- Posted October 23, 2012 by
Blue Star- A Necessary Surgical Operation
The recent raging controversy that erupted over the erection of a memorial in the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar, honouring those killed in Operation Bluestar in 1984. The memorial is being built near the Akal Takht. Predictably, this has polarised opinion within and outside Punjab. Many have expressed their strong opposition to the memorial saying it would rekindle sympathy for Khalistani separatists and their leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who died in the Army operation of June 6, 1984. Those behind the construction of the memorial argue that it is meant to honour the memory of innocent pilgrims who were caught in the crossfire and died.
The recent murderous attack on Lt Gen KS Brar, who carried out Operation Bluestar, in London has heightened worries and apprehensions of efforts to revive Khalistani separatism. Pakistan and its terror-sponsoring agency ISI are believed to be working towards this end.
The recent ceremonial honour for the kin of the assassins of Gen AS Vaidya, the Army Chief who planned Operation Bluestar and was killed after he retired from service by two Khalistani terrorists, has incensed nationalist opinion. The Akali Dal, which rules Punjab in alliance with the BJP, has refused to condemn the SGPC for honouring the kin of Gen Vaidya’s assassins who were executed. Twenty-eight years after the tumultuous events of 1984, public memory of Operation Bluestar, its terrible fallout and what necessitated the Army action has faded.
It is time to put the matters in proper perspective so that the younger generations are not blinded by a nefarious propaganda that is being dished out by the fundamentalists.
Let us have a look at the reality. A look at the time-line gives a bird’s eye view of the exact unadultrated situation.
Punjab Insurgancy Chronology Outline
Nov 1, 1966 Sikh majority Punjab state created ( Three states created ( Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pardesh)
March 1972 Akalis routed in Punjab elections, Congress wins
October 17, 1973 Akalis demand autonomy and more lands
April 25, 1980 Baba Gurbachan Singh of Sant Nirankari sect murdered
June 2, 1980 Akalis lose election in Punjab
Aug 16, 1981 Militants in Golden Temple meet foreign correspndents
Sept 9, 1981 Jagat Narain, Editor, Hind Samachar group murdered
Sept 29, 1981 Separatists Hijack Indian Jetliner to Pakistan
Feb 11, 1982 US gives Visa to Jagjit Singh Chauhan
April 26, 1982 Cows' heads thrown in Hindu temple
Apr 11, 1982 USA Khalistani G.S. Dhillon Barred From India
July 1982 Chief Minister Darbara Singh escape assassination attempt
Aug 4, 1982 Akalis demand autonomy and additional regions for Punjab
Oct 11, 1982 Militants attack parliament
Nov 1982 Longowal threatens to disrupt Asian Games
Oct 1983 6 Hindu bus passengers killed
May 3 1983 Bhindranwale living in Golden Temple threatens violence
Oct 8 1983 Militants in Golden Temple kill Hindus throughout Punjab
Oct 14, 1983 Hindu festival bombed in Chandigarh
Oct 18, 1983 Hindus protest bomb attack on temple
Oct 1983 H indus pulled off from trains and buses and killed
Oct 7 1983 Darbara Singh removed, all religious demands met
Feb 9, 1984 Hindu wedding procession bombed
Feb 14, 1984 Militants shoot and kill 5 from Golden Temple
Feb 19, 1984 Sikh-Hindu Clashes Spread in North India
Feb 24, 1984 6 more Hindus killed in Punjab
Feb 29, 1984 T emple is an arsenal
April 3, 1984 Fear due to young terrorists
April 8, 1984 Longowal writes- he cannot control anymore
April 15, 1984 Man shot dead in temple
April 17, 1984 Deaths in factional fighting
May 27, 1984 Ferozpur Hindu politician killed, Hindu-Muslim riots in Bombay
June 3, 1984 Army controls Punjab security -Launch of Bluestar
June 5, 1984 Heavy fighting, Punjab shut-down
June 6, 1984 Daylong battle
June 7, 1984 Temple taken
June 7, 1984 Bhindranwale dead
June 8, 1984 Rioting in Srinagar, Ludhiana, Amritsar
June 9, 1984 Weapons seized, troops fired on
June 10, 1984 Reports of Delhi riots
June 11, 1984 Negotiators close to a settlement on waters
Oct. 31, 1984 Indira Gandhi killed
20 Aug. 1985 Sant Harchand Singh Longowal assassinated
Dec. 1, 1986 Sikh militants kill 24 Hindu bus passengers
May 19, 1987 General Secretary CPI(M)Comrade Deepak Dhawan murdered brutually at Village Sangha. Tarn Taran
Mar, 25, 1988 Militants kill other Sikhs
July 11, 1990 Sikh Who Promoted Truce Is Shot to Death
June 16, 1991 80 killed by militants on two trains
Feb. 25, 1992 Congress sweeps Punjab Assembly elections
Sep. 3, 1995 CM Beant Singh killed in blast
Historical back ground
In the 1950s and 1960s, linguistic issues in India caused civil disorder when the central government declared Hindi as the national language of India. The nationwide movement of linguistic groups seeking statehood resulted in a massive reorganization of states according to linguistic boundaries in 1956. At that time, Indian Punjab had its capital in Shimla, and though the vast majority of the Sikhs lived in Punjab, they still did not form a majority. But if Haryana and Himachal could be separated sikhs could have a Punjab in which they could form a majority of 60 per cent against the Hindus being 40 per cent The Akali Dal, a Sikh dominated political party active mainly in Punjab, sought to create a Punjabi Suba. This case was presented to the States Reorganization Commission established in 1953. It is generally believed that the Hindus sensed what the Sikhs had in mind. They, supported by the Hindu newspapers from Jalandhar, exhorted Punjabi Hindus to declare Hindi as their “mother tongue” instead of Punjabi in the censuses that took place, so that the Sikhs could be deprived of the argument that they were only asking for a Punjabi-speaking Suba. The demand for adoption of Punjabi for Punjabi-speaking areas first created and later intensified the rift between Hindus and Sikhs of Punjab.
This would have remained a political battle, but Giani Zail Singh soiught to divide the Akalis by using Bhinderwalan. He possibly lacked the foresight that he was, with the help of Sanjay Gandhi, raising a Frankenstein. All the evil he and his followers did was in the name of God. And they did all that was evil. The murder of innocents, torture, rape, extortion, the desecration of temples, the abuse of sanctuaries, and a limitless host of other crimes that do not bear mention next to these.
They did it, they said, to avenge the ‘injustices’ done to the Sikhs by the Hindus; to defend the Faith against the machinations of the ‘evil Brahmins’ who were out to destroy it; to protect the lives and liberties of ‘persecuted Sikhs’ against an inimical and communalized State.
They had simply borrowed their contemporary mythology from the Akalis. But the creed of hatred that had been propagated for decades was suddenly translated into action. Its source and centre remained in the Gurudwaras; but its idiom was now the bullet and the bomb.
Every instrument and strategy was adopted to perpetuate the myth, to authenticate it: selective killings; the alternating desecration of Hindu and Sikh religious places; sermons of a malevolent rage - anything that could drive a wedge between communities; anything that could incite a slaughter of the Hindus in the state, and a retaliatory pogrom against the Sikhs in the rest of India. That could have fulfilled their ambitions.
Who were the victims of these ‘defenders of the Sikh Faith’? Of a total of 11,694 persons killed by terrorists in Punjab during the period 1981-1993, 7,139 - more than 61 per cent - were Sikhs.
The incident, to which the genesis of the terrorist movement in Punjab is traced, occurred in April 1978. The SGPC White Paper gives the Akali version of the background against which violence occurred. "....the Nirankaries of Delhi," it observes, "were clandestinely supported and promoted by the Government in pursuance of its policy to create a schism and ideological confusion among the Sikhs." And further, The provocative utterances and activities brought the Nirankaries into open clash with the Sikhs. In 1951, at Amritsar, the then Nirankaries Chief Avtar Singh, held a Satsang attended by his about two hundred followers. Some Sikhs clashed with the Nirankari chief as he had committed an act of sacrilege by proclaiming himself a Guru in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib. These bickerings continued and ultimately the two important Sikh organizations known as the Damdami Taksal and the Akhand Kirtni Jatha also came forward to confront the attack of the Nrinkari. "The tension that had been building up for quite some time, resulted in clashes at Batala, Sri Hargobindpur, Pathankot, Qadian, Ghuman and Gurdaspur between the Nrinkaris and the followers of Sant Kartar Singh. Clashes were also reported from Tarn Taran, Ludhiana and Ropar." Shortly before the ‘totally unarmed’ protesters set out for the venue of the Nirankari Convention, they had assembled in the Golden Temple, where the then Akali Dal Revenue Minister, Jeevan Singh Umranangal tried, unsuccessfully, to explain away the Government’s decision to allow the Nirankari Convention to take place. Bhindranwale interrupted the proceedings, shouting "We will not allow this Nirankari convention to take place. We are going to march there and cut them to pieces.” Over the next six years, until his death on June 6, 1984, Bhindranwale propagated and practised a creed of unadulterated hate. Under the guise of Amrit Prachar, the propagation of the tenets of the Sikh Faith, he mixed a fundamentalist canon with rabid incitement to violence. Khushwant Singh has captured the essence of his ‘revelations’ well.
The very same day three motorcycle-borne ‘storm troopers’ opened fire in a market in Jalandhar, killing four Hindus and injuring twelve. The next day, one Hindu was killed and thirteen people injured in Tarn Taran. Five days later a goods train was derailed at Amritsar. On September 29, an Indian Airlines plane was hijacked to Lahore. A series of explosions followed in Amritsar, Faridkot and Gurdaspur districts.
For 25 days, while violence exploded all over Punjab, Bhindranwale was lodged, not in Jail as he should have been, but in the ample comfort of the Circuit House. The Akali Dal, meanwhile, appeared to have decided to throw in its lot with him. Addressing a Diwan [assembly] at Manji Sahib, Longowal announced that the "entire Sikh community supported Bhindranwale." Similar support came from Gurdial Singh Ajnoha, the Jathedar of the Akal Takht, and from Tohra, the President of the SGPC Bhindranwale stormed across the Punjab with truckloads of men, armed to the teeth, no longer with swords and spears and primitive 12-bore guns, but with sophisticated automatic weapons; no one challenged him. In December 1981, Jathedar Santokh Singh of the DGPC, one of his supporters, was killed by a political rival. Bhindranwale attended his Bhog ceremonies; also present were Rajiv Gandhi and two prominent Ministers of Indira Gandhi’s Cabinet, Zail Singh and Buta Singh; they were fully aware of the killings in Punjab; of Bhindranwale’s role; and of his presence at the Bhog. Yet they chose to attend.
A few months later, Bhindranwale challenged the might of the Centre, as his armed gangs swept through the nation’s capital with impunity. What followed was a continuous sequence of sacrilege, of profanities, of desecration, through word and deed, of the holiest sanctuary of Sikhism. In the past, the Akalis had captured and manipulated the authority of the Golden Temple, no doubt by exploiting religious sentiments, but through an electoral process. The terrorists fled into the Temple out of fear of arrest, and then, as the security forces held back, awed by the sanctity of that hallowed ground, their power and audacity grew, and they secured it by naked force.It mattered little how it fell into their hands. The mystical authority, the sacred, indefinable power, the inviolate sanctity of the Temple attached itself, in the minds of thousands of the devout, to those who held the seat and the symbol of the spiritual and temporal authority of the Sikh faith in their custody.
But Bhindranwale and his cohort of criminals were not the only ones who sought to command the power of the Temple. Well before him, another - relentlessly inimical - terrorist group had already established its base within its consecrated bounds. The Akhand Kirtani Jatha which had lost 11 of its members in the clash with the Nirankaris in 1978, had been led by Fauja Singh. His widow, Bibi Amarjit Kaur, and another member of the Jatha, Bibi Harsharan Kaur, had immediately entered the sanctuary of the Golden Temple; from there they led the Babbar Khalsa, a terrorist group responsible, over the next decade and a half for a multitude of heinous crimes, including, according to the boast of its chief assassin Sukhdev Singh, the murder of 35 Nirankaris. Bibi Amarjit Kaur had not forgiven Bhindranwale his cowardice in abandoning the protesters at the Nirankari Convention, and blamed him for her husband’s death. When Bhindranwale entered the Temple a taut and troubled entente between their armed followers was established.
But these were only the preliminaries; the master stroke was to follow.
With breathtaking audacity he adopted the practice of carrying, at all times, a steel arrow in his hand, imitating the Tenth Guru; rumours were set afloat that the ‘baaz’, the holy falcon, another symbol associated with Guru Gobind Singh, was sighted hovering protectively over him. It was whispered that the ‘spirit’ of the Tenth Guru had descended upon Bhindranwale; that he was an incarnation; even, among the more reckless, that he was the ‘Eleventh Guru’ of Sikhism.This was the power of the Golden Temple, and of the symbols of the Faith. They conferred an aura of sainthood, almost of divinity, on this semi-literate evangelist of hate.
In April 1983, A.S. Atwal, a Deputy Inspector General of Police, came to pray at the Temple; after receiving prasad at the Harmandir Sahib, he walked out towards the marble steps near the main entrance of the Complex where he was shot dead in broad daylight, with scores of witnesses standing by, including his own bodyguard and a police contingent posted a hundred yards away. Such was the terror of those days, so great the demoralisation of the police - crippled and constrained as they were by the political leadership - that his bodyguards simply fled; the police outpost was also abandoned, and the policemen ran and hid in the shops. The shopkeepers pulled down their shutters, and no one dared to approach the body. The killers danced the bhangra around the felled DIG, and then sauntered back into the Temple. Atwal’s body, "riddled with bullets, lay in the main entrance to the Sikhs most sacred shrine for more than two hours before the District Commissioner could persuade the Temple authorities to hand it over." Ugly as the Atwal murder was, however, it was only a beginning. On May 4, 1984, a badly mutilated body was found near the Golden Temple Complex. Less than twenty days later, another body was discovered from a gutter behind Guru Nanak Niwas - Bhindranwale’s ‘temporary residence’. Both the victims had been severely tortured. From this point on, this became a regular feature; bodies, mutilated, hacked to pieces, stuffed into gunny bags, kept appearing mysteriously in the gutters and sewers around the Temple.
The shrine, whose image can be found in every Sikh home, in every Sikh heart, had been transformed into a place of torture and of execution.
Bhindranwale abandoned the Niwas entirely, fleeing into the safety of the Akal Takht, right in the middle of the Temple Complex. Not even the Babbar Khalsa would dare to scar this, the sacred seat of the Temporal Power of God, with an attack against him. In any event, thousands of devotees who came to pray at the Golden Temple every day constituted a protective barrier between him and his enemies.
The move was not without its difficulties. The Jathedar, or High Priest, of the Akal Takht objected strongly. No Guru or Sikh religious leader had ever been allowed to live in the Akal Takht, he pointed out. Moreover, Bhindranwale’s presence in the upper floors of the building was an act of sacrilege; the Guru Granth Sahib was placed in the main hall on the ground floor, and at night the Bir from the Harmandir Sahib itself, the most sacred copy of the Guru Granth Sahib, was placed in a room in the Akal Takht. No man could be permitted to stand above the Guru Granth Sahib; but Bhindranwale and his men would be living in quarters above these places The Akal Takht was thus transformed into his personal ‘Court’. He held his darbars here, or on the roof of the langar across the Parikrama. Surrounded by heavily armed henchmen, he would lie, half sprawled, on a mattress, and expound on his malevolent doctrine of vengeance against all those whom he held responsible for the fictional ‘slavery’ of the Sikhs. And here he would receive petitions and intercede in disputes, dispensing a somewhat unequal ‘justice’. Those who submitted to his will, swore allegiance, acknowledged his ‘suzerainty’ to the exclusion of all other powers, and, of course, paid him their ‘tribute’, received his ‘protection’; their ‘rights’ would be upheld. The opposing party died. Hit lists were drawn up; those who sought the opportunity to ‘serve’ the ‘Sant’ were given a name and a gun. The hit squads flourished.
Despite the campaign of hatred that had been going on for close to five years by this time, however, few purely communal complaints were brought up at these darbars. Land disputes, quarrels over possession of properties, betrayals of trust, and the inevitable family vendettas that are so much a part of the Jat Sikh’s life. Of course, the occasional Sikh complained against his Hindu neighbour; such actions, however, were prompted by a purely secular greed; they had little, if anything, to do with communal passions. The ‘Brahmin’ or the ‘Bania’ were no villains here; the same motives that provoked complaints against fellow Sikhs motivated petitions for vengeance against Hindus.
Murder, of course, was not the only business transacted; though it was the fountainhead of power that created opportunities for diversification into organised extortion and protection rackets. In these operations, as in the murders he sanctioned, Bhindranwale was absolutely secular in his dealings; he accepted money from Hindu and Sikh alike; and his ‘boys’ served collection notices on businessmen, shopkeepers and industrialists from both the communities - those who failed to pay, as usual, faced the only penalty in Bhindranwale’s book - death.
Unsurprisingly, the devout were becoming an increasingly insignificant minority among the men who gathered around Bhindranwale. Criminals on the run, professional guns for hire, smugglers, as well as police and army deserters enjoyed his protection - and did his bidding.
Jut to mention a few, Bhindranwale’s main ‘hit man’, Surinder Singh Sodhi was shot dead just outside the Temple in April 1984. Sodhi had a number of important ‘kills’ to his credit, including H.S. Manchanda, the President of the Delhi Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee, Professor V.N. Tiwari, a Congress (I) MP, and Harbans Lal Khanna of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Sodhi was shot dead in broad daylight by a criminal enrolled in Bhindranwale’s own band of thugs, Surinder Singh ‘Chinda’ and a woman associate, Baljit Kaur. Baljit Kaur immediately ran to the Akal Takht and tried to justify the killing claiming that Sodhi had ‘misbehaved’ with her. But soon enough a ‘confession’ had been rung out; she admitted that she and Chinda had been paid for the killing; Gurcharan Singh, Secretary of the Akali Dal and a prominent member of the Longowal faction, and Malik Singh Bhatia, one of Bhindranwale’s own gang, were implicated. Bhatia was summoned immediately; he confessed to having provided Chinda with a vehicle to flee the site of the murder; Baljit Kaur was tortured brutally, her breasts cut off, and then killed, within the Akal Takht itself. Her hideously mutilated body, bundled into a gunnybag, was found more than 24 hours later on the Grand Trunk Road. Near it was a second body: her associate and lover, Chinda. The day after Sodhi’s killing, notices on the walls of the Temple boasted: "Within twenty-four hours, we have eliminated the killers and two of their accomplices." who had entered a basement to treat some civilian casualties.
It was not only their acts of savagery that defiled the Temple. Long before the first Army shells were to hit it, Bhindranwale’s men had already begun the process of disfiguring the Akal Takht. They smashed through its marble walls to create positions for their guns; from the basements in the Takht and from the rooms around the Parikrama, they broke through onto the tiled courtyards to establish near impregnable machine gun ‘nests’. Sandbags and hastily constructed brick walls protected every one of these ‘positions’. The entire Akal Takht had been transformed into a large reinforced pillbox with weapons facing all directions. In fact, virtually every strategically significant building in the complex, excluding the Harmandir Sahib located at its very centre had been similarly fortified - and defaced. The fortifications included 17 private houses in the residential area around the Temple as well. Ex-army veterans and deserters, under the leadership of the cashiered Major General Shahbeg Singh, provided weapons training to Bhindranwale’s men in the Temple Complex itself . In the twenty two months preceding Operation Blue Star and after the Akali Morcha began, violence had claimed a total of 410 lives, of which 298 persons were killed in the last phase, between January 1, 1984 and June 3, 1984
And now the time had come to act. The government seemed unable to stop the violence in Punjab, Haryana, and Delhi. Knowing her government would be voted out of power in Punjab the January 1985 elections, Operation Bluestar was a mixed success. Indira Gandhi ordered the army to storm the temple complex in Punjab A variety of army units along with paramilitary forces surrounded the temple complex on 3 June 1984. The army kept asking the militants to surrender, using the public address system, but according to civilians inside the complex no announcements were made and the Army termed everyone inside the complex as enemies. The militants were asked to send the pilgrims out of the temple premises to safety, before they start fighting the army. However, nothing happened till 7 PM, General Brar then asked the police if they could send emissaries inside to help get the civilians out, but the police said that anyone sent inside would be killed by the militants. They believed that the militants were keeping the pilgrims inside to stop the army from entering the temple. Finally, around a hundred sick and old people were let out. These people informed the army that the others were not being allowed to come out. The army had grossly underestimated the firepower possessed by the militants. Thus, tanks and heavy artillery were used to forcefully suppress the anti-tank and machine-gun fire. After a 24 hour firefight, the army finally wrested control of the temple complex. According to Indian Government sources, 83 army personnel were killed and 249 injured. while insurgent casualties were 493 killed and 86 injured. Unofficial figures go well into the thousands. Along with insurgents, many innocent worshipers were caught in the crossfire. The estimates of innocent people killed in the operation range from a few hundred of people.
Another factor that forced the immediate action was that there were reports that Gen. Zia wanted to avenge the creation of Bangladesh. He promised Bhinderwalan all help and all arms and ammunition, including mortars, anti aircraft guns etc. had Pakistan ordnance marking. Had the action not been taken, there was every possibility of vivisection of the country and no responsible government can permit that.
The obduracy, criminal and inhuman acts, turning the holy place in a fortress of iniquity and butchery, and tie-up with a enemy nation forced the Bluestar Operations. It was that or destruction of country. And now there are organizations – dime-a-dozen that are trying to inflame passions for ulterior purposes by suppressing facts and playing on the emotions of the people who are not aware of the facts. And the beauty is that such people are more in foreign countries and not in India. They just want to create trouble and watch from a distance.Let this process cease.
Dr. Bikram Lamba, a political and business strategist, can be contacted at 905 848 4205. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org