The militant attack in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district on Monday, in which seven people were killed, has raised fears in the Modi government of a fresh front of extremism. While cross-border militancy in Jammu and Kashmir has been a source of concern for long, Punjab has been trouble-free for nearly two decades.

Although Home Minister Rajnath Singh is slated to give a statement on the Gurdaspur attack in Parliament on Tuesday, there was widespread speculation about the gunmen on Monday.

Punjab Congress chief Pratap Singh Bajwa publicly said, “I fear it could be a joint operation between the Jammu and Kashmir terrorists and Khalistani terrorists who are under training in Pakistan’s Punjab.”

Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah suggested the attack could be linked to the Khalistani movement.

Participating in a discussion on Monday, AS Dulat, former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing, said the first impression suggested the footprint of Lashkar-e-Toiba. He added that there have been hints in recent months that trouble is brewing in Punjab.

The Gurdaspur attack comes weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif met in Ufa in Russia and promised to open a dialogue on counter-terrorism as they agreed that both their countries were equally affected by this menace.

Another blame-game

Even within the National Democratic Alliance government, there were some hypotheses on who could be behind the attack. Highly-placed sources in the government told that security agencies had been warning of the revival of Sikh militancy for over a year now.

“The slogan – Khalistan 2020 – has resurfaced with greater belligerence among its proponents in Vancouver and another places,” said a senior NDA minister, adding that there is growing frustration that there has been no closure on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

Even the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab has been in the firing line. Punjab’s minister for NRI affairs Tota Singh and his delegation were recently attacked by protesting Sikh groups in New York who were angry with the state government for its failure to convict police officers responsible for the killings of innocent people in the counter-insurgency operations conducted in the nineties.

The Monday attack triggered a blame game between the Centre and the Punjab state government, with sources in the NDA government stating that it had sent out an advisory about a possible attack to Punjab and several other states on July 24. There was also a view that the state police was ill-equipped to deal with militants and that they failed to follow standard operating procedures.

However, Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal reacted sharply to these suggestions. Stating that terrorism is a national problem and not a state problem, he said, the terrorists came from across the border and were not from Punjab. It was, therefore the Centre’s responsibility to strengthen security at the border. “Why was the border not sealed if there was an input about a possible terror attack,” he stressed.