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Anniversary – Operation Bluestar

Gajindar Singh

The Harmandir Sahib, widely known as the Golden Temple at Sri Amritsar brings peace and solace to all, whatever their intentions in visiting it. Those who seek spiritual succour as well as those who are struck by its architectural grandeur cannot but be awe-struck by its overwhelming calm and tranquility. Twenty five years ago, the central government decided to demonstrate its clout and authority by launching a brutal assault on its sublimity, ostensibly to subdue political opponents and demonstrate its sway over every institution in the country, religious as well as secular. Khushwant Singh, an eminent writer and MP in the Rajya Sabha, had warned the policy makers to understand the ethos of the Sikhs who have a history of over four hundred years of bloody struggle against the hegemony of autocracy and were not subdued by any amount of coercion and oppression unleashed by the Mughals or the Persian and Afghan hordes. The last time that the sacred precincts of the Holy Harmandir Sahib were violated was by Ahmed Shah Abdali in 1763-65, after which he and his progeny could not keep control on this part of their Indian possessions and forfeited any hold on Punjab. Evidently, the master-minds of the independent Indian government had not taken such advice seriously. A thumping assault was supposed to unnerve the handful of opponents and deliver a lasting message to the politicians that the Central Government was supreme and in total control of the situation. It could not be daunted by agitations for civil rights and ‘Dharm Yudhs’.

The worldwide effect of the strike against the Akal Takht by heavy armour of the regular army and raids on many other historical gurdwaras titled ‘Operation Woodrose’ was beyond the reckoning of the Centre. It inflicted indelible psychological wounds on the entire Sikh community in India and outside the country as unjustified, thoughtless and ruthless. The spectrum of their long struggles against the Mughal and Afghan wrath was rekindled. More than the tragedy of the slain innocent men, women and children who had camped there to pay homage on the martyrdom gurpurb of Guru Arjun Dev ji, it was a sinister reminder that in the Twentieth Century society with its house top propagation of the sanctity of individual rights and privileges, India could still adopt barbaric methods to curb the democratic rights of a section of its citizens despite its tall claim to be the largest democracy in the world. It is this shocking realisation which continues to haunt the Sikh minds, that it is so easy to trample on the security of citizens and repeat such barbarisms at the beck and call of the ruling classes. Even mediation efforts by the unbiased and neutral Jain Muni and the redoubtable S Sawarn Singh, the former Foreign Minister, for an amicable settlement were repeatedly and blatantly sabotaged at the last minute by none else than the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, after feigning having reached an accord, in order to negate the impression in the country that the Sikh leaders had, at last, won over her preferred image of a strong Centre. It would have reduced her tall stature and given good publicity to the Sikh negotiators instead of decimating them on the political chess board. It became a matter of personal prestige for Mrs Indira Gandhi instead of the veracity of the demands of Punjab or the Sikhs.

The events of 1984 are too fresh and recent. These cannot be viewed objectively in a detached analysis unless one focuses on them in continuity of the five hundred year old struggle which the Gurus themselves initiated for restoring dignity and the rights of the individual at a time when the world had not defined terms like 'Equality' and 'Fraternity.' Taking the historical events in perspective, the nerve-wrenching martyrdoms of Guru Arjun Dev and Guru Tegh Bahadur, the decimation of the kin and devotees of Guru Gobind Singh and the battles of Chamkaur and Muktsar by the mighty Mughal army, the two bloody genocides, the ghallugharas in the eighteenth century, the fixing of rewards on Sikh heads, the dismemberment of men, women and infants in their hundreds at Lahore, were part of a continuous agitation of the community for civil liberties.

The chilling massacre and exodus faced by Punjab in 1947 as a scapegoat sacrifice for the benefit of the country as a whole was a gamble gone wrong. The Sikhs suffered most, as half of them became refugees by cutting the community in two equal halves; the state repression let loose to resist the Punjabi Suba demand by “the peoples’ government” in the 1960s and agitations for restoring basic freedom of life and speech denied (though granted in the statute), till the planned invasion of Sri Akal Takht in 1984, followed by selective blood-bath of the Sikh youth, the ‘boys,’ in Punjab were links in a chain of events, which the Sikhs have had to face by adopting active resistance towards state injustice, authoritarianism and suppression. The hurt feelings of the Sikhs against Operation Bluestar and the massacre of November 1984, have not been assuaged in spite of the belated ‘apologies’ of the government leaders and ministers as too late and too little.

It is not the time and occasion to lament the massacre of innocent men, women and children who were mowed down in the holy precincts of Darbar Sahib while paying obeisance to the martyred Guru Arjun Dev. The ghastly invasion by the “peoples’ army” has acted as a catalyst on the psyche of the Sikh people in all parts of the globe. This has led them to introspect, to redouble their resolve against injustice, to search their roots afresh, curb their flaws and faults and shun vices, to become better Sikhs. There are more research papers and freer exchange of views, better understanding of the Sikh cause among international scholars, to erase many false notions about the community, for instance, the positive impress on the psyche of the Sikhs of the philosophy and tenets of their faith set down by Guru Nanak and his successors in moulding the basic Sikh character rather than the specific traditions and customs of the castes and clans which caused them ever to drift away from their moorings.

The Sikh response towards injustice is uniformly defiant and challenging, whatever and whichever his past caste or cadre may have been.


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