, if there were such elements, why were they not involved in similar activities in Punjab but in Himachal, he asked, suggesting that the reason was political.

I D Bhandari, a 1983-batch IPS officer and former DGP of Himachal, who has joined AAP, also said the state had remained largely untouched by Punjab militancy. “Sometimes militants took refuge here, but even such cases were rare. Most of them were tracked down by the Punjab Police and taken back. Once a radical called Balbir tried to open fire but his pistol jammed. What we are seeing today is unprecedented.”

As for the man dubbed the main culprit and booked by the Himachal Police, the SFJ’s US-based Gurpatwant Singh Pannu, the BJP government is not clear about what needs to be done to get him back. Thakur said Monday that investigation was on, and they could not reveal much.

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