Sikh Americans, citing ‘transnational repression,’ vote for an independent homeland (Richa Karmarkar, 2/01/24, RNS)

Last Sunday (Jan. 28), more than 120,000 Sikhs of all ages and occupations took part in a historic referendum in San Francisco on the creation of an autonomous homeland in northwestern India. They braved hourslong lines after already long commutes, in many cases from neighboring states, to reach the polling place in the City by the Bay.

These Sikhs, almost all of them U.S. citizens and residents, were voting aspirationally for the creation of Khalistan — a hoped-for but nonexistent “land of the pure” that would stand separate from the nation of India.

Organized by Sikhs for Justice, an activist group that is banned in India, the vote was aimed at raising the profile of Sikh efforts to convince the government of India to allow Punjab, the state where the Sikhi faith was born, to secede.

There is no India


The Culmination of Modi’s Hindu Nationalism (The Editors, Jan 22, 2024, World Politics Review)

The opening of the temple, and Modi’s instrumentalization of it, marks the unofficial start of Modi’s campaign for a third term in office, with general elections expected to be called in the spring. It is also the latest illustration of the mutually beneficial ties between Modi and India’s Hindu nationalist movement, which he and his party have utilized to gain political power and amplified via his government’s policies and rhetoric.

The illiberalism associated with Modi’s brand of Hindu nationalism is at this point well-documented—at least abroad. Within India, press freedoms are shrinking, with a growing number of journalists, particularly those who cover religion and communal violence, facing punitive action, including criminal cases as well as threats of violence and harassment.

Still, despite how well India’s democratic backsliding over the past 10 years has been documented, Modi has yet to pay any real price for it in global affairs. India’s Western partners continue to court him, prioritizing competition with China over calling out the erosion of India’s liberal democracy. Even India’s ties with Muslim-majority nations, particularly the Gulf states but also in Southeast Asia, have not suffered under Modi, despite the increasing discrimination and violence faced by India’s Muslim population.


Narendra Modi’s Punjab Problem (Francis Wade, 12/12/23, NOEMA)

In March, three months before the assassination of the Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada, the Indian government turned the Sikh-majority Punjab into a police state. Its internet was cut and messaging services restricted, gatherings of more than four people banned in some places, and a state-wide cordon and manhunt launched — all just to find one man, a 30-year-old fellow Sikh agitator called Amritpal Singh.

Over the previous year, Singh had been advocating for a separate homeland for Sikhs in northern India. He toured villages and towns in Punjab, a longstanding focal point of Sikh separatist ambitions, garnering a small following. He also drew the attention of security forces. Several weeks before the manhunt began, he and a group of armed supporters raided a police station in Ajnala, close to the Pakistan border, forcing the release of a close aide who was being held there. Singh then went on the run, moving from village to village, crisscrossing state lines, changing vehicles and guises. The police operation that ensued, with house-to-house raids and roadblocks set up across the nearly 20,000-square-mile state, resulted in the arrest of more than 300 people — including, on April 23, Singh himself.

It marked the intensification of a crackdown on Sikh separatists by Narendra Modi’s government — one that soon went international. Nijjar was killed outside a temple in British Columbia by an unknown assassin, an operation Canada pinned on India. Around the same time, according to an American investigation, an Indian official was directing a plot against another Sikh separatist in New York. Allegations of similar plots in the U.K. have since surfaced, and revelations of other India-backed assassination campaigns elsewhere in the world have emerged.

As the Singh manhunt widened in March, journalists and commentators began asking questions. Was Sikh separatism a valid concern, one deserving of such a far-reaching response? Or was the mass deployment of security forces to Punjab and the Indian government’s intensifying rhetoric around “Khalistan” — the long-imagined Sikh homeland beyond the control of New Delhi — serving other ends?

Despite once causing great tumult in Punjab and rocking the foundations of post-independence India, the Sikh separatist cause had lain dormant for three decades: Militant activity was so infrequent as to barely make headlines. As far as security threats were concerned, the government had spent the past decade far more interested in insurgencies in Jammu and Kashmir and the Maoist-Naxalite rebellion in the east.

The crackdown in Punjab — and the targeting of Sikhs on foreign soil that followed — seemed puzzling. Was Singh really raising an army? Did Nijjar really have the support in India to reinvigorate a long-dead insurgency? Or rather, was Modi, with an eye on the 2024 elections, raising the specter of a national security threat in order to sell the idea that his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), for whom national security has always been top of the agenda, must be reelected lest India break apart? Might he be diverting attention from the many real crises in Punjab, if not India more generally, that the BJP has been unable to resolve?



On January 28, Californians will finally get to cast ballots in a historic vote on whether to create a new independent country.

Why is this the first you’re hearing of this election? Because the only Californians who can vote in the election are Sikhs. The proposed independent country would be in Punjab, a state in northern India.

But that’s no reason to overlook what might be the most important election in the Golden State next year.

Indeed, the Khalistan referendum, as this ballot measure is known, is worthy of your attention for two reasons.