Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was killed during Operation Blue Star. Several militants were either killed or apprehended. The big question now facing the Indira Gandhi government was to reinstate the Akal Takht, one of the highest authority seat of the Sikh religion.
When President Zail Singh visited the Golden Temple after Operation Blue Star, he promised that Akal Takht will be reinstated through Kar Seva with government assistance. The central minister Buta Singh was entrusted with the task of finding a suitable Sikh religious leader, acceptable to the Sikh community to undertake this holy event. The choice finally zeroed in on Nihang chief, Baba Santa Singh of Budha Dal. Several government agencies and a private firm were pressed into service. The task of reconstructing Akal Takht was completed in 45 days.
Back in Delhi, I was sitting in the reporting unit when the Director, News Services Division (DNS) Mr. Ram Mohan Rao called me to his office and said ‘Segon, rush to the airport where a special plane is waiting to take you and the Doordarshan (DD) team to Amritsar. Kar Seva to rebuild Akal Takht is starting tomorrow morning. The same plane will bring you and DD team back to Delhi tomorrow evening. There is no time for you to go home and collect your baggage’. He gave me a broad smile, shook my hand, and wished me good luck. I left for the airport immediately where a camera person and a sound recordist from Doordarshan, DD, were waiting. We boarded the flight and reached Amritsar by evening. An army jeep was waiting for us, which took us to an army officer’s mess, where the defence Public relations officer met us.
After a cup of tea, he took me aside and informed me that I could stay in the army mess as I was an ex. army officer and a gazetted officer now. But the DD team was not entitled to stay in the army mess. I was in a moral dilemma. Being the senior most member of the team, I could not desert the DD team in a curfew bound city. I thanked the defence PRO, left the army mess and stayed in a Public Works Department (PWD) guest house. Next morning, we got the information that our special plane had taken off for Delhi the previous evening due to some technical problems.
There was no way to go back to Delhi as air, rail, and road services from Amritsar were suspended. To add to my woes, I did not have fresh set of clothes or even a shaving kit. Amritsar was like a ghost town with all the markets shut. Mercifully, the army jeep was with us. We got ready and left for the Golden Temple complex. The Nihang Sikhs were everywhere. Baba Santa Singh arrived with his followers, performed the religious ceremonies, and announced the commencement of Kar Seva to rebuild Akal Takht.
Akali leaders and Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) strongly reacted and maintained that Akal Takht could only be rebuilt through Kar seva by devotees voluntarily. Government agencies could have no role in it. A Sikh convention was held in Amritsar, which asked the government to hand over the control of Sri Darbar Sahib complex to SGPC. A demand was also made to remove the army from the complex. The Government subsequently returned the control of Sri Darbar Sahib complex to SGPC at the end of September 1984. Baba Santa Singh was excommunicated. Even Buta Singh was excommunicated; however, he was later accepted back in its religious fold after he relented and did Kar Seva at Golden Temple, including cleaning of devotee shoes.
When I filed stories about Kar Seva, AIR started airing the news giving byline for my stories with my name. I requested GNR not to give my name in the Byline as terrorists were still at large in the city and I could be an open target for them, moving about with a tape recorder in hand. After that, my stories were broadcast without any by-lines.
After 5 days, when the curfew was lifted and train services were resumed from Amritsar, we took the first Delhi bound train, and I was more than happy to be back home.