Operation BlueStar and After
S Inderjit Singh Jaijee*
The conflict between the Sikhs and the Centre, which was to have such tragic consequences for lakhs of individuals, was building up over decades but three events - Operation Bluestar, Operation Woodrose and the November massacres - which occurred in that Orwellian year, 1984, were in effect a sort of Last Trumpet that signalled the onset of Punjab’s Armageddon.
The Political Build-Up
The ostensible reason for attack on Darbar Sahib was feverish political activity of the Akali Dal. The government’s White Paper states: “The Akali Dal declared that if its demands were not accepted by February 21, 1983, the fight would be taken to the streets. Sikh masses were exhorted to adopt a programme of do-or-die and the recruitment of shaheedi volunteers (a suicide squad) was started.”
“As discussions were in progress a fresh appeal was made to the Akali leadership on March 31, 1983, to call off their agitation. The response was a rasta roko (obstruct road traffic) agitation in Punjab on April 4, 1983, which led to violence and arson at a number of places.
“On May 30, 1983, the Home Minister wrote to Sant Harchand Singh Longowal suggesting the resumption of talks; the Akali Dal announced a rail roko (stop trains) programme for June 17, 1983. A kaam roko (stop work) agitation was organised on August 29, 1983, with another rash of violence.”
On October 7, 1983 two ordinances were passed: the Punjab Disturbed Areas Ordinance and the Chandigarh Disturbed Areas Ordinance. The Armed Forces (Punjab and Chandigarh) Special Powers Ordinance, 1983, was promulgated on October 15, 1983. In other words, a full six months before all hell broke loose in Punjab, the Central government had laid the legal foundation for drastic action.
In the weeks immediately before Operation Bluestar, B.S. Ramoowalia and Jagdev Singh Talwandi were organising the morchas. Talwandi, now a forgotten man, was then the president of the Akali Dal. He had stood firm on the Anandpur Sahib Resolution. Ramoowalia has done better for himself. He started his political career as a member of the Students Federation of India, a CPI-M front organisation, then he switched to the AISSF and at Tohra’s behest Longowal accepted him as his political secretary. Now he is a Union minister. Two equally fiery rabble-rousers of the early ’80s but what different ends they came to.
Internal politics of Bhindranwala and the Akalis were moving in such a way that it leads to the inevitable conclusion that the guiding force behind their politics was New Delhi. As per the tradition of the Temple Complex, no arms could be taken into the Darbar Sahib complex except for ceremonial kirpans and no one was allowed to live in the Akal Takht.
G.S. Tohra was the president of the SGPC. He made some token resistance to the carrying of arms into the Temple Complex. Though he now denies it, it was obvious that he was instrumental in subtly nudging the Sant toward staying in the Akal Takht. At this time, Sant Bhindranwala and Sant Harchand Singh Longowal represented the two major forces in Sikh politics. Tohra was a weak third.
Tohra, true to form, worked to play the two Sants against each other. After DIG A S Atwal was shot on April 25, 1983, the Punjab Police wanted to arrest Bhindranwala who at that time was staying in the Guru Nanak Niwas. Longowal had no objection to a police party entering the Guru Nanak Niwas and he told the state government that he did not regard the building as sacred. But Longowal got no support from Tohra. Tohra began to nudge the Sant to shift to the Akal Takht. In order to bypass the SGPC rule banning living inside the Temple, Tohra emphasised that Bhindranwala was a sant and therefore could stay in the Akal Takht.
On December 15, 1983, Bhindranwala moved into the Akal Takht - the extreme western end of the complex; Tohra, Longowal and other Akalis remained in the Teja Singh Sumandri Hall - the eastern-most side of the complex. Tohra, no doubt, knew that the Army would drive to take control of the Akal Takht and the Darbar Sahib itself - in other words, they would directly confront Bhindranwala. Had Tohra resigned when Bhindranwala and his armed followers occupied the Akal Takht in violation of the rule, Bhindranwala would have been forced to go elsewhere — thus denying the Army even a weak reason for going after the Akal Takht. Tohra did not do this.
Nor would he resign later when the entire Akal Takht complex and 75 other gurdwaras were attacked and some destroyed by the Army. There could be two reasons why: one was that he would not get his position in the SGPC back; the other could be that the government would not let him. Either of these reasons does him no credit.
Again, two years before the attack, Bhindranwala was allowed to tour the country with his followers and licensed weapons in trucks and chartered buses. If the intention were to arrest Bhindranwala, he could have been picked up anywhere in the country. In fact, when the Punjab Police attempted to arrest Bhindranwala on September 13, 1981, at Chando Kalan in Haryana, the arrest was thwarted by Haryana Chief Minister Bhajan Lal and Bhindranwala was allowed to reach Chowk Mehta, his headquarters. Mark Tully mentions in his book that “the veteran Indian journalist Kuldeep Nayar reported that the Home Minister Zail Singh rang Bhajan Lal and told him not to arrest Bhindranwala. A senior police officer told Satish Jacob of the BBC that the Haryana CM went so far as to send an official car to Chando Kalan to drive Bhindranwala back to his gurdwara.”
Mrs Gandhi had sent Bhindranwala a letter saying that all subjects were open to discussion, thereby lulling the Sant into feeling that nothing untoward was likely to happen. The Sant Bhindranwala had lost faith in the Akali leadership’s sincerity in achieving Morcha (agitation) objectives and, on the other hand, had his own agenda and, though he was being pushed toward an unavoidable confrontation, he was a willing participant in the drama for his own ends. In an astute statement, when asked whether he wanted Khalistan or to remain in India, he said: “I have not asked for it, but if it is given to me I will take it. Frankly, I don’t think the Sikhs can live with or within India. They can only do so if they are given equal status, but that is not likely to happen.”
Mark Tully writes: “On October 14, less than a month after the Punjab government had gone to all that trouble to arrest the turbulent preacher, Zail Singh told Parliament in Delhi that there was, after all, no evidence that Bhindranwala was involved in the murder of newspaper proprietor Lala Jagat Narain. The decision to release Bhindranwala was taken by the government ... but a senior Congress politician from Punjab told Satish Jacob that it was Mrs Gandhi herself who actually ordered the Sant’s release.”
In the course of one of the many Centre-Akali talks, Mrs Gandhi advised the Akalis to “discard Bhindranwala.” The reply was succinct: “We have had him for only one year; he has been with you for four.”
Meanwhile, small arms were being smuggled into the Temple complex, it is said through kar seva trucks (which were under the control of the SGPC - or in other words, G.S. Tohra) and also in BSF trucks. When Punjab Inspector General of Police, P S Bhinder, detained two such trucks and asked for instructions from Delhi, the message received was “let them go in.” It suited Mrs Gandhi’s purpose to encourage build-up and fortification within the Temple complex to a point where she could legitimately claim that terrorist activity within the temple was well beyond the capacity of the police or paramilitary forces to control and it justified the induction of the Army. As Ved Marwah asks in “Uncivil Wars”: “Could all these fortifications have been made without the knowledge of the government?” Coming from a one-time Special Secretary Home, Government of India, this question is especially interesting.
In his book, Major General K S Brar makes the same point. He says: “Weapons were being secretly stockpiled inside the Temple and these were finding their way in through vehicles used for kar seva. The police dared not search the vehicles for fear of reprisals ... The Temple and hostel complexes were at the same time being fortified at feverish pitch; Bhindranwala never expected the police to enter the Temple and construction of defences he felt would act as further deterrent. It would be foolish to believe that those in power did not realise what was going on and that they failed to gauge the gravity of the situation. Yet no one in authority took any action. To charge those in authority for dereliction of duty would be putting it very mildly, and to forgive them for it, naivete. One of the reasons given by some people for the Government’s inaction is that, even at that stage, last minute secret parleys were going on between emissaries and Tohra in a bid to redeem the situation.”
NOTE: Perhaps General Brar is unduly worried about the arms that were smuggled in. Those recovered from the Golden Temple area after Operation Bluestar were not particularly impressive. As enumerated by the Government White Paper, the bulk of them were World War II vintage weapons. Six hundred and fifty men and an armoury of this nature is very small potatoes indeed when the opponent is the Indian Army represented by four infantry battalions plus commando units plus one squadron of Vijayanta tanks plus a squadron of armoured personnel carriers, and all this supported by surveillance by the Air Force and Navy. This is the assessment made by senior generals after reading the White Paper, although actual recovery of weapons by the Army is said to have been much less than what has been shown in the White Paper and there were not more than 100 to 150 militants in the complex.
Lt Gen Brar’s list of the troops deployed for the assault on the Darbar Sahib complex is: one battalion 10 Guards, one battalion 26 Madras, one battalion 9 Kumaon, 15 Kumaon, one battalion 12 Bihar, one company I Para Commandos, one company Special Frontier Force, one squadron Vijayanta tanks, one platoon infantry combat vehicles, one company Border Security Force, one company Central Reserved Police Force.
Lt Gen K S Brar and the government’s White Paper presents a list of recovered arms. As per this list, there were:
7.62 mm Light Machine Guns 41
7.62 mm Self-Loading Rifles 84
7.62 mm Chinese Rifles 52
Assorted Rifles, all types 28
5.56 mm Sub Machine Guns 49
Pistols & revolvers (standard pattern) 84
Pistols (country made) 67
l2-bore guns 78
Rocket-propelled grenade launchers (anti-tank) 2
Persons taken into custody were categorised in four groups: elderly, women, young and the “dangerous” group - identifiable by blue or saffron turban, ceremonial dagger, flowing beard, or generally unhappy looks.
No women constables were assigned to look after the women prisoners; as with the men, their captors were the soldiers. As might be expected, there were rumours of large scale molestation and rape. Few Punjabi women would be willing to admit to having been raped so it may never be possible to verify these rumours. The rumours themselves were extremely disturbing.
To a contrary charge by the army that captive women and narcotics were found in the temple P.S. Bhinder, then Director General of Punjab police, rebutted the charge in the Probe magazine of July 1984: “I haven’t met any women who has complained to me. Wasn’t it the army who said that Hashish and Heroin were discovered? And now the report is being denied.”
In an essay contributed to ‘The Punjab Story”, Lieutenant General J.S. Arora writes: “There is a need to correct the picture that has been painted by the media that sophisticated weapons were found inside the Temple. The first thing to remember is that in a war weapons get lost! In both the wars with Pakistan, in 1965 and 1971, a large number of weapons were picked up by people and never accounted for. With the large scale smuggling going on across the Punjab-Pakistan border, some gun-running must have taken place. Since 1960, the government has been issuing arms to certain reliable people living close to the border for security purposes. So there have been a lot of unaccounted weapons in circulation in Punjab, used often in family feuds, property disputes and dacoity. Their buying and selling has been a lucrative trade. Another point to note is that of the weapons seized inside the Temple, only 60 self-loading rifles bear foreign markings. All the rest are of Indian origin. Further there were no medium machine guns or mortars. There were however a large number of light machine guns. Ammunition for both the light and medium machine guns is the same, but a medium machine gun has a higher and more sustained rate of fire. There were two rocket launchers with the terrorists but only one was used. It is obvious therefore that there were not many sophisticated weapons. Quite a lot, yes, but the impression that has been built up in the public mind of foreign governments deliberately arming the terrorists with a view to overthrowing the government is grossly overdone.”
A retired brigadier, then a lieutenant colonel, recalls: “My nit was sent to the Darbar Sahib complex after the Operation was over to assist in post-operation duties. I reached Amritsar on June 10. On the basis of my personal knowledge, I can say that the government White Paper’s list of arms recovered does not accurately reflect the arms in the possession of the militants. The tally of Light Machine guns was shown as 41 but after intensive search, we found only four magazines. A single machine gun carries 12 magazines, that’s a standard rule. A machine gun, or any other gun for that matter, is just a piece of metal without the bullets to fire from it.” This is substantiated by a retired lieutenant colonel who was commanding an engineering unit sent to the Darbar Sahib on June 3.
“So I conclude that the militants, effectively may have had only four machine guns. Some thirty additional weapons may have been planted. Otherwise it makes no sense that the militants would acquire machine guns but not magazines. We found 52 AK-47s and in addition to these, we found a crate containing 12 AK-47s properly greased which had never been fired. I would put the number of actual combatants on the other side at around 200 and I believe that they fought almost exclusively with AK-47s. The barrels of two recovered AK-47s had burst from continuous firing. The 49 5.56 mm sub machine guns were subsequently added to hike the number but were not physically present.”
The first three civilian officials to go in reported that they had seen tall heaps of AK-47 empty cartridges in front of the Akal Takht. Their impression was that these spent cartridges were much more than the number actually used. On inquiry, they were told that the empties were mostly of AK-47 and some of .303s. They saw no spent cartridges of machine gun bullets.
Gurdev Singh, Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar, had made a similar estimate of the militant’s arms and strength, and conveyed it to Governor Pandey before Operation Bluestar. (“There were not more than 200 to 300 guns in the Temple ...” His statement is quoted in full further on.
[NOTE: Other Sikh religious leaders (chiefly Santa Singh of the Budha Akali Dal and Ajit Singh Puhla of the Taruna Akali Dal etc.) whom the Prime Minister’s office was trying to sponsor against the Akalis were also allowed the same quantity of weapons. These were authorised.]
Tully also asks: “Why did Mrs Gandhi not act earlier? There are plausible political explanations. During her last period in office Mrs Gandhi had abandoned her party’s traditional supporters – Muslims and Harijans, or Untouchables - and tried to forge the majority Hindu community into one solid vote block. This had never been achieved before because of the deep divisions of caste. The catalyst for this new political synthesis was the Hindu revivalism weeping through India. Hindus were beginning to see themselves as the victims of more than 30 years of secularism in which Muslim family law had been protected. Sikhs had been given a state of their own and Harijans or Untouchables had been given special opportunities for education and employment, all at the expense of caste Hindus. As M J Akbar put it: “Hindu revivalists began saying that in Hindu-majority India it was Hinduism, not Islam that was now in danger.”
“Such was the impact that even Mrs Gandhi began to believe there was bound to be a Hindu backlash against further pampering of the minorities. Far from challenging such revivalism, she decided to ride it as far as it would take her. Mrs Gandhi’s change from secular to Hindu politics has led some to suggest that she delayed taking action against Bhindranwala because she was happy to have such an obvious challenge to Hinduism by a minority community. It helped her to weld the Hindu community together.”
Others take an even more cynical view. They believe that Mrs Gandhi actually wanted to inflict a crushing defeat on the Sikh community in order to win applause from the Hindus. A general election was due at the end of 1984. It was argued that Mrs Gandhi needed a spectacular achievement to restore her image as Durga, the Hindu goddess of destruction, an image she had acquired by defeating the Pakistan Army in 1971 and breaking that country in two.
“The possibility of Mrs Gandhi ordering another attack on Pakistan to refurbish her image was being discussed in the press. We ever believed this to be a serious possibility. Mrs Gandhi, who was then the chairperson of the Non-Aligned Movement, was far too conscious of her international role to attack Pakistan without first carefully building up world opinion as she had done in 1971. General Zia, the military ruler of Pakistan was much too clever to give her casus belli. In fact, he did the exact opposite. He went on what he called a ‘peace offensive.’ So the cynics argue, Mrs Gandhi had to look elsewhere for an election spectacular and she found it in Punjab.
By the end of the 1984-94 decade, the people of Punjab had learnt to take the most cynical possible view of leaders, statements, parties, events. Perhaps at the time when the trouble was just starting the Akalis had imagined that they knew what the game was and believed that they could play it and win. Play, they did - striking defiant postures, issuing fiery statements, Prakash Singh Badal even burnt a copy of Article 25 of the Indian Constitution which clubbed Sikhs along with Jains and Buddhists as “Hindu religious institutions.” (According to Sangat Singh, “Rajiv Gandhi conveyed to Tohra that the government would accept the demand once it was agitated). But in 1984 they were not cynical enough.”
The Congress chief minister of Haryana provoked an anti-Sikh riot by the speech “warning the Akali leaders that Hindu patience is running out and retaliation was near.” Satish Jacob of BBC saw police looking on as Hindu mobs burnt down the gurdwara in Panipat. He also saw Sikhs pulled out of buses and forcibly shaved and Sikh shops being looted. Eight Sikhs were clubbed to death. This was on February 20, 1984.
With an eye on the electoral constituency of India, where the Muslim votes had deserted her, Mrs Gandhi wanted to compensate that loss by winning over the high caste Hindu vote on two counts: that the Sikhs were killing the Hindus and that Punjab was in imminent danger of seceding from the country. While how and who were killing the Hindus has been discussed in later chapters, the question of secession needs to be looked into.
On May 5, 1984, Rajiv Gandhi visited Punjab; speaking in Chandigarh he described Sant Bhindranwala as “a saintly man without political ambitions.” On May 24, Punjab was declared a “disturbed area” after Tohra told Governor Pande that the situation was out of control. Union minister Buta Singh was later to accuse Tohra of having conspired in Operation Bluestar.
The futile 30 rounds of negotiations with the Akali leaders was a part of the plan to up the ante in Punjab and bring the full glare of media spotlight on the conflict. In his book, Mark Tully writes that CPM supremo Harkishen Surjeet told him: “Three times in six months an agreement was reached and three times the prime minister backed out.” Former Union Foreign Minister Swaran Singh and Maharaja Amarinder Singh, MP - then playing an intermediary role between the Congressmen and the Akalis (both men belonged to the Congress, incidentally) also confirm that whenever settlement seemed imminent, Mrs Gandhi backed out.
Retired Punjab Police IG (Intelligence) H.S. Randhawa says that on one occasion the Akalis were ready for the final settlement and the Punjab Police was told to be ready for a VIP who would go to Amritsar for this agreement but it was called off by Delhi at the last moment.
On May 15, Badal, Tohra and Longowal met in the Golden Temple complex. Bhindranwala was now the key to reaching a settlement with the Centre. Mark Tully writes: “The government had stipulated that he [Bhindranwale] must agree before they would announce it, and Tohra was the only man who could sell it to the Sant. In all earlier rounds of negotiations he was the only one who had supported Bhindranwale’s line that nothing short of the full implementation of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution would do. Tohra was particularly anxious to push the settlement through. During the last negotiations, the two sides had discussed the possibility of forming a coalition of the Akali Dal and the Congress (I) to govern Punjab. Tohra believed that Bhindranwale would back him for the chief ministership of the coalition. So his life’s ambition seemed within his grasp, if only he could persuade the Sant to accept the settlement.
At the meeting of the Akali Trinity in the Temple complex Tohra got an agreement to approach Bhindranwale, and the next day he went to discuss the settlement with the Sant in the Akal Takht. Tohra told him that Chandigarh was a major victory for the Sikh movement and that other issues would now be decided in the Sikh’s favour by the commissions that the government was setting up. But Tohra was hoist with his own petard. Bhindranwale would not accept that the settlement met the morcha’s demands. He had seen through Tohra’s game and told him that he was betraying the Anandpur Sahib Resolution in the hope of becoming chief minister. The SGPC president then tried threatening to throw Bhindranwale out of the Akal Takht. He was the man who had persuaded the High Priest of the Akal Takht to allow Bhindranwale to move into the shrine. He had also used his influence to prevent the High Priests issuing an .edict against the Sant. But threats did not work either. Bhindranwale knew that the priests were by now more afraid of him than they were of their patron, Tohra, and so the whole settlement collapsed.” Tohra had under rated Sant Bhindranwale’s commitment to religious vow. Like Darshan Singh Pheruman before him, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was prepared to take the extreme step for it.
On June 2, 1984, Sant Longowal announced that the Akalis would launch a campaign of civil disobedience from June 3: taxes would not be paid, foodgrains and trains would not be allowed to move out of Punjab and so forth. Mrs Gandhi went on radio and TV appealing to the Akalis to reconsider and come for settlement – a bit of mono-acting that by now carried little conviction. On the same day General Ranjit Singh Dayal was appointed Security Advisor to Governor B.D. Pande and telecommunication lines linking Punjab to the rest of the world were cut. The Army was already present and in position around the Golden Temple. While Mrs Gandhi was declaiming in her quavering voice, “Let us not shed blood, shed hatred”, General Brar says, the troops were already moving in.
As B.S. Danewalia asks in his book: “Did Longowal’s declaration have any meaning for anybody? If the agitation was in the hands of a few, those few had not made this declaration, but her own Sant Longowal. For this needless chicanery, Longowal and Mrs Gandhi would pay with their lives.”
The government’s White Paper mentions that “the position of the government has been stated unambiguously on more than one occasion. The proposition contained in the Anandpur Sahib Resolution on Centre-State relations are at total variance with the basic concept of unity and integrity of the nation as expressed in our Constitution. These cannot be accepted even as a basis of discussion.”
“The people of India do not accept the proposition that India is a multi-national society.”
This indicates that it was the political demands, as enunciated by the Akali Dal, that were rejected by the government. There was no indication at that stage of opposition to the Sant.
Nevertheless when the Army attack came, it was not directed at the portion of the complex where the Akalis were quartered but on the Akal Takht where Bhindranwale was staying.
The Akal Takht and Harmandir Sahib embody the Sikh concept of conjoined spiritual and political authority - miri and piri. An attack on the Akal Takht, while sparing the Harmandir Sahib translates as an attack on the Sikh faith as a political entity, while tolerating the spiritual element.
Why were 74 gurdwaras also simultaneously attacked?
The attack on the Golden Temple complex had been conceived long before it was executed.
Mark Tully writes in Amritsar, Mrs Gandhi’s Last Battle (Rupa, New Delhi, 1985): “In public the government still maintained it would not send police into the Golden Temple but paramilitary police officers in Amritsar told Satish Jacob that commandos were being trained for such a purpose. They said a large model of the temple complex had been built at a camp of the Special Frontier Force at Chakrata in the foothills of the Himalayas.
Tully writes: “A few months before the attack, replicas of the Golden Temple complex had been built by the Army at the secret “22 Establishment” at Chakrata in the UP Himalayas which was set up after 1962 Indo-China war with American help to train the Dalai Lama’s followers in guerilla warfare, to carry out hit-and-run raids against the Chinese garrisons in Tibet. With the passage of time, change in the geopolitical situation and decline in the patriotic fervour of the Tibetan refugees, the Establishment had lost its original relevance. But it is here now that the government maintains its best equipped and trained commando outfit, officered mainly by men drawn from the parachute and commando units of the Army. The SSF commandos had been the only ones to have had the opportunity to practice the raid on a fairly accurate mock-up of the Temple Complex at Chakrata and at Sarsawa near Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh.”
22 Establishment was also earlier used to train commandos from East Pakistan - the Mukti Bahini - trained by Major General Shabeg Singh, who was later killed fighting the Indian Army in Bluestar, for the Bangladesh operation.
In an article, “Blood, Sweat and Tears” contributed to The Punjab Story published in 1984 by Rolli Books International, Delhi, Shekhar Gupta says: “The Special Frontier Force had been the only ones to have the opportunity to practice the raid on a fairly accurate mock-up of the temple complex at Chakrata and Sarsawa near Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh. It were now the same men, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Chowdhuri, dressed in their usual black dungarees and bullet proof vests, trying to head stealthily for the Akal Takht from the flanks.”
Lieutenant General K.S. Brar, who carried out Operation Bluestar, mentions in his book, Bluestar, The True Story: “There is no truth whatsoever in some reports which found their way into the press that the Army had been given detailed intelligence about the defences within the Golden Temple many weeks earlier and that in fact we had built a large model of the temple somewhere in the plains of Uttar Pradesh where rehearsals were carried out well before the actual operation was launched. Nothing could be farther from the truth. On the other hand, I did come to know that just a day before we went into the temple that some weeks earlier, contingency plans had been prepared by the Special Frontier Force – a paramilitary outfit working directly under the Cabinet Secretariat at the Centre - for flushing operations to be carried out inside the temple if the situation so warranted. This was disclosed to me by none other than a senior officer of the force who was in command of a Special Frontier Force sub-unit now placed under me for Operation Bluestar.”
Former Punjab Police IG (Intelligence) recalls: “The Air Force had helicopters flying over Golden Temple a full two months before Operation Bluestar which shows that they were photographing and observing the entire area and the complex specifically. The Army was holding daily meetings with the Intelligence Bureau over the heads of the Punjab Police.” The Army in CRPF uniform had already surrounded the temple two months before the operation.
In his book, Indira Gandhi, A Personal and Political Biography, Inder Malhotra quotes General K. Sundarji, who was overall in charge of Operation Bluestar, as saying: “I was told by the Defence Minister to prepare for the operation on January 15, 1984 – the Army Day.”
But even within the Army there were some difficulties to overcome. Lt Gen K.S. Brar quotes a letter from Simranjeet Singh Mann to President Zail Singh: “Maj Gen K.S. Brar who accepted to undertake the operations, was not able to deploy his troops immediately as Maj Gen J.S. Jamwal, who was deputed earlier, refused to carry out the massacre of the Sikhs stating that, as a professional soldier, he could not butcher his own people.”
Brar denies this vehemently, on the strength of the Defence Ministry’s denial which “made it clear that there was no question of General Jamwal having refused this task; General Jamwal carried out the task assigned to him which was sealing of a segment of the Indo-Pak border.”
However, according to several retired Army officers, Jamwal was not the only senior officer whose personal attitudes made them unfit for the Bluestar assignment. They say that several other senior officers in Western Command were sounded and found “unsuitable” for the Centre’s purpose. The choice finally fell on Lt Gen K.S. Brar and his 9th Infantry Division, located hundreds of kilo metres away in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh.
In a published article Lieutenant General S K Sinha writes that, when Mrs Gandhi asked his advice on a plan to attack the Golden Temple, “I strongly advised against it.” At that time he was General Officer Commanding in Chief, of Western Command and senior-most officers in line for succession to Chief of Army Staff. However, on transfer from Western Command he was shifted to Army Headquarters as vice-chief of Army Staff and later by-passed. General Sinha believes that he did not become Chief of Army Staff because Mrs Gandhi did not appreciate his advice.
Even if one does not believe Tully and Jacob or Shekhar Gupta, the word of generals – Brar, Sundarji and Sinha, establishes the fact that fact that war games in preparation for Bluestar had been going on for the past few months in spite of Mrs Gandhi’s denials.
In his book, Brar declares that his involvement with Operation Bluestar began on May 31, 1984, and until he met Lt General K. Sundarji and Lt Gen Ranjit Singh Dayal at Chandimandir on June 1, “little did I realise ... what this was all about.” In contrast, Shekhar Gupta writes “25 May, 1984, around midnight ... On that breezy summer night in the arid plains of southwestern Punjab, excitement was palpable in the field headquarters of the 9 Infantry Division of the Indian Army. The countdown to H-Hour had begun and while officers gave a last minute going over to the plans and systems, troops were giving a last, reassuring check to the weapons. In the Operations Room loomed by the now familiar figures of Major General Kuldip Singh (Bulbul) Brar, General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Division and Lieutenant General K. Sundarji, GOC-in-C Western Command. In his typical clipped tone, Brar laid out his assault plan before Sundarji.”
Lt. General R.S. Dayal was summoned to Delhi from Chandimandir on the 26th May, 1984 by the Prime Minister Indra Gandhi and was personally told by the Prime Minister about the role he was to play in Operation Bluestar.
On June 2, curfew was declared throughout Punjab and telecommunication lines were cut – according to B.S. Danewalia, even the lines of Punjab Police officers at headquarters were cut. The Army issued “shoot to kill” orders for curfew violations but after Chief Secretary Vasudev and Punjab Police IG (Intelligence) H.S. Randhawa protested the illegality of the orders they were withdrawn. Martial law had not been declared; it was never declared. In other words, the Army was outside the law when it carried out military executions at the Golden Temple and other gurdwaras in Punjab.
Events of June 3 to June 6
Mary Anne Weaver a British correspondent in her report to Sunday Times, London June 17, 1984, observed: “not since independence has the Army been used in such numbers - about 15,000 troops took part in the assault.” The rest of Punjab was flooded with soldiers to put down internal rebellion. The specially picked and trained soldiers were supported by tanks and armoured personnel carriers and yet it took them more than 72 hours of continuous all-out battle to gain control of the shrine which was defended by some 500 followers of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and 150 armed men of the Babbar Khalsa.”
June 3, 1984, the Martyrdom day of Guru Arjun Dev: that was the day the Army chose to surround Guru Ramdas’ temple. Traditionally Guru Arjun Dev’s Martyrdom Day draws a large number of pilgrims to worship at temple. The Army operation commenced without warning or call for surrender, so many of these pilgrims were trapped in the temple during the fighting. ...
“The final justification for Army action was the announcement made by Longowal that a State-wide morcha would be launched on June 3, 1984, to prevent movement of grain in the State. That this was the driving factor that prompted the Centre to take such a harsh decision, however, does not carry much weight with the Sikhs. Many felt that even this storm could have been weathered.”
The Army requisition was illegal; Parliament had given no power of arrest or detention to the Army. Brar writes of June 2: “The day commenced with informal meetings with Senior officers of the police and intelligence agencies, the aim being to take stock of the situation. I stress the word informal because though the district administration had received information through their own channel about my troops heading for Amritsar in ‘aid of civil authority’, neither had an official requisition been placed on us, nor had the police and paramilitary forces yet been placed under the overall control of the Army.”
As of June 3, 1984, the Amritsar District Magistrate had not signed any request for Army assistance to civil authority... but the Army was already in Amritsar. Someone has to take the responsibility. Who signed the letter calling for the Army?
On June 2, 1984 the Punjab governor Pande, a former ICS officer, summoned the Chief Secretary K.D. Vasudeva, Home Secretary A.S. Pooni, Inspector General Police P.S. Bhinder and Inspector General Intelligence H.S. Randhawa at 6 p.m. to the Governor’s house for a meeting. Punjab situation was discussed and it was unanimously agreed that Army should not be used to attack the Golden Temple. The Governor agreed, and in their presence, got through to P.C. Alexander, in-charge Prime Minister’s office on the hot-line and informed him that at the moment he was holding a meeting with the senior Punjab officers. They apprehended that the Army may be sent into the Golden Temple. They were against such a step being taken and that he endorsed their view. P.C. Alexander rejected this advice and instructed the Governor to take a letter from the Home Secretary requesting Army intervention in the State. The Home Secretary A.S. Pooni who had applied for medical leave earlier was allowed to proceed on medical leave but before sanctioning the leave, he was made to sign the letter requesting the Army to come to the aid of Civil Power. The Punjab officers pointed out that there was no assessment or decision taken by the Punjab Government to call the Army. The Governor told them that the decision to call the Army into Punjab has already been taken by the Centre. Pooni hesitated but could not evade the order. The Governor summoned his private secretary and made Pooni dictate the letter. Pooni’s letter addressed to the Army Commander said; “On the orders of the Governor, I have been asked to request you to send the Army to the aid of the civil administration as law and order has broken down in the State.”
In 1985 Pooni, in a different version had confided in another source that he actually signed the order on return from leave. He did so as the deed was already done.
This order was not based on the advice of the state administration to the governor, nor on the governor’s advice to the Union government, nor on Union government communication to the State government but merely on the direction of the PMO to the governor and hence was an illegal order.
Another letter followed – to the deputy commissioners – instructing them to give full cooperation to the Army.
This raises serious questions of constitutional law:
(i) Was the induction of the Army, at the instance of one pressurised officer valid and legal?
(ii) Had the Prime Minister’s Office constitutional authority to order directly a State Governor to call in the Army?
The governor earlier had written to Prime Minister Indra Gandhi that the problem is political, not Law & Order and it should be solved politically and not militarily.
Out of 13 districts of Punjab, not a single deputy commissioner had indicated that the law and order situation was threatened nor had they asked for Army support. There was no such demand or report from the state police indicating that the situation warranted induction of the Army. The deputy commissioner is the chief administrative officer of the district and together with the police is responsible for maintaining law and order.
The Centre had sent four advisors to the state to help the governor. Two were Sikhs. The “law and order charge” was given to Surendranath, an IPS officer aligned to a Jalandhar-based radical Hindu group. Surendranath functioned like a super director-general of police, bypassing the Chief Secretary and Home Secretary, giving orders directly to the police officers. None of the four advisors belonged to the state cadre but were brought from outside. The orders to legitimise the entry of the Army into Punjab came not from the state administration but from the deputees of the Centre. Governor Pandey who was opposed to operation Bluestar also resigned a few days later.
Calling in the Army is a complex procedure. The district Magistrate, after advising the state administration, and seeking its consent, approaches his counterpart in the Army with a request to come to the aid of civil administration. The Army Officer concerned forwards this request to his superiors and meanwhile makes his own assessment of the situation so as to be able to advise the Army command how many troops will be required to stabilise the situation. In June, 1984 none of these procedures were followed. A simple letter was taken from the Home Secretary. In fact, Army troops were already deployed all around the Darbar Sahib, at all crucial points in and around Amritsar and the border and were spreading into the districts of Punjab. Pooni’s letter and subsequent actions were against all procedure and clearly constitutionally illegal.
Mark Tully describes a lull in the firing on that June 3 evening. He writes: “Tohra’s final attempt to persuade Bhindranwale to surrender suggests that he and Longowal were by now collaborating with the government. They must have been in touch with the Army otherwise Tohra would not have had the authority to negotiate a surrender. Tohra also knew that the Army would not resume firing when he left the comparative safety of the hostel complex to cross to the Akal Takht. The president of the SGPC was not a man to risk getting caught in the Akal Takht during the final battle.”
In his foreword to Oppression in Punjab (a report on events of 1982-84) by a Delhi-based human rights group, Citizens for Democracy, Justice V.M. Tarkunde writes: “Evidence shows that on June I, 1984, no shots from the Golden Temple were fired at the police. It was, on the contrary, the CRP which fired continuously at the Harmandar Sahib on that day. Punjab civil administration and the police did not know who ordered the firing on the Golden Temple. The 4th of June, 1984, was wrongly chosen by the Army for an attack on inmates of the Golden Temple because, the 3rd of June being gurpurab (a religious festival), a large number of pilgrims, nearly 10,000 in number, had come to stay in the Golden Temple. Many of them appear to have been killed in the Army action. According to this report, the number of terrorists flushed out from the Golden Temple as a result of Operation Bluestar was rather small, a much larger number of alleged terrorists being inoffensive pilgrims staying at the Golden Temple.”
In the opinion of the Punjab officials, the number of men who had actively fought against the army was between 80 and 150. They believe that many of the men present in the temple just before actual fighting broke out were there just to “see the spectacle” and slipped away through the numerous tiny bye-lanes around the temple when the shooting hotted up. Although the Army had thrown cordon around the temple, the layout of this very old and congested area of Amritsar is such that no cordon can be fully effective if, like the Indian Army, one does not know the layout of the place.
Danewalia writes that on June 4, an Intelligence Bureau officer at Amritsar told Lt Gen Brar that Longowal and Tohra wanted to negotiate but did not know how to come out of the Temple Complex in view of the curfew. Earlier, they had tried to phone Zail Singh but the President did not come to the phone. They did manage to get through to Punjab Governor B.D. Pande but he told them that orders were from Delhi and he was helpless. This clearly indicated invasion of Punjab by the Indian Army was under orders of PMO. This was Mrs Gandhi’s personal war. A pliant army and a good but weak governor simply acquiesced. Now the telephone lines were dead. Brar thought that lifting the curfew was risky.
The Army started shelling the Golden Temple, without warning, from the early hours of June 4. The onslaught reached its peak two days later on the night of June 5 around 7 p.m.
Giani Puran Singh, a priest at the Harmandar Sahib, was present throughout. Oppression in Punjab relates his story: “At 7:30 pm on the 5th I went to Sri Akal Takht where I met Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale with whom I had a long satisfying talk while shots were ringing outside. Giani Mohan Singh whose duty was to conduct Rehras (evening prayer) had not been able to reach Harmandar Sahib due to the shooting. I then came down from the Akal Takht and joined some Singhs in a morcha and enquired of them whether Giani Mohan Singh had passed that way. As per the tradition, Rehras at the Akal Takht starts five minutes later than at the Harmandar Sahib but that day path (recitation) at the Akal Takht had already started. Upon this I rushed toward the Harmandar Sahib amidst gunfire, stopping for a breather at Darshani Deori. On reaching I started the recitation. Meanwhile Giani Mohan Singh also reached the place. We were about 22 people in the Harmandar Sahib, some devotees and others the employees of the gurdwara. By the time the path (recitation) was over, firing outside had become more intense. Sukhasan (ceremonial closing) of the Guru Granth Sahib was done and then taken upstairs. At 10 pm the tanks started entering the complex and the barrage of shooting from without became intense as heavy armour began to be used. At this stage an armoured carrier entered and stood beside the sarovar. The lights on this carrier, when switched on, bathed the whole complex in bright light. We were viewing all this perched in the main dome of the Harmandar Sahib and thought that probably the fire brigade had come to get water for extinguishing fires raging throughout the city. But we were proved wrong when this vehicle came down the parikrama and started firing. From both sides the tanks started closing in, from Clock Tower to the Brahm Butta the tanks set fire to all desperate people collecting water from the sarovar to extinguish the fires. A vigorous battle ensued and the Darshani Deori, Clock Tower and Atta Mandi along with the serais were in Army control by 10 a.m. June 6. The 40 or 50 youths who had been holding the forces fought bravely till either they were killed or the ammunition was exhausted. From about 10 pm on the night of June 5 to 4:30 a.m. the next morning we were on the roof of the Harmandar Sahib.”
“Tully quotes another priest Giani Mohan Singh’s statement that there were 13 tanks in parikrama. In his article, “Operation Bluestar, an Eyewitness Account” (published in The Punjab Story) Subhash Kirpekar also writes: “That evening, well before sunset, I hear the unmistakable rumble of tanks. To begin with, it was one tank and one APC. An hour later, there are a dozen tanks and a dozen APCs in all.”
Although the White Paper claims that “the troops exercised great restraint and refrained from directing any fire at the Harmandar Sahib”, Oppression in Punjab records the testimony of Harcharan Singh Ragi one of those who sat beside the Guru Granth Sahib in the sanctum sanctorum and kept up the kirtan from June 3 to June 6.
[Ragi says his mentor, Amrik Singh, the blind, 65-year-old head ragi of the temple, was shot dead within the sanctum sanctorum at 6:30 a.m. on June 5. Another ragi, Avtar Singh took a fatal bullet soon after.
Another account of events of that same night comes from the teenaged daughter of an SPGC employee who managed to get out. She is quoted by the team commissioned by Justice V. M. Tarkunde. “Then the tank entered. It had powerful searchlights. I thought the ambulance had come to attend to the dead and injured but it turned out the opposite. The tank went past us; from the tank came the announcement ‘Please come out, God’s blessings are with you. We will reach you home absolutely safe and sound.’ There were some among us who were frantic for some water and they came out in the open. In the morning I saw the dead bodies lying on the parikrama. This was the worst kind of treachery.” (Oppression in Punjab)
Brar writes: “The terms of reference given to me as far as this side [the hostel complex] was concerned were to take them to battle only if forced to do so, to protect the maximum number of lives, and to ensure that all innocent people came out alive. I am glad to say that by isolating this area from the main complex we were able to achieve that aim.” This claim is not borne out by eye-witness accounts. To continue with the testimony of the girl quoted in Oppression in Punjab, “There were about 27-28 persons with us, five of them ladies, some elderly men, the rest young boys. Out of the remaining male youths, they picked up four and took off their turbans with which they tied their hands behind their backs. Then the Army men beat these four Sikh boys with the butts of their rifles until they fell on the ground and started bleeding. They kept telling the boys all along, ‘you are terrorists; you will be shot.’ These boys were shot dead right in front of me.”
Brahm Chellany, the only foreign newspaper correspondent who managed to remain in Amritsar after the government had ordered them out, reported the statements of doctors and police officials that many of the Sikhs killed in the attack had been shot at point-blank range with their hands tied behind their backs. Some of these bodies with hands tied behind the back were photographed. This is also borne out by the testimonies of survivors.
Air force officers who accompanied the AOC-in-C into the Golden Temple complex immediately after the operation confirm observing bodies of young Sikhs with hands tied behind their backs.
The first civilian officers to enter the Golden Temple complex after Operation Bluestar were senior officers of the Punjab Police and civil administration: Superintendent Police, Criminal Investigation Department Harjit Singh, Inspector General (Intelligence) Harjit Singh Randhawa, and the newly appointed Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar, Ramesh Inder Singh. One of them described the scene: “as we entered the temple corridor we saw dogs eating some bodies.”
Later these Punjab officials made three complaints to the Army, namely: some bodies were found, both inside and outside the temple complex, with hands tied behind their back; six cases of rape in houses adjoining the temple had been brought to their notice (the Army would not allow medical examination of the women, therefore no case was registered) and soldiers had looted temple treasures. (Some of these stolen goods were recovered by the Army after this protest was lodged). The Punjab officers did not make an official complaint but merely wrote these points down on the very day of their Visit and handed the note to the Army. It is unlikely that this note was preserved. In Oppression in Punjab, The Citizens for Democracy team quotes a sewadar at the Akal Rest House, Prithipal Singh: “The Army people came to the rest house. They tore off all my clothes, stripped me naked, my kirpan was snatched, my headgear (patta) was untied to tie up my hands behind my back. They caught me by my hair and took me along with five others – who were all pilgrims - to the ruins of the water tank; there we were all made to stand in a line, all naked, for an hour or so; we were told ‘don’t move or you’ll be shot.’ They kept hitting us with rifle butts. Then a Major came and ordered a soldier ‘shoot them.’ Then he shouted at us: ‘You must be Bhindranwale’s chelas. You want Khalistan?’ I said ‘I am here doing my duty. I have nothing to do with all this.’ Six of us were in a line facing the Major, when a Pahari soldier started shooting from one end, killing four of us with three bullets each. As my turn was coming, a Sikh officer turned up and ordered: ‘Stop shooting.’ Thus I was saved. The Sikh officer was told: ‘These people have ammunitions.’ At that he ordered them to lock us in a room. Two of us were locked up in room in Guru Ram Das Sarai, but we did not talk nor did I ask the other man’s name. On June 7, the door was opened at about 8 or 9 in the morning. We had gone without water. The floor was covered in blood. I was allowed to leave.”
According to government’s White Paper, “At 1 a.m. on June 6, Sant Harchand Singh Longowal and Shri G.S. Tohra surrendered near Guru Nanak Niwas with about 350 people. The terrorists opened fire on them and also lobbed hand grenades to prevent surrender. As a result, 70 people were killed including women and children.”
Longowal and Tohra say that they were arrested at 5 a.m. on the morning of June 6 from the Teja Singh Samundari Hall. According to Lt Gen K.S. Brar, one Major Palta escorted them out of the Teja Singh Samundri Hall, both men were visibly shaken. Longowal was weeping – he was a good man and capable of remorse – and rebuked the Army officer saying, “You have done a wicked thing.” Brar takes umbrage at their later press interviews: “I was surprised to read much later, that in interviews to various reporters, they were supposed to have denied having surrendered to the Army. I can only conclude that they needed a face-saving device ...” Anyway, the government used the word “surrender” – as if Longowal was General Niazi laying down arms in Bangladesh. The Akali leaders had never declared war on India, they were not fugitives or nor were they wanted in any criminal cases.
In Blood, Sweat and Tears, Shekhar Gupta quotes the account of a junior officer who took part in the “evacuation” of the serai area: “Some members of the assassination squad locked themselves in some of the rooms in the Serai area where hundreds of pilgrims had been hiding out of sheer panic. As jawans approached the rooms, they were fired at, resulting in casualties. At this stage, when the speedy neutralisation of the serais was imperative to the success of the Operation, the jawans decided to just lob grenades. ‘It was a war-like situation where people were getting killed on all sides. There really was no time or scope for discipline any more’, said a junior officer there. This, coupled with indiscriminate lobbing of grenades by the extremist hit squad earlier, accounted for most of the nearly 500 innocent civilian deaths.”
Mohinder Singh of village Balran in district Sangrur was a sewadar with the SGPC at that time and was among the 350 people who came out along with Sant Harchand Singh Longowal. He denies that militants lobbed grenades at security forces. “When we came out of Teja Singh Samundri Hall we were made to sit down. Just like that, the soldiers opened fire on us. There was no provocation.” He was later sent to Jodhpur jail.
Another appalling incident is related by General Brar himself in “Operation Bluestar”: “At 11 am, there was a sudden and rather unexpected development. A large number of militants rushed out of the Akal Takht on to the parikrama below, and fled toward the gates in a bid to escape. Many of them, flinging their weapons, jumped into the sarovar and began swimming toward the Harmandar Sahib, having realised that it provided them the best sanctuary, as our troops were not firing at the sanctum sanctorum. Instant fire was brought down on all those who were attempting to escape, both overground and in the water, and all of them were either killed or wounded.”
In his memoirs (Memoirs of Giani Zail Singh, Har-Anand Publications, New Delhi, 1996) the late President of India had something to say about trapped innocents and ‘calls for surrender’: “When I pointed out to her [Mrs Indira Gandhi] that military action was taken on a day when the Temple complex was full of pilgrims – men, women and children – assembled to observe the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev, most of whom perished in the crossfiring between the security forces and the militants, she seemed full of remorse. I told her that if notice had been given to these pilgrims over radio and television and loudspeakers, a majority of them would have come out, including some extremists, to surrender ... I had asked the government whether they had issued a warning on the loudspeakers to the people inside the complex to come out, to which they replied in the affirmative. Later, I came to know that no such warning had been issued by the authorities and the operation had been suddenly launched.”
Mark Tully describes the Akali leaders’ attempt to get out: “Why did Longowal and Tohra not surrender before the action started? ... The two politicians did not surrender earlier because the Army did not give them a chance to do so. The Generals were to say later that they made many appeals for surrender after they surrounded the Temple. But Bhan Singh, the secretary of the SGPC, told Satish Jacob that the appeals could not be heard inside the hostel complex. At one stage, Longowal and Tohra did hear a broadcast on the radio saying that curfew was being lifted for two hours to allow people to surrender. They sent Bhan Singh to find the Deputy Superintendent of Police and negotiate the surrender of the pilgrims and the Akali Dal supporters who had come to take part in the renewed morcha. Bhan Singh did leave the hostel but by the time he reached the end of the Baghwali Gali, heavy firing had broken out again and he ran back. The two leaders could not negotiate a surrender themselves because by now they were only receiving incoming calls.”
Were the attackers interested in a surrender? It seems they were more interested in conquest and slaughter directed against the Sikhs in general than in arrest of a few men who claimed to speak for the Sikh community.
Mary Anne Weaver of the Sunday Times tapped diplomatic sources and observed: “The Army may be operating under ‘take no prisoners’ orders and wanted few militants to survive.” (Sunday Times, June 10, 1984)
On June 6, curfew was relaxed for two hours in the afternoon. That was the time when the Army brought 11 badly injured young men apprehended from the Golden Temple complex to the Kotwali (Police Station), some 400 metres from the Temple. Subhash Kirpekar reported that he saw: “some jawans kicking some of the eleven suspected terrorists as they knelt on their bare knees and crawled on the red-hot road ... The men were finally lined up on the Kotwali verandah with a machine gun pointed at them, and questioned.” According to Kirpekar, “they were not killed at that time although there are two witnesses who say that indeed, they were shot at the end of the interrogation.”
In the early hours of June 6, Army cannon fire demolished the Akal Takht and snuffed out the lives of its defenders.
For months after the Operation, the fate of Bhindranwale remained in doubt. A blurred and dark photograph was released that showed a body lying on slabs of ice. The man was thin and bearded, but was it Bhindranwale, as claimed? Doubt persisted.
“The Death of Bhindranwale”, as narrated in Army circles and quoted by Sangat Singh, has the Sant, dying under torture, defiant to the last. In this version, “Sant Bhindranwale was critically injured but alive when the Army captured him. The Army sought instructions from Delhi whether to render him medical assistance or finish him off. It took Army Headquarters six hours to obtain orders from Indira to follow the latter course.”
General Brar’s account depicts a very neat end: “There was still no news about Bhindranwale’s whereabouts despite our having made enquiries from those who had emerged from the Akal Takht earlier in the day. There were conflicting versions: one held that he was hiding in the basement of the Akal Takht, another that he was dead, and the third that he had escaped during the night and gone across the border into Pakistan. 26 Madras was tasked to clear the Akal Takht on the 6th night and to flush out any militants who still remained inside. Meanwhile occasional bursts off rifle and light machine gun fire emanated from the general area of the Akal Takht, without much effect. The Madrassis closed in from all directions, to enter the Aka! Takht and began their probing action, uncontested so far, though no risks could be taken lest the battalion got itself into a trap. While they were scanning the building, two militants were noticed trying to sneak away. The Madrassis opened fire and were able to apprehend one of them while the other was killed. A quick interrogation of the individual revealed that Bhindranwale was no more. He then guided the troops to where Bhindranwale lay dead along with 40 of his followers. Meanwhile a thorough search was underway in the Akal Takht. Shortly afterwards, General Shabeg Singh’s body was located in the basement. He was still clutching his carbine and a walkie talkie lay on the floor next to his body. Well before dawn, the Akal Takht had been fully secured, and a deep silence lay all around. The bodies were brought to the open verandah on the ground floor of the northern wing where those of Bhindranwale and Shabeg Singh were identified by a number of agencies including the police, the IB and militants in our custody.”
The photograph of the body of General Shabeg Singh is much clearer than that of Bhindranwale: a sheet partially covers his naked body, his feet are tied with a heavy rope and from the position of the body and clearly visible trail on the earth behind it, it is clear that it has not been carried but dragged. Broad red welts on the arms indicate that the arms had been bound. This is interesting because as a general rule, dead men do not put up such resistance as to make binding their arms necessary. Perhaps the end was not as neat as General Brar would like us to believe.
Many accounts of Operation Bluestar, including the SGPC’s White Paper on Punjab Problem, relate that the Red Cross was refused permission to enter the Temple complex and the wounded were left to suffer for days. Many people died of dehydration as they were refused water.
Bhan Singh told the members of the Citizens For Democracy team: “They [the Army] treated the inmates of the complex as enemies and whenever there was any person wounded on account of the firing, no Red Cross people were allowed to enter, rather the Red Cross personnel had been detained beyond Jallianwalla Bagh” more than a kilometre away from the main entrance to the Golden Temple from the Chowk Ghanta Ghar side.
The CFD report, “Oppression in Punjab” remarks: “In accordance with the UN Charter of Human Rights, the Red Cross is permitted to go in aid of the wounded right inside the enemy territory, but in Amritsar in June, 1984, the Red Cross was not allowed to enter the Golden Temple – a respected and hallowed part of our country – in aid of Indians under attack from the Indian Army. It only means that the attack was so brutal and the battle scene so grisly, that there was much to hide from public scrutiny, even if it be that of a neutral agency called the Red Cross. This also explains perhaps why Press censorship had already been imposed, the last of the journalists were hounded away and the Press was not allowed to go inside the Golden Temple up to June 10, when they were taken on a guided tour of the complex for the first time since the Army operation began almost a week before.”
B.S. Danewalia writes: “When State Intelligence Chief H.S. Randhawa was flown to Amritsar on June 6, 1984, to identify Bhindranwala among the dead, he saw the Sikh civilians of all ages shot dead, with hands tied behind their backs with their own turbans.” According to Randhawa, Bhindranwala had probably been knocked out by a stun-bomb; “He had a wound in his head surrounded by black marks indicative of a shot fired from point blank range. The bullet entered the head and travelled downward. This appeared to be the fatal bullet”, he told this writer in an interview in 1997.
The Army brought four bodies out of the Akal Takht and placed them on ice slabs. The bodies were identified as of Thara Singh, Amrik Singh, Shabeg Singh and Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Bhindranwale’s body was badly mutilated and the officials could not positively identify it. In their report, the officials merely gave a general description of the body but did not assign a name.
The civil service officials went out and got a shop opened from which they purchased shrouds to cover the bodies. The Army objected to this as “showing undue respect” to the deceased. The officials conveyed this objection to Governor Pandey who then directed that all the dead bodies be covered at the time of cremation. In the mass cremations, a single shroud would cover 25 to 30 bodies.
Mark Tully gives an account of the cremation: “Bhindranwala was cremated at 7:39 on the evening of June 7, according to an Army officer who was on duty at the cremation. A crowd of about 10,000 people had gathered near the Temple but the Army held them back. The bodies of Bhindranwale, Amrik Singh and Thara Singh, the deputy head of the Damdami Taksal, were brought to the pyre just outside the Temple. Four police officers lifted the body of Bhindranwale from the lorry which brought it from the mortuary and carried it reverently to the pyre. According to the officer, many of them were weeping.
One of them objected to Captain Bhardwaj, the officer in charge, smoking. He replied: “Look up. At least 30 men are covering me.” Bhardwaj insisted on lifting the sheet to make sure it was Bhindranwale. The officer overheard Bhardwaj asking the police why the Sant’s body was so badly battered. A police officer replied (Sarcastically): “The militant’s broke his bones.” There is however some confusion over the timing of Bhindranwale’s cremation because his post-mortem report says that the body was not brought into the mortuary until 7:30 and was not examined until 8 p.m. The report said, “Bhindranwale was ‘alleged to have died as a result of firearms’ injuries.”
“There are doubts about the accuracy of the post-mortem reports. According to Major General Shabeg Singh’s post-mortem, his body was not brought in to the mortuary until the 9th. The report says that by then it was not possible to do a full post-mortem because of decomposition and putrefaction. But photographs show that the Army discovered Shabeg Singh’s body well before it had started to decompose. It is difficult to understand why the Army would want to keep a retired general’s body until it had putrefied. Both the Army and the Police have an interest in getting as accurate a post-mortem as possible. It could be that the Army wanted to cremate the bodies at the first opportunity to prevent any possibility of their being discovered – there is no more potent cause of a riot than a dead body – and so dispensed with the formality of the post-mortems. If this was so, the reports which were eventually seen and photocopied must have been convenient after-thoughts.”
Surya magazine of November, 1984, published post-mortem reports of Sant Bhindranwale and Major General Shabeg Singh along with analysis of reports by Doctor J.K. Jain.
Doctor Jain faulted these post-mortem reports and observed that “(1) the time mentioned in the reports is clearly wrong; (2) the reports admit that both men died of firearm injuries but makes no mention of the flame and soot effect; (3) the reports do not mention the type of bullets that pierced their bodies and; (4) the reports make no mention of the bullets or other marks on the clothes of the men.”
The first photographs had shown their bodies naked. No body could have asked them to remove their clothes unless they were in army custody. Surya correspondent R.K. Bajaj confirmed that “he had personally seen a photograph of Sant Jamail Singh Bhindranwale in army custody... he was obviously wounded. Amrik Singh was at his side but barely able to stand. There was an army commando pointing a gun at him from the front, with another one at the back.”
As for less “distinguished” bodies, the Army refused to have anything to do with their disposal. Municipal sweepers were summoned to carry off the corpses. It was a loathesome job, repugnant even to a group of people accustomed to foul jobs. They refused. Was it only because the bodies stank and were falling apart? Possibly these sweepers may also have shrunk from a situation in which the bodies of fellow human beings were being dumped like garbage, without relatives to mourn them or conduct last rites, without any vestige of respect ...or legality.
Many of these employees may have been Sikhs themselves. Finally, according to Subhash Kirpekar (in The Punjab Story) some of them were bribed to dispose of the bodies; they were given free liquor and permission to keep whatever valuables they found. For centuries the sweeper has been treated as “lowest of the low” in the Hindu caste hierarchy, but he is not without an awareness of humanity and law.
A senior Government Official of the Civil Administration connected with Operation Bluestar disclosed that 673 postmortems were performed by Dr Kang’s team. Rupees 100/- per body were given to the sweepers to carry a body for postmortem. Receipts for this amount are available with the Government. A few bodies were with hands tied behind their back.
These bodies were recovered from the parikarma, the corridor around the holy tank and from the platform in front of the Akal Takht. They do not include bodies from other places or those that were taken away to be thrown in the rivers, nor do they include those bodies on which postmortem was not performed and were simply cremated in bulk as it is an acknowledged fact that some time 25 to 30 bodies were cremated at the same time on a single pyre.
Aside from the cremations, a Delhi-based news-magazine, Probe India reported that some 1500 casualties were thrown in rivers and canals.
Chellany reported: “I twice visited the main city crematory on 9 and 11 June to check the fatality toll in the Golden Temple assault. Bodies were being brought in municipal garbage trucks round the clock since early 6 June. ‘We have been really busy. To add to our woes, we don’t have enough wood to burn the dead, and so we are cremating them in heaps of 20 or more’, said the crematory official. Near the Golden Temple, I saw an estimated 50 corpses in a large rubbish lorry that had sewage still smeared on its outer body. From the back of the grey truck, at least two masculine legs were sticking out and from the left side, one could see the hanging forehead and the long flowing hair of an apparently unturbaned Sikh. I peeped into the truck from the back, I could see dead bodies of at least two women and a child. That night it was difficult to sleep; I kept thinking of the dead bodies.” (quoted from An Eyewitness Account, Samuiddin, Abida)
By the morning of June 7, except for a very few surviving snipers, the men who had held the Army at bay for three days were all dead. By noon that day the Sikh Reference Library with its extensive collection of rare and valuable historic documents would be put to the torch – Akal Takht jathedar, Giani Kirpal Singh told the Surya correspondent: “The government wanted to destroy Sikh history. Otherwise how do you explain the fire in the Sikh Reference Library? The archives were set on fire two days after the Army action.”
By afternoon that day, the propaganda mill was cranking up. Doordarshan cameras captured Giani Kirpal Singh, Jathedar of Akal Takht, as he intoned “Kotha Sahib bilkul theek-thak” (The sanctum of Guru Granth Sahib in the Akal Takht is quite alright). His excuse for this performance was that his daughter was being held at gunpoint just off camera. He was the man with whom the Army later made the hand-over agreement.
Lt. Gen. Brar writes of the reaction of Hindu traders living on the fringe of the Temple immediately after the Operation: “Matters took a serious communal twist when those belonging to one community rushed out of their homes to offer sweets to our troops and were clamouring to give them a hot meal. As soon as I got to know of this development, I gave strict instructions to all troops, through their commanding officers, to decline the hospitality being extended to them and not to take any steps which could bring about any communal divide.”
As if declining the sweets somehow dispelled the sentiment! No, Brar and his soldiers were simply blades in the hand of the Big Divider who sat far away in Delhi. Mrs Gandhi’s gambit had worked. It had worked allover North India. Mrs Gandhi was “Durga” again.
People were seen carrying buckets of beer to the main gates of the temple where they jubilantly served out mugfuls to the soldiers. This is a reflection not only on the civilians but also on the state of mind of the soldiers.
The last time the Darbar Sahib was attacked by an army was in 1762. This was in revenge for the attacks on Ahmed Shah Abdali’s troops carrying looted wealth and Hindu women from India to Afghanistan. The Sikhs had the temerity to rescue and restore to their parents some of the women and retake some of the treasure. Ahmed Shah later led an expedition against the Sikhs and destroyed the Temple and filled the sacred pool with the corpses of the massacred Sikhs. The Sikhs later recaptured it and rebuilt the shrine.
1984 saw a replay with troops of the Indian Army in the role of Abdali. After the Darbar Sahib was captured, the Army refused to hand it back to the SGPC without imposing certain conditions. Sikh opinion was divided. Most of them wanted the Darbar Sahib back without conditions, and delay in handing back the complex to the Sikhs was working out to be a unifying factor in the community. The Army realised it and worked to reach an agreement with the SGPC. The SGPC’s nominated jathedars met the Army generals and the jathedars accepted the conditions. These conditions were:
i The complex road dividing Ram Das Sarai from the Golden Temple was to be made a public thoroughfare.
ii Pickets would be placed on either side of this road.
iii No firearms were to go inside the complex.
iv Police were given the liberty to search the complex.
v A secret condition was the SGPC was not to challenge the official White Paper and was to obliterate all tell tale marks of the war on the Golden Temple and other gurdwaras forthwith.
SGPC President G.S. Tohra, faithfully implemented these conditions, and true to his word to the government and in spite of repeated demands from the community, stalled all efforts to bring out an independent White Paper on the 1984 events. Twelve years later, under extreme pressure, he agreed to commission a Sikh historian to bring out a White Paper on Operation Bluestar. That was for public consumption. What he actually commissioned the Sikh historian to bring out was a “White Paper on the Sikh Problem.” This obviously diluted the focus on Operation Bluestar. It is amazing that where thousands were killed, 74 gurdwaras attacked, property worth thousands of crores destroyed, the SGPC could only spare Rupees 40,000 to the professor for his research into a period spanning 500 years. A clear attempt to dilute focus on operation Bluestar. Professor G.S. Dhillon returned the money in disgust and frustration. He was later to accuse Tohra for deliberately restricting the sale of his book through the SGPC.
According to law, all violent or illegal or even accidental incidents must be reported to the nearest police station at the earliest so that proper verification is possible. Normally the Army should have filed the FIR with the Police. Initially, according to Randhawa, the government’s idea was to have the Punjab Police file the FIR but subsequently the Punjab Police were told “the job is too big for you” and the Central Bureau of Investigation was made to file the FIR.
The reason is clear: the Home Ministry objected to the Punjab Police as “untrustworthy” and considered it too risky to have the Police file the FIR as that would involve investigation by the Police and the report might not suit the government.
Some two months after the action, on August 10, 1984, the Punjab Police accepted this long-delayed report without murmur. In the interim 65 days between the operation and the filing of the FIR, thousands of people taken into custody were being held illegally – no charges had been made against them, no cause for detention had been made out, no magistrate took cognizance of them. They were simply hostages.”
Subsequently in August, they were charged under sections 107 and 151 IPC (for breach of peace) and remand was obtained from a magistrate.
The destruction of the Akal Takht posed a problem. The government wanted to build it itself so that later it could exercise some control over it. It was here that the community did not go along in spite of extreme military pressure. The Temple had been built over the centuries out of the devotion of the believers and the Sikhs would have no one but devotees rebuild it. Jahangir, the Mughal emperor, had once offered to build the Akal Takht and Guru Hargobind Singh had rejected the offer saying that the Sikhs and only the Sikhs would build it.
When the government persisted and commissioned Budha Dal chief Santa Singh (a close confidant of Giani Zail Singh and Buta Singh) to carry out the job, Captain Amarinder Singh, son of the last Maharaja of Patiala, echoed the feeling of the Sikhs by declaring “If no one else pulls down this thing, then I will...”
How Many Died?
The assault on the Golden Temple bore a strong resemblance to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919. In that infamous incident, thousands of people had gathered at a ground surrounded by high walls with only one exit. Troops took up their position at the exit and fired on the people. The Golden Temple was likewise sealed and firing commenced taking a toll of thousands.
However, there is a significant difference: We know how many people died in Jallianwalla Bagh: after the massacre, the British government identified the bodies, handed them over to the next of kin and paid Rupees two thousand in compensation to the next of kin. Injured were taken to the hospital and paid Rupees Five hundred. General Dyer allowed relatives to take away the bodies. The General himself was called back by the British government. That was the British.
The government of free India did not allow families to perform the last rites for the dead; made no effort to record the names and addresses of those slain or missing in the Operation; the “score-card” of dead and wounded eventually published reflect gross under- estimation – a mere 492 civilians killed when it is known that thousands of people were trapped in the temple at the time of the Operation.
How many people died in Operation Bluestar? That depends on whose figures one accepts.
The government’s White Paper issued in July 1984, put the soldiers’ casualties at 83 and civilian deaths at 492 at the Golden Temple. 86 civilians and 249 Army men were injured. 1,283 men and 309 women were arrested. Associated Press correspondent Brahm Chellany put the figure of Army deaths at around 200. In September that year, addressing the National Student Union of India session in Nagpur, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi mentioned that 700 soldiers had lost their lives in Operation Bluestar. (Quoted in The Tragedy of Punjab, Kuldip Nayar and Khushwant Singh.) More gallantry awards were given for Operation Bluestar than for combined awards for India’s four wars of 1948; 1962, 1965 and 1971. This is brought out in his book by Air Marshal Malhotra.
In his book Uncivil Wars, Ved Marwah improves on the late prime minister’s figure when he writes: “but 35 per cent casualties in a division-level operation cannot be called a well-planned and well-executed operation.” (A division is comprised of 16,000 troops).
Interestingly, Ved Marwah cites the government’s White Paper as the source of his figures – “4712 persons were killed and 10,000 arrested during this operation.” Are you puzzled? Just a few lines back you read a figure of “493 civilians plus 83 security personnel killed” –also citing the government’s White Paper. The White Paper I have quoted from is available in libraries and anyone can go and see the figures for himself. And yet Ved Marwah is not a man to simply make up figures out of his head. Are there two White Papers – one for the general public and one for privileged circulation?
Subhash Kirpekar writes in Operation Bluestar: [I am often asked how many people died in Amritsar during Operation Bluestar] ... it is not easy to answer but from the movement of Amritsar municipal garbage vans that ferried the dead, I have a feeling that the number of dead is much more than officially stated. Going by the Tumour mill in Amritsar, the casualty figure is over 2,000, but I have no way to substantiate this as most cremations were done under curfew.
Kirpekar goes on to say that many people were reported missing from their homes in Amritsar and gives the case of a 26-year-old employee in the State Family Planning Department, Raman Inder. The young man was last seen on June 25, 1984. His scooter was found on the outskirts of the city but nothing more could be discovered.
The Army attempted to conceal the exact number of its casualties: the wounded were evacuated to hospitals throughout India, and usually shown on the records as having been wounded in Ladakh.
As Operation Bluestar had been planned over a period of months and executed over a period of days with deployment of heavy armament against militants equipped with small arms, the ratio of militant-army casualties should be on a normal ratio of one to five. Again, according to the government’s White Paper, the number of those killed is placed at about five times the number of those wounded.
Lt. Gen. Brar offers these statistics: “Army casualties were 83 killed and 248 wounded; terrorist and other casualties were 492 killed and 86 wounded.” The Army figures show us that one died for every three wounded but in the case of the civilians, the figures show a ratio of nearly six dead for one wounded. This alone is enough to foster a suspicion that the Army wanted no prisoners.
Chand Joshi is a man who likes round numbers: his estimate is 700 troops killed and 5,000 civilians (in Bhindranwale, Myth and Reality, New Delhi, 1984). He also mentions that in this operation about 1,000 people were killed in the vicinity of the Golden Temple during this period.
In Oppression in Punjab the investigating team writes: “There were thousands, perhaps 10,000 people, consisting of pilgrims, SGPC employees, Akali volunteers come to court arrest and terrorists present in the Golden Temple complex when the Army started firing at the Golden Temple from all sides on the dawn of June 4.” They quote an AISSF member as saying: According to an All India Sikh Student Federation member: “Gurpurab was on June 3. About 10,000 people had come from outside including many women and 4000 of them were young people. Those who were inside were not allowed to go out after 10 p.m. on June 3. The jathas which had come mainly from Sangrur were not allowed to court arrest.” Bhan Singh confirms: “June 3 being gurpurab, thousands of pilgrims had come. But suddenly there was a curfew, so the pilgrims and the 1300 Akali workers who had come to participate in the Dharam Yudh Morcha and to court arrest could not leave.”
As regards the number of pilgrims in the temple, the senior-most police official in the state at that time, told the writer that this information was that about 70 per cent of the temple corridor was filled with pilgrims. The Harmandar Sahib sits on a pavilion in the middle of a square pool, which measures approximately 150 meters by 150 meters; a corridor about 20 meters wide surrounds the pool on all four sides in addition there is a much wider space in front of the Akal Takht. Given the space available, the number of people would anyway be upwards of 12,000.
Amritsar was under curfew on the morning of June 3, the martyrdom day of Guru Arjun Dev, and according to Gen Brar “as a result, during the entire day there was a steady flow of devotees to the Temple.” The traditional observances on this day conclude after 10 p.m. when the Guru Granth Sahib (the holy book) is ceremonially carried away, and devout Sikhs typically attend this service. But at 9 p.m. an all-Punjab 36-hour curfew was suddenly re-imposed. Thousands of people were stuck inside the Temple. The Akali jatha from Sangrur wanted to come out to court arrest but was prevented from doing so. More thousands of people trapped inside.
When firing started, many people rushed back into the Harmandar Sahib, thinking it would be the safest place to wait out the conflict.
In their book, Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi’s Last Battle, Mark Tully and Satish Jacob estimate that some 950 pilgrims were inside the temple along with 80 priests, sewadars and other temple servants, some 300 employees of the SGPC and their families who lived in the temple complex and about 1,700 Akali Dal supporters who had come to participate in the Dharam Yudh. Some 500 Bangladeshis who had illegally entered India were also found. These people were quite apart from Sant Bhindranwala’s supporters and the Babbar Khalsa groups. Adding up these figures, we see that at least 4,180 people were inside the complex.
According to Head Priest Sahib Singh, as quoted in the Probe magazine, of August 1984, “About 6-7,000 people were trapped within the Golden Temple Complex.” Justice Tarkunde’s team which visited Amritsar immediately after the Operation places the number of pilgrims trapped inside at 10,000.
When villagers learnt of the attack on the Darbar Sahib, thousands of them left their villages and began walking toward Amritsar with the intention of defending their holiest shrine. These marchers were subjected to aerial strafing, machine gunning and ground fire in a bid to stop them.
At many points unarmed Sikh Army deserters were intercepted and killed.
According to H.S. Randhawa, an Inspector General of the Punjab Police who was then head of Intelligence, Information with the Punjab Police put the figure at more than 1800 civilians killed in the Temple Complex.
Our estimate of the total number of killed during the Operation inside the Darbar Sahib Complex is atleast 5,000 civilians but possibly more.
In his book Police and Politics in 20th Century Punjab, former Punjab Inspector General of Police B.S. Danewalia asks: “Mrs Gandhi said that she had handed Punjab to the military. No legal luminary has so far questioned under what law Mrs Gandhi had the power to do so. And what was the military to do after such handing over and under what laws and against whom? Did the Army generals ask to have their legal position clarified?”
The law provides that the Army can be called out to assist civil authority. In such cases, it functions under the District Magistrate. Gurdev Singh was the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar from July 1983 to June 1984. General Brar described him as “a known supporter of Bhindranwala” but when Gurdev Singh speaks for himself, one gets a different impression. Ram Narain quotes him at length in his book. He told Narain: I had told the government at Chandigarh that if they wanted to arrest Bhindranwale there would be no major difficulty. My information said that the terrorists inside the Golden Temple did not have more than 200-300 guns. Their guns were not even sophisticated. The Army later complained about the inadequate intelligence. I do not know what intelligence they had used. There were half a dozen or more agencies working independently and often at cross purposes. I had confidence in my CID. Given clear instructions, I would have organised an operation to arrest Bhindranwala. However, the Chief Minister Darbara Singh, Governor B.D. Pandey and Punjab’s Chief Secretary K.D. Vasudeva made it clear that the initiative to take action against Bhindranwala had to come from Chandigarh. Chandigarh was taking its orders from Delhi. We had been talking about the need to use force since DIG Atwal’s murder in April 1983. I was against the proposal to call the military. My reason was simple: the involvement of the local police was crucial for the success of the Golden Temple raid. There are myriad approaches to the Temple from the old city. The army and other paramilitary forces, with their ignorance of topography, prevent the terrorists from moving in and out of the Temple complex. I had also told them that the Sikhs of Punjab would resent an Army action much more than a police action. It was possible to tell them that the police action had become necessary because scoundrels and criminals had taken over the Darbar Sahib. However old memories of alien aggression against the Sikh Vatican would inevitably revive if we sent in the military. When I raised this point, they told me ‘Look Gurdev, there is no such plan.’ I must have been repeating my position to the Governor very often. I became cautious when Director General of Police Bhinder and my SSP Ajay Pal Singh Mann advised me that it was not wise that I repeat my position so often. That by over-repetition, the point might be misunderstood.
On June 2, after learning of the plan to use the Army, Gurdev Singh telephoned the Governor and told him that conscience did not allow him to be a part of it. The Governor immediately relieved Gurdev Singh of his post for three months and told him to go on long leave - to leave the country in fact – and say nothing to the press. Ramesh Inder Singh, a Bengal-cadre officer, was posted as Deputy Commissioner Amritsar in his place.
Ramesh Inder Singh, a young officer taking up his first district posting, was by law required to direct the Army. By law, in a situation in which it is necessary for security forces to open fire, it is the District Magistrate, and only the District Magistrate, who can order them to do so. In this case, the Army answered to no one. Now the question arises: Without official sanction, is “practical work” such as Bluestar legal ... or is it criminal misuse of force against civil population?
Martial law was never declared in Punjab. And yet, without martial law, the Army carried out summary executions. The Army issued “shoot to kill” orders but later rescinded them when K.D. Vasudeva, Punjab Chief Secretary and Harjit Singh Randhawa, Inspector General Police, questioned the order. How many actually died as a result of these illegal orders remains a closely guarded state secret.
For many days after the action, the pilgrims taken into custody inside the Golden Temple continued to be held in Army camps and detention centres as “prisoners of war.” It was much later, that on the advice of Punjab officials, the Army stopped referring to them as “prisoners of war” and began to call them “terrorists and terrorist sympathisers.” Which label was worse? In any case the “prisoner of war” label did the captives no good as they were denied the safeguards of the Geneva Convention.
Let us accept, for the sake of argument, that the Government of India represented by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, could not countenance the civil disobedience movement being carried out by the Akali Party. The leaders of the Akali Party, G.S. Tohra and Harchand Singh Longowal, were staying in Guru Ramdas Serai. But the Army did not direct its fire on them. Instead, the immediate target was Bhindranwala in the Akal Takht, and more significantly in the words of the “Baatcheet”, an official Army publication issued to soldiers in July 1984, all Amritdharis – which includes the entire spectrum of the Sikh community. An open beard, a kirpan, a saffron turban ...or any Sikh the soldiers didn’t like the looks of could expect major trouble.
[NOTE: This is the text of the Army Baatcheet: “Although the majority of the terrorists have been dealt with and the bulk of the arms and ammunition recovered, yet a large number of them are still at large. They have to be subdued to achieve the final aim pf restoring peace in the country. Any knowledge of Amritdharis who are dangerous people and pledge to commit murders, arson and acts of terrorism should immediately be brought to the notice of the authorities. These people may appear harmless from the outside but they are basically committed to terrorism. In the interest of us all, their identity and whereabouts must be disclosed.”]
The SGPC White Paper asks: “How did the government determine that the persons inside the Golden Temple were terrorists? Their names were never released and no warrants were ever issued for their arrest. What criterion did the Indian Army adopt to make distinction between the pilgrims and the militants? Why was it essential for the government to attack the Temple on the holy day when thousands of pilgrims had assembled there to pay their obeisance? Was it necessary to enact the gory scene of blood, brutality and destruction at the Golden Temple? Why was the Sikh Reference Library and archives, which had a collection of rare manuscripts and Hukamnamas bearing the signatures or marks of the Gurus, set on fire, after the attack had come to an end? How was it that a large number of Sikhs whose dead bodies were brought for post-mortem had their hands tied at the back and had been shot in the chest or the head from point blank range? Why has the government not released a list of casualties to this day? Why were the bodies of people killed inside the Temple not given to their families for cremation? Why was it essential for the government to attack 72 other gurdwaras in Punjab and outside, especially when there was no resistence from the inmates?”
What happened in the Darbar Sahib complex and in other gurdwaras in Punjab in June 1984? What were the circumstances, the objectives, the logic, and the sequence of events that lead up to the assault? Although some of the writers quoted in the foregoing pages were actors in the drama that unfolded, we see that each is telling his version of the story. What is the truth? After Operation Bluestar, after Woodrose, after the November genocide, the government’s response was forget it, sweep it under the carpet. But such appalling slaughters of innocent citizens in their own country are not easily forgotten, much less are they easy to forgive. Accountability is necessary to “close the chapter.”
Nelson Mandela’s, ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ is a sensible and a humane approach to this tragic genocide, but truth must precede reconciliation and some accountability and recompense must be there to allow forgiveness.
Let the present government of India (failing which, the government of Punjab) order an impartial and comprehensive inquiry into Operation Bluestar. On the strength of the evidence available, the Supreme Court should be able to take suo moto notice of such a large number of killings. The present government has a moral obligation to the nation to establish the truth. Such an unequivocable commitment to the cause of justice would go a long way toward calming vengeful spirits and making sure that another round of violence does not occur. That invasion of Punjab and the genocide of the Sikhs is not repeated again.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2009, All