Operation Blue Star 30 years later
Punjab was scorched 30 summers ago, the burn still hurts
A whole new generation has come up since Operation Blue Star in 1984, which set Punjab on the path of bitterness that continues to this day. Many in India as well as abroad have only heard tales of what transpired immediately before and during the assault on the Golden Temple complex. Not all accounts are unbiased or informed. The Tribune attempts to put together the chain of inglorious events in an objective perspective, based on narrations and claims of people directly involved in the Operation.
by Kanwar Sandhu
hirty years ago, Punjab was on the boil. In June 1984, the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, ordered Operation Blue Star to flush out the head of Damdami Taksal, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, and his band of armed followers from the precincts of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. What followed was a bloodbath, the stains of which have not been washed off even in three decades.



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T was a race to seize the ownership on the BJP’s longstanding demand for the abrogation of Article 370 that made the Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, Jitender Singh, commit on Tuesday that the “process to repeal Article 370 had begun”, triggering a furore.



Operation Blue Star 30 years later
Punjab was scorched 30 summers ago, the burn still hurts
A whole new generation has come up since Operation Blue Star in 1984, which set Punjab on the path of bitterness that continues to this day. Many in India as well as abroad have only heard tales of what transpired immediately before and during the assault on the Golden Temple complex. Not all accounts are unbiased or informed. The Tribune attempts to put together the chain of inglorious events in an objective perspective, based on narrations and claims of people directly involved in the Operation.
by Kanwar Sandhu

Thirty years ago, Punjab was on the boil. In June 1984, the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, ordered Operation Blue Star to flush out the head of Damdami Taksal, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, and his band of armed followers from the precincts of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. What followed was a bloodbath, the stains of which have not been washed off even in three decades.

Operation Blue Star marked a watershed in contemporary history. The Sikh psyche was bruised. Indira Gandhi was killed, spiralling widespread violence against Sikhs in the National Capital of Delhi and elsewhere. Hindus and Sikhs, whose bonding appeared intrinsic, stood polarised. Instead of stemming violence, the military action in Punjab sent the region into the throes of a crisis of unimaginable proportions, lasting more than a decade. Reprisals continued to claim valuable lives for years and among the innumerable people who fell to assassins’ bullets were a retired Army Chief, General A.S. Vaidya, and Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh.

Three decades later, the Operation still rankles. The outrage and bruise may have diminished but it has not gone away. The anguish appears to have not only spilled over to the next generations of Sikhs, it has got particularly amplified amongst the Sikh Diaspora abroad. Lt Gen Kuldip Singh Brar (retd), who as a Major General had carried out the Operation, continues to be their prime target. Though he lives in the highly secured Mumbai Cantonment, he was attacked and knifed in London when he and his wife were on a visit there in September 2012. In fact, some recent revelations of the possible involvement of the British Special Forces, the SAS, in the run-up to the 1984 military operation have fuelled their anger.

Two years ago, despite opposition from various quarters the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) succumbed to pressure from radical Sikh groups to build a memorial in memory of those who died during the Army operation. This triggered a demand for another memorial for those who were killed by militants. Now, on the 30th anniversary, certain Sikh groups are demanding that the 1984 incident be referred to as the third “Sikh Ghalughara” (holocaust) — the previous ones being in 1746 and 1762.

The Akal Takht building was destroyed in the Operation. Such was the anger of the Sikh community that the building which was repaired through a government sponsored ‘kar seva’ was razed and a new structure built (right) through a massive voluntary "kar seva"
The Akal Takht building was destroyed in the Operation. Such was the anger of the Sikh community that the building which was repaired through a government sponsored ‘kar seva’ was razed and a new structure built (right) through a massive voluntary "kar seva". Tribune photo: Vishal Kumar

Political shenanigans

Operation Blue Star was the culmination of a series of events in the 1970s and ‘80s. There was restiveness in Punjab, emanating from a clash between the mainstream Sikhs and the Nirankari sect in April 1978, which worsened over a litany of religious and political demands raised by the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). Gradually, the SAD leadership of Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, Gurcharan Singh Tohra and Parkash Singh Badal, which had taken a stringent stand over its demands with the Centre, found itself going along with the hardliners. The Congress then was plagued by rivalry between the factions owing allegiance to the then President of India, Giani Zail Singh, who had earlier been Union Home Minister, and former Punjab Chief Minister Darbara Singh.

Referring to the uncertainty in Punjab, former Punjab Chief Secretary K.D. Vasudeva says that Giani Zail Singh had once compared the situation to the strewing of pages of a book come unstuck (“Punjab vich kitab da varqa-varqa khilrya hoya hai”).

On the other hand, Bhindranwale, who till the Sikh-Nirankari clash had confined himself to “dharam parchar” (religious preaching), had by the end of 1983 begun to wrest control of events. By January 1984, the legend of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, popularly referred to as Sant Bhindranwale, had attained a peak. Operating from his headquarters in Guru Nanak Niwas on the outer periphery of the Golden Temple complex, he had come to epitomise the Sikh struggle started in the form of a “Dharam Yudh Morcha” by the Akali Dal in August 1982. As the Sikh face of the struggle, he would address almost every evening a congregation of hundreds of supporters and devotees at Manji Sahib Diwan Hall in the complex.

Initially hesitant to send the Army into the complex, Indira Gandhi reportedly explored various options, including sending commandoes into the complex. Recent reports even suggest that the advice of the British Government and Britain’s elite Special Forces was sought in early 1984. Opinion prevailed against a limited operation due to the dangers involved and the chances of success being slim. Meanwhile, as the power struggle within the Sikh groups intensified, Bhindranwale moved to Akal Takht with his armed supporters in early 1984.

Gandhi finally succumbed to the hardliners within her group of advisers to send the Army in. Veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar recalls, “Three or four days before the Operation was launched, she sent the then I&B Minister, HKL Bhagat, to me to ask if they should send the Army in. I told him that they should never send the Army into the complex, which is the Vatican of the Sikhs. They will never forgive you.”

The military action was preceded by hectic behind-the-scenes negotiations between the Centre on one hand and the SAD leadership on the other. On and off, the Centre even made some overtures to Bhindranwale through emissaries. A number of times, senior Akali leaders were taken out of jails where they were interned and flown to Delhi for secret confabulations. According to MPS Aulakh, a retired IPS officer, who was then an Assistant Director with the Intelligence Bureau in Amritsar, the last such meeting with Akali leaders was held on May 26, 1984 - six days before the Army was called out in Punjab. Interestingly, among those who negotiated for the Centre was Pranab Mukherjee, current President of India (who was then a Congress leader), while the Akali leaders included Parkash Singh Badal. The talks were inconclusive. That is when the die was cast and the then Western Army Commander, Lt Gen K. Sundarji, was asked to storm the complex.

Former MP Tarlochan Singh, who was a close aide of the late President Zail Singh, claims that when the final decision to storm the complex was taken, even the President was kept in the dark about it.

The build-up

During the six months preceding the Operation, Bhindranwale’s ranks had swelled with volunteers from the countryside, many of who were ex-soldiers as well as police and army deserters. The most prized catch was former Major General Shabeg Singh, one of the heroes of the 1971 Indo-Pak war that led to the creation of Bangladesh. He was feeling wronged due to, what he alleged, a “false case” of financial bungling made out against him. He had joined Bhindranwale and moved into the complex in March 1984. He was responsible for the entire fortification and build-up of militants within the complex. Besides, Bhindranwale had a close-knit group of confidants and armed guards who had sworn to “do and die” for the Panth.

On the eve of the Operation, the Golden Temple complex had been turned into an armed citadel by different militant groups. These included Damdami Taksal, All-India Sikh Students Federation, Babbar Khalsa, Dal Khalsa, Akhand Kirtani Jatha, and the Akal Federation. Though they were unable to prevent the inflow of arms and ammunition into the complex, the Punjab Police and other security agencies were able to get a fairly accurate account of the weaponry being piled up inside the complex. Most of the weapons had been smuggled in from across the border and brought into the complex in “kar seva” vehicles. Due to internecine war within militant groups, even certain SGPC officials and government agencies facilitated the inflow of weapons to arm their “own men”. As per a CID report of May 1984, the Bhindranwale groups alone had 10 light machineguns (LMGs), four anti-aircraft guns, 25-30 SLRs (self-loading rifles), 100-125 carbines, 150-200 Sten guns, 250 rifles, 1500 HE-36 grenades, and 4,000-5,000 country-made grenades.

Alas, the Army did not take this information into consideration while preparing for the battle. It presumed that the militants only had antiquated guns.

After General Sundarji was given the go-ahead for the Operation on May 27 by the Centre, the Army units chosen for the Operation started heading for Amritsar. On the evening of May 31, Major General (later Lt Gen) Kuldip Singh Brar, GOC of 9 Infantry Division in Meerut, who was then proceeding to Manila on holiday with his wife, was called to Chandimandir Cantonment near Chandigarh for a conference the following morning. The Western Command, which was then situated in Shimla, set up its Tactical Headquarters in Chandimandir. At the conference, General Brar was told of the impending task and told to submit his detailed plans to General Sundarji by June 3. Meanwhile, it was decided to seal the border with Pakistan.

General Brar, known in military circles as “Bulbul Brar”, was specially hand-picked for the Operation by General Sundarji. Belonging to an illustrious military family, he had been decorated with the Vir Chakra in the 1971 war with Pakistan.

On June 1, things had begun to hot up in Amritsar and the CRPF and the BSF, which had occupied buildings around the Golden Temple complex, began to engage the armed militants which had occupied certain towering structures around the complex in order to size up their weaponry and deployment pattern. By the evening, 11 people had been killed, resulting in considerable tension.

On June 2, then Akali Dal president Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, SGPC President Gurcharan Singh Tohra and Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Kirpal Singh met to discuss the firing on the previous day. The Akal Takht Jathedar and the Darbar Sahib Head Granthi, Giani Sahib Singh, issued a strongly worded appeal to the “Sikh Panth” to safeguard the sanctity of Darbar Sahib.

That evening, Indira Gandhi in her address to the nation made no reference of the Army being called out but stated that “the government could no longer remain a silent spectator to the sad happenings in Punjab.” Soon after, at 10 pm, an AIR news bulletin announced that the Army had been called out in view of civil disobedience in Punjab.

With the announcement the previous night, on June 3 the stage was set for the military operation at the Golden Temple complex. Due to the martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Dev, hundreds of devotees had come especially to the complex that day. And in view of the ongoing “Dharam Yudh Morcha”, a fresh group of volunteers (“jatha”) had also come from Sangrur to court arrest.

Motives have been ascribed to the operation coinciding with the martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Dev. The government has explained that its decision was forced by a number of factors, which included increasing incidents of violence; Akali Dal plan to take the civil disobedience movement to the next level by stopping food grains from Punjab; reports of Bhindranwale planning to declare Khalistan on or about June 10 and its possible recognition by Pakistan; and intelligence reports of instructions having been issued by militants on killing Hindus in Punjab countryside June 10 onwards.

On the other hand, many Sikhs have argued that the government claims had not been authenticated. They believe that an auspicious day was chosen for the attack to “teach Sikhs a lesson”, something that successive governments have denied.

The Army set up tactical headquarters atop a building overlooking the complex. The main offensive was tasked to 350 Infantry Brigade under Brig D.V. Rao. The four units tasked for the main operation were 10 Guards, 26 Madras, 12 Bihar and 9 Kumaon.

The battle

On June 4, while most of Punjab was asleep and a handful of devotees were engaged in the morning rituals, an Army rocket from a shoulder-held launcher slammed into the Akal Takht building at 4.40 am, shattering the serenity of the complex. Two more such blasts soon after woke up the city residents.

An hour or two later, the people in Punjab and Chandigarh woke up on to a state-wide curfew and a complete news blackout. Phones (there were only landlines then) were disconnected.

Intermittent firing continued the whole day and by the evening the power supply to the complex was cut off. Militants who had taken up positions atop the water tank adjoining the complex were engaged by the Army and when the tank collapsed, there was panic in the area. Towards the evening, a publicity van of the district administration was seen making announcements in Punjabi, asking all those stranded inside the complex to come out with their hands raised. There were hardly any takers for these appeals. Later, many of those who surrendered claimed that they had not heard the announcements. Army officials claimed that a few who tried to come out were shot by militants from inside and their bodies could be seen lying in front of the Ghanta Ghar main entrance of the complex.

Meanwhile, the Army was battle-ready for what it believed would be a quick surgical strike lasting a few hours. At a conference in Amritsar Cantonment, while most officers listened to General Brar intently as he laid out his plans, BSF DIG G.S. Pandher argued against the way the operation was planned. He warned that since the militants were highly motivated and well entrenched, there could be a bloody stalemate. He was, however, overruled and replaced overnight.

The stage was set for storming of the complex. A detachment of the Special Frontier Force (SFF) carrying special weaponry had also arrived in Amritsar. Even Naval divers had been airlifted and brought to Amritsar. Gas masks and CS gas canisters were also brought in to meet any eventuality.

On June 5 morning, Major General Brar visited various units taking part in the Operation. Meanwhile, the heavily fortified militants’ positions atop the two 18th century “bungas” on either side of the Langar building of the complex were blasted off by the Army using RCL guns and a 3.7-inch howitzer. This had the salutary effect and on the afternoon of June 5, about 120 men, women and children came out of Darbar Sahib with their hands raised.

Within the complex, while Bhindranwale and his close associates, including the All-India Sikh Students Federation (AISSF) president, Bhai Amrik Singh, stayed put inside Akal Takht, Shabeg Singh was seen by the Army sentries supervising the fortifications. All five storeys of the Akal Takht building had been fortified and slits made in the marble slabs for firing automatic weapons.

It was at 7 pm on June 5 that General Brar issued the “operational instructions” for Operation Blue Star. These said the operation would be in three phases — clearing the militant “morchas” around the complex, capturing the terrorists through simultaneous military action and then repairing the damaged buildings before resuming the religious services. Nearly 50 gurdwaras in Punjab were also to be searched. Part of the operation in Amritsar was to secure the sanctum sanctorum, Harmandar Sahib, by getting divers and commandos to swim across the holy ‘sarovar’.

The plan was based on an assessment that there were about 2,000 militants inside the complex, of which about 500 were hardcore. Six to eight tanks, eight BMP infantry carrying vehicles and three armoured personnel carriers (APCs) were deployed around the complex. It was decided that in addition to the battalions earmarked for the Operation, elite troops of 1 Para Commando and the SFF would also take part in the main assault. Troops of 9 Garhwal and 15 Kumaon battalions were kept in reserve.

Finally, the complex was stormed at 10.30 pm on June 5. The attacking troops surmounted tremendous opposition from militant battlements atop the Ghanta Ghar entrance of the complex and also automatic fire coming from the slits on the two sides of the staircase at the entrance.

Troops trying to gain entry from the Langar side were stalled by the militants entrenched there. In the nearby hostel complex, where the Akali Dal offices were housed, an unfortunate incident was reported. Sometime in the night, when a large number of men and women had gathered in an open compound, a grenade was thrown, resulting in the massacre of a large number of innocent people. These included many of those who had come to the complex either to take part in the “Morcha” or to pay obeisance on the occasion of the martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Dev.

Meanwhile, Army casualties piled up. After bitter fighting at every level, the troops managed to gain a foothold in the buildings around Akal Takht. However, not only was Akal Takht holding out, it was bringing heavy fire on the troops lodged around it. Even the reserve troops were inducted. Repeated attempts to storm Akal Takht were repulsed. The CS gas canisters lobbed at the heavily fortified Akal Takht proved ineffective.

Meanwhile, APCs were wheeled in, followed by tanks to cause ‘shock and awe’ to the militants. The ‘zenon’ lights on the tanks were switched on to blind the militants, but to no avail.

It was then that General Sundarji, who was watching from his command post outside the complex and listening in on the communications on his radio set, got desperate. With troops suffering heavy casualties, a stalemate stared him in the face. With daylight just an hour away, he feared the possibility of thousands of villagers marching in to the Golden Temple. Meanwhile, one of the APCs in the ‘parikarma’ heading for Akal Takht had been shot up with a rocket and immobilised.

General Sundarji then called up Delhi for permission to use the main gun of the tanks to silence the militants in Akal Takht.

A little after 5 am, New Delhi gave the green signal to use the main tank gun. And finally, as the rays of the sharp summer sun hit the complex, two of the tanks pounded Akal Takht with 105-mm high-explosive squash heads. General Brar told me later that they had fired about 20 rounds at the Takht. While this silenced all opposition from Akal Takht, the use of tanks continues to be a sore point to this day.

Around 8.30 am some people came out of the complex. While some made a dash for the sarovar, a few went for the buildings around. They were all killed by the troops. Bhindranwale and his associate, Bhai Amrik Singh, were among those killed in the group.

The Army learnt later that earlier in the night when the troops were finding it difficult to make a breakthrough, they had gained an unexpected success - Shabeg Singh was hit on the “parikarma.” He was carried into the basement of Akal Takht, where Bhindranwale was. He died soon after and his body lay covered with a sheet in a corner of the room as a battle raged outside. The body was discovered only on June 8, the day President Giani Zail Singh visited the complex.

It was around 5 pm on June 6 that General Brar made the announcement that the Army was in complete control of the complex. The body of Bhindranwale, which had his customary pistol strapped to it, was identified and placed at the entrance of the complex.

According to the figures given out by the government, the Army lost 83 personnel, including four officers. A total of 248 armymen were wounded, including 13 officers. The civilians, including militants killed, were 492 — 30 women and five children among them. Civilians wounded were 86. A total of 1,592 persons were apprehended from the complex. However, the official figures have been challenged.

The Army also announced that a total of 927 weapons were recovered from the complex, including rocket-propelled grenade launchers, LMGs, and SLRs.


By about the noon of June 6, the complex had been secured. But the Army had other worries. Akali Dal leaders Sant Longowal, G.S. Tohra and Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, though safe, were still inside the complex. They had been secured in one of the rooms, and their evacuation was the Army’s top most priority. It was only by the afternoon that they could be evacuated in an APC. When accosted by Army officers, their first question was: “Oh mar gaya ke haiga?” (Is he (Bhindranwale) dead or alive)?

The task of the removal of the dead and injured from the complex was extremely difficult. Some of the bodies had putrefied in the heat and sun over the 48 hours. There was stink in the air and the holy sarovar (the house of nectar) had bodies floating in it. Brig Onkar Singh Goraya (a colonel then), recalls: “The bodies, many of which were bloated, were stinking. DDT powder was sprinkled on them, which made it worse. The cocktail of decaying flesh and DDT was unbearable.”

Since the Army had washed its hands of the removal of bodies, the officials summoned the local municipality sweepers. When they hesitated, they were given the incentive of keeping the wristwatches and other valuables from the bodies. “Bodies were dumped into garbage trucks and carried away like firewood being carried,” recalls Brigadier Goraya. While Bhindranwale and two of his associates, Bhai Amrik Singh and Thara Singh, were cremated with proper rituals, others were cremated in heaps of 10 to 15.

Excesses not probed

What has continued to anger the Sikh community over the years is that excesses allegedly committed during the Operation have not been inquired into. These have been documented in various eyewitness accounts, including in the latest book by Brigadier Goraya, who had as a colonel then led the Army team which evacuated the Akali Dal leaders from the complex.

He said that on the morning of June 6 when he had gone into the complex, he was told by the Akali leaders, including Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, that they had seen people being made to sit along a wall and shot the previous night. Brig Goraya also narrated another incident of a young officer shooting an arrested person in cold blood. He said he was witness to an injured person being killed by an irate jawan on the evening of June 6.

A question that has persisted even after 30 years is whether people were killed with their hands tied behind. This followed an Associated Press (AP) report on June 14, 1984, which said, “Sikh rebels tied and shot”. The post-mortem reports of some of the people killed with gunshots did mention that their hands were tied behind their back. General Brar categorically denied that any one was shot after being lined up with hands tied. He, however, admitted in his book that some people who had been detained were fired upon when they tried to escape.

An Army Court of Inquiry also confirmed instances of looting of household goods by some of the jawans from houses around the complex.

Sikh religious and academic circles are also yet to recover from the fact that the Sikh Reference Library, which was a repository of about 1,500 rare manuscripts and artefacts, was destroyed during the Operation. How this happened remains unclear to this date.

The aftermath

As news of Operation Blue Star spread, there was a megaton fall-out. While Darbar Sahib, the sanctum sanctorum, was intact, Akal Takht, seat of the temporal authority, had suffered irreparable damage as its edifice had all but crumbled. Since the Punjab Governor, BD Pande, had expressed himself against the Operation, he resigned soon after. Author-journalist Khushwant Singh and the founder of Pingalwara in Amritsar district, Bhagat Puran Singh, returned their Padma awards.

The Army operation resulted in instant polarisation. The Golden Temple was hitherto the binding force amongst the Sikhs and Hindus. After the operation, while the majority of the Hindus saw justification in the military action, the Sikhs saw it as an affront.

But what was perhaps the most disturbing fallout was the effect of the Operation on some of the Army units with Sikh troops. Starting with 9 Sikh, there were instances of collective insubordination (mutiny) in about one dozen units involving more than 3,000 deserters. The Commandant of the Sikh Regimental Centre in Ramgarh, Brig S.C. Puri, and his two deputies, Col Jagdev Singh and Col H.S. Cheema, were attacked. While Brigadier Puri died, his two deputies were injured.

Major General C.S. Panag (retd), a Sikh Regiment officer, attributes the desertions to command failure. He the troops should not have been kept in the dark of the impending actions.

The incidents shattered the very ethos of the Army, at least for some time. The First Colonel of the Sikh Regiment, Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh, was shocked and defended the actions of the deserting Sikh troops. He felt that the actions of the Sikh soldiers should be understood in the context of the fact that “he (Sikh soldier), like his comrades of other religious denominations in the Indian Army, is nurtured of old, on his religious tenants and traditions, which have been approved and supported by the Government of India.” Though many deserters were tried by court martial and dismissed from service, the Ministry of Defence was forced to change its stance towards the majority of the deserters swayed by emotions. The Akali Dal and the SGPC honoured the “dharami faujis”. The issue continues to rankle to this day.

Such was the anger of the Sikh community that the damaged Akal Takht building, which was got repaired through a government sponsored “kar seva” by Nihang chief Santa Singh, was razed to the ground. The community then raised a new structure through a massive voluntary “kar seva”.


General Brar insists that he did what a soldier was required to do - carry out a legitimate order. In a detailed interview with me two years ago he said, “I made sure that minimal force was used. I made sure that places of religious importance were safeguarded to the extent possible. I wish he (Bhindranwale) had seen reason and come out of the Golden Temple. There is nothing better that I could have done. I have always regretted that I had to do this. I wish a task of this nature had been avoided.”

However, there are many who feel otherwise. Major General Jagdish Singh Jamwal (retd), who was then commanding the division in Amritsar, told me, “The Operation was not needed. We should not have ordered it. We could have plugged all inlets for water and food going into the complex.”

Lt Gen P.C. Katoch (retd), who as a major was injured while leading his commandos in the Operation, told me, “This was an Operation which was rushed through. The Operation was conducted just contrary to what you are taught in the Army about fighting in built-up areas.” He said that the National Security Guards, which carried out Operation Black Thunder in 1988, had learnt the right lessons from the 1984 Operation. But General Brar refutes such suggestions, “Plugging all inlets was not feasible. Also, the two operations can’t be compared”.

Some officers feel that storming of Akal Takht should have been attempted from the narrow alleys behind it. Some also advocate a “top down approach”, which was used by the US SEALS while picking out Osama Bin Laden from his hideout in Abbottabad in Pakistan in 2011.

Breaking the homogeneity of command has also come under criticism. Units from various formations were brought together under the command of a Brigadier to carry out the Operation. Most troops that took part were unfamiliar with the layout of the complex.

However, most of these suggestions are made with the benefit of hindsight. The one which was made much before the Operation and is credible is that of Lt Gen S.K. Sinha, former Western Army Commander and Governor. He had in 1981 prevented the Army from getting involved in the arrest of Bhindranwale from his headquarters in Chowk Mehta.

Following this experience, General Sinha had laid down a procedure for conducting operations in religious places. “Had this procedure been followed even remotely, things would have been very different,” he explained to me in an interview last year. He said that as per his plan, the Army would have involved the local Sikhs to see what the Army was doing. There would have been TV coverage. A temporary gurdwara would have been established outside and Bhindranwale and his people would have been asked to come out and offer prayers. “If still we were forced to go in, all troops taking part in the Operation would have offered prayers at the temporary gurdwara before going in. And when you enter, use minimum force. And if it takes one day or two days, so be it. You should be patient.”

Lt Gen Sinha was superceded and in 1983, General Vaidya became the Army Chief. The rest is history.



THREE decades and a half

April 13, 1978: Clash between Sikh groups and Nirankaris in Amritsar. 12 Sikhs and 3 Nirankaris dead.

April 25, 1982: SAD (Longowal) starts 'civil disobedience movement'.

July 26, 1982: SAD (Longowal) adopts agitation launched by Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.

Oct 6, 1983: Congress government of Darbara Singh dismissed, President's rule imposed in Punjab.

June 2, 1984: Indira Gandhi calls out Army in Punjab, orders Operation Blue Star.

June 3-6, 1984: Operation Blue Star. Control of Golden Temple wrenched from militants. Bhindranwale killed.

July 24, 1985: Rajiv Gandhi-Sant Longowal Accord signed. SAD (L) withdraws agitation.

August 31, 1995: Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh assassinated in Chandigarh.

September 30, 2012: Lt Gen K.S. Brar (retd) attacked by four persons in London.

April 27, 2013: Operation Bluestar Memorial inaugurated in Amritsar in memory of Sikhs killed in Blue Star.

December 10, 2013: General Brar's attackers convicted and sentenced in the UK.



Looking for a closure

The Operation throws up some uncomfortable questions for the Sikh community too, especially its leaders. While the government can be blamed for using excessive force, including use of tanks, and carrying out the Operation on an auspicious day, can the community justify a religious place having weapons of war like rocket launchers, machine guns and grenades?

Even after three decades a closure awaits the event. Says Gurpreet Singh, treasurer of the Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh, "We demand an inquiry under the aegis of the United Nations into the entire gamut of issues relating to the Operation. In its absence, the newer generation of Sikhs, especially abroad, is at a loss to understand the event. The anger instead of diminishing is rising."

Will an apology or regret help? Says Ashok Singh Bagrian, a Sikh scholar, "It sure will. If the British Prime Minister could express regret for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and Canadian PM apologise for the Komagata Maru incident, why can't our own government?"

Chaman Lal, a historian, feels that an apology by the government endorsed by all political parties could mitigate the anger. But, he asks, "Will vested political interests allow that to happen?" He also feels that since religion has an overriding influence in our society, it would be difficult to bring about a closure in any real sense. "Perhaps with the passage of time, the event will get relegated to the pages of history," he adds.



Key combatants

(From left) General Krishnaswami Sundarji, Lt Gen Ranjit Singh Dyal and Lt Gen Kuldip Singh Brar at the Golden Temple complex after the Operation in June 1984
(From left) General Krishnaswami Sundarji, Lt Gen Ranjit Singh Dyal and Lt Gen Kuldip Singh Brar at the Golden Temple complex after the Operation in June 1984.

Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in front of Harmandar Sahib sometime before the Operation
Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in front of Harmandar Sahib sometime before the Operation.

General Krishnaswami Sundarji

Born on April 28, 1930, he was commissioned into the Mahar Regiment. Though known as a scholar-warrior, he was involved in two military operations which got embroiled in controversies - Operation Blue Star in 1984 and the IPKF operations in Sri Lanka in 1987. He was GOC-in-C, Western Command, during Blue Star. Later, as the Chief of Army Staff, he conducted a military exercise, Operation Brasstacks, which nearly took India and Pakistan to war. He died in 1999.

Lt Gen Ranjit Singh Dyal

Born on Nov 15, 1928, he was commissioned into the Punjab Regiment (Para). In the 1965 war he led the capture of Haji Pir Pass in J&K, for which he was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra. He was the Chief of Staff, Western Command, during Operation Blue Star. He was later the GOC-in-C, Southern Command. After retirement, he served as Lt Governor of Pudducherry and Governor of Andaman & Nicobar. He died in 2012.

Lt Gen Kuldip Singh Brar

Born in 1934, he was commissioned into the Maratha Light Infantry. During the 1971 war, he commanded a battalion. He was awarded the Vir Chakra during the operations. He was commanding 9 Infantry Division at Meerut when he was called upon to carry out Operation Blue Star. As Lt General, he was GOC-in-C, Eastern Command. After retirement, he stays under heavy security in Mumbai Cantonment.

Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale

Born on June 2, 1947, he belonged to Rode village in Moga district of Punjab. He was baptised at a young age and joined the Sikh seminary, Damdami Taksal, which has its origin in the 18th century. The first head of the Taksal was Baba Deep Singh. Sant Bhindranwale was appointed as Taksal's 14th head at the age of 30 years in 1977. He died during the military assault in June 1984.

Major Gen Shabeg Singh

Born in 1925 in Khiala Nand Singhwala village of Amritsar, he was commissioned into the Punjab Regiment. Adopting an assumed name (Beg Ali), he played a pivotal role in the training of the Mukti Bahini during the 1971 war, which led to the creation of Bangladesh. Later, he nursed a grudge for being allegedly implicated and dismissed from service. He joined Bhindranwale and was instrumental in the fortifications in the Golden Temple. He was killed during Operation Blue Star.



What’s the politics behind Art 370
A can of worms has been opened following a statement by a BJP minister on the abrogation of Article 370 which gives J&K special status. While the BJP seeks a debate, the regional parties are opposed to it. At the core is the state’s integration with India.
by Arun Joshi

IT was a race to seize the ownership on the BJP’s longstanding demand for the abrogation of Article 370 that made the Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, Jitender Singh, commit on Tuesday that the “process to repeal Article 370 had begun”, triggering a furore.

The two major regional parties said it was a blasphemy against the Constitution of India and that of the state. The statement set off alarm bells ringing within the ruling National Conference (NC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Two days later, the hardline separatist leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, stepped in to say that this was a “design to reduce the majority into a minority”. J&K is the only Muslim-majority state in the country.

Jitender Singh, a practicing doctor, had apparently miscalculated the move, and had to retract his statement the same evening. The backdrop of his victory from the Udhampur-Doda parliamentary constituency by defeating former Chief Minister and union minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, and also the victory of his party colleagues from Jammu-Poonch and Ladakh constituencies, gave an impetus to the move.

NC workers protest against the statement of Jitender Singh, Minister of State in the PMO, on the abrogation of Article 370, in Srinagar
NC workers protest against the statement of Jitender Singh, Minister of State in the PMO, on the abrogation of Article 370, in Srinagar. PTI
Activists of the Shiv Sena and Dogra Front raise slogans against Article 370, which they want scrapped, in Jammu
Activists of the Shiv Sena and Dogra Front raise slogans against Article 370, which they want scrapped, in Jammu. PTI 

War on Twitter

The NC had lost all three parliamentary seats in the Valley. The father-son duo, Farooq and Omar Abdullah, lost to the PDP’s father-daughter duo, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Mehbooba Mufti. The Assembly polls are scheduled in the state for the year-end. Alarmed, Omar started meeting people and listening to party workers. His party was looking for a poll issue, which was delivered to it on a platter by Jitendra Singh. And the first reaction came on Twitter.

The tweets said: “So the new MOS PMO says process/discussions to revoke Art 370 have started. Wow, that was a quick beginning. Not sure who is talking.” He had been claiming that the PDP and the BJP had a “nexus” in the Lok Sabha elections. Since neither side denied it, he thought it was true. He went on to say: “Mark my words & save this tweet — long after Modi Govt is a distant memory, either J&K won’t be part of India or Art 370 will still exist.”

The NC leader elaborated, saying: “Art 370 is the only constitutional link between J&K and the rest of India. Talk of revocation is not just ill informed, it’s irresponsible.”

A political assault of this sort rattled New Delhi. The Abdullahs, especially Farooq, having lost for the first time could still spell trouble. The trouble could be at an international level. The Abdullahs had floated the “plebiscite front” which embarrassed the country internationally. It was to contain that influence and bring Kashmir back to the Indian fold that the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi entered into an agreement with Omar’s grandfather Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, hailed as the Sher-e-Kashmir. She formed the Congress government in the state led by Syed Mir Qasim to hand over the government to Sheikh Abdullah. All Congress legislators and leaders were made to fall in line. All this was done to bury the plebiscite issue.

Omar also hinted that the issue could be resurrected, and the message was not lost on the Modi government, which was into its first day.

Warning sign

PDP president Mehbooba Mufti also wondered how the new Prime Minister, seeking to harmonise relations among SAARC countries, was allowing a minister to break the “bridge” between J&K and the rest of India. She also sought to fuel the fear that the state was already divided on geographical, political and ethnic lines.

While fiercely defending Article 370, she read out a blueprint of her own, based on the way people had voted during the Lok Sabha elections. The Muslim majority parts of the state had either voted for the NC or the PDP, and to some extent the Congress, and Buddhists and Hindus had voted for the BJP. New nomenclatures — Pir Panjal for Rajouri and Poonch and Chenab Valley for Doda, Ramban, Kishtwar and parts of Udhampur and Reasi districts — have already become a seedbed of the psychological division of the state.

Omar and Mehbooba were on the same page on and wanted to be seen on the side of the majority community. It was a warning signal to Delhi that Kashmir-centric parties had the revolutionary spirit which could be invoked.

The theory being sold is that Article 370 (the creation of the state’s Constituent Assembly 1952-1957) is the symbol of Kashmir’s unique identity and confers dignity on the people of the state. Both leaders have an eye on the forthcoming polls. Mehbooba wants to retain and expand the influence of her party while Omar wants to make up for the worst-ever defeat. This is a war between the 75-year-old NC and 15-year-old PDP.

Accession issue

Both parties brought forth the issue of the state’s accession if the Article is abrogated. “Then we will have to revisit 1947 and make a choice which way to go — India, Pakistan or stay independent,” she stated. Omar said if the Article goes, accession also goes. It is true that the provisions of the Article flow from the instrument of accession, but accession is irrevocable.

Dr Karan Singh, former Sadar-e-Riysat (president of the state) has upheld that: “The accession signed by his father Maharaja Hari Singh was the same what was signed by other princely states”, but the difference is that other states merged with India while J&K did not. He sees no harm in the special status of the state as such arrangements exist elsewhere in the world too. He cited the example of China’s relationship with Hong Kong, where separate laws govern citizens.

Can Article 370 be scrapped? “No power on earth can revoke Article 370,” says Saif-ud-Din Soz, Pradesh Congress Committee president. “It is a settled and closed chapter. That’s all as far as the Congress is concerned. The state is an integral part of India,” he adds.

For the first time, the BJP has won three seats in the state. Voters were candid in admitting that they were voting for Modi because they wanted to see him as the Prime Minister. Fed up with misgovernance, corruption and price rise, the voters wanted a change in Kashmir. However, the BJP candidates who got elected to Parliament viewed it as their individual victory. That misplaced perception caused the verbal political riot in the state.

The BJP sought a debate on the issue because it thinks this was a “barrier” that needed to be removed for the complete integration of the state. It is opposed to J&K having its own constitution and flag and the bar on the extension of laws passed by Parliament to the state unless it is ratified by the state legislative Assembly.

The tussle

Another hurdle the Article creates is related to the fact that West Pakistan refugees who have been living in Jammu since the Partition cannot get citizenship rights of the state. In the early 1980s, the Sheikh Abdullah government had passed the Resettlement Bill (now Act and under the judicial review of the Supreme Court) to provide for the resettlement of those who had fled to Pakistan and their descendents to return and reclaim their properties and enjoy citizenship of the state. It was after the uproar against this provision by the Congress and the BJP in 1980s that the matter was taken to the Supreme Court and it could not be implemented. But the law exists. If Article 370 is to get its original form, it would deprive Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes of reservation in government jobs and professional colleges.

The Constituent Assembly ceased to exist in 1957. The President of India can revoke it if the Constituent Assembly recommends so. Since there is no Assembly, this cannot happen. Still, central laws have been extended to J&K as state leaders have supplicated to the Centre in the past. All leaders know that Delhi should be kept in good humour if the government is to be run in the state. The state doesn’t have the money to pay wages to its employees. It is dependent on the Centre for that. But that doesn’t give leverage to any party at the Centre to revoke the Article.

Within the state, they are playing the game of one-upmanship. Against Delhi they want to be seen as raising their decibel, and on the home front, they want to be seen as the greater symbol of Kashmiri identity and dignity. The real target is the voter for the Assembly polls.

People, however, can sense the politics behind this high-pitched rhetoric and have stayed aloof so far. But Kashmir is unpredictable. It has seen many mid-summer troubles. And 2014 may not be an exception, given the fact that trouble-makers are out on parole.




  • It was a temporary provision included in the Constitution of India, granting special status to J&K. The provision was introduced after Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession with the Indian Union in 1947.
  • Dr BR Ambedkar, the architect of Indian Constitution and the first Law Minister of India, refused to draft Article 370. It was drafted by Gopalaswami Ayyangar, former ‘dewan’ of Maharaja Hari Singh along with Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the NC founder. Ayyanger was a minister in the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
  • According to the Article, except for defence, foreign affairs and communications, Indian Parliament needs the consent of the state’s legislature to implement laws of the Indian Union in the state.
  • J&K has a separate constitution and flag. The Article imposes limits on the legislative power of Indian Parliament over the state. Special measures are required to extend any ordinary legislation to the state.
  • Citizens of other states of India cannot purchase land or property in the state. Further, the Centre has no power to declare financial emergency in J&K. It can declare emergency only in case of war and external aggression.
  • Residents of J&K live under a separate set of laws, including those related to citizenship, ownership of property, and fundamental rights. They enjoy dual citizenship. They would lose their J&K citizenship if they marry residents of other states. However, the women of the state can retain their citizenship rights if they marry non-permanent residents of the state because of the High Court judgment in 2003. But her husband and children cannot enjoy the same rights.
  • The term of the state legislature is six years, unlike other elected bodies which have a five-year period, including Indian Parliament. The state Assembly had a five-year term but was extended to six years during the Emergency on the pattern of Parliament in 1976. But it did not revert because of the special status.
  • A Pakistani woman gains citizenship if she marries a citizen of J&K. However lakhs of West Pakistan refugees living in the state for over six decades have been denied citizenship as they migrated from Sialkote and West Punjab (Pakistan), which was not part of J&K. The Article prevents them from enjoying their fundamental rights.

(Compiled by Sumit Hakoo)



What parties stand for

 Omar Abdullah National Conference

It is opposed to the abrogation of Article 370. It wants the original form of the Article to be restored. It is a matter of faith for the party which fought for the rights of the people in the pre-Independence era. First as the Muslim Conference (1931) and later as the NC (1938) — when it opened its doors to non-Muslims — it agitated against the Dogra rule. The party believes in the supremacy of the J&K constitution. This identification with history and rabble rousing on the Article issue is its staple political diet. Its founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah would champion Kashmiri identity and dignity, which was taken as a slogan by the next two generations of the Abdullahs to tell the people that they were the original guardians of their exclusive rights in a country with two systems. Over the years, the titles of “Sadar-e-Riyasat” (head of the state) and “Wazir-e-Azamm” (PM) have gone.

Mehbooba Mufti PDP

Though the PDP is only 15 years old, it has become a force to reckon with in Kashmir politics. It has shown itself as an alternative to the NC. Mehbooba Mufti says the abrogation of the Article would lead to further alienation. “You already have territory. J&K has the largest presence of security forces. Now you are trying to take away from them even what gives them dignity,” she claims.


Saif-ud-Din SozCongress

The Congress ruled the state for many years when the NC — during the era of the second PM of the state, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad — was converted into the Congress and Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq took over as the first Congress Chief Minister. The party maintains the state is “an integral part of India”. PCC president Saif-ud-Din Soz has said: “It is a closed chapter. There is no need for a debate. No power on earth can abolish it”.

Jitender Singh BJP

J&K is and shall remain an integral part of the Union of India. The territorial integrity of India is inviolable. The party will pursue an agenda of equal and rapid development in all the three regions of the state — Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, as per its manifesto. The BJP reiterates its stand on Article 370, and will discuss this with all the stakeholders. It remains committed to the abrogation of the Article.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani Hardliners

The separatists don’t acknowledge the Indian Constitution, but feel that as long as the state is with India, the special provisions under Article 370 need to be preserved. They have called for an agitation against any attempt to repeal the Article. Syed Ali Shah Geelani has said: “It is a design to turn the majority into a minority in the state. Any such attempt would be resisted tooth and nail by the people of Kashmir”.



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