A pistol, accompanied by a kirpan over his kurta pajama, an A.K. 47 in hand, adorned with a tuft of threads at the top, and a simple yellow head covering, characterized by sharp, penetrating eyes, small bangs, and finely sculpted eyebrows. This is Baba Gurbachan Singh Manochahal, the Jathedar of Akal Takht Sahib and a member of the Panthak Committee.
Despite being the head of the Panthak Committee, he seemed destined to become the supreme commander of all militant organizations. However, the time came when the divine plan called him to ascend. He left this world as effortlessly as he had served the nation. Following his departure, there has been no other guardian of Khalistan quite like him, one who could boldly proclaim, “The nation’s goal is Khalistan, and it shall remain Khalistan.” More than 60 simultaneous raids were conducted in an attempt to eliminate Baba Manochahal. During the same period, 43 of his relatives and family members were apprehended by the police, with five of them never returning home.
The village’s mothers and sisters tirelessly prepared food and warm milk, which served as a pretext to offer hospitality to Baba Manochahal as he passed by. Within the hearts of every warrior from Majha, there was an earnest desire to join the Bhindranwala Tigers Force of Khalistan and serve the Sikh panth under the leadership of Baba Manochahal.
Baba Manochhal remained under constant surveillance by the Delhi Darbar, which offered a substantial reward of 25 lakhs for his capture. The government believed that such an enticing sum would surely entice someone to betray him, yet he continued to live undisturbed amidst the forest of Punjab’s people.
Baba Gurbachan Singh was born in the village of Manochahal, situated on the road leading to Shahbazpur Road in District Tarn Taran. His father was Bapu Atma Singh, a hard-working farmer, and Baba Ji was welcomed into the world on June 6, 1954, to the loving embrace of his mother, Gurmej Kaur. Baba Ji had four other brothers – S. Nirvel Singh, Mr. Tarlochan Singh, and Narinder Singh. His elder sister was Baljit Kaur.
Baba Manochahal began his primary education at the village school. He then pursued his studies from the sixth to the ninth grade at Guru Arjan Dev Khalsa High School ‘Aghara-Pishada’ (‘ਅਗਾੜਾ- ਪਿਛਾੜਾ’). During this time, his maternal family relocated to Singapore from Nowshera Pannuan, and he, along with his family, also moved to live in his maternal home. Here, he continued his education at the school in Nowshera Pannuan.
Receiving the Name ‘Baba’
Baba Gurbachan Singh was a resolute and open-hearted young man who had a passion for sports like wrestling and kabaddi. Among his peers, he was an exceptional and admired youth. Besides his physical strength, he possessed a kind and virtuous heart. He refrained from engaging in the typical mischievous activities that boys often do during their youth. Beneath his exterior, there resided a sense of gentleness, devotion to the Sikh way of life, and moral principles.
Once, Baba Manochahal, with his character defined by such virtues, came to the aid of schoolgirls who were being harassed by some boys. He confronted these boys, and they fled the scene. When questioned about the fight by his teacher, Baba Manochahal responded, saying, “Master ji, they were harassing these ‘Bibiyan’ (young ladies), and I couldn’t tolerate it.” This statement led to laughter from the girls in the class. The teacher, too, appreciated Baba Ji’s noble nature and said, “If these girls are ‘Bibiyan,’ then you are ‘Baba,’ and from today, we shall call you ‘Baba.'” Hence, from that day forward, the appellation ‘Baba’ was affixed to his name.
Enlistment and Resignation in the Army
After completing his tenth standard, Baba Gurbachan Singh decided to join the army. Being of a devout and Gurmukh nature, he was a daily Nitnemi. One day, while engrossed in his Nitnem recitations, an officer paid a visit. Baba Ji, fully immersed in the recitation of Gurbani, did not initially notice the officer’s presence. When the officer sternly asked why he had not saluted, Baba Manochahal intended to explain his situation. However, the officer continued to speak harshly and disrespectfully.
Baba Manochahal, known for his strong character, took immediate action and physically reprimanded the arrogant officer, bringing him to his knees. Surprisingly, all the Sikh soldiers and officers were pleased by Baba Ji’s actions, appreciating his response to the disrespectful officer. However, this incident led to Babaji’s court-martial and subsequent imprisonment for one year.
Instead of pursuing his military career further, Baba Ji decided to resign from the army and return to his village.
Heading to Damdami Taksal
Following his departure from the army, Baba Manochahal ji took on household and farming responsibilities. Despite regularly practicing Nitnem and having a deep love for Sikhi, he had not yet taken Amrit. He frequently sought spiritual guidance from saints, wise individuals, and religious leaders but hadn’t found the satisfaction he was seeking. During this period, he encountered the teachings of Sant Giani Kartar Singh Ji Khalsa Bhindranwala, the head of Damdami Taksal, which resonated deeply with him. After seeking counsel and receiving Amrit, Baba Manochahal officially became a Taksali Singh, marking the year 1974-75.
Babaji had a profound passion for reading Bani and singing Gurbani hymns. The saints recognized this devotion and encouraged Baba Manochahal to share the wisdom and teachings of Gurbani. His dedication to spreading Sikhism became a lifelong mission. Baba Manochahal developed strong bonds of affection and camaraderie with fellow Taksali Singhs. During this period, Sant Giani Jarnail Singh Khalsa Bhindranwalia was a student at Taksal, and he shared a close relationship with Baba Manochahal. In 1977, when Sant Kartar Singh tragically passed away near Ludhiana, in a car accident, the responsibility of leading the Taksal was passed on to Sant Giani Jarnail Singh Khalsa Bhindranwalia.
Amritsar Massacre of 1978
The Indian government, in an attempt to undermine the Sikh religion, began supporting anti-Sikh sects. While the original Nirankaris had once preached Sikhism, the fake Nirankaris consistently opposed it. Gurbachan Singh, the leader of the fake Nirankaris, went to great lengths to provoke the Sikh community, even publishing a book titled ‘Avtar Bani,’ which deeply upset the entire Khalsa Panth due to its anti-Sikh content. With the formation of the Akali government in 1977, there was hope that these fake Nirankaris would be curbed in Punjab. However, leaders like Parkash Singh Badal paid little attention to this issue in the hopes of gaining votes.
On Vaisakhi day, April 13, 1978, the Narakdharis held an event in Amritsar, a clear challenge to the Sikhs. In response, the Sikh congregation, starting from Darbar Sahib Amritsar, began marching towards the Narakdhari event. Along the way, the Narakdharis, under government patronage, opened fire on the Sikhs, resulting in the martyrdom of 13 Singhs and causing grievous injuries to many others. Among the wounded was Baba Manochahal. He was admitted to the hospital, determined to demonstrate the Khalsa power in the face of those who opposed Sikhism.
Baba Manochahal sought permission from Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Bhindranwala to take action against Gurbachan Singh, the Narakdhari leader. However, Sant Ji had other significant tasks in mind for Baba Manochahal. The burning desire of Baba Manochahal and fellow Singhs was finally quenched on April 24, 1980, when the relentless efforts of Bhai Ranjit Singh, Bhai Kabal Singh, and Taksali Singhs of Nagoke were sanctioned, resulting in the elimination of Gurbachan Singh, the head of the Narakdharis. During this period, Baba Manochahal became a close and trusted associate of Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Bhindranwala.
When Baba Gurbachan Singh’s family moved to Nowshera Pannu from Manochahal, they discovered the village’s connection to Bhai Dhanna Ji, a dedicated Sikh of Guru Gobind Singh Ji who looked after Guru Sahib’s horses. In Bhai Dhanna Ji’s memory, Baba Gurbachan Singh initiated the construction of a Guru Ghar in Nowshera Pannu. This gurudwara was a frequent destination for Singhs actively involved in the Movement.
Baba Manochahal actively spread Sikh spirituality through Gurbani recitation and Katha at the local Gurdwara. Although viewed with suspicion by the government, no valid reason for action against him was found. In 1980, police arrived to arrest him, but when he picked up a Kirpan inside the Gurdwara, the police retreated. Village elders later reassured the police of Baba Manochahal’s dedicated community service.
Conspiracy of Sant Ji in Bombay
Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Bhindranwale traveled to Bombay in April 1982 for Gurmat Parchar upon the Sangat’s request. Facing opposition from the Punjab government led by Darbara Singh, Sant Ji gained widespread support after his arrest on September 29, 1981. Recognizing him as a rising threat, anti-Sikh authorities in Delhi and Chandigarh plotted the capturing and encounter of Sant Ji in Maharashtra.
To escape a potential threat, Sant Ji, informed by his sources, secretly returned to Punjab from Bombay. Under a plan, Sant Ji set out for Punjab with a select group of Singhs, leaving behind a ruse in Bombay. The Sangat in Bombay had provided two new Fiat vehicles and four drivers for this mission. The convoy, making stops along the way, reached Mehta Chowk in twenty-eight hours, traveling through Rajasthan. Here, Baba Gurbachan Singh Manochahal stood in for Sant Bhindranwala as a decoy, while the Jatha of Singhs continued their service as if Sant Ji were still present. The common people were informed that the Sant’s health wasn’t well, and Baba Manochahal lay on a cot. The entire operation involving food, medicine, and other provisions continued until news arrived from Mehta Chowk confirming the safe arrival of Sant Ji. Subsequently, the entire Jatha also headed back to Punjab. Since then Baba Manochahal has been more under the radar of the government and its agencies.
In 1982, the ‘Dharm Yudh Morcha’ was launched to secure Sikh rights, and Darbar Sahib emerged as the epicenter of Sikh activities. As the struggle intensified, Sant Jarnail Singh Ji Bhindranwale adapted his policies, realizing that an attack on Darbar Sahib by the Delhi government was imminent. Sant Ji met with several dedicated Singhs, including Bhai Durga Singh Arfke, Bhai Dhanna Singh, Bhai Gurdayal Singh Dalla, and Sukhdev Singh Sakhira, and instructed them individually to distance themselves from the events at Darbar Sahib. They were told that in the future, they would bear significant responsibilities.
In a similar vein, Sant Ji advised Baba Gurbachan Singh Manochahal that his role would be pivotal in the upcoming struggle, and he should remain in Nowshera Pannu to serve. The saints made it clear that unless they personally summoned him, he should not return.
From June 1 to June 6, 1984, Sikh warriors demonstrated their Khalsa spirit, but the Indian Army responded with aggression. Pilgrims paying their respects to Guru Arjan Dev Ji were violently attacked, with the gunshots’ source as their primary focus. On June 7, news broke that the Akal Takht Sahib was destroyed, and many Gursikhs, including Sant Bhindranwala, became martyrs. The army arrested hundreds of Sikhs, subjecting them to torture in the cantonment.
After June 1984
Baba Manochahal and fellow Sikhs remembered Sant Bhindranwala’s guidance to avoid Darbar Sahib, allowing them to prepare for the upcoming struggle. The martyrdom of the saints and the destruction of Akal Takht Sahib deeply affected those who had criticized Sant Bhindranwala before June 1984, making them realize the gravity of oppression. The Sikh community’s anger was so intense that with proper preparation, the situation could have been significantly different.
Subsequently, Sikh soldiers in the Indian Army rebelled in various regions, with S. Tarlochan Singh, Baba Manochahal’s brother, playing a crucial role in the Rajasthan rebellion. Under an assumed identity, Baba Manochahal met with Bhai Tarlochan Singh and other devout soldiers in an army camp. These religious soldiers faced court-martial proceedings. Baba Manochahal began covertly preparing for militant activities, collaborating with Bhai Gurdev Singh Usmanwala, Bhai Manbir Singh Chaheru, Bhai Mohakam Singh, Bhai Balveer Singh Sahaipur, and other Taksali Singhs for the Freedom of Sikh Homeland.
Baba Manochahal initiated preparations for militant activities, drawing the attention of government intelligence agencies. In 1985, while traveling to Vain Poin village on a motorcycle with a friend, they encountered CRPF personnel. The CRPF forced him into their jeep after knocking down their motorcycle, but Baba managed to escape by pushing his way out and fleeing into the fields, eluding their grasp.
Shortly after, in November 1985, Baba met his brother Tarlochan Singh in Military Jail Suratgarh, who had been detained for his involvement in a rebellion in the army after Operation Blue Star. Police and CRPF informants had received word that Baba was expected to return that night and spend it near the Bambi (a water pump) in Manochahal village. When the khaki-uniformed men surrounded the Bambi in the pitch-black night, Baba Manochahal and his brother Mahinder Singh, who were inside, got prepared. The CRPF formed an outer perimeter, with the Punjab police taking the lead and bringing the village sarpanch.
The sarpanch informed Baba Manochahal about the tight encirclement and suggested they come out. In response, Baba instructed the others, “Alright, we can’t see anything in the dark, give us a torch inside, and we will come out.” Holding a torch, Baba loaded his firearm and swiftly opened the door, firing shots. He then made a quick escape, leaving behind a scene of chaos with CRPF personnel and police in disarray. As he passed them, they didn’t even move. One police officer attempted to run in front of Baba. Following this incident, Bhai Jagir Singh Mast composed a Kavishari titled “Jago Aeya.”
Sarbat Khalsa 1986 and Panthak Committee Formation
On January 26, 1986, thousands of Sikh devotees reached Akal Takhat Sahib and held a ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ (mass Sikh gathering) to express their anger against the Indian government and show their faith in Sant Bhindranwala. On this occasion, the ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ event started the Kar Sewa for the construction of the new building of Akal Takhat Sahib, and there were also many important announcements made.
One of them was the replacement of the Jathedar of Akal Takht Sahib, Jathedar Kirpal Singh, with his nephew Bhai Jasbir Singh Rode, detained in the Sagar Jail of Sant Bhindranwalia. Acting Jathedar Bhai Gurdev Singh Kaunke was installed. Similarly, Bhai Bakhshish Singh was appointed in place of Darbar Sahib Head Granthi Sahib Singh.
A five-member panthak committee was also announced to form Sikh politics toward the Akal Takhat Sahib centered. In this Panthak committee, Bhai Dhanna Singh, Baba Gurbachan Singh Manochahal, Bhai Gurdev Singh Usmanwala, Bhai Arur Singh, and Bhai Wasan Singh Jafarwal were appointed as five committee members. It was a Gurmata passed in which it was declared that this panthak committee would lead the panth. On April 29, 1986, the Panthak Committee declared the formation of “Khalistan”. Dr. Sohan Singh and many other Jathebanis supported this declaration.
Bhindranwala Tigers Force of Khalistan
The ‘Bhindranwala Tigers Force’ was established in April 1987, under the leadership of Baba Gurbachan Singh Manochahal, to spearhead an armed struggle for the establishment of Khalistan. The organization gained significant attention on May 8, 1987, following the killing of Sukhdev Singh Umranangal, the son of Akali leader Jeevan Singh Umranangal. Notably, Umranangal, who had once hosted the Khalistan flag at the DC office of Amritsar in 1973. He was also jailed for that, but later he became the enemy of every Gur Sikh whoever demanded the Khalsa state.
Umranangal became particularly opposed to Sant Bhindranwala and his supporters. Even after the events of June 1984, he persisted in using derogatory language against Sant Bhindranwale and those who supported him. In response, Baba Manochahal’s associate, Bhai Swaranjit Singh Aladdinpur, along with others, demonstrated the presence and strength of the Kharkoos to Umranangal’s son.
In this Jathebandi, the joining members were Bhai Sukhwinder Singh Sangha, Bhai Surjit Singh Panta, Bhai Bikramajit Singh Narla, Bhai Surjit Singh Behla, Bhai Balwinder Singh Ramdiwali, Bhai Bhupinder Singh Kamoke, Bhai Satnam Singh Chhina, Bhai Karaj Singh Thande, Bhai Daya Singh Chohla Sahib, Bhai Buta Singh Sur Singh Wala, and Bhai Satnam Singh Satta Changiara had served. This organization kept most of its activities in the Tarn Tarn and Amritsar area.
Baba Manochahal had been a soldier, and due to his military experience, he was an expert in the rules and strategies of war. Baba’s quick mind was clear that Khalistan was formed in the Tarn Taran area of Majha. The organization was strongly opposed to self-inflicted murders or wrongdoings. Indian forces continued to have direct encounters with the organization. Every time the Indian forces lost in the encounter. The Singhs of the organization had great respect in the hearts of the people and people used to request to visit their homes. Baba Manochahal had built bunkers on his hideout houses and farmhouses, where there was a store of ammunition and a place for hiding the Singhs after actions. The initial closeness of this organization remained with panthak committee member Bhai Vasan Singh Jafarwal, but at one point Baba Manochahal got away from the panthak committee membership. Baba Manochahal had respect for all other organizations in the Kharkoo movement, but there were many times when there were clear differences between the Bhindranwala Tigers Force and the rest of the Kharkoo factions.
Resolution of Khalistan in Fatehgarh Sahib
On December 27, 1987, Shiromani Akali Dal took the stage at the ceremony in Fatehgarh Sahib to commemorate the martyrdom of Chhote Sahibzades. Federation leader Dr. Gurnam Singh Buttar along with many other Kharkoo Singhs went on the stage and then took over the mic. Dr. Butter’s real name was Jagdish Singh, along with Dr. Pritam Singh Sekhon and S. Gurbaksh Singh occupied the Shiromani Akali Dal stage and asked the Akalis to stand up for Khalistan. Dr. Gurnam Singh Buttar, President of the Sikh Students Federation (Manochahal) passed the resolution of Khalistan from the stage. All the Sikhs present unanimously raised their hands and supported this resolution. It is clear that Baba Manochahal did not lose any opportunity to propagate the Khalistani doctrine in the general Sikh world along with the armed struggle. He was doing his best to raise the entire panth in support of Khalistan.
Baba Manochahal appointed Bhai Sukhwinder Singh Sangha as the Lieutenant General of Bhindranwala Tigers Force of Khalistan. In Baba’s absence, all the responsibility of the organization was on the shoulders of Bhai Sangha. Bhai Sangha was also a Singh with the spirit of sacrifice, who earned great respect within the Kharkoo movement. By December 1988, the organization was running out of weapons. BTFK Clashes with government forces were frequent, due to which small arms were replaced by lethal and deadly ammunition. There were many other important issues, due to which Baba Manochahal had to cross the border and visit the Kharkoo Singhs in Pakistan.
Baba Manochahal stayed in Pakistan till March-April 1989 and kept sending arms to Punjab. Here the entire command on the battlefield was in the hands of his confidant Bhai Sangha. In Baba’s absence, on the intervening night of March 8-9, 1989, such an incident happened, which laid the foundation for the split of the ‘Bhindranwala Tigers Force’. What happened was that Bhai Sanghe’s associates fired at two men in Rataul village thinking they were robbers and one man was killed. Later it came to know that he was not a robber, but the same brother of Baba Manochahal, Bhai Mahinder Singh, who was active in the struggle since 1985, since the Bambi Kand.
Although Baba Manochahal bears this incident as an accident of forgetfulness, the consensus among the Singhs of the organization was broken. Some Singhs believed that Bhai Sangha’s associates had deliberately killed Bhai Mahinder Singh, while some Singhs believed that Bhai Sangha did not commit any conspiracy. Finally the organization split. But even after this, Baba Manochahal continued to support Bhai Sangha.