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India Index

In the mid-1990s, India was grappling with three separate insurgencies of varying strengths in the states of Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, and Punjab. The insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir has the most serious implications for India. The long-term roots of the Kashmir problem can be traced to the partition of India (see National Integration, ch. 1). The crisis centers on a militant secessionist demand that the Indian state has harshly suppressed. Its proximate causes are located in the central government's attempts to manipulate state-level politics for short-term political ends. Since 1989, approximately 10,000 civilians have died at the hands of security forces or militants. Although the origins of the crisis are quintessentially indigenous, there is widespread agreement among both Indian and foreign observers that the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency of Pakistan has actively aided and abetted some of the insurgent groups, most notably, the radical Islamic Hezb-ul-Mujahideen.

The counterinsurgency strategy that the Indian government has adopted in Jammu and Kashmir was developed in the context of dealing with guerrilla movements in India's northeast in the late 1970s. This strategy involves denying the guerrillas any sanctuaries, sealing the porous Indo-Pakistani border, and using both army and paramilitary forces to conduct house-to-house "cordon-and-search" operations. Whether this strategy will lead eventually to the collapse of the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir remains an open question; violence has continued to accelerate since 1993, with mounting casualties on both sides and the destruction of an ancient mosque and shrine in 1995 (see Political Issues, ch. 8; South Asia, ch. 9).


The insurgency in the state of Punjab originated in the late 1970s. The roots of this insurgency are complex. The Green Revolution, a package of agricultural inputs, transformed the socioeconomic landscape of Punjab (see The Green Revolution, ch. 7). Amidst this new-found prosperity, large numbers of Sikhs started to shed some of the trappings of their faith. This propensity rekindled an age-old fear in the Sikh community--that of being absorbed into the Hindu fold. In turn, many Punjabi Sikhs, who were dispossessed of their land as a consequence of agricultural transformation, found solace in various revivalistic practices. One of the leaders of this revivalistic movement was Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a politically ambitious itinerant Sikh preacher. The second factor contributing to the insurgency was the attempt by Indira Gandhi (India's prime minister, 1966-77 and 1980-84), the Congress, and from 1978 Congress (I) to use Bhindranwale to undermine the position of the Akali Dal (Eternal Party), a regional party (see Political Parties, ch. 8). Bhindranwale and his followers were encouraged to verbally intimidate Akali Dal politicians. Although this strategy met with some success, Bhindranwale and his followers became a source of mayhem and disruption in Punjab. Eventually, in June 1984, Gandhi had to order units of the Indian army to flush out Bhindranwale and his followers, who had taken refuge in the Golden Temple complex, Sikhism's most holy shrine, in Amritsar, Punjab (see Sikhism, ch. 3).

This exercise, Operation Bluestar, was, at best, a mixed success. After all efforts at negotiation failed, Indira Gandhi ordered the army to storm the temple. A variety of army units, along with substantial numbers of paramilitary forces, surrounded the temple complex on June 3, 1984. After the demands to surrender peacefully were met with volleys of gunfire from within the confines of the temple, the army was given the order to take the temple by force. Indian intelligence authorities had underestimated the firepower possessed by the militants, however, and the army brought in tanks and heavy artillery to suppress the antitank and machine-gun fire. After a twenty-four-hour firefight, the army successfully took control of the temple. According to Indian government sources, eighty-three army personnel were killed and 249 injured. Insurgent casualties were 493 killed and eighty-six injured. Indian observers assert that the number of Sikh casualties was probably higher.

The attack on the Golden Temple had the effect of inflaming significant segments of the Sikh community. It is widely believed that the two Sikh bodyguards who assassinated Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984, were driven by their anger over the Golden Temple episode. In the wake of Indira Gandhi's assassination, mobs rampaged through the streets of New Delhi and other parts of India over the next few days, killing several thousand Sikhs. The New Delhi police proved to be partisan observers and did little to stop or apprehend the rioters. Only after the deployment of the army, almost three days after the onset of the riots, was order fully restored.

The New Delhi riots had repercussions in Punjab as militants stepped up their activities. Gandhi's son and political successor, Rajiv Gandhi, sought unsuccessfully to bring peace to Punjab with an accord signed with Harchand Singh Longowal, a moderate Sikh leader. Rajiv Gandhi's successors, belonging to the Janata factions, proved to be no more adept at resolving the crisis. In fact, between 1987 and 1991, Punjab was placed under President's Rule and governed directly from New Delhi (see The Executive, ch. 8). Eventually, an election was held in the state in February 1992. Voter turnout, however, was poor; only about 24 percent of the population participated in the elections. Despite its narrow mandate, the newly elected Congress (I) government gave a free hand to the police chief of the state, K.P.S. Gill. His ruthless methods significantly weakened the insurgent movement. Most political observers, however, assert that long-term political stability in Punjab depends on addressing the underlying grievances of segments of the Sikh community.

Data as of September 1995

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