Op Bluestar: Questions remain
Himmat Singh Gill

P.C. Alexander
P.C. Alexander

WHEN former Principal Secretary to Indira Gandhi PC Alexander remarks in his book Through the Corridors of Power, "Indira Gandhi did not consider Operation Bluestar a mistake. The mistake was in the manner of implementing the decision and not the decision itself", it becomes necessary, I believe, to put in perspective the implementation and aftermath of a highly botched up and unnecessary operation launched during his time. Adviser to two Prime Ministers, Governor and Member Parliament, and a powerful man at the time, it would be interesting to know what he himself did by way of advice and wise counsel in averting such a horrendous catastrophy. Is it enough to blame the Army Generals of the time or does his own role as the Prime Adviser to the PM at the time call for a small debate, too, as far as Operation Bluestar goes?

It would be worth our while to first examine whether any action by the Indian Army was even called for in or around the Golden Temple. So who took the decision to send in the Army to even lay siege to the Harmandar Sahib? This was a political decision with poltical, religious and social ramifications. Even if a siege was to be laid, the telephone lines cut, the electricity terminated and food reserves depleted, was this not a task that the Punjab Police or the central police forces could have been entrusted with? Knowing our police forces and how they handle civilians, there was no way that throngs of villagers could have broken through their cordon, as many in the government feared. So the first mistake was calling in the Army, for which the entire blame must rest with the Centre, the Punjab state government and the central intelligence agencies, all of whom appeared to have passed the buck.

It would be worthwhile knowing whether Alexander had recommended a no-siege, a siege or an attack by the Army to the Prime Minister. Was the operation a unanimous decision at the Centre, why did it not have the approval of the then President of India, who was also the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and was there any initiative from Gen A. S. Vaidya, the then Chief of Army Staff, to the government in launching the operation at the Golden Temple and other gurudwaras in Punjab, are some of the questions that Alexander must answer. Who were Mrs Gandhi's close advisers at the time who did her in, is the next question that we should find an answer to.

The die had already been cast once the decision to use the Army had been taken. But before that did General Vaidya object to the use of the Army? Alexander's account makes it clear that he was only too willing to go along. It would be interesting to know whether General Vaidya suggest a siege or was in favour of going in, as a siege would have avoided the bloodshed. Though General Vaidya and Gen K. Sundarji, the then Western Army Commander, are now no more, Lt Gens R.S. Dyal and K.S. Brar, the then Chief of Staff and the Divisional Commander, could clear up matters. Were commandos first employed, bringing the situation to a point where tanks and APCs had to be moved in, to meet a self-imposed deadline of finishing up the operation speedily? And who cleared the assault by tanks? Who were the senior Army officers who were "taken by surprise" when there was unrest and mutiny by Sikh troops in certain units, for surely such an eventuality was a foregone conclusion that even the Centre could see. And why were many decorated for this action against the 'enemy', as one General put it at the time, are questions we should be asking ourselves. It is clear that the standard and value of intelligence provided to the Army by central agencies and the police, was flawed and alarmist.

It is very interesting to note that in his post-retirement years Alexander, who has taken up many assignments and, one presumes, benefitted immensely from them, should start the sheltering game and put much of the blame for Op Bluestar on Army Generals. Primarily, the politics of power between the Centre and Punjab, a weak Army Chief who did not render the right advice to the Prime Minister and the Home Minister, and an inept intelligence set up, resulted in one of the biggest tragedies of our time. It seems Alexander has overlooked gutsy Advisers who speak their mind there and then, and not much later in the form of memoirs and books.

A small point of detail is also in order about the fatal decision to go in for an attack by the commandos and others at the Golden Temple, instead of a siege. Surely, Mrs Indira Gandhi's advisers, including Alexander, could have fully grasped the implications of an Army attack in the Golden Temple, and surely Mrs Gandi could have overruled those keen on going in and looked for another option. We will never know when and how in those moments when history of a dubious kind was about to be enacted, who had the final say and why.