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Monday, October 12, 1998
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Punjab cops nab top 'dead' terrorist
Tribune News Service

BATALA, Oct 11 — The Batala police has arrested one of the closest associates of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who was shown "killed" by the Ropar police about four years ago.

Being one of the main architects of militancy in Punjab, Gurnam Singh Bandala, popular as "neela tara" (Blue Star) shot into limelight after "operation Blue Star". He was one of the pillars of the ‘Panthic Committee’.

The arrest of "neela tara" has led to the suspicion that some more militants might have been killed in the past on mistaken identity for claiming cash rewards. The Director-General of Police, Punjab, Mr P.C. Dogra, said that he would order an inquiry to probe the probability of claiming cash rewards on mistaken identities. Another operation named "operation pehchan" (identification) has been launched to fix identity of missing youths or those reported to have been killed in the past but are alive as in the case of Gurnam Singh Bandala alias "neela tara", the DGP said.

"He is a hard nut to crack and did not divulge his plans during the investigation" Mr Dogra said in hierarchy of militants "neela tara" was considered even superior to Paramjit Singh Panjwar of the Khalistan Commando Force, who had taken shelter in Pakistan, he added.

With his arrest the Punjab police had foiled another attempt of Pakistan's ISI backed militants to revive militancy in Punjab, Mr Dogra said. Giving details, Mr Dogra said that "neela tara" was arrested in an operation conducted under the supervision of Mr Samant Kumar Goel, Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Border Range and assisted by Mr Lok Nath Angra, SSP Batala. He said that "neela tara" played the most prominent role in the aftermath of Operation Blue Star by way of streamlining supplies of weapons and explosives from across the border via Punjab and Rajasthan sectors. He had made at least 35 trips to Pakistan in the past.

Gurnam Singh Bandala reportedly played a dominant role in every sphere of militancy. Bandala contributed to militancy as an ideologue, federation leader, coordinator, spokesman of militant strategies, supplier of weapons, fund raiser and executioner of some of the murders and massacres which the state of Punjab witnessed in the 80s.

Mr Dogra added that Bandala’s arrest once again revealed the strong international connections of Punjab militants and planning of various hostile quarters relentless in efforts to resurrect militancy in Punjab and outside.

Bandala presently was operating under the assumed name of Sant Surjit Singh from Mankhera village, Ghania Ke Banger police station along with his wife and three children. He has been residing in his village since 1990 and was in the process of constructing a dera in this village with funds received from Taksal and other pro-militant quarters from within the country and abroad. Bandala was reported to have been killed in an encounter in Ropar district in July 1994 which later on had turned out to be a case of mistaken identity.

Gurnam Singh Bandala, aged about 43 years, hailing from border district of Ferozepore during his militant career spread over the past 15 years remained a Taksal loyalist having served as one of the trusted followers of the late Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. He had come in contact with Bhindranwale in early 80s in the aftermath of a dispute with his brothers and had later shifted to Mehta Chowk Taksal headquarters in 1982 to further shift to the Golden Temple Amritsar where he worked in close coordination with top Taksal-backed militants, prominent of them being Harbhajan Singh Mand, Gurdev Singh Satiawalan, Gurdev Singh Osmanwala and Gurjit Singh Chok Harihar.

Gurnam Singh ‘Neela Tara’ was present in the Golden Temple during Operation Bluestar from where he escaped after the Army action. Bandala assumed a much wider and crucial role after Operation Bluestar with the disintegration of the top layer of Taksal-backed militants. He was appointed chief spokesman of the first Panthic Committee which was set up in January 1986 to coordinate militant activities and streamline the working of various factions of militants to be further elevated as one of its members. Under this, he was assigned with the task of establishing contacts with smugglers and exploring routes for the smuggling of weapons and explosives. Bandala coordinated these activities. He made at least 35 trips to Pakistan between 1985 and 1989 during which he brought huge consignments of weapons and explosives via Ferozepore, Mallanwala, Mamdot, Fazilka, Abohar, Anupgarh and Ganganagar sectors.

Bandala admitted having brought over 350 assault rifles, 50 rocket launchers, 200 small weapons besides other items meant for militant activities which were further distributed amongst various militant organisations as per the directives of the Panthic Committee and other militant coordinators, Bandala played the most significant role in modernising and arming the new bands of militants.

Bandala also played an active role in consolidating pro-militant elements under the federation which had suffered extensively in the aftermath of the killing of Bhai Amrik Singh and arrest of top federation activists and in the process providing the requisite manpower at crucial movements in Punjab militancy. His role was highly appreciated in militant circles for augmenting material and manual potential of the militant organisations.

Side by side Bandala also remained closely associated with top hitmen and killing squads operating within the state and outside. He remained closely associated with top rank leaders of the Khalistan Commando Force and the KLF prominent them being Hari Singh, Manbir, Chaheru, Sukhdev Singh alias Sukha Sipahi, Avtar Singh Brahma, Wassan Singh Zaffarwal, Balbir Singh Hoshiarpur, Malkiat Singh Bapu, Gurdev Singh Satianwala, Gurdev Singh Osmanwala, Bakhshish Singh Kairon, Ajmer Singh Jalandhar, Gursharan Singh Gama, Ajit Singh Fauji, Balbir Singh Fauji, Rashpal Singh Fauji, Kulwant Singh Arifke, Daljit Singh, Bitoo, Harjinder Singh Jinda, Gurjant Singh Rajasthani, Gurjant Singh Budhsinghwala etc.

Bandala was the brain behind many terrorist strikes in Ferozepore, Sadar, Mallanwala, Makhu, Zira, Patti, Kairon and Sarhali Khalra areas of Tarn Taran district.

Though Bandala remained a coordinator of many militant organisations his primary loyalties remained with the Khalistan Commando Force. Bandala and his close associates belonging to this group were responsible for the killing of Mr Anil Bagi, a journalist of Ferozepore, shootout in Model Town Jalandhar in which Mr Khullar, a Congress leader was killed, shoot-out at Osmanwala village in which six persons were killed and attack on Mari Kamoke police post, Khalra police station.

Having passed through several phases of militancy, Gurnam Singh Bandala, at the time of his arrest was working under the long-term strategy of the militants to remain dormant and utilise the period of hibernation to reorganise militant activities at an appropriate time closely on the pattern of Daljit Singh Bitoo and Gursharan Singh Gama.

Several documents suggesting Bandala's close links with militant elements abroad who were extending him financial help and guidance have been recovered from his possession, which are under investigation. He recently had received financial assistance of Rs 50,000 from the Taksal. He has also admitted having received financial help from the erstwhile member of the Panthic Committee Dhanna Singh, who presently is settled in the USA and maintaining regular contact with him.

Bandala has also revealed some sensitive links having a bearing on militancy details of which are being held back for operational reasons.


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