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Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale
Born Jarnail Singh Brar
February 12, 1947(1947-02-12)
Rode, Faridkot, Punjab (British India)
Died June 6, 1984 (aged 37)
Akal Takht Complex, Amritsar, Punjab (India)
Cause of death killed in Operation Blue Star
Nationality Indian
Ethnicity Punjabi (Brar)
Occupation Head of Damdami Taksal
Religious beliefs Sikhism
Spouse(s) Bibi Pritam Kaur
Children Ishar Singh and Inderjit Singh[1]
Parents Joginder Singh

Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale (Punjabi: ਜਰਨੈਲ ਸਿੰਘ ਭਿੰਡਰਾਂਵਾਲੇ, IPA: [dʒəɾnɛl sɪ́ŋɡ pɪ̀ɳɖɾɑnʋɑɺ̢e], born Jarnail Singh Brar[2]) (February 12, 1947 – June 6, 1984) was the controversial leader of the Damdami Taksal, a Sikh religious group based in India,[3] who supported implementation of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution.[4][5][6][7] He tried to spread his perceived values of Sikhism. In 1981, Bhindranwale was arrested for his suspected involvement in the murder of Jagat Narain, the proprietor of the Hind Samachar Group. He surrendered to police but was later released due to lack of evidence, however, Bhindranwale was kept on close watch by Indian police officials. Bhindranwale is more notable for his involvement in Operation Blue Star in which he and his supporters, most of them radicalized Sikhs who believed in Bhindranwale's objectives, occupied the Akal Takht complex, including the Golden Temple, in Amritsar.[8][9] He was killed by the Indian Army, who had orders from Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to remove all armed militants inside the sacred temple. Since his death, Bhindranwale has remained a controversial figure in Indian history. Some view him as a martyr who was fighting for the best interests of Sikhs, and others see him as a militant[10] and extremist.[3]


Early life

Bhindranwale was born in the village of Rode, in the Faridkot District located in the region of Malwa (Punjab). His father, Joginder Singh, was a farmer and a local Sikh leader.[1] Jarnail Singh was the seventh of eight brothers. He was brought up as a strict vegetarian.[11] In 1965, he was enrolled by his father at the Damdami Taksal, a religious school, near Moga, Punjab, then headed by Gurbachan Singh Khalsa.[1] After a one year course in Sikh studies he returned to farming again. He continued his studies under Kartar Singh, who was the new head of the Taksal. He quickly became the favourite student of Kartar Singh.[12] Kartar Singh was fatally injured in a car accident and nominated Bhindranwale as his successor, in preference to his son Amrik Singh. Amrik Singh later became close associate of Bhindranwale.[13]

He married Pritam Kaur, daughter of Sucha Singh of Bilaspur.[1] His wife bore him two sons, Ishar and Inderjit Singh, in 1971 and 1975, respectively.[1] Pritam Kaur died of heart ailment at age 60, on September 15, 2007 in Jalandhar.[14]

Rise to popularity

In Punjab, Bhindranwale went from village to village as a missionary and asked people to live according to the rules and tenets of Sikhism. He preached to disaffected young Sikhs, encouraging them to return to the path of Khalsa by giving up vices like sex, drugs, alcohol and tobacco.[15] His focus on fighting for the Sikh cause made appealed to many young Sikhs. Due to his religious background as a preacher, his followers formally called him Bhindranwale Mahapurkh, which meant "The Great Man from Bhindran". Bhindranwale became the new leader of the Damdami Taksal when Kartar Singh Khalsa, the successor to Gurbachan Singh Khalsa, who died in a road accident on August 16, 1977, nominated Bhindranwale.[1] Bhindranwale was formally elected at a bhog ceremony at Mehta Chowk on August 25, 1977.[1]

Bhindranwale participated in some behind-the-scene political work. In 1979, Bhindranwale put up forty candidates in the SGPC elections for a total of 140 seats, he lost all seats except 4.[16] A year later, Bhindranwale campaigned actively for Congress in three constituencies' during the general elections.[17] Due to his lack of success in election politics, he later claimed he did not personally seek any political offices. As stated in a 1984 Time Magazine article, Bhindranwale's popularity reached a peak that he overthrew the authority of the Shiromani Akali Dal, a Punjab-based Sikh political party.[18] Bhindranwale wielded a great deal of power, and the political factions within Punjab could not commit any major action without considering Bhindranwale's reaction.[19]

Bhindranwale was widely perceived to be a supporter for the creation of a proposed Sikh majority state of Khalistan. However, in a BBC interview, he stated that if the government agreed to the creation of such a state, he would not refuse. Other quotes attributed to Bhindranwale on Khalistan include "we are not in favour of Khalistan nor are we against it". Responding to the formation of Khalistan he is quoted as saying, "I don't oppose it nor do I support it. We are silent. However, one thing is definite that if this time the Queen of India does give it to us, we shall certainly take it. We won't reject it. We shall not repeat the mistake of 1947. As yet, we do not ask for it. It is Indira Gandhi's business and not mine, nor Longowal's, nor of any other of our leaders. It is Indira's business. Indira should tell us whether she wants to keep us in Hindostan or not. We like to live together, we like to live in India."[20] To which he added, "if the Indian Government invaded the Darbar Sahib complex, the foundation for an independent Sikh state will have been laid."[21] The BBC reported that he was daring law enforcement to react to his actions of fortifying the Golden Temple in order to bolster support.[22]

Role in the militancy

On April 13, 1978, a few Amritdhari Sikhs of Akhand Kirtani Jatha went to protest against Nirankaris. The confrontation led to the murder of thirteen members of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha and three members of the Nirankaris. The victims were implicated. This infuriated many Sikhs further. On April 24, 1980, the leader of Nirankaris, Baba Gurbachan Singh Nirankari, was assassinated. The FIR named nearly twenty people involved in the murder, most of whom had ties to Bhindranwale.[23] Bhindranwale was subsequently implicated in ordering the assassination. A member of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, Ranjit Singh, surrendered to committing the assassination three years later, and was sentenced to serve thirteen years at the Tihar Jail. Bhindranwale was later released due to absence of evidence.

On September 9, 1981, Jagat Narain, the proprietor of the Hind Samachar Group, was shot dead near the Amaltas Motel.[11] Jagat Narain was a prominent opponent of Bhindranwale. He was present during the clash that occurred between Nirankaris and Akhand Kirtni Jatha Members, and stood witness at the Karnal Trial, in favour of the accused.[24] Two days after the assassination, police issued warrants for the arrest of Bhidranwale. A police search in Chando Kalan, a Haryana village, failed to produce an arrest. Upon seeing this, Bhidranwale publicly announced that he would surrender on September 20.[25] On September 20, 1981, Bhindranwale surrendered to the police at a function held in a Gurudwara Gurdarshan Parkash.[26] Over the next twenty-five days while Bhindranwale was held in custody, sporadic fights erupted in areas where Bhindranwale's accomplices had gathered. Bhindranwale was released on bail on October 15 as India's Home Minister, Giani Zail Singh announced in the Parliament that there was no evidence against Bhindrawale.[27]

Sanctuary in the Golden Temple

In 1982, Bhindranwale took shelter with a large group of his armed followers, in the Guru Nanak Niwas (Guest house), in the precincts of the Golden Temple.[11] On December 15, 1983, Bhindranwale, forced out of Guru Nanak Niwas by Longowal, then moved into the temple compound itself. He fortified the temple with light machine-guns and sophisticated self-loading rifles were brought in.[23] Mark Tully and Satish Jacob wrote, "All terrorists were known by name to the shopkeepers and the householders who live in the narrow alleys surrounding the Golden Temple. ...The Punjab police must have known who they were also, but they made no attempt to arrest them. By this time Bhindranwale and his men were above the law."[28]


On June 3, 1984 Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi initiated Operation Blue Star and ordered the Indian Army to surround the Golden Temple complex to remove armed militants from the complex. Bhindranwale reportedly did not survive the operation.[29].[30].

According to Lieutenant General Kuldip Singh Brar, who commanded the operation, the body of Bhindranwale was identified by a number of agencies, including the police, the Intelligence Bureau and militants in the Army's custody.[31] Bhindranwale's brother is also reported to have identified Bhindranwale's body.[32] Pictures of what appear to be Bhindranwale's body have been published in at least two widely circulated books, Tragedy of Punjab: Operation Bluestar and After and Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi's Last Battle. BBC correspondent Mark Tully also reported seeing Bhindranwale's body during his funeral.

People who maintain that he survived the operation include Dilbir Singh, the Public Relations Advisor at Guru Nanak Dev University.[30] He stated that Bhindranwale was injured on the right side of his temple. He stated, "a government doctor verified he was captured alive. He was tortured to death."[33][34] R.K. Bajaj, a correspondent for Surya magazine, claimed to have seen a photograph of Bhindranwale in custody.[35] This claim is strongly contested, especially by Bhindranwale's son who has now become a prominent figure within Sikh politics. Some within the Damdami Taksal claimed he is still alive.[3][30] However, Jarnail Singh was pronounced a martyr by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee at a function in 2003.[36]


Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was praised by many Sikhs as a martyr of common time,[37] but by other Sikhs he was considered a terrorist.[3] Famed Indian novelist Khushwant Singh stated that [Operation Blue Star] gave the movement for Khalistan its first martyr in Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale."[38] In 2003, at a function arranged by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, Joginder Singh Vedanti, former jathedar of the Akal Takht made a formal declaration that Bhindranwale was a "martyr" and awarded his son, Ishar Singh, a robe of honor.[39] Harbans Singh's The Encyclopedia of Sikhism describes Bhindranwale as "a phenomenal figure of modern Sikhism."[40]

Vir Sanghvi, one of India's leading political commentators said, "[Bhindranwale] remains a martyr in the eyes of many Sikhs. "[41] Bhindranwale is also criticised as being directly responsible for the instigation of Operation Blue Star after he intentionally turned the Akal Takht into a fortress.[42]

Cynthia Keppley Mahmood wrote in Fighting for Faith and Nation: Dialogues With Sikh Militants that Bhindranwale never learned English but mastered Punjabi. He was adept at television, radio and press interviews.[43] Keppley further stated that "those who knew him personally uniformly report his general likability and ready humour as well his dedication to Sikhism".[43] The author further states that "Largely responsible for launching Sikh militancy, he is valorized by millitants and demonised by enemies and the accounts from the two divergent sources seem to refer to two completely different persons."[43]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Singh, Sandeep. "Saint Jarnail Singh Bhindrenwale (1947 - 1984)". Retrieved 2007-03-18.  
  2. ^ Singh, Sandeep. "Saint Jarnail Singh Bhindrenwale (1947 - 1984)". Retrieved on 2007-03-18
  3. ^ a b c d Lamba, Puneet Singh (2004-06-06). "Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale: Five Myths". The Sikh Times. Retrieved 2007-06-25.  
  4. ^ "Bhindranwale firm on Anandpur move". The Hindustan Times. 1983-09-05.  
  5. ^ "Bhindranwale, not for Khalistan". The Hindustan Times. 1982-11-13.  
  6. ^ "Sikhs not for secession: Bhindranwale". The Tribune. 1984-02-28.  
  7. ^ Joshi, Chand (1985). Bhindranwale: Myth and Reality. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House. pp. 129. ISBN 0706926943.  
  8. ^ Kaur, Naunidhi (2004-06-03). "Flashbacks: Golden Temple attack". BBC News. Retrieved 2007-03-28.  
  9. ^ "India". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-03.  
  10. ^ Urmila Phadnis, Rajat Ganguly (2001). Ethnicity and Nation-building in South Asia. SAGE. p. 97.  
  11. ^ a b c Singh, Tavleen (2002-01-14). "An India Today-100 People Who Shaped India". India Today. Retrieved 2006-10-28.  
  12. ^ Deol, Harnik (2000). Religion and Nationalism in India: The Case of the Punjab. Routledge. pp. 168. ISBN 041520108X.  
  13. ^ Tully, Mark; Satish Jacob (1985). Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi's Last Battle. London: Jonathan Cape. pp. 54. ISBN 0-224-02328-4.  
  14. ^ "Bhindranwale's widow dead". The Tribune. 2007-09-16. Retrieved 2008-03-19.  
  15. ^ Kashmeri, Zuhair; Brian McAndrew (2005). "Section 3". Soft target: the real story behind the Air India disaster. James Lorimer & Company. p. 40. ISBN 1550289047.  
  16. ^ Singh, Khushwant (2005). A History of the Sikhs: Volume II: 1839-2004. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. pp. 332. ISBN 0195673093.  
  17. ^ Tully (1985), p177.
  18. ^ Lopez, Laura (June 1984). "India, Diamonds and the Smell of Death". Time (June 25, 1984).  
  19. ^ Robin, Jeffrey (1994). What's Happening to India? (2nd ed.). New York: Holmes & Meier Publishing. pp. 146–147. ISBN 0841913501.  
  20. ^ Sandhu (1999), pLVI.
  21. ^ Sandhu (1999), pLVII.
  22. ^ "Player - 1984: Troops raid Golden Temple". BBC News. 1984-06-06. Retrieved 2009-08-09.  
  23. ^ a b Sandhu, Ranbir S. (1997-05). "Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale - Life, Mission, and Martyrdom" (PDF). Sikh Educational and Religious Foundation. Retrieved 2008-03-10.  
  24. ^ Jalandhri, Surjeet (1984). Bhindranwale Sant. Jalandhar: Punjab Pocket Books. pp. 25.  
  25. ^ Chowla, K.S. (2003-10-18). "Tributes to a peacemaker". The Tribune. Retrieved 2007-06-25.  
  26. ^ Jalandhri, Surjeet (1984). Bhindranwale Sant. Jalandhar: Punjab Pocket Books. pp. 53.  
  27. ^ Tully (1985), p69.
  28. ^ Tully and Jacob, p94.
  29. ^ Brar, K. S. (1993). Operation Blue Star: The True Story. New Delhi: UBS Publishers. pp. 114. ISBN 8185944296.  
  30. ^ a b c Kaur, Naunidhi (2001-06-23). "The enigma of Bhindranwale". Frontline. Retrieved 2007-03-17.  
  31. ^ Brar, K. S. (1993). Operation Blue Star: The True Story. New Delhi: UBS Publishers. pp. 114. ISBN 8185944296.  
  32. ^ Akbar, M. J. (1996). India: The Siege Within: Challenges to a Nation's Unity. New Delhi: UBS Publishers. pp. 196. ISBN 8174760768.  
  33. ^ Pettigrew, Joyce (1995). The Sikhs of the Punjab: Unheard Voices of State and Guerrilla Violence. London: Zed Books. pp. 34–35. ISBN 1856493555.  
  34. ^ Pettigrew (1995), p51.
  35. ^ Jaijee, Inderjit Singh (1999). Politics of Genocide: Punjab (1984-1998). New Delhi: Ajanta Publications. pp. 59. ISBN 8120204158.  
  36. ^ "Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale: Unclear Legacy". The Indian Express. 2003-06-09. Retrieved 2007-03-27.  
  37. ^ "Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale". Shaheedi Immorality. Retrieved 2007-03-27.  
  38. ^ Singh (1999), p378.
  39. ^ "Takht accepts Bhindranwale’s death". The Tribune. 2003-06-06. Retrieved 2007-06-25.  
  40. ^ Singh, Harbans, ed (1996). The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism. Patiala, India: Punjabi University. Vol. 2, p352. ISBN 817380530X.  
  41. ^ Sandhu (1999), pXL.
  42. ^ Marty, Martin E. (1995). The Fundamentalism Project. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 596–597. ISBN 0-226-50878-1.  
  43. ^ a b c Keppley, Cynthia (1997). University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 77. ISBN 0812215923.  

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