JARNAIL SIṄGH BHIṆḌRĀṄVĀLE, SANT (1947-1984), a phenomenal figure of modern Sikhism who within his seven brief years of a total of 37, marked by a precipitous course, emerged as a man of extraordinary grit and charisma. Soon he came to be talked about in the far-flung academe as well as in political forums. Born in the year of Indian independence (1947), the son of Bābā Joginder Siṅgh, a pious Brāṛ Jaṭṭ farmer of moderate means, and Mātā Nihāl Kaur, of the village of Roḍe, in Farīdkoṭ district, he burst upon the world consciousness with an urgent message unmistakably delivered. He had a meteoric rise to fame and his photographs began to be avidly displayed on the front pages of newspapers and journals across the continents. Trained in a Sikh seminary to preach the holy word of the Gurūs, he stood face to face with history at several critical moments.
The youngest of seven brothers, Jarnail Siṅgh was educated in the village primary school. He engaged himself in farming until 1965 when he joined the Damdamī Ṭaksāl of Bhiṇḍar Kalāṅ village, about 15 km north of Mogā, then headed by Sant Gurbachan Siṅgh Khālsā. Hence the epithet Bhiṇḍrāṅvāle. But his association with Bhiṇḍar village was only notional because Sant Gurbachan Siṅgh, though associated with Gurdwārā Akhaṇḍ Parkāsh in Bhiṇḍar Kalāṅ, usually took out his group of pupils on prolonged tours. Jarnail Siṅgh underwent a one-year course in scriptural, theological and historical studies, at the hands of Sant Gurbachan Siṅgh Khālsā partly during one of his tours but for the most part during his stay at Gurdwārā Sīs Asthān Pātshāhī IX, near Nābhā Sāhib village, 15 km south of Chaṇḍīgaṛh along the Chaṇḍīgaṛh-Paṭiālā road. In 1966, he rejoined his family and settled down to farming again. He was married in 1966 to Bībī Prītam Kaur, daughter of Bhāī Suchchā Siṅgh of Bilāspur, and had two sons, Īshar Siṅgh and Inderjīt Siṅgh, born in 1971 and 1975 respectively. He continued his religious studies and also kept his close association with the Ṭaksāl, which after the death of Sant Gurbachan Siṅgh Khālsā, in June 1969, was headed by Sant Kartār Siṅgh Khālsā, who established his headquarters at Gurdwārā Gurdarshan Prakāsh at Mehtā Chowk, 25 km northeast of Amritsar along the road to Srī Hargobindpur. Sant Kartār Siṅgh Khālsā was killed in a road accident. Before his death on 16 August 1977, he had mentioned the name of Sant Jarnail Siṅgh as his successor as the new head of Damdamī Ṭaksāl. Sant Jarnail Siṅgh was formally elected at the bhog (obsequies) ceremony in honour of Sant Kartār Siṅgh Khālsā at Mehtā Chowk on 25 August 1977.
Sant Jarnail Siṅgh exhibited remarkable enthusiasm in carrying out his missionary responsibilities. The primary task he addressed was the administrating of amrit (Khālsā baptism). He vehemently denounced drugs, alcoholic drinks and trimming of hair. He took special notice of the Niraṅkārī heresy which was undermining the Sikh structure. Opposition to the Niraṅkārīs had begun during the time of his predecessor, Sant Kartār Siṅgh Khālsā. Matters came to a head on the Baisākhī day of 1978 when Niraṅkārīs held a convention at Amritsar. The Damdamī Ṭaksāl under Sant Jarnail Siṅgh Bhiṇḍrāṅvāle and the Akhaṇḍ Kīrtanī Jathā, another purely religious organization, protested against government allowing the Niraṅkārīs to hold their convention at a time the Sikhs were celebrating the birth anniversary of the Khālsā. Some of them who marched to the site of the convention were fired upon by Niraṅkārī guardsmen killing 13 of them on the spot and wounding 78 others. The episode brought Sant Bhiṇḍrāṅvāle into the political arena. He was sore against the Akālī Dal which was then leading the government in the Punjab and was partner in the central authority in Delhi. On 4 January 1980, two days before the Lok Sabhā poll, all the 64 Niraṅkārī accused, including their chief Bābā Gurbachan Siṅgh, being tried for the killing of Sikhs, were set at liberty, by the sessions judge of Karnāl in Haryāṇā. This embittered Sant Bhiṇḍrāṅvāle. The Hindu media in the Punjab took the part of the Niraṅkārīs on the plea of secularism. So did the Congress party which, on returning to power at the Centre, dismissed the Akālī government in the Punjab, where too fresh elections were held and Congress government installed.
On 9 September 1981, Lālā Jagat Naraiṇ, a press baron of Jalandhar, highly critical of Sant Bhiṇḍrāṅvāle, was assassinated. The Sant too had been a strong critic of Jagat Naraiṇ. The government suspected the Sant's hand in the murder and issued warrants for his arrest. He was then on a preaching tour in Haryāṇā and was camping at Chando Kalāṅ village in Hissār district when a combined force of Punjab and Haryāṇā police raided the village to nab him. He himself escaped to the security of his own headquarters at Mehtā Chowk, but the police fired upon his jathā or band of disciples; their luggage was looted, and some of the sacred texts burnt. The Sant offered himself for arrest on 20 September 1981. This was followed by a spate of violence.
The Sant was released after the Central Home Minister, Giānī Zail Siṅgh, declared in the Parliament on 14 October 1981 that there was no evidence against him to show his hand in Lālā Jagat Naraiṇ's murder. The Sant had seen through the Congress conspiracy loaded against the Sikhs. His arrest and subsequent release raised the Sant's stature among the Sikh laity who, especially the youth, judging him against the moderate Akālī leadership, flocked under his banner in ever-increasing numbers. The Sant became increasingly outspoken. The government took notice of the change in Bhiṇḍrāṅvāle's stance and proceeded to take action against him. An attempt was made to arrest him while he was on a visit to Bombay and was staying in the Siṅgh Sabhā Gurdwārā at Dādar on 20 April 1982, but Sant Bhiṇḍrāṅvāle was again able to reach safely in the Gurdwārā at Mehtā Chowk. On 19 July 1982 the police arrested Bhāī Amrīk Siṅgh son of the late Sant Kartār Siṅgh Khālsā and president of the All India Sikh Students Federation. Another senior member of the Damdamī Ṭaksāl, Bhāī Ṭhārā Siṅgh, was arrested on the following day. Sant Bhiṇḍrāṅvāle felt highly provoked. Feeling that sanctuary at Mehtā Chowk was not safe enough, he moved to the Gurū Nānak Nīvās rest house in the Darbār Sāhib complex in Amritsar on 20 July and called for a Panthic convention on 25 July at which he announced the launching of a morchā (campaign) for the release of his men.
Meanwhile, the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal had been conducting a morchā since April 1982 against the digging of Sutlej-Yamunā Link (S.Y.L.) canal which would divert part of Punjab's river waters to Haryāṇā. The agitation in spite of massive support from the Sikh peasantry was not bearing any tangible fruit because the site (Kapūrī village on the Haryāṇā-Punjab border where the Indian Prime Minister had inaugurated the digging of the canal on 6 April 1982) was in a remote corner away from the Dal's headquarters. The Dal now decided to transfer the agitation, now designated Dharam Yuddh or religious war, to Amritsar from 4 August 1982. Sant Jarnail Siṅgh merged his own morchā with it, and thus became in a way the joint dictator of the entire Panth though he still swore loyalty to the former dictator of the Akālī morchā, Sant Harchand Siṅgh Lauṅgovāl.
A further provocation to the Sikhs came from the behaviour of the Haryāṇā government and police during the Asian Games held at Delhi in November 1982. Sikhs travelling from Punjab to Delhi or back were indiscriminately stopped, searched and humiliated. Violence in the Punjab was on the increase. It was becoming more and more clear that the government would seek a military solution of the unrest in Punjab rather than a political one. Sant Bhiṇḍrāṅvāle exhorted the people to be prepared for a showdown. On 15 December 1983, he with his men entered the Akāl Takht and with the help of a former major-general of the Indian Army, Shāhbeg Siṅgh, prepared a network of defensive fortifications inside the complex collecting in the meanwhile a large stock of arms, ammunition and rations anticipating the possibility of a prolonged siege. The government on its part made elaborate plans for an army action while pretending all along its readiness for negotiations and denying any intention of sending armed forces inside the Darbār Sāhib complex. The Punjab was placed under the President's rule on 6 October 1983. An ordinance declaring parts of the state a disturbed area was promulgated, and the police was given power to search, arrest or even shoot whom they will with immunity from legal action. Six additional divisions of the army including especially trained para commandos were inducted into Punjab by the end of May 1984. On 1 June, while the Sikhs had started preparations in the Golden Temple for the observation of the martyrdom anniversary of Gurū Arjan, which fell on the 3rd of June, strict curfew was clamped on Amritsar and surrounding districts. The actual assault of the army's operation nicknamed Blue Star took place on the night of 5-6 June 1984. A pitched battle ensued in which the army also used tanks and artillery. On the 7th of June the dead body of Sant Jarnail Siṅgh Bhiṇḍrāṅvāle was located in the basement of the Akāl Takht.
Major Gurmukh Siṅgh (Retd.)