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Gur Panth Parkash

Gur Panth Parkash
by Rattan Singh Bhangoo
Translated by
Prof Kulwant Singh

 

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Operation Blue Star and After: An Eyewitness Account

A Review by Hardev Singh Virk

Author & Publisher: Brig. Onkar Singh Goraya (Retd.)
Price: Rs. 350 (India), US $29.99 (Rest of the World);
Pages: 200 (Paperback)

Operation Blue Star (OBS) happened in June 1984 and its description has been written about by many authors during the last 30 years. Out of nearly a dozen authors who wrote about it, two belong to the Indian Army. Lt General K S Brar, who led the attack on Akal Takhat, has written his version under the title: “Operation Blue Star: The True Story”. Most of the Sikhs believe that it is a biased view to justify the army action. The new title published by Brigadier Goraya is also an eyewitness account of Operation Blue Star, as the author himself was involved in it as an administrator before and after Operation Blue Star.

Kanwar Sandhu (Managing Editor, Day and Night TV earlier and an Executive Editor of The Tribune now) in his foreword to the Book has rightly said that most of the authors who wrote about Operation Blue Star have presented ringside view of Operation Blue Star but Brig. Goraya has presented an eyewitness account of events unfolding before and after the operation. In my opinion, author of the book under review has taken pains to present a correct version based on his personal experience and critical analysis of the events leading to Operation Blue Star. The author justifies his claim by telling his readers that he is an atheist and unbiased towards religion, which generally clouds our judgement.

In Chapter 1, the author has given an overview of various events which culminated into Operation Blue Star. For example, he gives a brief account of Nirankari-Sikh clash in Amritsar (1978); murder of Lala Jagat Narain (1981); rise of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his arrest at Mehta Chowk, and reign of terror let lose in Punjab. The author is unsparing in his criticism of Bhindranwale running a parallel government. But he also praises Bhindranwale for his spotless image as a person, devoid of corruption and free of hunger for worldly possessions, unlike many other religious and political leaders in Punjab.

The second chapter gives a vivid account of fortifications of Darbar Sahib Complex and the role played by General (retd) Shabeg Singh, who gave unstinted support to Bhindranwale before and during army attack. Chapter 3 focusses on the divide between the two Sants, Harchand Singh Longowal and Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Both were at daggers drawn playing games to show one upmanship over the other. The author blames the Akal Takhat Jathedar, who failed to act and allowed Bhindranwale to defile the sanctity of the Akal Takhat by fortifying it and taking up residence within its holy precincts.
Chapters 4 and 5 occupy the pivotal position in this book. Chapter 4 refers to Army preparations before the attack on 5th June, 1984. 9th Infantry Division under the command of Major General KS Brar moved from Meerut on 29th May to be deployed in Amritsar. On 3rd June, curfew was imposed in Amritsar and Punjab was cut off from the rest of India. The author justifies Govt. decision to seal and isolate the whole of Punjab to avert a general uprising by the Sikh masses. Why did Indian Army choose 5th June as the penultimate day for attack on Darbar Sahib remains a trade secret till this day? Thousands of innocent devotees were trapped inside Golden Temple since 3rd June was Guru Arjun’s martyrdom day. Why these innocent pilgrims were not allowed a safe passage is still a mystery.

Chapter 5 sums up the main attack on Darbar Sahib and its detailed execution. General Brar was given just one night to destroy and demolish the militants’ fortifications and to capture or kill Bhindranwale, the leader of militants. There was no plan to bring in Army tanks but when the army faced a tough resistance, it was decided on the spur of the moment to launch a frontal attack using the armoured corps vehicles and tanks. That is how Akal Takhat was destroyed and the militants’ resistance crushed under heavy fire. The author was deputed by the Army command to rescue the moderate leaders (Sant Longowal, GS Tohra, BS Ramuwalia and others) who were trapped inside Teja Singh Samundari Hall. Brig. Goraya played a crucial role in saving these leaders, lodging them in army cantonment converted into a jail, and securing the safety of Tosha-Khana (The Treasure House) from being plundered by the army. The author has not exonerated some wrong doings of the army, for example, their killing of Sikh youth simply under suspicion of them being terrorists. He writes (p.71): “This type of madness does overtake some soldiers during heat of the battle”. He is also highly critical of the role of Akal Takhat Jathedar, the so called moderate leaders and the ruling Congress. On page 74, he writes: “Initially fostered by the Congress leaders for political gain, Bhindranwale had by now become a defiant and self-willed horse”. In this Chapter, the author also recounts meek submission by the moderate Akali leaders before the army, with the exception of Bhindranwale and his comrades-in-arms who chose to fight till their martyrdom.

Chapter 6 describes the aftermath of the army operation. The author, acting as local civil administrator, was involved in clearing up the mess. He writes: “The maximum damage and destruction took place in the Akal Takhat. Dead bodies were lying everywhere in Darbar Sahib complex. I saw more dead bodies in the Golden Temple Complex on 6th June than those seen during the during 32 days of fighting the 1965 and 1971 Wars with Pakistan”. The author played a crucial role in lifting the wounded, disposal of the dead, shifting the detainees to a temporary jail in the cantonment, and restarting the maryada of Darbar Sahib w.e.f June 8, before the visit of Giani Zail Singh, the then President of India.

Chapter 7 deals with reconstruction of Akal Takhat. Indira Gandhi visited Golden Temple on 23rd June and was visibly disturbed to watch the extent of damage caused to Akal Takhat. The author is quite revealing in exposing the shameful ploy of the Indian government and manipulations of Buta Singh (then Home Minister) to allot the Kar Sewa to Baba Santa Singh, the Buddha Dal Nihang chief. The chapter also refers to the events leading to the demolition and reconstruction of Akal Takhat by the Damdami Taksal.

Chapter 8 is based on the events of Army rule in Punjab. Despite the fact that author himself belongs to the armed forces, he has not given any benefit of doubt in narrating the sad episodes of army rule in Punjab. A section of this Chapter has been devoted to the excesses committed by the army.

Chapter 9 is devoted to “Resurgence of Militancy in Punjab”. The author blames the security forces for creating an environment which was responsible for re-germination of the seed of militancy in Punjab. He writes (p. 150): “Many a Sikh youth was pushed into the militant’s camp by the unrestrained behavior of the security forces. There were many instances of innocent young men being taken into custody on mere suspicion, subjected to torture without legal arrest, and when found innocent their release was delayed unduly”.

Chapter 10 demolishes some myths which were built up during Blue Star Operation. For example, the village folk believed that Sant Bhindranwale was alive even after the army attack. Damdami Taksal was responsible for promoting this myth in Punjab.

The Sant Bhindranwale died on 6th June and it was corroborated by the author on the basis of identification of his dead body by his brother on the same day. The author rejects the myth that militants had women as keeps in Darbar Sahib Complex. Mythical powers of Baba Deep Singh in destroying an army tank are rejected logically by the author. He has explained the cause of damage to the Sikh Reference Library and put the blame on the militants hiding there.

The last section of Chapter 10 tries to justify the army action. The balance sheet of arguments is weighed heavily against Bhindranwale but the author does not spare the State and Central governments as well for inaction. He writes (p. 173): “The Govt. thus is definitely to blame, less for calling in the Army, but more for delaying the hard decision”. To justify the army action, the author squarely blames the gullible Sikh masses who were mystified by the venomous propaganda spewed out by Bhindranwale; the head priests who allowed him to do as he pleased; and finally Bhindranwale himself and his cohorts for amassing war material inside the Akal Takhat, which not only desecrated the holy precincts but also rendered their activities as unlawful and criminal acts in the eyes of Indian law. In the final conclusion, General Brar and Indian army have been applauded by the author for their valiant action in liberating Darbar Sahib from the scourge of militancy.

At the end of the book, there are about a dozen photographs and a glossary of Sikh terms used by the author. I recommend this book for the claim by the author to be an eyewitness account and his role in the whole operation as an administrator to clear the mess in the wake of Operation Blue Star.

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