INDIAN ARMY ATTACK GOLDEN TEMPLE IN AMRITSAR
Date: 06 Jun 2008
The following article was written jointly by Gurdev Singh and Harbir Singh Bhanwer. Gurdev Singh was Deputy Commissioner (chief civil officer of the district) at Amritsar till June 3, 1984. H S Bhanwer is a veteran journalist who was at Amritsar for a number of years, including the Operation Blue Star days.
Blue Star Operation is the code name of the army attack on Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple Complex), Amritsar in June 1984. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's self created holocaust to destroy Punjab was initiated at Delhi on December 31, 1981, denoted at Kapuri in Patiala district of Punjab on Haryana border on April 8, 1982 and after myriads of sparks and blasts of varying intensity it exploded catastrophically at Amritsar in the first week of June 1984. The attack proved that governance is a special calling -- and a tremendous responsibility; it is a noble task but it does not come easily. There is sensuous allure in the mystifying image of dunes of politics. An egomaniac politician half crazed with vaulting ambition goes fatally astray while pursuing such a vision. It added to the political instability and exacerbated militancy in Punjab. There was blood, toil, tears, rapine, pillage, slaughter, arson, death and destruction. The crucial issues of governance began to be decided by the use of brute force. Seldom did Punjab witness such ghastly scenes by sons of soil who knew not where they were and what they were doing. Operation Blue Star was ill conceived, ill initiated, ill planned, ill timed, ill executed, and even ill-named, and it entailed gravely ill circumstances. It utterly failed to achieve anything, left Punjab imbroglio unsolved and worse-tangled and created Pandora's box of problems for India.
Despite being a microscopic minority in undivided India, the Sikhs played a stellar role during the freedom struggle; their sacrifices and contribution were massively greater proportionately than of others. The Shromani Akali Dal, the most important Sikh political party, was in the vanguard of freedom movement. Baba Kharak Singh and Master Tara Singh were acclaimed as heroes of independence movement. National leaders of the Congress including Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru assured the Sikh leaders time and again that their interests would be fully protected after independence and thus dissuaded them from seeking a separate country outside India. In a press conference at Calcutta on July 6, 1946, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru remarked : "The brave Sikhs of Punjab are entitled to special consideration. I see nothing wrong in an area and a setup in the north wherein the Sikhs can also experience the glow of freedom."
On August 15, 1947 as India celebrated its independence, Punjab witnessed tears and blood in the wake of partition. Never before in the world history was there a bigger exchange of population attended with so much pillage, rapine, and destruction. The Sikh population was vivisected almost in the middle. Proportionately they suffered immensely greater losses than the Hindus and Muslims. Almost 2.5% of the Sikh population was brutally massacred in the communal holocaust. Nearly 40% were forced to abandon their homes and hearths and became refugees. Awfully bruised, Sikhs with resolute determination, self-reliance, and sustained hard work, rehabilitated themselves under their new circumstances in free India.
The government of India constituted a commission on December 22, 1953 to recommend reorganization of states in India on linguistic basis. The commission sought suggestions from the public. The Akali Dal submitted a memorandum demanding the creation of Punjabi Suba (state of Punjabi speaking people) on linguistic basis. The ruling Congress, Jan Sangh (old version of Bhartya Janta Party) and Arya Samaj sought for Maha Punjab by merging Pepsu (Patiala and East Punjab State Union -- a Sikh majority state) and Himachal Pradesh into Punjab. The commission submitted its report to the government of India in October 1955. The demand for creation of Punjabi Suba was rejected out-rightly. On the contrary the commission recommended the merger of Pepsu and Himachal Pradesh into Punjab. Due to stiff opposition of Himachalis, Himachal was kept a separate state but Pepsu was merged into Punjab on November 1, 1956.
During the census of 1951 and 1961 a vast section of Punjabi Hindus, whose recorded mother tongue was Punjabi in the previous censuses, denied Punjabi as their mother tongue and declared Hindi as their mother tongue at the instigation of Jan Sangh, Arya Samaj, and Congress leaders with Arya Samaj leanings. The language was given awfully communal colour. After independence, the (East) Punjab Government replaced Urdu with Punjabi and Hindi as medium of instruction in the schools. The urban Hindus preferred Hindi as medium of imparting education to their children. Regional formula and Sachar formula were formulated to impart education in Punjabi medium in Punjabi zone and in Hindi medium in Hindi Zone. These formulae were not implemented earnestly by the government.
The Shromani Akali Dal waged a sustained struggle for the creation of Punjabi Suba on linguistic basis and launched morchas (agitations) a number of times. Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru was opposed to this demand and had stated that Punjabi Suba could be formed on his dead body. He died on May 27, 1964. Lal Bahadur Shastri, the successor Prime Minister, was sympathetic to this demand. He constituted a sub-committee comprising of his three ministerial colleagues to consider this demand. A Parliamentary Committee consisting of 22 members of Parliament headed by Hukam Singh, the then Speaker of Lok Sabha, was also constituted. Lal Bahadur Shastri died all of a sudden in Tashkent (USSR) on his return to India from Moscow on January 11, 1966. Indira Gandhi, daughter of the first Prime Minister of India Jawahar Lal Nehru, succeeded Shastri as the new Prime Minister.
The Congress Working Committee in its meeting held on March 9, 1966 under the president-ship of the then Congress President K. Kamraj adopted a resolution that a Punjabi Suba on linguistic basis be created out of the present Punjab state. The Jan Sangh launched a vigorous agitation to oppose creation of Punjabi Suba. The Parliamentary Committee also submitted its report to the government of India on March 15, 1966 recommending that the Punjabi Zone be converted into Punjabi Suba and a new state of Haryana (as demanded by the leaders of that region) be formed on the basis of Hindi zone and the hilly areas be transferred to Himachal Pradesh. The Parliamentary Committee also recommended that a commission be constituted to demarcate the boundaries of the new proposed states.
The government of India constituted a three-member commission to determine boundaries of Punjabi Suba on the basis of 1961 census and taking tehsil (administrative area) as a unit. In its report, two members recommended that Kharar tehsil including Chandigarh be given to Haryana while the third member opined that Kharar tehsil including Chandigarh should be retained in Punjab (Punjabi Suba). The Union Cabinet in its meeting of June 9, 1966 decided to make Chndigarh Capital Project us Union Territory and to divide the remaining parts / villages into Punjab and Haryana. The Parliament adopted the Punjab Reorganization Bill on August 10, 1966.
Punjabi Suba, a truncated state, came into existence on November 1, 1966. Its capital, high court, and many Punjabi speaking areas were kept out. Its hydroelectric headworks and dams were taken over by the central government. The Akali Dal launched a new struggle for the inclusion of Chandigarh and left out Punjabi-speaking areas into Punjab as well as for restoration of control of dams and headworks. In support of their struggle, Sant Fateh Singh, the then president of Akali Dal went on fast unto death twice but gave it up on the intercession of certain central leaders. Darshan Singh Pheruman, an ex-MP, however, succumbed to death at Amritsar on the 74th day of his fast on October 27, 1969.
The Sikhs constitute about 2% of India's population and 63% of Punjab's. The Shromani Akali Dal commands overwhelming support among the Sikhs and is indisputably the most outstanding Sikh political organization. It emerged as the most powerful political party in the reorganized Punjab that is Punjabi Suba and formed its government in alliance with certain non-Congress parties in 1967, 1969, 1977 and at its own in 1985 and 1997. The Akali governments prior to 1997 were dismissed by the Congress governments at the Centre by invoking Article 356 of the Constitution of India.
The Akali Dal working committee adopted Anandpur Sahib resolution on October 16-17, 1973 envisaging more powers to the states. The resolution was endorsed by the party's general body meeting held at Amritsar in August 1977 and by the All India Akali Conference at Ludhiana on October 28-29, 1978.
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi whose election to the Lok Sabha (lower house of India's Parliament) from Rai Bareli seat in the state of Uttar Pradesh was held void by the Allahabad High Court on June 12, 1975 clamped Emergency rule in the country and suspended various legal rights, including fundamental rights, of the people. Censorship was also imposed on the media. Various political parties waged a long struggle against the imposition of Emergency. The Akali Dal was in the forefront in the fight against derailment of democracy in India and it launched a vigorous morcha (agitation) from the Golden Temple complex for 19 months against the imposition of Emergency rule. The morcha was withdrawn in March 1977 when the Emergency was lifted. Parkash Singh Badal was the Akali Chief Minister of Punjab since June 20, 1977 enjoying comfortable majority in the state assembly. In the elections to Lok Sabha held in January 1980, Congress (Indira) got majority and she became Prime Minister on January 14, 1980. She lost no time to dissolve the Punjab assembly, along with eight other state assemblies, on the untenable argument that the Congress having won majority of the Lok Sabha seats from these states, their assemblies ceased to have right to represent their populace. Consequently, the Akali government of Parkash Singh Badal was sacked on February 17, 1980 and President's rule was imposed in Punjab. The Central government took over administration of the state directly under its control. After some time, elections to the Punjab assembly were held, Congress(I) obtained majority and Indira Gandhi's nominee Darbara Singh was installed as Chief Minister of Punjab on June 8, 1980.
Indira Gandhi had during her Emergency rule over India given an award on March 24, 1976 on the Punjab issues and it was contrary to the provisions of the Constitution of India. Parkash Singh Badal was Chief Minister from June 20, 1977 to February 17, 1980. The Punjab government challenged the Indira Gandhi award of March 1976 before the Supreme Court of India. After assuming office in 1980, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi forced her nominee Darbara Singh, Chief Minister of Punjab, to withdraw Punjab's case from the Supreme Court and gave another diktat (award) on December 31, 1981 against Punjab stipulating, inter alia, the construction of Satluj-Yamuna-Canal for carrying Punjab-river waters to Haryana against the riparian rights of states laid down in the Constitution. She made a triumphalist trip to Kapuri, village in Patiala district of Punjab, bordering Haryana to inaugurate the digging of SYL Canal on April 8, 1982. Akalis vehemently protested against her unjust action and held a massive conference at Ghanaur close to Kapuri on that very day. Indira Gandhi did not go to the spot on Sirala Regulator on the Narwana Canal where the draglines were to start operation and performed the inauguration by pressing a remote button about 1.5 kms from the digging site.
Thirteen Sikhs were killed by the Nirankaris during their annual samagam (congregation) at Amritsar on April 13, 1978, the Baisakhi day. This generated strong resentment amongst the Sikhs. Jathedar Akal Takht pronounced a hukamnama (edict) on June 10, 1978 directing Sikhs to socially boycott the Nirankaris. Santh Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a young religious leader and then chief of the Damdami Taksal (a Sikh religious seminary) headquartered at Chowk Mehta, district Amritsar took cudgels and launched a campaign for stopping the Nirankaris' meetings at their Bhavans (halls). He was greatly successful in his mission and emerged as a fervent religious leader of Sikhs.
The Akali Dal held a World Sikh Convention at Manji Sahib (a vast congregation hall in the Golden Temple Complex), Amritsar on July 26, 1981 and finalized its charter of demands including transfer of Chandigarh, left out Punjabi speaking areas into Punjab, up-gradation of Amritsar airport, relaying of shabad-kirtan (hymn recitation) from Golden Temple on All India Radio, more powers to the states as enunciated in the Anandpur Sahib Resolution, etc. The demand charter was sent to the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for acceptance within forty days. Having received no response, the Akali Dal held a massive protest demonstration in Delhi on September 7, 1981.
Lala Jagat Narain, Editor, Hind Samachar-group newspapers at Jalandhar, was assassinated near Ludhiana on September 9, 1981. Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale was nominated as accused in this case and warrant of his arrest was issued by a court. He courted arrest at Chowk Mehta on September 20. Ten persons were killed in police firing on the people while they were returning to their homes after the Sant's arrest. The Akali Dal issued the ultimatum to the government that if the Sant was not released and the Akali demands were not conceded by October 16, the party would launch a non-cooperation in the state on October 18. Five activists of Dal Khalsa (a militant outfit) hijacked an Indian Airlines aircraft to Lahore on its Delhi-Amritsar-Srinagar flight on September 29, 1981 in protest against the arrest of Sant Bhindranwale.
Harchand Singh Longowal, President Shromani Akali Dal, Gurcharan Singh Tohra, President, Shromani Gurdwara Parbandkah Committee, Parkash Singh Badal, Leader of the Opposition in Punjab Assembly addressed a big convention at village Chando Kalan in Haryana on October 10, 1981 and demanded, inter alia, the release of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale. Amarinder Singh Congress (I) MP from Patiala contacted Sant Longowal on October 13 with a message from the Prime Minister inviting him and his colleagues for talks.
Sant Bhindranwale was released at Ferozpur on October 15. Gurcharan Singh Tohra, Santokh Singh of Delhi - a close confidant and supporter of Indira Gandhi - and others were present outside the jail to greet Bhindranwale who arrived that very day at Amritsar to hero's welcome.
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi assisted by Cabinet Secretary Krishnaswami Rao Saheb, Principal Secretary to Prime Minister P.C. Alexander, and Union Home Secretary T.N. Chaturvedi held an hour-long meeting with high powered Akali delegation comprising of H.S. Longowal, G.S. Tohra, P.S. Badal, S.S. Barnala, and Balwant Singh on October 16, 1981 at Delhi. Union Home Minister Zail Singh and Punjab Chief Minister Darbara Singh were not present at the talks as the Akalis did not recognize them as Central or state representatives. The job to carry on the talks with Akali leaders was assigned to a non-Punjabi Cabinet Minister P.V. Narsimha Rao as she had to go to Cancun, Mexico. Narsimha Rao assisted by Krishnaswami Rao Saheb and T.N. Chaturvedi held talks with the four-member Akali delegation consisting of S.S. Barnala, Balwant Singh, Ajit Singh Sarhadi, and Bhan Singh, General Secretary of Akali Dal (Longowal) on October 23 and 24. On November 25, 1981 Akalis were again invited for talks with the Prime Minister on the following day. Longowal, Tohra, Barnala, and Balwant Singh had an 100-minute meeting with her and presented an authorized copy of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution (English version) to the Prime Minister on November 26. All these talks failed to throw up any settlement of Akali demands. Subsequent meetings even in April 1982 bore no fruit.
After Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister in January 1980, Haryana's Janta Party Chief Minister effected en masse defection of 37 MLAs in a house of 90 and joined Congress (I). Elections to the Haryana assembly were due and with a view to winning these elections, Indira Gandhi was in haste to implement her award of December 31, 1981 expeditiously. So she hurried off dramatically to start the digging of SYL Canal in spite of the pending parleys and judicial cases for resolving the various Punjab issues and Akali demands. The Akalis protested, held rallies, and launched their 'Nahar Roko' morcha (stop-canal-digging agitation) regularly on a April 24, 1982 by courting arrest of protesting volunteers. The first regular jatha of 1000 volunteers was led by Gurcharan Singh Tohra at Sarala regulator headworks near village Kapuri.
Amritsar police arrested two functionaries of Damdami Taksal while they were returning from Khadur Sahib to Chowk Mehta on July 16, night. Bhai Amrik Singh, President, All India Sikh Students Federation and close confidant of Bhindranwale, went to the district courts at Amritsar to pursue their cases on July 19, 1982. He too was arrested. Sant Bhindranwale launched a morcha from the Golden Temple Complex the same evening. On August 4, 1982 Akali Dal shifted Nahar Roko morcha from Kapuri to the Golden Temple Complex and renamed it Dharam Yudh (religious crusade or campaign for justice) for the fulfillment of its all pending demands. The first jatha of the renamed Dharam Yudh morcha comprising over 1100 volunteers was led by Parkash Singh Badal. Bhindranwale's morcha was also adopted by the Akali Dal. Thousands of Akali workers started courting arrest every evening at Amritsar. This morcha was quite peaceful, well organized, and harmoniously tackled by the Akali Dal and district administration. Each day a jatha (batch) of Akali workers would set off from Manji Sahib and court arrest at the city kotwali (police station) where adequate arrangements were made for the dispatch of arrested persons to different jails. Till June 3, 1984 more then 275,000 Akali volunteers courted arrest. All the prisons in Punjab were overcrowded with Akali volunteers. Camp jails were established in schools and other government buildings. Indira Gandhi again initiated parleys with Akali leadership throught her emissaries and senior ministers. Tripartite - government, Akalis , and Opposition Parties at the Centre - talks also took place but no fruitful outcome emerged. Nor could many behind the scene meetings between the government and the Akalis break the ice toward settlement. Whenever any workable agreement was arrived at, Indira Gandhi would change her stand. She wanted the morcha to linger on and fizzle out of exhaustion to win the Lok Sabha elections by portraying the Akalis separatists and secessionists. The morcha dictator Sant Harchand Singh Longowal in consultation with the party's senior leaders announced on May 23, 1984 that the party would launch non-cooperation movement and would not allow arrival of food grains in the grain markets if their long-pending demands were not met by June 3. Mrs. Gandhi had already made up her mind to send army into the Golden Temple Complex and conduct a bloodbath of unprecedented dimensions by exploding the most sacred Sikh places of worship.
Since Independence, Akalis had been agitating for the fulfillment of their demands and launched many morchas in pursuit thereof. Dharam Yudh morcha was two years old in April 1984, having its start at Kapuri in April 1982. All this period, Akalis held conventions, demonstrations, parleys, submitted memoranda to various fora, organized Nahar Roko (stop canal-digging, since April 1982), Rasto Roko (stop road traffic, April 4, 1983), Rail Roko (stop rail-traffic, June 17, 1983), Kam Roko (stop work, August 29, 1983), burning of article 25 (assimilative of Sikhs into Hindu faith - end of February 1984) of the constitution and finally gave a call of non-cooperation with the government on May 23, 1984 to be launched on June 3, 1984, martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Dev, the builder of Golden Temple. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi remained indifferent to the urgent need of early settlement of Punjab impasse. All these years people of Punjab, Haryana, and Delhi witnessed an unprecedented trauma and a clashing of mental tectonic plates that could pull the country apart. Hundreds of persons were killed, properties were damaged in communal conflicts, some unmindful acts of security forces and criminals having a hey day ravaged the administrative environ. A good number of followers and supporters of Bhindranwale shifted to the Golden Temple complex. The Sant himself moved to the Akal Takht from Guru Nanak Nivas and fortified it. Certain other places in the complex were also fortified. The government now decided to execute the finale of its programme by a direct attack on the heart of Sikhism. Though the proclaimed objective of the operation was to cleanse the Golden Temple complex of the lawbreakers taking refuge therein, the real and core objective of Mrs. Indira Gandhi was to teach a lesson to Akalis for not kowtowing her line and for opposing her Emergency rule, decimate the most powerful Sikh political party, humiliate the Sikhs by desecrating their sacred places and destroying their holiest shrines, and to socially and economically ruin them so that they may never be able to rise against the Congress.
Maj. General Kuldip Singh Brar, a clean-shaven Sikh, and commander of 9th Infantry Division at Meerut, was asked on May 31 by the Headquarters, Western Command, to reach Chandimandir the next morning at 9:00 AM for a conference on "internal security". Next morning in a meeting with Lt. General K. Sunderji, the then General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Command, Lt. General Ranjit Singh Dayal, Chief of Staff, Western Command, and some senior staff officers responsible for the operational planning, the army operation in the name of flushing out Bhindranwale and his armed supporters was finalized. It was code-named Operation Blue Star. General Dayal was deputed by the Army Commander to oversee operations being launched to flush out militants from nominated gurdwaras within the State, Lt. General K. Gowry Shankar, General Officer Commanding 11 Corps located at Jalandhar was entrusted the task of sealing the Indo-Pak border throughout the State to prevent infiltration of militants and arms across the border, as also to ensure the Pakistan did not militarily exploit the situation to India's detriment. It was code-named Operation "Wood Rose".
Troops were moved to Amritsar. Two infantry brigades in Meerut and Jalandhar were ordered to reach the holy city on June 1. Additional troops were to be received from the neighboring Northern Command to make up the shortfall. All nominated formation headquarters and units were to concentrate by June 3 at the latest.
Mrs. Gandhi addressed the nation on Radio and Doordarshan network on June 2 evening. She appealed to the Akali leaders to withdraw the morcha. As per late night news bulletin, Punjab was declared disturbed area and was handed over to the army. Governor of Punjab B.D. Pande was appointed Administrator of U.T. Chandigarh. General Dayal was appointed Security Advisor to the Punjab Governor.
With a view to identify the defense points and arms owned by the supporters of Bhindranwale and other militant groups, the Babbar Khalsa, the BSF, and CRPF resorted to firing on the Golden Temple complex from all sides on June 1 without any provocation and without any authority from the District Magistrate. The firing continued for seven hours, in which 11 Sikhs, mostly pilgrims, were killed and nearly forty others were injured. The Golden dome of sanctum sanctorum of the Golden Temple was also hit by 32 bullets. Sant Longowal, the morcha dictator, tried to contact the President, Giani Zail Singh on telephone a number of times during the day, but he was not available as per his secretary. A 36-hour curfew was imposed in the city at 9:00 PM.
On June 2, the Akal Takht Chief Giani Kirpal Singh and the head Granthi of the Golden Temple Giani Sahib Singh in a joint statement, and Sant Longowal and the SGPC President Gurcharan Singh Tohra in separate statements strongly denounced and condemned the "brutal" attack on the holy shrine. Jathedar Tohra shot a strongly-worded letter to Mrs. Gandhi.
Senior Army officers including Brigadier N.K. Talwar, Deputy of General Brar, alongwith his principal staff officers, arrived at Amritsar in the early hours of June 1. General Brar himself arrived around noon. He obtained information from army and paramilitary forces intelligence agencies about the number of militants, weapons, and location of key personalities such as Bhindranwale, General Shabeg Singh, who had earlier formed mukti-vahini and liberated Bangla Desh and had been camping in the Temple Complex for the past few months, Sant Longowal, and Jathedar Tohra. He also established Operation Room to monitor the troops.
General Brar commenced his day with informal meetings with senior officials of the police and intelligence agencies in order to take stock of the situation. He also directed Brig. D.V. Rao, Commander 350 Infantry Brigade, which has been tasked for the Operation to be launched in the Golden Temple, to organize reconnaissance of the area within the Temple Complex and obtain as much information as possible, very discreetly. A Young Sikh officer, Captain Jasbir Singh Raina, visited Golden Temple posing as a devotee to offer prayers. He spent almost an hour inside, walking along the parikarma (circumambulatory path in Darbar Sahib), past the Akal Takht and into Harmander Sahib, the SGPC offices and serais (hostels) to gather information about the atmosphere within the complex. A patrol party was sent out to obtain information about various existing approaches into the Temple Complex. Curfew was further extended.
June 3 was martyrdom day of Guru Arjun Dev, the fifth Guru and builder of Harmander Sahib. During the day, relaxation was given in the curfew. Curious devotees thronged to the Golden Temple to see for themselves the bullets-marks, which were encircled with red paint by the followers of Bhindranwale.
Troops of 12 Bihar deployed along the outer fringes of the Temple Complex during the previous night, took their positions and were moving into vantage points, better suited for daylight observations of the activities of Bhindranwale and his followers within the inner perimeter. The early morning hours were also utilized in reorganizing the Biharis and the CRPF into mixed teams, under over all control of the army unit. Its aim was that the army soldiers, being new to the area, could derive benefit from the information already available with the CRPF about the militants. The Commanding Officer of 12 Bihar, Lt. Colonel K.S. Randhawa with his intelligence staff and CRPF guides, began identifying suitable buildings overlooking the Temple as observation posts for the operations which were to follow very shortly. A suitable elevated vantage point was also identified and occupied to serve as tactical headquarters of General Brar.
General Brar spent most part of the day in confirmatory reconnaissance and formulation of an outline plan. He himself spent couple of hours in his tactical headquarters on the top floor of a building barely 300 meters from the Temple. He had with him his 'Order Group' which, besides his operational planning staff comprised of : Commander 350 Infantry Brigade and the Commanding Officers of the four Infantry Battalions initially earmarked for operations under command of 350 Infantry Brigade, these being, 10 Guards, 26 Madras, 12 Bihar, and 9 Kumaon. In his preliminary orders at this stage, he assigned them their tasks, and, without wasting much time, they got down to further reconnaissance and to preparing their own plans.
General Sunderji and General Dayal arrived at Divisional Main Headquarter in the evening of June 3 to take stock of the situation. After the intelligence briefings were over, the outline Operational Plan was presented to them.
These plans were based on the assessment that there were about two thousand militants in the complex, of whom about five hundred were highly trained and motivated. Although they were distributed throughout the complex, the main concentration was in the Akal Takht building, and in the buildings along the parikarma. In these buildings, they had fortifications on the ground floor rooms along the open verandahas, as well as on the floors and balconies above. The roof-tops of the quadrangle were also heavily fortified. Although the serai (hostel) complex did not have the same density of fortifications, there were strong positions on the roof of Guru Ram Das langar, which provided a sweeping field of fire on to the open spaces all around. Brar figured that 100 to 200 militants were spread over these buildings. Information about the seventeen houses, duly fortified and physically occupied by the militants was also available. These houses were in the heavily built up area in the immediate vicinity of the Golden Temple Complex.
Considering the strength, dispositions, fortifications, fire power, and fighting potential of the militants, the requirement worked out to four infantry battalions, plus specialist commandos of an equivalent strength of two companies.
The break down was as follow:
a) Akal Takht, northern and western wings of the Temple Complex - One infantry battalion, one company Para commandos, one company Special Frontier Force (SFF),
b) Harimander Sahib - Assault team of commando divers,
c) Southern and Eastern wings of the complex - one infantry battalion,
d) Reserve to be held centrally - one infantry battalion,
e) Cordon - one infantry battalion
One squadron of Vijanta tanks and one platoon of Infantry combat vehicle were also made available. The tanks were to fire their subsidiary weapons - the 30 machine guns to neutralize the defense on the roof-tops.
One company each of the CRPF and the BSF was assigned the task of securing the Hotel Temple View and Akhara Brahm Buta respectively, so that these buildings did not interfere with the operations. It was also decided to use CS gas canisters for the operation. A small consignment carrying gas masks to be worn by the commandos was flown in the next day.
Sant Longowal, the morcha dictator, turned down the appeal of Mrs. Gandhi to withdraw the morcha. A number of journalists including some representing the foreign media, met Sant Longowal, Jathedar Tohra and Sant Bhindranwale.
Gurdev Singh, who was Deputy Commissioner at Amritsar up to June 3, 1984, had in the plainest terms told the Governor and his Advisors earlier, more than once, that if the government intended to apprehend Bhindranwale and some others it was no big deal vis-à-vis the gargantuan state-might but the invasion of security forces on Darbar Sahib would be a horrendous blunder and he would not like to be a party to it because he did not feel that such an act was in administrative or national interest. Governor Pande in his suave and poised tone assured Gurdev Singh that no such action was contemplated. Advisor S.S. Sidhu who had confidence of and access to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi told Gurdev Singh more than once and right up to the end of May '84 that she would resolve the Punjab problem through a political dispensation. At the end of May, Governor Pande quite considerately allowed Gurdev Singh to proceed on leave for four months from the beginning of June 1984 and considering him aptly suited for the job at Amritsar enjoined that Gurdev Singh would resume duty at Amritsar after the expiry of his leave. Ramesh Inder Singh, Director, Rural Development and Panchayats, Punjab was appointed as Gurdev Singh's relief and asked to be with him a few days as his understudy. Gurdev Singh, who had categorically declined to be a party to the operation and had been granted leave was specifically asked by the Punjab government to attend a meeting with the military authorities at 4:00 PM on June 3, 1984 before reliquinshing his job. He along with his relief, Ramesh Inder Singh and other civil, including Police, officers attended the meeting in army headquarters, Amritsar. Maj. Gen. Kuldip Singh Brar presided over the meeting and made a harangue of about 15 minutes observing that criminals could not be allowed to hold the nation to ransom, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had allowed lot of leeway to the law-breakers who had to be brought to book, it would take just two hours to accomplish the task. He made some insipid insinuations and uncalled for oblique derogatory remarks with respect to Longowal, Tohra and Bhindranwale and winding up his vacuous ranting asked Gurdev Singh about his view. Gurdev Singh said, "He (Bhindranwale) won't surrender." Upon this, Brar retorted, "When tanks roar, planes zoom, and guns crack even generals tremble in their pants." Gurdev Singh intoned, "I have given my assessment." Not a word about civil-military liaising, coordination or job-assignment was referred to, spoken of or discussed in the meeting which ended without indicating any roles of various agencies in the action contemplated by the army and the civil officers repaired to their respective homes.
At 9:00PM curfew was imposed all over Punjab for 36 hours. The air, railway, bus or taxi service was suspended. The movement of all types of vehicles including bullock-carts and bicycles was also banned. Punjab was cut off from rest of the country. Censor was imposed on the media. General Ranjit Singh Dayal was appointed Security Advisor to the Punjab Government.
At 11:00 PM, all telephone connections were cut off in Amritsar city. The electricity and water supply connections to the Golden Temple Complex were also cut off. Very little news of what was happening in Punjab reached the outside world. Journalists representing any foreign newspapers or news agency, radio, or TV channel, were forcibly sent out from Punjab.
Althought stray incident of firing took place on the night of June 3, the army fired first shot at the Golden Temple complex around 4:50 AM on June 4 morning. During the day, the army with the help of the civil administration, announced on public address system to the inmates of the complex "come out and surrender". No one responded.
Colonel E.W. Fernandes, an artillery officer, fired at two minarets (towers) of Bunga Ramgarhia and the elevated water tank to the rear of Teja Singh Summunderi Hall with 106 mm recoilless gun and a 3.7 inch howitzer. While the water tank collapsed and the sand bags on the two towers of the Bunga Ramgarhia fung high in the sky, the snipers manning these observation posts were no more.
The army stormed the Golden Temple complex with full force from all sides on June 5 morning. Three tanks grouped with 10 Guards were deployed near Chowk Clock Tower (main entrance of the Temple), while another three tanks grouped with 26 Madras, were deployed near the langar building (common kitchen).
Appeals were made on the public address system to both the militants and the devotees to come out of the Temple Complex and surrender themselves. Initially, there was no response, but later on, a total of 129 men. women and children came out of the complex. They were immediately taken into custody by the army.
All of first, the army captured Hotel Temple View and Akhara Brahm Buta. The army suffered a serious initial loss with 20 soldiers mowed to death when they entered the holy shrine from the main entrance. The battalion inched itself forward toward the Akal Takht along the northern wing of the Temple but its progress was severely impeded by heavy automatic fire from the other side of the verandah. The troops started clearing the rooms along the parikarma by lobbing incendiary bombs or grenades. CS gas canisters were lobbed into the Akal Takht building. Having strong rebuff from the militants, the army brought tanks equipped with mortars from the langar side. General Brar sought General Sunderji's approval to neutralize the Akal Takht defense by tank fire. The latter flashed a message to Delhi explaining the critical need of the hour and requesting the clearance to employ tanks to neutralize the Akal Takht defense, which was granted. Three tanks were brought to the parikarma. Shortly after this, an APC was also launched on the parkirama, a tank first had to demolish the steps (stairs) leading to it as these were un-negotiable by the wheeled SKOT. The Guards, secure by now in the upper floor of the northern wing, were directed to engage the Akal Takht by firing a few rounds of 84 mm Karl Gustav Rockets on the fortified defenses; simultaneously, the APC with a section of troops belonging to 15 Kumaon, mounted inside, was moved along the parikarma, closely followed by a company of the same battalion with the aim of getting into Akal Takht before the defenders were able to recover from the shock and impact of the rockets being fired upon them. In the meanwhile, there were reports coming in of violent reaction from the Sikh masses on the outskirts of Amritsar as the news of storming the Golden Temple spread. They were dispersed and sent back by the security forces.
Fierce battle was fought on the night of June 5 to the forenoon of June 6. Three tanks were tasked to bring down a heavy volume of machine gun fire on the Akal Takht, which was becoming more identifiable as day light was approaching. The Akal Takht building was almost destroyed. Darshani Deorhi and Toshakhana also suffered heavy damage. The Kumaon had launched this attack, which was repulsed and they had fallen back to reorganize themselves and evacuate their casualties, 26 Madras was asked to pick up the thread. The force was also reinforced. The tanks were ordered to start using main guns to knock down the fortification. The tanks firing their 105 mm high explosive Squash Head shelling began engaging their targets, and the sound of guns booming could be heard in most parts of the city and even beyond. Soon there was a loud explosion from the Akal Takht building. A big part of the holy shrine was blown off. Huge flames were seen rising from inside the building.
The tank fire had certainly caused shock waves in Akal Takht. Added to this, was the sight of the flames and falling masonary. The militants must have thought that the building was going to fall on them. There was a lull in the firing, except for intermittent bursts which continued from some parts of the Akal Takht and adjacent defenses.
At 11:00 AM, there was a sudden and rather unexpected development. A large number of militants rushed out of the Akal Takht to the parikarma below and fled toward the gates in a bid to escape. Many of them jumped into the 'sarovar' (sacred pool), began swimming to the Harmander Sahib. Instant fire was brought down on all those who were attempting to escape both overground and in the 'sarovar'.
Sometimes later, a group of ten emerged from the Akal Takht waving a white flag, and they were promptly apprehended.
There was not much resistance in Serai Guru Ram Dass, Guru Nanak Niwas and Teja Singh Summundari Hall. Sant Longowal, Jathedar Tohra, Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, and Bibi Amarjit Kaur (of Akhand Kirtani Jatha) were huddled together in one room of the T.S. Hall. They all were captured and taken into custody. A group of approximately 350 men, women and children including activists of the All India Sikh Student Federation surrendered. The army ruthlessly killed many of them as well as pilgrims and Akali workers, who had come to court arrest in connection with the morcha.
A two-hour relaxation was given in the curfew at 3:00 PM. Residents of the city thronged towards the Golden Temple to see for themselves the condition of the holy shrine.
The bodies of Bhindranwale, Shabeg Singh and Bhai Amrik Singh were recovered from the basement of the Akal Takht on June 7 forenoon. There was mass cremation on June 6 and 7. The Sant was cremated with full honour and Sikh religious rites.
There were approximately four thousand persons including Akali workers, who had come to court arrest in connection with the on-going morcha, SGPC employees and their families residing in the residential quarters within the Complex, supporters of Bhindranwale, activists of Babbar Khalsa, and pilgrims, within the Golden Temple Complex when the army laid siege of the Complex. A good number of persons including SGPC employees and militants managed to escape when a two-hour relaxation was given in the curfew on June 6 afternoon. Nearly 550 surrendered on June 5 and 6. After screening, the SGPC employees and their family members were released, while 364 persons mostly activists of the AISSF and followers of Damdami Taksal were sent to Rajasthan and were lodged in Jodhpur jail. They were released in 1987.
According to the White Paper published by the Government of India, 493 people were killed and 86 injured. According to Mark Tully, these figures have at least 1600 people unaccounted for. No record of the persons killed in the Complex and outside the Complex was maintained by either the army, civil or Municipal Corporation. These people were cremated at different cremation grounds. The figures of killed within the Complex vary in the reports of various writers and agencies. Approximately 2500 to 3000 people were killed in the Complex during this operation.
The army also conducted house to house search to apprehend any suspect. During these operations, every Amritdhari Sikh, youth and person donning blue or saffron colour turban, or 'patka', was nabbed, interrogated, and in most cases shot dead. In such operations, approximately 200 persons were killed.
The army, according to the White Paper on Punjab Agitation, lost eighty-three men including four officers. Twelve officers and 237 men were injured. Many people have claimed the army casualties were much higher.
No newspaper published for three days, June 4-6, in northern India and for two weeks in Punjab. Censorship was imposed on the press for a long time. Radio and TV were government controlled agencies, no picture of Operation Blue Star was put on view on the television. Foreign press reporters were ordered out of Punjab. As per government of India proclamation army was deployed to assist the Punjab administration but actually it was the army which ruled over the state under direct command of the central government. Press briefings about Blue Star were done by army generals. Punjab was completely sealed. For the first time after twenty days, two trains arrived at Amritsar on June 23, 1984.
Operation Blue Star (June 1-6) did not mark the end of a tragic chapter in the history of Punjab. The phase of oppression was continued with great virulence. Operation Wood Rose was part of it. Sikh sentiments, which were already deeply hurt, received another jolt when the Government launched the second phase of military action under the ironic name 'Operation Wood Rose'. The exercise was conducted in the immediate wake of the Blue Star, when the army unleashed a reign of terror on the Sikh populace in the countryside. For army and paramilitary forces, every Amritdhari was terrorist. Mutiny took place in Sikh regiment and some other regiments.
In such atmosphere, many Sikh youth crossed over to Pakistan to evade the humiliation, torture, and oppression at the hands of the army. In Pakistan, they were imparted training and were provided with weapons. These youth later indulged in violence to avenge the storming of the Golden Temple. The militant movement lasted about one decade in Punjab.
Mrs. Gandhi was also assassinated by Beant Singh and Satwant Singh, her body guards, to avenge army attack on the holy shrine. Sikhs were mercilessly massacred in Delhi and some other places at the instance of the Congress leaders.
No effort was made by the Government to assuage the hurt sentiments of the Sikhs. Rather, the reign of terror unleashed by the army in the rural areas, and draconian laws enacted to deal with the Sikhs, alienated the community.
The Sikhs were being treated as 'traitors and secessionists' by the majority community. Except the Janta Dal and Janta Party, almost all political parties, shied from Akali Dal, the representative party of the Sikhs, for a couple of years. It was Mr. V.P. Singh, a non-Congress Prime Minister, who tried to assuage the ruffled and bruised sentiments. He visited the Golden Temple in pursuance of his mission. Unfortunately, his government lasted for less than one year. Mr. Chander Shekar, another non-Congress leader, who succeeded him, also tried to do justice with the Sikhs, but his government was also brought down.
Operation Blue Star was resented and condemned by Sikhs all over the world. Even those who were not Akali supporters or Akali minded roundly blamed the Indira Gandhi government for her unmindful, reckless, and revengeful action. Sikhs in India and abroad expressed their anguish and anger in no uncertain terms. Protests and demonstrations were held before the Indian Embassies all over the globe. Memoranda condemning Blue Star Operation were presented by Sikh organizations to the United Nations Organization, Amnesty International and other international fora. The Indian contingent in Los Angeles Olympic Games faced fiercely demoralizing hootings and jeerings from irate Bhindranwale supporters. Zail Singh, President of India on his visit to California, kept himself shut up in a hotel (Century Plaza) to avoid the rage of protests on May 1, 1984.
Till then Sikhs outside India were taken as Hindus or Arabs / Iranians because of their head-dress (turban). A distinct Sikh identity was established in the wake of Operation Blue Star and it certainly fueled a strong separate movement, specially outside India, for the establishment of independent Sikh state, to be called Khalistan. The Operation Blue Star worked havoc with the Indian polity. In its wake thousands lost their lives, including Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, ex-Army Chief of India General A.S. Vaidya, a Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh, millions were maimed and tortured, billions worth of property destroyed. For a brief spell, Indira Gandhi intoxicated with power and vaulting ambition basked in the glory of her self-destructive action which humiliated and injured the Sikhs infinitely but it left the Punjab problem unresolved and more tangled.
After placing Punjab under direct central rule on October 6, 1983 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had appointed B.D. Pande new Governor of Punjab and G. Jagathpathi, Harbans Singh, P.G. Gavi, and Shivinder Singh Sidhu his Advisors to manage the state administration. Pande was savvy, experienced, and balanced administrator of sound credentials and high hopes were kindled in the minds of disturbed Punjab populace that the Punjab problem would soon be resolved. Jagathpathi Advisor in charge Home (Law and Order) quit soon feeling that solution to Punjab impasse lay in political resolution and not in sheer use of force. Harbans Singh who was entrusted with the Law and Order was also of the opinion that the imbroglio should be solved politically. He was recalled from his assignment in Punjab and Gavi too. S.S. Sidhu had good access to the Prime Minister and enjoyed her confidence. He was sanguine that she would settle the Punjab issues through political dispensation, which according to him also, was the only way out. Even he was recalled from his job in Punjab in the beginning of June 1984.
Governor Pande and Home Secretary Amrik Singh Pooni made way for new incumbents by the end of June 1984. Chief Secretary, Punjab K.D. Vasudeva was too replaced soon after. The Deputy Commissioner Gurdev Singh, Home Secretary, Governor, and all the four Advisors entrusted with the Punjab administration quit and none of them supported the Operation Blue Star, which was sought to be justified through a White Paper issued by the Government of India on July 10, 1984 but it carried little conviction with the readers. Every minutest detail of the White Paper was scrutinized and okayed by Mrs. Indira Gandhi, who miserably failed to justify her army action which proved nothing but only added to the political instability in the state leading eventually to militancy in the state and a fiery separatist movement which took ten long year to subside. Unscrupulous political schemers, a few rogue personnel of security forces and self-aggrandizing gangsters sought self-gratification by sowing discord.
There was nothing resplendent or starry in the ironic nomenclature of such an action. The very naming of an assault on Darbar Sahib as Blue Star Operation was mindlessly sardonic and poignantly humiliating to the Sikhs. How thoughtless was it to christen a lethal attack by the army on its own people and their holiest gurdwaras (temples) as Blue Star when it was intended to decimate and humiliate the Sikhs, a vibrant, self-respecting, freedom loving, and hard-working segment of the Indian nation whose contribution to the independence, defense, integrity, and general welfare of the country is time tested and applauded by all !
The brutality of the attack on Darbar Sahib will appall the Sikhs down the centuries though they shall ruefully be proud of the valiant sacrifices made by them to preserve their heritage.
1. Government of India: White Paper On The Punjab Agitation (New Delhi - 1984)
2. SGPC: Truth About Punjab - SGPC White Paper (Amritsar - 1996)
3. Mark Tully and Satish Jacob: AMRITSAR, Mrs Indira Gandhi's last Battle (New Delhi 1985)
4. Kuldip Nayar and Khushwant Singh: Tragedy of Punjab (New Delhi - 1984)
5. Giani Kirpal Singh: Akhin Ditha Saka Neela Tara (Punjabi language) (Amritsar - 1995)
6. Harbir Singh Bhanwer: Diary De Panne (Punjabi language) (Amritsar - 1985)
7. Harbir Singh Bhanwer: Punjab Da Lok Nayak (Punjabi language) (Amritsar - 1984)