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No event inflicted as much wound on Sikh community as Operation Bluestar

By Harsh Thakor* 
Forty years ago, from June 3-8, 1984, on the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s call, the Indian army staged an attack on the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar, Punjab. This event carved a permanent niche amongst the attacks in the history of religious sanctity or religious monuments.
No preceding event ever so much inflicted as much of a wound on the Sikh community, hurt its psyche or destroyed its morale. The Golden Temple is the holy shrine of Sikhs. The objective of the assault, code-named Operation Blue Star, was to extinguish “religious terrorists” led by Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.
The Congress intended to extinguish Sikh separatist or Khalistani fundamentalism. Ironically, it was the very Congress that had nurtured the breeding ground for it. 
The ruthless operation took place in the precedent or scenario of Khalistani fundamentalist terrorism simmering a boiling point, and a protracted tussle between the Indira Gandhi-led Congress and the Akali Dal. 
It all began after Indira Gandhi tried to create a split in the Akali Dal. Actions  were sanctioned to support Sikh communal terrorists in order to drive a wedge between rival Akali factions. There was little effort to ensure that the  centuries old Hindu-Sikh bondage would not be disturbed. Even on the negotiating table with prominent Akali  leaders, Sikh fundamentalist elements were favoured. 
The Congress rulers are said to have even  backed Bhindranwale’s gang killing of the Nirankaris like Baba Gurcharan Singh, from May 1980 to November 1980, and also of Lala Jagat Narain, a prominent Arya Samaj leader.
From 1983 the Akali Dal embraced the agitation of Bhindranwale, terminating its protest on the construction of a canal for granting waters to Haryana in the Dharam Yudh morcha.This marked a new phase, where it agreed to negotiate with the Congress. In a series of negotiations, the Congress rulers  rejected most of the Akali political demands, but uphed the religious demands. 
In October 1983, after the bus massacre, in which 6 Hindus were killed by Sikh extremists amidst the insurgency in Punjab, the Darbara Singh ministry was dismissed and the disturbed areas Act was enforced, giving policeman and soldiers orders to shoot at sight. Even then, the then Congress state secretary continued to categorise Bhindaranwale as a religious personality who nurtured political ambitions.

Military action

The Indian army operation, which included tanks, helicopters, armoured vehicles, artillery and other weapons, coincided with the anniversary of Guru Arjan’s martyrdom. Thousands of troops besieged less than 50 men. The military assault took place with a total media blackout. 
In spite of objections from various sections, including Cabinet Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Indira Gandhi ordered military action at the Golden Temple in mid-May 1984. By May 29, troops from the 9th Infantry Division in Meerut arrived in Amritsar.
On June 1, an exchange of fire between militants and CRPF personnel who were stationed in positions atop private buildings near the temple resulted in the deaths of 11 civilians. Operation Blue Star underwent at full pitch until June 10, costing a heavy toll on life, property, and emotions. The Akal Takht, the temporal seat of the Sikhs, was destroyed in the operation.
On June 3, 1984, a large contingent of army units and paramilitary forces besieged the Golden Temple complex. Punjab was placed under a 36-hour curfew;  all forms of communication and public transportation were obstructed. The state’s electricity supply was also disrupted, resulting in a total blackout and isolation from the rest of the world. The media was completely censored.
Although army reports listed 554 deaths, including those of four officers and 79 soldiers, actual casualties possibly scaled much higher, with many pilgrims among the victims.
It all began after Indira Gandhi tried to create a split in the Akali Dal by seeking to promote Bhindrawale
Under the command of Kuldip Singh Brar, the army invaded Harmandir Sahib on the night of June 5th. By the morning of June 7th, the soldiers completely captured Harmandir Sahib. The army, civilians, and insurgents all suffered heavy casualties. The operation killed Bhindranwale and his colleague Shabad Singh.

Aftermath of Bluestar

The storming of the citadel of the Sikh religion led  to a mutiny in Sikh units of the Indian Army. On October 31, Indira Gandhi was herself assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards This was immediately followed by the worst anti-Sikh riots, unleashed  in order to "avenge" her murder. The police simply gazed at the killings and in some cases actively participated in the attacks.
Many Sikh troops abandoned their regiments in the army, and several Sikhs resigned from civil administrative positions and returned Indian government honours. Civil liberties groups reported how 100 Amrithdari Sikhs were assassinated with their hands turned behind.
A team of the Association for Democratic Rights, Punjab, interviewed common villagers. They narrated the tormentation they underwent. Sardar Jan Sangh recounted how a jatha of 350 persons, including women and children, was torn apart by 7 grenade, without any warning, killing 41 people. Jagga Singh revealed how he and his family after the army attack took refuge in Guru Ramdas Serai and were met with hand grenades, killing many people.
Leftist party cadres, particularly of the Communist Party of India, resisted Sikh inflammatory propaganda, and fostered spirit of communal harmony. In many areas they combated Sikh communal terror building anti-communal Hindu-Sikh committees, and giving a thrashing to terrorists. However, they  remained silent on state or police repression on the Sikh masses.
Some independent Left groups staged a concerted attack against Khalistani terrorism during Bluestar, and even conducted armed retaliatory actions against Sikh communal terrorists. The strongest vocal force against Operation Bluestar was by the CPI (ML) Chandra Pulla Reddy group, while the most powerful vocal force against Sikh separatist or Khalistani ideology was by journals ‘Surkh Rekha’, ‘Lal Tara’ and ’Inquilabi Jantak Leeh’.
Regrettably, some Left groups, including CPI (ML) People's War group,  while condemning the army attack, upheld Sikh separatism and hailed Bhindranwale as a martyr.
---
*Independent journalist 

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