Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Operation …Blue Star – The True Story


I ordered the revised edition of the book Operation … Blue Star – The True Story written by no other but Lt. Gen. K.S. Brar who
himself led the “most controversial and hotly debated military operations in the history” sometime last year but could not unwrap and read it. I traveled to Delhi from Jalandhar on Amritsar Shatabadi last month on October 18 and took the book with me to read while travelling. It was a good start. A young lady, an IT expert working in Gurgaon (I am finding it difficult to recall her name now) who was sitting by my side saw the book on my table and spontaneously commented that it was a good book which she had read last week. I was further motivated to read the book. I stayed with my senior diplomatic colleague and a good friend Ambassador Bal Anand at their newly built house at the lush green and peaceful IFS Villas at Greater Noida and enjoyed their hospitality over numerous sessions of informal chats on subjects of mutual interests one among them literature and general love for books. Though I also claim to have some interest in reading and writing of which my hosts were aware yet I am nowhere near Ambassador Bal Anand, a vivid reader and a prolific writer. I informed him that I was reading the book of General Brar on operation Blue Star. He advised that I should write a review of the book on my return to Jalandhar. Here I attempt one not as an expert but as a common reader.

Since the Operation Blue Star at the Harimandir Sahib (Golden Temple) at Amritsar, the seat of spiritual status and power of the Sikhs, 32 long years have gone by. But this unpleasant scar in the contemporary history of India is still alive and will remain so in the years to come. In the aftermath of the infamous operation in June, 1984, the sad and uncalled for happenings on October 31 in which PM Indira Gandhi was assassinated and the consequent holocaust in Delhi and other places against our Sikh brethren are the festering wounds which require constant balm to get some much needed relief. While I am writing a review of the book of General Brar today on November 3, the air in Punjab is thick with the sordid happenings of 1984 which, to my mind, should be removed from the psyche and forgotten like a bad dream. Such first hand and objective accounts given by the actual actors and players would certainly put the things in their right perspective. Lt. Gen. K.S. Brar has done a good job in writing the book “Operation … Blue Star – the True Story.

General Brar is quite candid when he says in the preface of the book itself “I know that many will disagree with some of my observations and comments but then, the true test of the book of this nature is that it should evoke discussion and introspection, which I hope will be healthy and honest not bitter and acrimonious.” The ground situation has belied the expectations of the author. It is unfortunate. The hard core elements are getting strength both in temporal and spiritual Sikh hierarchy - Miri and Piri. There are vested political interests. The successive governments could not demonstrate strong will power to address the causes and concerns which were responsible for the military action at Amritsar in June 1984 and its fallout in October, 1984. A sincere introspection is needed as advised by the author of the book.

I fully agree with General Brar when he says “Operation Blue Star was launched in order to preserve the country’s unity and integrity and it can perhaps, be classified as one of the most traumatic, sensitive and thankless missions ever undertaken by any army of the world.” The Indian army, one of the most dedicated and professional armies of the world as also recognized and appreciated by the UN in its various peace keeping operations, did a job under difficult and trying situations and circumstances. General K. Sundarji, who was also one of the chief players in the operation commented and said “We did not go in anger but with sadness; with prayers on our lips and humility in our hearts.”  The role of General Sundarji in the operation will find a mention in the proceeding paras of this review of the book. The army did its duty. There should be no bitterness or ill feeling against the army. It will serve as the first step to forget and forgive the sad and traumatic experience like a bad dream.

The social, political and security situation in Punjab in the late 1970s and 1980,s, in wake of militancy and political expediency, have been well documented and need no elaboration. All the main political parties i.e. the Congress, the Akali Dal and the BJP contributed, in one way or the other, to the situation which they may or may not admit. The Hindu Sikh divide was evident. The Sikhs were getting more radical. The political expectations were inter-knotted with religious fundamentalism. The meteoric rise of Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale and his associates like Major General Shabeg Singh, Balbir Singh Sandhu, Harminder Singh Sandhu and Rachpal Singh and many more completely sidelined the main stream Akalis like Harchand Singh Longowal, Gurcharan Singh Tohra, Parkash Singh Badal, Surjit Singh Barnala among others. The Congress was a divided house, with President Giani Zail Singh on one side and Darbara Singh on the other. The BJP and other Hindu outfits were at a loss to understand, in the aftermath of assassination of Lala Jagat Narain and his son Ramesh Chandra and other Hindu leaders. It was total chaos. By the early months of 1984, Bhindrawale with his hard core militants had occupied and fortified the holy complex of Harimandir Sahib and started functioning from there. The Akali leadership like Harchand Singh Longowal and Gurcharan Singh Tohra and others also shifted to the complex. The high priests of Harimandir Sahib were totally terrified and were unable to render any sober advice particularly to the militants under Bhindrawale. The government of PM Indira Gandhi tried its best to negotiate with Akalis and Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale to salvage the situation but could not succeed. Akalis did not have political will and writ and Bhindrawale and his group were all determined and ready for the show off. The militants, under the control and directions of General Shabeg Singh, had entrenched themselves at the Akal Takhat and almost the entire complex was fully fortified to fight back any forced assault. But they did not know, as also confirmed by General Brar in the book that the government would hand over the matter to the military. They were expecting some sort of police action or at the most involvement of para military forces for which they armed themselves to the teeth and were confident to meet the challenge. In the case of armed conflict, the militants were all set to declare Khalistan and were expecting the lakhs and lakhs of people from the rural areas would rush to Amritsar in their support and save their holy shrine, Harimandir Sahib. It seemed all the options were closed and there was complete deadlock.

By the end of May, 1984, the iron was cast and the D-day had come. In her ‘toughest decision’, PM Indira Gandhi was advised to take military action to flush out the militants from the holy place. I am certain that it was the most difficult decision of her life. She was assured, as recorded, that the military operation will be taken and completed in a few hours and the holy complex cleared of militants without much damage. The military action was ordered on May 31, 1984 in ‘deep anguish’.

General Brar has given a detailed and complete narration in the book of the operation which he led under the overall command of General A.S. Vaidya, Chief of Army Staff and Lt. General K. Sundarji, Chief of the Westren Command and Lt. General R.S. Dyal. The narration of General Brar suggests that there was no pre-planning and they mobilized themselves at a short notice beginning June 1. PM Indira Gandhi spoke to the nation on June 2 and took the people into confidence. General Brar has written that the PM’s broadcast was delayed for 45 minutes as she was still reaching out to the Akali leadership for an honorable and peaceful settlement but that was not to be. The Akalis, who boast of and claim innocence, as written by General Brar, “had virtually abdicated their authority to Bhindrawale”. PM Indira Gandhi said in her address that ‘the government could no longer remain a silent and passive spectator to the morbid happenings in Punjab, as also the secessionist movement designed to break the country’. She ended by saying “Let us join hands and shed hatred, rather than shed blood”.  Against the expectations to end the operation with quick results, it took almost 10 days to neutralize and flush out the militants from the holy shrine with unexpectedly huge loss of life on both the sides and avoidable damage to the historical buildings including the Akal Takhat. General Brar has given all the operational details with graphics and pictures in his narration. From these details one can easily find and assess the gravity of the situation. Thank God that there was no physical damage to the Golden Temple in spite of efforts on the part of the militants and other vested interests to provoke and engage the army and other forces to do something untoward and create further difficulties. It is a credit to the Indian armed forces, against all odds and provocation; they could manage to save the holy Golden Temple and the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine. In the main assault on June 5 and 6, the hard core militants like Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale and his military commander General Shabeg Singh and others were killed in the operation and the rest were neutralized or flushed out. President Giani Zail Singh visited the shrine on June 8. It was providence that he was saved from a volley of fire busted by the militants during the visit, as stated by General Brar. It could have been yet another blot in our history, had they succeeded in harming the President of India. PM Indira Gandhi visited the shrine and paid her obeisance on June 23. She expressed ‘her grief over the unfortunate consequences of violence and terror perpetrated from within the Temple for the past few months’. She interacted with the high priests of Harimandir Sahib and stressed the necessary safeguards to ensure that a place of worship was never again misused.

The unfortunate happenings of June and October, 1984 are behind us. We need to forget and forgive to carry on. But reading of the book of General Brar certainly compels us to sit and contemplate what went wrong for which the country and the society at large suffered immensely? It was a collective failure, to my mind, of the whole system - the governments, administration .i.e. bureaucracy and intelligence agencies, political parties, and religious leaders. The army did their job to the best of their ability and responsibly under trying circumstances with their hands tied to their backs from day one of the Blue star operation except for the one rider. It is believed by political and security analysts that PM Indira Gandhi was misled and misinformed by some jingoistic and flamboyant army brass, said to be led by General Sundarji, that they were competent and prepared to undertake the operation and were capable to flush out the militants from the holy shrine in a few hours without much damage to the buildings and loss of life. Had she been informed of the factual position, my gut feeling tells me that she would have exercised more caution and thought in taking such a drastic decision? Anyway, she took the decision, like a leader of a democratic country, and paid the price by succumbing to the bullets of her own security guards.

Let us stop the blame game. Let us shed our anger, hatred and revenge. Let us stop eulogizing the militants by making memorials to celebrate them. Let us not mix religion with politics for our narrow agenda and vested interests. Let me quote from Lt. General K.S. Brar, the author of the book “Operation – Blue Star – The True Story” to conclude this piece “Finally, I can only fervently hope and pray that better sense dawns on the radicals and hardliners and that they begin to realize and understand that it is time now to live in peace and harmony.”

वतन की फ़िक्र कर नादाँ; मुसीवत आने वाली है,
तेरी बर्बादियों के मश्वरे हैं आश्मानों में ,
नासमजोगे तो मिट जाओगे हिन्दोस्तान  वालो;


तुम्हारी दास्ताँ तक भी होगी दस्तानों में !

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