Saturday, July 13, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

‘Misdeeds’ of stalwarts during militancy
Amritsar ex-DC reveals it all
Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service,

Amritsar, July 12
‘Operation Black Thunder’ — an eyewitness account of terrorism in Punjab authored by Mr Sarbjit Singh, the then Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar, which will hit the book-stalls next week, is a complete account of the militant movement in Punjab.

The memoirs of the former bureaucrat who was awarded Padma Shree in 1989 for his dedication and courage in the fight against militancy may be unpalatable to several Akali and Congress stalwarts who worked at the behest of intelligence agencies for vested interests. However, the author is aware that mirroring the chronicle is a sure invitation to trouble as he brings to light many crucial and significant events which have remained shrouded in mystery.

The Golden Temple was the scene of two pivotal anti-terrorist operations during the eighties — Operation Bluestar in 1984 and Operation Black Thunder in 1988 — when the government dislodged terrorists who had occupied the holiest of Sikh shrines. The success of Operation Black Thunder (OBT), when Mr Sarbjit Singh was the District Magistrate of Amritsar, was a turning point in the battle against terrorism.

Pulling no punches, the author also criticises the role of politicians and the Congress Government in Delhi, particularly its use of Central intelligence agencies in order to undermine the growth of a regional party like the Akali Dal by promoting the rise of leaders such as Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.

An impartial and authentic eyewitness account of a tumultuous period in contemporary history has given the details of Punjab terrorism and the politics behind this. During his tenure as Deputy Commissioner (1987 to 1992), when militancy was at its peak, Mr Sarbjit Singh was baffled over the ever-changing approach of the Centre. “Sometimes the reaction of the Centre was so very illogical that at times I just failed to understand what was intended or aimed at.

In the chapter, ‘Healing touch impaired’, the author says the non-transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab as per the Rajiv-Longowal accord was a great shock to all Punjabis. To counter this, another shock was administered to them on Republic Day of 1986. After about 150 years, when the redundant institution of ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ was dug out of the annals of history and it was held at Akal Takht on January 26, 1986, by AISSF activists and militant organisations. The chapter reads: “My inference that the Sarbat Khalsa was sponsored by the government agencies finds support from the simple fact that in March 1988 Bhai Jasbir Singh Rode, nephew of Sant Bhindranwale, was released by the Government of India at such a juncture when the SGPC had no option but to appoint him as Jathedar of Akal Takht. This was in fulfillment of the January 26, 1986 Sarbat Khalsa... after the militants were driven out of the golden temple in OBT, the central agencies again tried hard in October 1988 to install him (Rode) in the temple”.

According to the announcements made at ‘Sarbat Khalsa’, the SGPC was disbanded and a Panthic committee comprising five members was formed to look after the religious affairs of the Sikhs. The existing Akal Takht structure, repaired at the behest of the Central Government was to be demolished and build a new. Rode was named as Jathedar of Akal Takht. Since he was in jail, Bhai Gurdev Singh Kaunke was named as acting Jathedar in Rode’s absence.

The author found the role of the then SGPC chief as dubious. He writes: “Bhai Santa Singh, chief of Budha Dal of Nihangs, was hand-picked by Buta Singh, the then Union Home Minister, to repair Akal Takht immediately after Operation Bluestar. A fabulous sum of Rs 4 crore was placed at his disposal to repair the damage caused to Akal Takht. By November 1986, Buta Singh was favouring its demolition and construction of a new Akal Takht by supporting Tohra who had made such an announcement immediately after his release in March, 1985. As a result, here we had an unholy alliance of Tohra, Buta Singh and the Panthic Committee (Manochahal) combine working against Baranala’s Akali Government that had come into existence as a result of the Rajiv-Longowal “accord”.

On the role of the intelligence agencies, Mr Sarbjit Singh writes: “The Central Government’s interests and those of militants appeared to be common in some other crucial respects as well. The Barnala faction complained to the Prime Minister that Home Minister Buta Singh had helped Tohra to win the SGPC elections in November 1986. The allegation was that the Home Minister manipulated the release of Harcharan Singh from jail on the eve of the SGPC President’s election and he was instrumental in winning over some members to Tohra’s side although he appeared to canvas openly for Kabul Singh, Barnala’s candidate. The Prime Minister was unhappy with the action of Buta Singh. Mr Tohra managed the dismissal of the ‘task force’ within minutes of his election as President of SGPC on November 30. This task force was created by his predecessor, Mr Kabul Singh, who was from Barnala group. The SGPC under Mr Tohra had sacked the head granthi of Darbara Sahib and secured and accepted the resignation of Giani Kirpal Singh and secured and accepted the resignation of Giani Kirpal Singh as Jathedar Akal Takht. Both of them had been supporting the task force in keeping the temple free from militancy. On December 31, Bhai Darshan Singh Raagi joined as jathedar. On January 23, 1987, the three head priests had also been dismissed and in their place, Giani Puran Singh, Giani Savinder Singh, Giani Jaswant Singh and Giani Kashmir Singh were appointed as high priests. The ‘Sarbat khalsa’ held on January 26, 1987, approved the resolution of April 29 for Khalistan and also the recent appointments of the high priests. In a recorded message of Gurbachan Singh Manochahal played to the gathering he resigned from the post of Jathedar, Akal Takht, to accommodate Bhai Darshan Singh in the larger interest of the Panth. The five head priests decided to dissolve all the Akali Dal factions to form a single united party and sought the resignation of the office-bearers of all the factions. The pro-militant factions of the SGPC had pulled off a coup in the religious hierarchy, But Barnala refused to comply with this order on the ground that the party constitution did not provide for dissolution of the party. As a result he was dismissed from the primary membership of the Akali party. In place of the dissolved party, the priests declared on February 5, 1987, the formation of a unified Shiromani Akali Dal. Mr Simranjit Singh Mann was declared its president.

“I think the forgoing account of events staggered over a year, clearly proves that these events were a part of a single plan and there was a one mind (intelligence agencies) behind the chain of events. The Union Home Minister was accused of helping one faction which, immediately after coming into power, dismissed the priests who were against the militants and appointed pro-terrorist priests.

“The militants had, however, been moving fast. The five-member Panthic Committee had called a press conference at its headquarters in the Golden Temple and declared the formation of Khalistan. It turned out to be quiet intriguing affair. The Press reporters were given sealed envelops with the directions to open them only after an hour or so, seemingly to give themselves some time to slip away. The next day, on April 30, the police was sent into the temple in search of the elusive committee. I learnt from some of the political members of the marketing board that Arun Nehru, the then State Minister of Home, had dashed to Amritsar and insisted on sending the force inside even though the administration was sure that there was no militant in the temple anymore. Capt Amarinder Singh, who was number two in the Barnala Government, resigned under protest as the Chief Minister had not taken him into confidence before sending the police inside the temple.”

(To be concluded)


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