“I played my hockey match in this town” said my Grandpa (Nanaji) on seeing the map in Hindustan Times of the Khalistan militant training camp in Pakistan’s Punjab province. He then went onto describe something he had done in each of those villages or towns. Those very pages used to carry news of killings of innocent citizens – men, women and children – by Khalistani militants in broad day light. The killings went on into until 1992. Ordinary people used to live in fear and would not travel. Anyone from majority community who lived in Punjab or Chandigarh would remember how some people would tell them about their houses being “marked” and “claimed”. (List of the massacres by Khalistani militants in 1980s and 1990s)
The tension and emotions ran very high at that time.
It all started with the murder of Lala Jagat Narain, the owner of Hind Samachar group in September 1981 by the Khalistani militants. Within a couple of years, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwala had become the undisputed leader of the Khalistan movement and was living within Golden Temple complex. By then Harcharan Singh Longowal had also joined hands with him and these both had launched a “Dharm Yudha”.
From this period onwards, the goal to hit at the majority community and take them out of Punjab and declare the state as Khalistan had started with the complete backing and arming by the Pakistani Army. Ammunition was provided, training camps started on the border of Punjab and militants sent in.
Golden Temple had become the hub of militants. Every one around the place knew of the militants and they would move freely. Police could not touch them and they would send out instructions for massacres and attacks from the Gurudwara precincts and run the show. Retired Major General Shabeg Singh had joined Jarnail Singh Bhindranwala to create a strong fighting machine for any fight against the Indian forces.
In May 1984, one night, Mrs Indira Gandhi was made to listen to a taped conversation between Bhindranwala and a top Army officer from Pakistan of the plan to create Khalistan. It was a plan of “quid pro quo” for Bangladesh, except that in Bangladesh, Pakistani Army (West Pakistanis) had murdered and raped Bengalis in hundreds of thousands which led to Indian involvement.
The plan was that Bhindranwala would declare Khalistan as a state from Golden Temple and Pakistan Army amassed at the Amritsar border would enter and “liberate” Khalistan. The expectation was that a large number of Punjab Police would side with the Khalistan and thus render any action by Indian forces useless. In the run up to that plan of action, Khalistani currency had been distributed and Pakistan had pumped in money to shore the militants up.
Mubarak ho!” Thus began the phone conversation between General Zia-ul Haq and a crony even before all of India had heard about Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The footnote to it is: Mrs G had overnight decided upon Operation Bluestar after hearing a taped phone dialogue between Bhindranwale and a top army officer of Pakistan. The sant was about to declare Amritsar as his capital, and the Pakistan army was all ready to liberate “Khalistan.” In both instances, the transcripts had been provided by the Soviet Union. [Also see link #2 below]
Decision was taken to immediately take action. Immediacy was the need of the hour and secrecy along with disruption of any attempt by any agency or force to sabotage the action had to be taken care of. By that time, Bhindranwala had attained an image of a Saint and almost that of the 11th Guru in Sikhism. The fear was also that many Sikhs may converge on knowing of the action as pilgrims and thus make it ineffective and leading to large amount of casualties.
The person chosen to head the attack was a Sikh, Major General Kuldip Singh Brar, who came from a family of Army officers and himself a decorated soldier. He had won a Vir Chakra for his Battle at Jamalpur on the night of 10 December 1971 during the 1971 Indo-Pak war and thereafter also involved in the anti-insurgency operations in Nagaland and Mizoram. He was planning to leave for Manila for a vacation on June 1, 1984 when he was called to Chandimandir Cantonment. On May 31st he came from Meerut to Delhi and went to Chandimandir by helicopter for a briefing. He was asked to immediately go to Amritsar.
On 3rd June, curfew was imposed for 36 hours and all public travel as well as communication mediums – TV, Radio etc. were suspended. Complete blackout was enforced.
On June 4th, Maj General Brar walked around in the precincts to check out the situation and the militants himself. Retired Maj Gen Shahbeg Singh (who now was training militants for Bhindranwala), and who had incidentally commanded Brar in the 1971 war spotted him and knew something was up!
Many attempts were made and pleas made to the militants to come out of the Gurudwara and rid the place of militancy. These went unheard. Police did not want to venture into the precincts for the fear of being killed.
On June 5th morning, Maj General Brar called the units and told them personally about the plan and the reasons for entering the holy shrine. He asked the officers to feel free to opt out of the operations if they so felt owing to their religious feelings. One hand went up – Second Lieutenant Jasbir Singh Raina. He was in the unit commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Mohammad Israr. Maj Gen Brar assured him that he need not have any fear if Raina wanted to stay out of it. On the contrary, however, Second Lietenant Raina requested to be the first one to enter the temple so he could rid it off the militants.
As young Raina went in he came under heavy fire and was seriously injured on his legs, but he refused to be evacuated. He was forced out of the action and taken to hospital. Several months later, Second Lietenant Jasbir Singh Raina received Ashok Chakra for his bravery as he wheeled himself in his wheel chair unable to stand.
In the battle that ensued from June 5th to June 6th, many people died. According to Army figures, the casualties were:
– Military: 83 killed, 248 wounded
– Militant Casualties: 492 Killed (100 women and 75 children), 86 wounded (7 women and 4 children)
Many pilgrims inside the temple were forced by the militants and used as a shield initially.
What the Army found in the Golden Temple was a complete Arms factory where ammunition from pistols to grenades and other things were being manufactured. The militants used not only the Akal Takht but the main Harmindar Sahib as well for their activities including shooting at the Army.
This set of Videos of an interview with Maj Gen KS Brar by the very upright and honest Melville De Mello shares a story that is important to remember.
Reactions to Brar
Several Sikhs consider Maj Gen Brar to be a “traitor” and many have called for his killing for the action he took. However, such calls are made from blind emotions as opposed to considered thought.
One such person who opposed Brar was his own Uncle – Mama (Mother’s brother). He lived in London before that and was clean shaven, used to frequent pubs and smoked as well. After Operation Bluestar, he grew hair and became religious. He broke off from the family and went to Pakistan seeking revenge against the Indian state and people who committed the sin of Operation Bluestar.
On his deathbed, as he was dying of cancer, having seen the reality from the “other side” closely, he was told that Brar was there. He ordered him to be sent in. With just hours left to his death, he held the hands of Brar, cried and admitted that the actions that his nephew undertook were necessary.
It is never easy to be comfortable with the sort of action that Operation Bluestar was, if your emotions are blindly invested in the physicality of a worshipping place without any regard to its spiritual significance.
All who turned the Golden Temple into a “Fortress of Death” and those who facilitated such a turn of events – including those who have subsequently sympathized with them, indeed eulogized them – have very scant appreciation for the true message of Guru Nanak Dev, the real Saint in Sikh tradition. To place cold blooded murderers in His company is to denigrate His work and His message.
Ritualistic following of Sikhism while throwing out the spiritual component is completely contrary to the very spirit of Guru Nanak Dev’s CENTRAL message and his struggle that he engaged in to rid the society of! His message was one of Liberation and of assimilation not of exclusivity and ritualistic captivity.
Precedent of Terrorist Takeover of a Religious Shrine
In the end it is important to remember that this was not the only incident of the holiest shrine in a religion falling prey to Militants with little care for pilgrims or innocents in pursuit of their own egos. In November of 1979, in what is now called the “Grand Mosque Seizure”, Islamic militants had taken over Kaaba’s mosque. When the Saudi authorities could not flush them out, French security forces were called in (where no Non-Muslim is allowed to enter) to flush them out. Each and every militant was killed.
2. ‘Pakistan would have recognised Khalistan and crossed the borders’
3. ‘There is always a limit to how much any country can take’
4. ‘You are not acting against any religion but against a section of misguided people’
5. ‘Operation Bluestar was most traumatic, most painful’
6. Brar, K.S. (1992). Operation Blue Star: True Story.
7. Grand Mosque Seizure – 1979
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