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From declaring Hardeep Singh Nijjar ‘terrorist’ to cracking down on gangs: How Centre acted against Khalistan movement

It was on July 1, 2020, when the Centre for the first time took a strong decision against the Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) chief Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was killed in June this year, and eight others, designating them as “terrorists” for actively running a secessionist campaign against India from abroad and motivating Sikh youth from Punjab to join militant ranks.

In February this year, the Centre had notified KTF as a “terrorist organisation” under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Giving reasons for declaring KTF as a terror organisation, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said, “It is a militant outfit and it aims to revive terrorism in Punjab and challenges the territorial integrity, unity, national security and sovereignty of India and promotes various acts of terrorism, including targeted killings in Punjab”.

Apart from Nijjar, they also designated as “terrorists” Gurpatwant Singh Pannu, a US-based key member of the banned outfit Sikhs for Justice, Wadhawa Singh Babbar, the Pakistan-based chief of terrorist organisation Babbar Khalsa International, Lakhbir Singh Rode, who runs the International Sikh Youth Federation, Ranjeet Singh, chief of Pakistan-based Khalistan Zindabad Force, Paramjit Singh chief of Khalistan Commando Force, Bhupinder Singh Bhinda, a Germany-based key member of Khalistan Zindabad Force, Gurmeet Singh Bagga also based in Germany and affiliated to the Khalistan Zindabad Force, and Paramjit Singh from the United Kingdom and chief of terrorist outfit Babbar Khalsa International.

An official said Pannu was actively running a campaign against India and his outfit – Sikhs for Justice – is the brain behind the Khalistan 2020 referendum. “All the nine were running their gangs from outside the country and allegedly been involved in various acts of terror in India from across the border. They were trying to revive militancy in Punjab through anti-national activities and supporting each other to channelise the Khalistan movement,” added the official.

“Nijjar, a native of Bhar Singh Pura village in Jalandhar, was actively involved in operationalising, networking, training, and financing KTF module members. Several cases were registered against him by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and during an investigation, it was revealed that there were incriminating statements or posts or photos or videos posted by him on social media platforms to spread insurrectionary imputations and hateful speeches,” an MHA official said.

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Indian agencies came to know two to three years ago that to operate their Khalistan movement, these terror-banned outfits started using local criminals and started providing them with logistics and financial help. Later, the Centre asked the NIA to start probing the larger conspiracy in all these cases and dismantle the whole nexus as initially, state police were only probing these cases. “It has been established during the investigation of NIA that a Delhi-based jailed gangster Naveen Bali and Haryana-based jailed gangster Kaushal Choudhary are closely associated with Canada-based designated terrorist Arshdeep Singh Gill alias Arsh Dalla of KTF, who works at the behest of Nijjar. They also found that Bali, Choudhary, and Arshdeep have terrorised victims to fund the cause of the proscribed organisation KTF,” an NIA official said.

In a chargesheet, filed by the NIA against Arshdeep and other gangsters this year, the agency has found that individual gangs initially used to be led by the local criminals and they would carry out criminal activities. However, over a period of time, these individual gangs made alliances with other gangs to share the resources to increase their criminal activity over a wider area.

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“All these individual gangs got transformed into the criminal syndicate to get access to a large pool of cheap shooters and carry out inter-state operations. They later needed more sophisticated weapons and to procure it, the syndicate members made a relationship with proscribed terrorist organisations and persons working for the cause of Khalistan. In return for weapons, the criminal syndicate, in addition to their criminal activities, carried out extortions and targeted killings for the foreign-based proscribed organisations for furthering the Khalistan cause,” the NIA said in their chargesheet.

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“Nijjar along with Arshdeep and others formed a terrorist gang and recruited four persons. They conspired to kidnap and kill people of other faiths to create a sense of fear and disaffection among different sections of society in Punjab. Investigations have revealed that Nijjar and Arshdeep lured the shooters to commit terror acts in return for arranging visas, splendid jobs, and handsome earnings for them in Canada. Initially, they were motivated for threatening and extorting money from businessmen in Punjab and subsequently, they were radicalised and motivated for carrying out terrorist acts of killing persons of other faiths,” the NIA said.

According to the NIA, Nijjar hatched a conspiracy in March 2021 to kidnap and kill Shakti Singh, a follower of Dera Sacha Sauda headed by Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, with the help of Arshdeep in order to take revenge on the sacrilege of Shri Guru Granth Sahib, alleged to be committed by him. “And by this act, the conspirators had intended to promote enmity between different sections of society on grounds of religion. KTF is a militant outfit and its aim is to revive terrorism in Punjab, with a view to achieving its agenda of the formation of a separate state, Khalistan, and challenging the territorial integrity, unity, national security, and sovereignty of India,” the NIA said.

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“The KTF promotes acts of terrorism and the investigation agencies have found involvement of its cadres in various terrorist cases, including targeted killing. The members of the KTF in India are receiving financial and logistics support, including sophisticated weapons from their foreign-based handlers. Several investigation agencies have found involvement of cadres of KTF in various terrorist cases and assassination of prominent persons,” the NIA claimed.

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