Homeland Security

Grenade Attack in Amritsar – Caution Time Ahead
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 21 Nov , 2018

The primary aim of the recent grenade attack at the Nirankari Bhavan in Amritsar was obviously to disrupt the communal harmony of Punjab. Three persons were killed and 10 reportedly injured in the congregation of some 200 hundred devotees. Luckily only one grenade was thrown. Targeting Nirankaris to create communal discord is akin to the Shia killings in Afghanistan and Ahmediya, Shia  and  minority killings in Pakistan; to instill fear and discord. The Punjab Police Chief has said that the incident “appears to have a terror angle because it is against a group (of people) and not against any individual. There is no reason to throw a hand grenade on a group of people, so we will take it as a terrorist act. Till proven otherwise, prima facie we will take it like that”.

AAP MLA HS Phoolka, who is also senior advocate of Delhi High Court, accused Army Chief General Bipin Rawat for orchestrating the grenade attack. Only few days back, Rawat had cautioned against revival of separatists in Punjab, after a blast on September 14 in Maqsudan police station housed in a building of a primary health centre in a busy area of Jalandhar city, in which one policeman suffered injuries; apparently someone hurled a crude explosive from outside since the police station is open from two sides and has low boundary wall – police was investigating the terror angle. This led Phoolka to state after the Amritsar grenade attack, “The Army Chief came to Punjab and gave a statement on terror attack, it is possible that he might be behind the attack to prove his statement right”.

Phoolka is not in kindergarten politician, having served as Leader of the Opposition in the Punjab Legislative Assembly. Making such an unprecedented and outrageos accusation against the Army Chief can hardly be construed as innocent blabbering by a politician. Significantly, there have been reports alleging an Indian politician had received Rs 1300 crore cross-border funds to revive militancy in Punjab. “An Indian Politician” can be any political party including Phoolka’s political party, even though Phoolka may have received only fraction of the money. So, Phoolka could be just diverting attention for the terror attack. Army Chief was best bet knowing there would be little response. The Phoolak variety are also secure in the knowledge government will only hand brooms to the Army under Swachh Bharat, not task them to clean out the mafia. Phoolka’s later said his statement against the Army Chief was misconstrued which is typical of ‘spit and lick’ strategy of many politicians.   

It is well established that Pakistan has been trying its best to revive the separatist movement in Punjab, flushing the state with narcotics past several years is part of the plan, with active handlers on the Indian side that includes politicians and police. ISI has accelerated its efforts through a clandestine operation code-named ‘Express’, and is funding and promoting the “Sikh Referendum 2020” campaign, conclusively proved through digital intercepts, particularly in social media chatter.  Referendum posters have been displayed at Pakistani guurdwaras during pilgrimage of Sikh jathas. A Sikh radical leader based in Germany, known to be an ISI operative, is linked to these 2020 campaigners. Another strong ally of the 2020 organizers involved in murder of a RSS leader and other terror incidents is believed to be funded by the ISI. Khalistanis have been displaying Pakistani flags and photographs of ‘terrorist Modi’. It is in the backdrop of all this that the visit by Congress Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu to Pakistan and hugging the Pakistani Army Chief had received plenty criticism. 

The Punjab Chief Minister has vowed he will not let the forces of terror destroy the hard-earned peace in the state, saying, “We will not let the forces of terror destroy our hard-earned peace. I appeal to the people of Punjab to maintain peace in the wake of Amritsar bomb blast. I urge them not to panic and to remain calm.” He has instructed the administration to extend all help and has announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh for the kin of the victims, and free treatment for the injured. The Opposition went on the offensive accusing the Chief Minister with allegations like “Peace and communal harmony in danger in Punjab under Congress rule. Congress government should not play with fire and act to ensure Punjab does not slip back into vortex of violence”, and “First bombs and now grenade attack in Amritsar, what next Raja saab?  When will you and your ministers stop encouraging elements bent on disturbing hard won peace? Stop playing politics and get down to serious governance. Punjabis do not want to go back into dark era”.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh has expressed deep anguish on the act of violence and assured “strongest possible action against the perpetrators of the crime”. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has also reiterated that perpetrators of the act won’t be spared by the government – though not related to his ministry, perhaps he remembers his bonds with Amritsar where he fought elections in 2014, even though losnig badly. The NIA has been tasked to investigate into the grenade attack which logically should be free from political interference albeit the recent happenings in the CBI indicate inquiries and findings of investigative agencies may not be free of subjectivity. Significantly, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), which masterminded terror attacks in Pathankot, Uri, Sunjwan military camp in Jammu and other places, has received a clear boost from the Imran Khan government and Punjab has been on alert following intelligence warning that six to seven JeM terrorists had entered Punjab and were possibly in the area of Ferozepur.

There is no doubt that the ISI is hell bent for destabilizing Punjab but in a chaotic democracy like ours orchestrating such incidents is no big deal. India has been witness to criminalization of politics past decades and public is expendable in interest of larger electoral gains. Morals don’t matter and incidents gather speed  closer to elections. Just one example is how the exodus of Bihari labour was engineered recently in Gujarat. Political parties of all can be expected to indulge in all types of acts in pursuit of their exclusive agendas and exploit the media accordingly. A SUV was recently snatched at gunpoint by four persons near Madhopur in Pathankot area, which should be cause of concern. But such SUV hijackings at gunpoint are occurring every third day in Delhi-NCR and elsewhere.   

Finally, the Amritsar grenade attack has uncanny similarity to attacks on Nirankaris before Operation ‘Blue Star’ in 1984. Igniting inter-sect discord may be prelude to something much bigger. In all the foreign mischief to keep India de-stabilized it would be naïve to forget the role of China despite her façade of   peace homilies. China continues to provide tacit support to Pakistani terror activities, even protecting 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks mastermind Masood Azhar at the UN from being declared terrorist. The chameleonic Chinese ambassador at New Delhi had ‘threatened’ India during the Doklam standoff, visited Darjeeling when the Gorkha agitation was raging, and Amritsar recently dramatizing with a turban and vermillion on forehead. The public of Punjab is unlikely to support terrorism, given the misery that was wreaked upon this prosperous state in the past. At the same time, it takes very little to keep terrorism alive, at whatever level through random terrorist incidents. There is need for constant caution.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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