By Ashutosh Kumar
New Delhi, May 14: It can't be just a coincidence but seems to be a well-chosen effort to stir the calm waters in the mountains, just ahead of the crucial state Assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh.
Just imagine this: Khalistan flags tied at outer gate of state Legislative Assembly, Dharamshala, pro-Khalistan slogans appearing on its boundary walls, flag pitched atop a house at Paonta Sahib -- a border town next to Haryana boundaries and frequent threats being issued through videos and audio messages for Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister, Jai Ram Thakur and Director General of Police (DGP), Sanjay Kundu.
But, it's not just Himachal Pradesh, Khalistan slogans have been found written on the walls at a park in Faridkot in Punjab on Friday, rocket propelled grenade attack on Punjab Intelligence wing headquarters at Mohali and a big haul of arms and ammunition recovered in Haryana last week.
Who is really behind a sudden spurt in the secessionist activities in the region, more specifically to disturb the peace in quiet hills, currently witnessing a huge influx of the tourists from Punjab, Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan, apart from Gujarat and the NCR?
Jai Ram Thakur, who also briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi three days ago, points a direct finger at Punjab where the AAP had just returned to power.
"There has been a political change in our neighbouring state of Punjab. The activities of pro-Khalistan elements have suddenly revived there. One person, who hails from Punjab, has been arrested by Himachal Pradesh Police in connection with matters relating to tying-up of Khalistan flags at state Assembly. He hails from Punjab. Another accused is likely to be nabbed soon. It's not a surprise as to how Gurpatwant Singh Pannu, a self-styled Khalistan activist based in the UK, has suddenly become active," Thakur said at Dharamshala.
In his latest video message, Pannu, who heads banned organisation 'Sikhs for Justice' (SFJ) has issued a fresh threat to the Chief Minister and DGP for the arrest of Harvir Singh, a 30-year-old youth arrested from Morinda area of Ropar district. He has announced a reward of $25,000 for anyone providing information relating to foreign travel plans of the Chief Minister and DGP.
"War is on against you since CM Thakur you did not learn from AAP CM Bhagwant Mann of not starting a conflict with SFJ," he said, adding to his earlier message wherein he had warned the Chief Minister against any arrest in the case.
This morning, the SFJ founder also issued a threat to the Judge at Dharamshala court who had remanded accused Harvir Singh to police remand for four days.
"SFJ will be watching you on May 16, the date for next hearing, If you did not drop the charges, you (judge) will hear from SFJ legally," Pannu added.
As per the police, the flags were draped at the state Assembly gate by two youths who had stayed near Dharamshala a night before and next morning they travelled on scooter to play-up the flags and wrote pro-Khalistan slogans on the boundary wall.
Harvir Singh, a private driver of goods carriage vehicles had lost his father some time back. It is believed he was paid by Pannu for putting Khalistan flags. He had also made a video and sent it to Pannu.
"Harvir Singh has been getting calls from Pannu. He provided details of the location and other information about the state Assembly to Harvir Singh. The payment was promised to be delivered at specified place in Punjab once he gets video footage of the flags and Khalistan slogans on the state Assembly gates and boundary wall, respectively," said a senior police officer, who is part of the SIT set-up to investigate the case.
The police during interrogation found that the same accused had also put-up Khalistan flags outside the Deputy Commissioner's office at Ropar on April 13.
Himachal state intelligence and security officials admit that a lot of Sikh radicals are frequently visiting the state as tourists or Panthic volunteers. They stay in some Sikh Gurdwaras, get details of the vital installations, movement of the state politicians, illegal entry points to the state and return with information.
"We are in no doubt that the government in Punjab is soft-pedalling with radicals, who are brainwashing the youths using social media platforms. There is a definite move to discredit the BJP government ahead of the polls by activities like flag hoisting and printing of Khalistan slogans on the walls," a senior IPS officer informed on the promise of anonymity.
Another fact, which has come to fore also emerges from BJP's victory in the four states -- Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa -- where the incumbent government had never returned to power. The BJP rivals, who earlier believed that Himachal Pradesh will witness a sure change of the guard, are baffled.
Thus, Khalistan propaganda is directed more to target Himachal Pradesh, disturb its peace and get hype in the media.
Pannu, who has no major support base in Punjab or his threats are never taken so seriously, is currently getting mileage in Himachal Pradesh by putting the state government under pressure on law and order issue.
When asked if BJP government's failure to check Khalistan activities be an issue in the poll, Tikender Panwar, a CPI(M) leader said, "I don't think so as secessionist like Pannu will not get any support in the state. The spurt in Khalistan activities is a serious issue. Both state and central government must act to curb this."
Himachal Pradesh has sealed the entry points, introduced checking of all vehicles coming to the state and upgraded security at important installations. Armed commandos have also been deployed at crowded places, tourist spots and markets, said a police spokesman.