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Between the line

Blue Star’s unknown facts
January 22, 2014


I HAVE no doubt that the Great Britain assisted the government of India to plan and execute Operation Blue Star, the army’s nomenclature for the onslaught in and outside the Golden Temple at Amritsar to flush out Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his militant followers. The British have tried to prove the point that the Indians scurry to their colonial masters whenever they are pitted against a ticklish situation.

To rub salt into the wounds, the British archives have made public the documents and letters relating to that period to synchronize with the 30th anniversary of Operation Blue Star. The reason why Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sanctioned the operation was the fear she entertained from the militants who used the Golden Temple as their shelter. The then British Prime Minister, Mrs Margaret Thatcher, offered military help to Mrs Gandhi to enable her to go ahead with her plan.

I have reached this conclusion because of the daily telephone talks they held. Mrs Thatcher herself told me when I was India’s High Commissioner at London that they would converse on the affairs relating to India and the UK. They could not be discussing the weather. Sikh militants would have figured in their talks. (Once I asked Mrs Thatcher whether she was in touch with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, she peevishly replied “he was a different person.”) However, I rule out the assistance by Special Air Services (SAS) in the operation. Had this been true, the media in the UK and India would have uncovered it in the last 30 years. The operation, as former Lt. Gen. K.S. Brar has claimed that it was entirely carried out by the Indian forces. “We never saw anyone from the UK coming in here and telling us how to plan the operation.”

In any case, the truth will be known when the inquiry ordered by British Prime Minister David Cameron is complete. He wants to go into the role of Mrs Thatcher’s government in the 1984 operation and “establish the facts.” The Sikhs in India and abroad are understandably upset because London has been giving the impression that as if it was not happy with the operation.

Indeed, Mrs Gandhi before sending the army into the Golden Temple was frantically seeking opinion from different people on whether to undertake the operation. R.K. Dhawan, her aide, came to my residence to know my reaction if the troops entered the temple. He indicated specifically that Mrs Gandhi had sent him. I told him that he would not have come without her permission knowing well how annoyed she was with me because of my writings.

“Don’t’ you ever think of sending the army because the Golden Temple is the Sikhs’ Vatican,” I warned him.  “If you ever did that, the Sikhs would never forget or forgive this sacrilegious act.” My warnings did not deter her from the military operation.

Giani Zail Singh was the President those days. I would often meet him and he would pour his heart out to me. He and Mrs Gandhi had become poles apart. So much so that she did not send him any paper, much less the cabinet’s minutes on the meeting. This was unconstitutional but she did not hesitate to violate it. She also cancelled his goodwill
trip to South Africa.

However, she assured him that she would not send the army into the Golden Temple. Constitutionally, the President was the chief of the military. The Giani said many a time that he did not like the manner in which she was handling the Sikhs’ problem. But he felt relieved that the Golden Temple would not be “dishonoured.”

I was a member of the Punjab Group which Inder Gujral, before he became the Prime Minister, had constituted to bridge differences between the Centre and the Akali leadership. The government of India cheated on us. The then home minister, Narasimha Rao, invited us to discuss how to reach a settlement with the Akalis. Little did we realize then that it was a sham exercise because the government had already ordered a military operation.

This was one week before the army entered the Golden Temple. Lt. Gen. Brar who led the operation told me that he was instructed to undertake the operation two weeks before it actually took place. The operation did not last long although the army had to use the tanks to meet resistance from the militants. Mrs Gandhi had to be consulted since she had specifically instructed not to use the tanks. There was such a furore, particularly from the Sikhs.

Dhawan came to my house again to ask what they should do to lessen the Sikhs’ anger. I told him that their operation had laid the foundation for Khalistan. Dhawan remarked that Mrs Gandhi said that ‘Kuldip’ would tell him that. However, my advice was that the troops should vacate the temple complex quickly and not try to repair the Akal Thakt. “If I knew the community, it would rebuild the demolished building itself and not accept what the government did,” I told him.

The government withdrew the forces but had the Akal Thakt repaired. The Sikh community demolished what the government had built and rebuilt the Akal Thakt through kar seva (voluntary work).

President Zail Singh was the unhappiest person. No doubt, he made a broadcast for restraint and amity but made it clear that the Mrs Gandhi’s government had done an irreparable loss to the Sikh community and its sentiments. He flew to Amritsar by the Indian Airlines plane because Mrs Gandhi was using the VIP aircraft.

I do not know whether he left any note to condemn his government and told the story of his helplessness and humiliation. Whatever the government’s compulsions the onslaught on the Golden Temple were not justified. In fact, they should have found out some other way to tackle the Bhindrawale challenge. The apology by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi has allayed the disturbed Sikh community only to a small extent. EOM

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