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Bhindranwale ‘tried to escape, died under debris’
Varinder Walia and Ashok Sethi

Amritsar, June 3
Former GOC, Panther Division, Major-Gen JS Jamwal (retd) has claimed the Army had the intelligence Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was trying to ‘escape’ heavy firing from his fortified position at Akal Takht on the last day of Operation Bluestar but died under falling debris due to artillery shelling.

Then Commander of the 15 Infantry Division, Major- Gen Jamwal, said according to his information, the Army was keen on capturing the militants alive but stiff resistance from them, who had fortified themselves around the Golden Temple complex, forced Army to immobilise them by using heavy weapons.

General Jamwal reiterated he was the Garrison Commander at Amritsar at that time but his views were not sought and added there were better alternatives, including cutting of water, power and food supply to flush out Bhindranwale and his followers, who had taken refuge in the building of Akal Takht. Such a step could have saved many lives besides protecting the sanctity of the holy shrine. He said Army commanders, supervising the operation, got panicky due to heavy casualties initially of commandos in the temple complex.

He said tactical planning was fraught with dangerous repercussions, which were aimed at dividing the countrymen. The nation paid heavy price and has yet to recover from the trauma.

According to sources, initially the then government at the Centre had assigned the task to the BSF and other paramilitary forces but their refusal to undertake the operation forced then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to order the Army to clear the shrine of anti-national elements.

He said Gandhi had summoned then Commander of Western Army Command, Lt Gen Sundarji, bypassing then Army chief, late Gen AS Vaidya. He said Operation Bluestar was botched up and lacked proper planning that had resulted collateral damage and huge loss of life. He said the local Army Garrison was not involved in planning and execution of the operation and was directed to move to the international border with Pakistan to restrain any misadventure the neighbour may undertake to take advantage of the country’s internal security problem.

Recalling the traumatic days during the operation, some of the eyewitnesses to the operation said after the initial attack by the Army’s elite para-commanders who became lame duck targets of militants resulting in heavy casualties, the senior Army commanders overseeing the operations were in for shock and sought the local Army commander’s support to break the impasse.

Major-Gen Jamwal said a senior Army officer and chief of the staff operations had requested him to spare some of his reserve forces for launching a final attack on the Golden Temple to secure its release from the militants. He said the last two days turned out to be more crucial and the reserve platoons managed to break the stranglehold and free the shrine for its captors.

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