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Operation Blue Star: No Wins, Only Losses

June, 1984

Operation Blue Star was launched by the Indian Army from 1-8 June 1984 for eight days, on the orders of the late Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi for two main reasons. The first one was to flush out Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his armed militants from the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar and the second reason was to rescue the pilgrims trapped inside the complex. Before launching Operation Blue Star, the government sent a team led by Narasimha Rao to try to convince Bhindranwale to back out but he was obstinate, and declined all efforts made by the Indira Gandhi administration to negotiate a settlement. After that, Indira Gandhi tried to persuade the Akalis to support her in the arrest of Bhindranwale peacefully. These talks too, ended up being fruitless. The Government then took the President, Giani Zial Singh’s permission as the supreme commander of armed forces, to seize Golden Temple complex, flushing out militants and rescue trapped pilgrims. The operation resulted in more than 500 militant and civilians dead,, including Bhindranwale. Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was the fourteenth jathedar, or leader, of the prominent orthodox Sikh religious institution Damdami Taksal and an advocate of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution. He along with Akali Dal, launched the Dharam Yudh Morcha or the "righteous campaign, demanding the creation of an autonomous state within India. This autonomous state was to be called Khalistan. In 1982, Bhindranwale and his group of almost 200 militants moved into the Golden Temple complex and announced it as their headquarters. In 1983, he inhabited and fortified the Sikh shrine Akal Takht. On 3rd June 1984, the army surrounded the Golden Temple Complex and used loud speakers to appeal to the militants to surrender and allow the pilgrims to come out. Bhindranwale paid no heed to these calls. On the evening of 5th June,fight broke out between militants and army, and went on for three days. Bhindranwale had amassed a huge reservoir of arms and ammunition to fight the army. How and where he got so much ammunition was never known.Militants had fully fortified Golden Temple Complex. The army used guns and threats and when nothing yielded results, it ultimately had to use tanks and heavy artillery to try and drive Bhindrawale and the- other militants out. To the surprise of the army and the paramilitary forces’, the militants retaliated strongly using anti-tank missiles and heavy machine guns. This was even surprising for me. Eventually, the army successfully neutralised the militants’ fire to enter the Akal Takht complex, which Bhindranwale was using as his base. One reason why he chose the Akal Takht complex for his operations was his false belief that the security forces would never enter the holy shrine, and he could run his extremist activities without fear from the Akal Takht. His false belief and stubbornness eventually cost him his life. During combing operations, security forces found dead bodies of Bhindranwale, his military adviser, Shabeg Singh, and another notorious militant, Amrik Singh.

Meanwhile in Delhi, the then President Giani Zail Singh was getting restless. He wanted to have first-hand information about Shri Akal Takht and Shri Harminder Sahib. The President Giani Zial Singh ultimately visited the holy shrine after the operation was over. I accompanied the president as part of his press party, which was covering the visit. As the President entered the Akal Takht complex, he was visibly shocked and shaken. The holy Sikh shrine had been raised to the ground with debris and blood stains on the walls.

The President kneeled in front of the debris of Akal Takht, closed his eyes, offered his prayers, and kept mumbling, ‘Yeh kya kar diya. Maine aisa to nahi kaha tha’. (What have they done? I never asked them to do such a thing). I remember vividly that the security men wanted the President to leave the complex immediately as the militant snipers hidden around the complex were still firing from roof tops towards the complex. The President, Giani Zail Singh, visibly looked devastated as he crossed the complex to visit Sri Harmandir Sahib. He offered prayers and offerings to the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy Sikh scripture. In the Golden Temple complex, I could see the maintenance staff washing blood stains from the floor and walls. They were also busy removing debris from the place. It is a scene that is forever etched in my memory. Some critics argued that the President should own some responsibility for the military action, being the supreme commander of armed forces. Others postulated that he was only a constitutional head with no real powers’. As much as I want, it is almost impossible to erase these memories from my mind. These were human beings who died for what could have been an amicable solution. Operation Blue Star killed young and old, and eventually Indira Gandhi, was killed by her two Sikh bodyguards, four months later.

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