Gurpatwant Singh Pannun: "Pakistani-Backed Terrorist" Or Peaceful Activist For Khalistan?
The Sikhs For Justice's legal advisor Gurpatwant Singh Pannun has became the face of the group's Referendum 2020 campaign for the independence of Indian Punjab, leading to him being maliciously maligned by New Delhi as an alleged "Pakistani-backed terrorist" for his peaceful efforts to democratically promote the Khalistani cause even though the lawyer is nothing more than an American-based political activist who simply represents the popular aspirations of the global Sikh community.
The Sikh At The Center Of Controversy
The world is increasingly becoming aware of the Khalistani cause after the Indian government's series of high-profile overreactions over the past couple of weeks to the Sikhs For Justice's (SFJ) Referendum 2020 campaign made international headlines. New Delhi alleges that the organization is a "Pakistani-backed terrorist group" in spite of Pakistan itself being criticized by the SFJ for curtailing their activities in the country earlier this year after Islamabad forbade them from registering volunteers for next year's planned plebiscite. Nevertheless, India banned them a few weeks ago after previously filing charges of sedition against its legal advisor Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in 2017, who was originally born in India but now lives and works in the US as a lawyer specializing in international human rights. Pannun is a dedicated political activist who's sought to bring his homeland's officials to justice for their complicity in human rights abuses against his compatriots of all faiths and especially his fellow Sikhs, which has earned him the ire of the Indian state after some of the legal cases that he filed against their representatives generated a lot of international attention and contributed to dismantling the Bollywood myth of India as the self-professed "world's largest democracy".
Prominent International Lawsuits
His most prominent cases include lawsuits against then-newly elected Indian Prime Minister Modi in 2014 for his involvement in the deadly 2002 Gujarat riots that previously even led to him being denied a US visa in 2005 and the defamation case he filed against the Chief Minister of Indian Punjab Amarinder Singh in 2016 for claiming that the SFJ is linked to Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency. The politician publicly made his false accusations in spiteful response to Pannun's success in preventing him from breaking Canadian law by illegally raising funds for his election campaign during a planned visit to the country earlier that year, during which time he would have also possibly faced a court case for his involvement in the torture of a Canadian resident had he not ultimately canceled his trip. Amarinder took the experience personally and seems to have developed a pathological hatred towards Pannun ever since then, using his powerful influence in the country to spread the conspiracy theory that the SFJ are a "foreign-backed terrorist group", the completely unsubstantiated claim of which has become the basis of the Indian state's suppression campaign against the organization and its advisor.
The Indian Army Chief's Ominous Warning
Pannun's peaceful efforts to hold a democratic plebiscite in Punjab next year in accordance with the right to self-determination enshrined in the UN Charter are seen as a serious challenge to the Indian government because they embody the legitimate aspirations of the global Sikh community, hence why the Referendum 2020 campaign has continued to grow in popularity especially among the Sikhs of Indian Punjab despite New Delhi pressuring Big Tech companies such as Twitter and WhatsApp to block his social media accounts last year. So alarmed has India become with this campaign (in spite of its public claims that it's "unpopular" among its citizens) that even Indian Army Chief Bipin Rawat felt compelled to allude to it last November when he ominously warned that "Let us not think that Punjab (situation) is over. We cannot close our eyes to what is happening in Punjab. And, if we do not take early action now, it will be too late", proving that even the country's leading military official had fallen under the influence of Amarinder's personally motivated SFJ-ISI conspiracy theory by that time and setting up the fast-moving events that recently transpired.
The Core Of New Delhi's Concerns
India doesn't just fear the separatist struggle that Khalistan represents, nor the SFJ's successes in exposing the state's decades of abuse against the Sikhs and other minorities, but is more afraid of anything else that the democratic and decentralization principles of the movement's revolutionary 1973 Anandpur Sahib Resolution will experience a resurgence in popularity that leads to them forming the core of an alternative national vision that challenges the one being pursued by the ruling Hinduvas. Political problems such as this one can't ever be resolved through the use of military force, especially when the issue at hand is nothing more than a referendum that's being advanced through purely peaceful means, yet the Army Chief's words last year appear to have encouraged the Chief Minister of Punjab to request the deployment of five companies of central security forces in the region shortly after New Delhi banned the SFJ on the same "ISI-linked" basis that he originally invented as part of his personal grudge against Pannun. If the national government accedes to his request, then Amarinder's hatred of Pannun might soon have real-world consequences for millions of people.
From Personal Hatred To Political Crisis?
It can't be ruled out that the increased deployment of five companies of central security forces would put Punjab on the slippery slope of eventually having the notorious "Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act" (AFSPA) imposed on part or all of the region ahead of next year's upcoming vote as part of the Indian state's militant overreaction to the Referendum 2020 campaign, one which might be executed in parallel with the possible nationwide crackdown against the Sikh community that could take place after New Delhi just authorized eight states to utilize the so-called "Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act" (UAPA) against this religious minority group. Assessing the facts as they objectively exist and extrapolating on the most likely scenarios that are slated to transpire, Pannun isn't the "Pakistani-backed terrorist" that India alleges he is but is being portrayed as such a bogeyman by the Chief Minister of Indian Punjab due to the former's pathological hatred of him after the international human rights lawyer successful stopped his illegal campaign finance plans in Canada over three years ago, which in turn has set into motion a chain of events that might lead to a forthcoming Khalistan Crisis.
DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.