During the Khalistan insurgency, the Mini Punjab of Uttar Pradesh used to be a safe haven for Khalistani outfits. They flourished for decades in UP but went into hibernation following the crackdown in the 1990s. Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) was one of the most active outfits in the region during the insurgency.
Apart from Lakhimpur Kheri, the regions that were part of Mini Punjab were Pilibhit and Shahjahanpur of Uttar Pradesh and Uddham Singh Nagar district which is now a part of Uttarakhand.
During the 90s, agencies had arrested 12 individuals linked to BKI. They were lodged in Shahjahanpur district jail. After they were released, some of them stayed back while others shifted to Lakhimpur Kheri and Pilibhit. Some of them migrated to Punjab.
Who are the Sikhs living in Western UP?
When the partition happened in 1947, several Sikh families who came from Pakistan were settled in Uttar Pradesh. The majority of these families got settled in Lakhimpur Kheri, Pilibhit, Rampur, Sitapur and Bijnor districts. A couple of small villages comprised of Sikh families only. The land originally belonged to a local King, Raja Vikram Shah. When Sikhs came to UP after the partition, he gave up the land and donated it to the Sikhs.
Lakhimpur Kheri emerged during 2017 raids
In October 2017, Punjab Police and Uttar Pradesh Anti Terrorist Squad arrested several operatives and sympathizers of BKI. At that time, agencies said that these operatives and sympathizers had gone into hibernations following the crackdown on BKI in the 1990s. However, BKI’s name became prominent during Nabha Jailbreak in Punjab.
During the investigation, agencies traced the whole incident to the Terai region of Uttar Pradesh that included districts like Pilibhit, Shahjahanpur, Lakhimpur Kheri and other regions in close proximity to the Nepal border.
Intelligence agencies alerted that an extensive network of BKI was operating in the regions of western UP. Notably, the region has several tehsils and hamlets where Sikhs form a significant chunk of the population. Around the time raids were conducted, two of the 12 individuals who were under the watch of intelligence agencies disappeared. The agencies at that time noted that they might have been involved in expanding the BKI network in the region.
Two individuals linked to Lakhimpur Kheri who were nabbed by UP ATS and Punjab Police were identified as Jitendra Singh Toni and Satnam Singh. Jitender was wanted in the Nabha jailbreak case of November 2016. He was accused of supplying arms. He was arrested in Mailani, Lakhimpur Kheri, UP. Satnam Singh was resident of Sikandarpur, Lakhimpur Kheri. He was named by a BKI operative who was arrested in August 2017 from Lucknow.
Khalistani sympathizers activated during 2020 referendum
When Khalistani terrorist organization Sikhs For Justice announced the 2020 referendum, Khalistani sympathizers living in the mini Punjab region were activated. There were several reports of arrests of such individuals from the area. In September 2018, Udham Singh Nagar police had arrested two young Sikh individuals identified as Kulwinder Singh and Harjeet Singh, who had been publishing pro-Khalistani posts on social media. They also created a WhatsApp group named 20-20 Khalistan Referendum.
Sikh Man is seen with Bindranwale t-shirt during farmer protests in Lakhimpur Kheri
On October 3, alleged farmer protesters attacked the BJP convoy and pelted stones at them. The clash resulted in the death of eight people, including four protestors, three BJP workers and a driver who was part of the BJP convoy. While the protesting farmers made allegations that the son of the State Home Minister was driving the car that met with an accident leading to the death of the protestors, reports emerged that he was not even present at the scene at the time of the incident.
Is that Bhindranwale on this person’s t shirt ?— News Ganga (@news_ganga) October 4, 2021
If yes then UP police should better know what these people are up to & what treatment they need.@Uppolice @myogiadityanath @myogioffice pic.twitter.com/DRLqMLsRrp
While a violent mob was attacking BJP workers with batons and calling for their death, an individual was allegedly seen wearing a Bhindranwale t-shirt in some images. The presence of Khalistani supporters raised many questions on the movement, and questions were raised if it was pre-planned violence.