Who is Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the man who continues to stoke the issue of Khalistan in India?

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Who is gurpatwant singh pannun, the man who continues to stoke issue of khalistan in india?

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun founded the separatist group, Sikhs for Justice, in 2007 in the United States. Image Courtesy: Twitter

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For over a fortnight, the Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) group has been in the news in India for causing unrest and violence in states such as Punjab and Himachal Pradesh.

It all began in late April when two groups clashed in Punjab’s Patiala over an ‘anti-Khalistan’ march. Two people, including a policeman were injured in the clashes that broke out over SFJ’s call to mark foundation day of Khalistan’ on 29 April.

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Then on 9 May, the hill state of Himachal Pradesh was on edge when Khalistan flags were found tied on the main gate of the Assembly complex in Dharmashala and slogans were scrawled on its walls. It had been reported that the SFJ had called for a “Khalistan” referendum on 6 June in Himachal Pradesh.

The SFJ also claimed responsibility for the Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) attack at Punjab Intelligence Headquarters in Mohali. The explosion shattered the window panes on one of the floors of the building. However, no one was injured in the incident.

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On 10 May, an audio message, purportedly of SFJ’s founder Gurpatwant Singh Pannun also surfaced in which he is heard sending out a warning to Himachal chief minister Jai Ram Thakur that the attack in Mohali could as well have been on the Shimla Police headquarters.

So, who exactly is Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the founder of US-based separatist group SFJ and why does he continue to be a concern for authorities in India.

Who is Gurpatwant Singh Pannun?

A lawyer by profession, Pannun reportedly hails from Khankot, a village in Punjab’s Amritsar district.

The Caravan reports that Pannun founded the Sikhs for Justice in 2007 in the United States.

The aim of SFJ was to be “an international advocacy and human rights group with the express intent of achieving self-determination for the Sikh people in their historic homeland in the region of Indian held Punjab and establishing a sovereign state, popularly known as Khalistan.”

In 2014, using his legal background, he started filing cases against Indian political leaders travelling to the United States or Canada, including against former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Shiromani Akali Dal’s Sukhbir Singh Badal and even against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Thanks to a case filed by him, former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh had to cancel his Canada visit in 2016.

Who is gurpatwant singh pannun, the man who continues to stoke issue of khalistan in india?

File image of a man participating in a Sikhs for Justice rally at the United Nations Headquarters in 2019. AFP

Pannun becomes a ‘terrorist’

Pannun truly grabbed eyeballs in 2018 when he announced in London for a ‘Referendum 2020’ “to liberate Punjab that’s currently occupied by India”.

The very next year, the Indian government banned Pannun’s group, the SFJ, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

The home ministry had then noted: “In the garb of the so-called referendum for Sikhs, SFJ is actually espousing secessionism and militant ideology in Punjab, while operating from safe havens on foreign soils and actively supported by inimical forces in other countries.”

After declaring the SFJ illegal in India, Pannun was designated as a terrorist under UAPA in 2020, along with eight others. The Centre had then said, “These individuals are involved in various acts of terrorism from foreign soil. They have been trying to revive militancy in Punjab.”

Anti-India sentiments

Pannun has often taken positions critical of the Indian state. For instance, in October 2020, just a week before the anniversary of the death of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Pannun released a video message urging Indian students to raise slogans in favour of Khalistan and to raise the Khalistan flags in exchange for an iPhone 12 Mini.

In June 2020, he also had written to China’s Xi Jinping to “empathize with people of China” after the Galwan clash. He also condemned “India’s violent aggression causing death of several soldiers of China at Ladakh valley border,” reported the Caravan.

Differences with other pro-Khalistan groups

Other pro-Khalistan groups have kept their distance from Pannun and the SFJ. The Dal Khalsa and Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) have accused him of luring youngsters in Punjab into carrying out his activities by paying them money while himself enjoying diplomatic immunity from arrest as he is a US citizen.

Harpal Singh Cheema, the president of Dal Khalsa, in a Caravan report, said that Pannun’s act of offering money has been counterproductive because the Centre has used it as an opportunity to project him as a terrorist, and “sabotage the real movement and struggle for Khalistan.”

With inputs from agencies

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