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Operation Blue Star
Golden temple Akal Takhat.jpg
The Golden Temple with Akal Takht in the background
Date 3– 6 June 1984
Location Golden Temple in Amritsar, India
Result Sikh militia are driven out of Golden temple and its surrounding area
Belligerents
Indian Army Sikh militia
Commanders
Major General Kuldip Singh Brar Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale
Strength
413 to 600
Casualties and losses
84-200 killed[1][2][3]
248 wounded
492-800 killed[1][2][3]

Operation Blue Star (Punjabi: ਬਿਲਯੂ ਸਟਾਰ, Hindi: ब्ल्यू स्टार (blyū sţār)) 3– 6 June 1984 was an Indian military operation ordered by Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India,[4] to remove Sikh separatists, led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who were amassing weapons in the Golden Temple in Amritsar.[5]

The operation was carried out by Indian army troops with tanks and armoured vehicles.[6] Militarily successful, the operation aroused immense controversy, and the government's justification for the timing and style of the attack are still under debate.[7] Operation Bluestar was included in the Top 10 Political Disgraces by India Today magazine.[8]

Official reports put the number of deaths among the Indian army at 83 and the number of civilian deaths at 492, though independent estimates ran much higher.[9]

The impact of the military assault, its aftermath and the increased tensions led to assaults on members of the Sikh community within India and uproar amongst Sikhs worldwide. In India, many Sikhs resigned from armed and civil administrative office and returned their government awards.[10] Some who perceived the attack as desecration of the Sikh shrine pledged revenge.[10]Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards on 31 October 1984.[11]

Contents

The Operation

The Indian Army used seven Vijayanta Tanks during the operation[12]

Indira Gandhi first asked Lt. Gen. S.K. Sinha, then Vice-Chief of Indian Army and who was to succeed as the Army chief, to prepare a position paper for assault on the Golden Temple.[13] Lt. Gen. Sinha advised against any such move, given its sacrilegious nature according to Sikh tradition. He suggested the government adopt an alternative solution. A controversial decision was made to replace him with General Arun Shridhar Vaidya as the Chief of the Indian army. General Vaidya, assisted by Lt. Gen. K Sundarji as Vice-Chief, planned and coordinated Operation Blue Star.[13]

On 3 June, a 36-hour curfew was imposed on the state of Punjab with all methods of communication and public travel suspended.[14] Electricity supplies were also interrupted, creating a total blackout and cutting off the state from the rest of India and the world.[15] Complete censorship was enforced on the news media.[15]

The Indian Army stormed the Golden Temple on the night of 5 June under the command of Maj. Gen. Kuldip Singh Brar. The forces had full control of the Golden Temple by the morning of 7 June. Bhindranwale, Maj. Gen. Shabeg Singh, PVSM, AVSM and several other militant leaders were killed in the operation along with a large number of followers and civilians. The armed forces also suffered many casualties.[16]

Operation Blue Star coincided with a Sikh annual festival. Pilgrims, including the elderly and children, were trapped inside the temple when the operation began and many were wounded and killed as a result.[16]

Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in the Golden Temple

Throughout his career Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale remained in contact with Indira Gandhi.[17][18] Bhindranwale had earlier taken refuge in the Golden temple in April 1980, when he was named as a suspect in the killing of Nirankari Gurbachan Singh.[19] The Nirankari Baba, also known as Baba Gurbachan Singh, had been the target of an attack by followers of a Sikh group, Akhand Kirtani Jatha, outside the Golden Temple when he appeared claiming himself to be the incarnation of Guru Gobind Singh. The Nirankaris are a heretical sect, who claim to be a part of the Sikh panth, but are not considered such by the Khalsa. On 13 April 1978, Nirankar's Head Gurbachan Singh is alleged to have ridiculed 10th Guru Gobind Singh in a Nirankari Convention held in Amritsar, and disrespected the Guru Granth Sahib. This prompted Akhand Kirtani Jatha to protest against the actions by Gurbachan Singh; his bodyguards responded by opening fire on the 13 Sikhs.[20][21] The bodyguards of the Baba used guns to fire at the peaceful protesters. In the ensuing violence, several people were killed: two of Bhindranwale's followers, eleven Sikhs of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, and three Nirankaris.[21] That event was allegedly premeditated by the Indian government[20][22] with the Nirankaris subsequently acquitted of any wrong-doing by the courts, on grounds of self-defence.

In 1982, Bhindranwale and approximately 200 armed followers moved into a guest-house called the Guru Nanak Niwas, in the precinct of the Golden Temple.[23] From here he met and was interviewed by international television crews.[23]

On 23 April 1983, the Punjab Police Deputy Inspector General ("DIG") A. S. Atwal was shot dead as he left the Golden Temple compound. The following day, after the murder, Harchand Singh Longowal (then president of Shiromani Akali Dal) hinted at the involvement of the Chief minister of the Punjab, Darbara Singh, in the murder.[24]

On 15 December 1983, Bhindranwale was forced to move out of Guru Nanak Niwas house by members of the Babbar Khalsa who acted with Harcharan Singh Longowal's support Longowal by now feared for his own safety. By 1983, the Golden Temple became a shelter for a large number of militants.[25]

The Golden Temple compound and some of the surrounding houses were fortified. The Statesman reported on 4 July that light machine-guns and semi-automatic rifles were known to have been brought into the compound. On 1 February 1984, Harcharan Singh Longowal claimed that Bhindranwale had suggested to him that motorcycles and arms should be purchased on a mass scale for killing members of a "particular community".[26] Bhindranwale angrily responded to the allegation, saying "nothing is more farther in my mind than this".[27]

Faced with imminent army action and with the foremost Sikh political organisation, Shiromani Akali Dal (headed by Harchand Singh Longowal), abandoning him, Bhindranwale declared "This bird is alone. There are many hunters after it".[27]

Time magazine reported (about Amritsar) that:[28]

"These days it more closely resembles a city of death. Inside the temple compound, fierce Sikh warriors wield submachine guns, guarding against encroachment by government security forces. Outside, the security men keep a nervous vigil, all too aware that the bodies of murdered comrades often turn up in the warren of tiny streets around the shrine."

Overview

Operation Blue Star was launched to eliminate the Sikh militants who had taken control of the Amritsar Golden Temple Complex. The Sikh militants within the Harminder Sahib were led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and former Maj. Gen.Shabeg Singh. Maj. Gen. Kuldip Singh Brar had command of the action, operating under Gen. Sunderji.

20:00 hrs - 22:00 hrs

The first element was the destruction of Shabeg Singh's outer defences. Much of this had been completed in the preliminary shelling. Major-General Brar had hoped to force Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale into surrendering, which did not occur. The destroyed defenses included seventeen houses which the police believed Bhindranwale's followers occupied in the alleys surrounding the Golden Temple. Nearby was the Brahmbuta Akhara, a large building housing the headquarters of a Sikh sect. Then there were three main towers which had been fortified to create positions from which Bhindranwale's men could defend. Because the towers rose well above surrounding buildings, they were excellent observation positions for tracking the movement of Indian troops in the narrow alleys surrounding the temple. The tops of these towers were destroyed in the preliminary artillery fire.

22:00 hrs–23:30 hrs

Between 10:00 and 10:30 on 5 June commandos from 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, were ordered to run down the steps under the clock tower on to the parikarma, ("pavement"), and move quickly around the edge of the sacred pool to the Akal Takht. As the paratroopers entered the main gateway to the Temple they were gunned down by light machine-gun fire from both sides of the steps. The few commandos who did get down the steps were driven back by a barrage of fire from the building on the south side of the sacred pool. In the control room, a house on the opposite side of the clock-tower, Major-General Brar was waiting with two supporting officers to hear confirmation that the commandos had established positions inside the complex.[29]

The few commandos left regrouped in the square outside and reported back to Maj. Gen. Brar. He ordered them to make another attempt. The commandos were then to be followed by the 10th Battalion of the Guards, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Israr Khan. This second commando attack managed to neutralize the machine-gun posts on both sides of the steps and get down on to the parikarma. They were followed by the Guards who came under heavy fire and were not able to make any progress. They radioed for permission to fire back at the buildings on the other side of the tank. That would have meant that the Golden Temple itself, which is in the middle of the pool, would have been in the line of fire. Brar initially refused, but started to receive reports of heavy casualties from the commander of the Guards.

23:30 hrs - 01:00 hrs

Brar again requested tanks after an APC was destroyed by a rocket fired by a Sikh militant. His request was granted and seven tanks rolled into the Golden Temple complex. They cleared the ramparts and later assaulted the main temple in order to neutralize the militants remaining in the structure. The shelling achieved its objective and the primary target of removing militants from the Akal Takht was achieved by 01:00. However, the secondary objective of removing militants from other neighbouring structures went on for a further 24 hours.

Casualties

As per the affidavit filed by retired Brigadier D.V. Rao in court of Harjit Singh Khalsa, judicial magistrate first class, Amritsar, on 19 March 2007, the Indian Army suffered 83 deaths, which included four officers, four Junior Commissioned Officers and 75 other ranks. As per the affidavit, 13 Indian Army officers, 16 JCOs and 220 other ranks were injured in the operation. Indian army recorded 492 civilian deaths inside Golden Temple with 433 persons segregated as "separatists" amongst 1592 persons apprehended.[30][31] During June 1984, brigadier D.V. Rao served as Commander of 350 Infantry Brigade based in Jalandhar, which formed part of Ninth Infantry Division of Indian Army.

The Army placed total casualties at:

  • Military: 83 killed, 248 wounded
  • Militant Casualties: 492 Killed, 86 wounded.[32]

Independent historians placed the figure at:

According to some journalists, several Sikh youths were also killed in crossfire from militants.[35] The unofficial casualty figures from eye-witness accounts (such as Amnesty International) were much higher.[36]

Aftermath

An unspecified number of Sikh soldiers resigned from positions across India in protest, with some reports of large-scale pitched battles being fought to bring mutineers under control.[37]

The operation also led to the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 31 October 1984 by 2 of her Sikh bodyguards,[38] triggering the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. The widespread killing of Sikhs, principally in the national capital Delhi but also in other major cities in North India, led to major divisions between the Sikh community and the Indian Government. The army withdrew from the Golden Temple later in 1984 under pressure from Sikh demands.[39]

General A S Vaidya, the Chief of Army Staff at the time of Operation Blue Star, was assassinated in 1986 in Pune by two Sikhs, Harjinder Singh Jinda and Sukhdev Singh Sukha. Both were sentenced to death, and hanged on 7 October 1992.

Sikh militants continued to use and occupy the temple compound and on 1 May 1986, Indian paramilitary police entered the temple and arrested 200 militants that had occupied the Golden Temple for more than three months.[40] On May 2, 1986 the paramilitary police undertook a 12-hour operation to take control of the Golden Temple at Amritsar from several hundred militants, but almost all the major radical leaders managed to escape.[41]

In May 1988, army troops were called in again to remove militants from the temple. The conflict of 12–18 May resulted in the clearance of the compound, and regular worship resumed on 23 May. On 29 May, the government banned both political and military use of shrines in India.

In June 1990, the Indian government ordered the area surrounding the temple to be vacated by local residents in order to prevent militant activity around the temple.[42]

Criticism of the operation

The use of artillery in the congested inner city of Amritsar proved deadly to many civilian bystanders living near the Golden Temple. The media blackout throughout the Punjab resulted in widespread doubt regarding the official stories and aided the promotion of hearsay and rumour.[43] The operation is criticised on four main grounds, the choice of time of attack by Government, heavy casualty, loss of property, and allegation of human rights violations by Army personnel.

Projecting the attack as a "last resort"

The attack on Golden Temple was in plans even before the armed Sikh militants fortified it.[20] Then GOC of the Indian Army, S. K. Sinha who was sacked at the last moment had criticized the Government's claim that the attack represented a "last resort", stating that the attack was planned a year and a half prior to the actual day of attack. S. K. Sinha and Mark Tully report that the army had been rehearsing the attack in a replica of the Golden Temple at a secret location near Chakrata Cantonment in the Doon Valley.[44]

Timing of the operation

The timing of Operation Blue Star coincided with a Sikh religious day, the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev, the founder of the Golden Temple. Sikhs from all over the world visit the temple on this day. In 1736 the Golden Temple was attacked by the Mughal army, resulting in heavy casualties of civilian Sikhs.[45] The attack of Ahmad Shah Abdali on the Golden Temple (Darbar Sahib) also came on Vaisakhi day when Sikhs gather in large numbers in Amritsar. Many Sikhs view the timing and attack by the Indian Army as an attempt to inflict maximum casualties on Sikhs and demoralize them,[46] and the government is in turn blamed for the inflated number of civilian dead for choosing to attack on this day.

The Sikh community's anger and suffering was further increased by comments from leading newspaper editors, such as Ramnath Goenka, terming the operation as "A greater victory than the win over Bangladesh, this is the greatest victory of Mrs. Gandhi".[47]

During the operation the Sikh Reference Library caught fire and many rare books and manuscripts were destroyed. There are allegations that the army also confiscated many books which were never returned, but the army denies this.[citation needed]

Media Blackout

Before the attack by army a media blackout was imposed in Punjab.[48] The Times reporter Michael Hamlyn reported that journalists were picked up from their hotels at 5 a.m. in a military bus, taken to the adjoining border of the state of Haryana and "were abandoned there".[48] The main towns in Punjab were put under curfew, transportation was banned, news blackout was imposed and Punjab was "cut off from the outside world".[49] A group of journalists who later tried to drive into Punjab were stopped at the road block at Punjab border and were threatened to be shot if they proceeded.[48] The Indian nationals who worked with the foreign media were also banned.[48] The press criticized these actions by Government as an "obvious attempt to attack the temple without the eyes of foreign press on them".[50] Associated Press reporter Brahma Chellaney, who managed to report on the operation, later faced police intimidation.[51][52]

Allegations against the Indian Army of human rights violation

Brahma Chellaney, who was then the South Asia correspondent of the Associated Press, was the only foreign reporter who managed to stay on in Amritsar despite the media blackout.[53] His dispatches, filed by telex, provided the first non-governmental news reports on the bloody operation in Amritsar. His first dispatch, front-paged by the New York Times, The Times of London and The Guardian, reported a death toll about twice of what authorities had admitted. According to the dispatch, about 780 militants and civilians and 400 troops had perished in fierce gunbattles. The high casualty rates among security forces were attributed to “the presence of such sophisticated weapons as medium machine guns and rockets in the terrorists' arsenal.”[54] Mr. Chellaney also reported that “several” suspected Sikh militants had been shot with their hands tied.[55] The dispatch, after its first paragraph reference to “several” such deaths, specified later that “eight to 10” men had been shot in that fashion.[56] In that dispatch, Mr. Chellaney interviewed a doctor who said he was picked up by the army and forced to conduct postmortems despite the fact he had never done any postmortem examination before.[55] The number of causalities reported by Mr. Chellaney were far more than government reports,[57] and the Indian government, which disputed his casualty figures[58] accused him of inflammatory reporting.[59] The Associated Press stood by the reports and figures, the accuracy of which was also "supported by Indian and other press accounts" according to Associated Press; and reports in The Times and The New York Times.[60]

C.K.C Reddy, an Indian journalist writes that

"Whole of Punjab and especially the Golden Temple Complex was turned into a murderous mouse trap from where people could neither escape nor could they seek succor of any kind. The way the dead bodies were disposed off adds to the suspicions regarding the number and nature of the casualties. The bodies of the victims of military operation in Punjab were unceremoniously destroyed without any attempt to identify them and hand them over to their relatives. The government, after the operation, on the other hand, did every thing in its power to cover up the excesses of the army action. The most disturbing thing about the entire operation was that a whole mass of men, women, and children were ordered to be killed merely on the suspicion that some terrorists were operating from the Golden Temple and other Gurdwaras."[61]

Similar accusations of high handedness on part of Indian Army and allegations of human rights violation by security forces in Operation Blue Star and subsequent military operations in Punjab has been leveled by Justice V.M. Tarkunde,[62] Mary Anne Weaver,[63] Ram Narayan Kumar, a noted human rights lawyer,[64] Joyce Pettigrew, a Swedish Anthropologist[65] and many others.[66][67]

The Indian Army responded to such criticism by simply stating that they "answered the call of duty as disciplined, loyal and dedicated members of the Armed Forces of India....our loyalties are to the nation, the armed forces to which we belong, the uniforms we wear and to the troops we command"[68]

Many other journalist and writers point out that the wearing out approach taken by Rajiv Gandhi five years later, in Operation Black Thunder when Sikh militants had again taken over the temple complex, was highly successful as they managed to resolve the stand-off peacefully and in hindsight Operation Blue Star could have been averted by using similar blockade tactics. The army responded by stating that "no comparison is possible between the two situations, as "there was no cult figure like Sant Bhindranwale to idolise, and professional military General like Shahbeg Singh to provide for military leadership" and "confidence of militants having been shattered by Operation Blue Star".[68] Further it is pointed out that the militants in the temple were armed with machine guns, anti tank missiles and rocket launchers and that they strongly resisted the army's attempts to dislodge them from the shrine, and appeared to have planned for a long stand-off, having arranged for water to be supplied from wells within the temple compound and had stocked food provisions that could have lasted months.[68]

References

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  2. ^ a b "Truth on Trial - in India". New York Times. 1984-10-23. pp. A32. 
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  5. ^ Operation Bluestar, 5 June 1984
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  28. ^ City of Death, Time, November 7, 1983.
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  40. ^ "Indian policemen raid Sikh temple", Steven R. Weishan, New York Times, 1 May 1986.
  41. ^ New York Times, 2 May 1986.
  42. ^ "India Uproots Thousands Living Near Sikh Temple", Barbara Crossette, New York Times, 3 June 1990.
  43. ^ Anniversary Issue, India Today, 26 December 2005, p 136.
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  51. ^ Hamlyn, Michael (1984-10-16). "Arrest ordered of journalist who reported temple atrocities". The Times. pp. 8. 
  52. ^ Stevens, William K. (1984-17-10). "Reporter faces arrest in India". The New York Times. pp. 10. 
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  54. ^ Eric Silver (June 7, 1984), Golden Temple Sikhs Surrender, The Guardian 
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  56. ^ Chellaney, Brahma (1984-06-14). "Sikh rebels were shot 'at point-blank range'". Brahma Chellaney, for the Associated Press, was the only foreign correspondent in Amritsar during the storming of the temple (The Times): pp. 3. 
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  60. ^ Stevens (1984-10-30). "India is said to drop prosecution of A. P. reporter in Punjab case =". New York Times. pp. 5. "Mr. Chellaney reported a death toll of 1,200 at a time when the Indian Government said the figure was 576. He also reported that 8 to 10 Sikhs had been tied up and shot by soldiers. The Government called his dispatches false and inflammatory. The A. P. defended the accuracy of his reports, which were supported by Indian and other press accounts." 
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  62. ^ Judge V M Tarkunde, et al., Oppression in Punjab: Report to the Nation, New Delhi: Citizens for Democracy, 1985, pp. 8-10, 18-19
  63. ^ Mary Anne Weaver, The Christian Science Monitor, October 15, 1984)
  64. ^ Ram Narayan Kumar, et al., Reduced to Ashes (Volume One), Asia Forum for Human Rights, Kathmandu, Nepal, May 2003, pp. 75)
  65. ^ The Sikhs of Punjab
  66. ^ I.S. Jaijee, Politics of Genocide:1984-1998, Ajanta Publishers, New Delhi, India
  67. ^ Cynthia Mahmood, Fighting for Faith and Nation: Dialogues with Sikh Militants. University of Pennsylvania Press
  68. ^ a b c Brar, K.S. (1992). Operation Blue Star: True Story. UBS Publishers Distributors (P), Limited. pp. 156. ISBN 8174760687. 

External links








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