Friday, November 14

Opration Bluestar

I want to make it clear that, through this article I do not wish to support nor condemn Operation Bluestar. I just wish to report the reasons, operation itself and its aftermaths, trying not to take up sides with any particular party. Another thing I want to make clear is that the operation itself was not much different from any other regular army mission, it's the reasons and the aftermath which makes it much more significant, as much more disturbing. This incident has, indeed, hurt both the Indian army and the community of Sikhs throughout the period of time.

In the decade of 1980’s Pakistan backed terrorism had acquired major proportions in Punjab. The demand for Khalistan, a separate nation for Sikhs, was increasing with every passing day, and so was the number of innocent common civilians killed in the terrorist activities. Sikh terrorists killed Hindu political leaders, common Hindus, Sikhs, migrant workers and all who dared oppose their demands and commands. Even the state government and the police had their hands tied. Punjab was steadfastly becoming the worst state of India, which at some time, not much far in the history, was considered the most prosperous state. It demanded for some hard-core action at the national level.

Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India thought no differently. After a series of high-voltage political drama, the hard decision was taken, at last, which eventually proved to be the primary cause of Indira Gandhi’s shootout by her own Sikh bodyguards.

The mission was entrusted to Gen. Arun Vaidya, proposed chief of the Indian Army, assisted by General K. Sundarji who describes:

"We went inside with humility in our hearts and prayers on our lips." 

On June 1, a total curfew was imposed upon the whole state, which included total cutoff of electricity, mass media blackout, and absolute cutoff from other states. The whole state was put under the Lt. Gen. Ranjit Singh Dayal. Around 1,00,000 soldiers entered and eventually controlled Punjab, troops were planted around each and every Gurudwara of the green state, and thus the stage had been setup for the most complex ever Anti-Terrorist action of the world. 

The terrorists, extremists or the separatists, however you prefer to name them, were headed by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. They had long since setup, the Amritsar situated Golden temple, the most sacred symbol of Sikhism, as their primary base from where commands were issued and the most bloodshed terror acts were planned cold minded. Time magazine reported (about Amritsar, in the issue dated 7 November 1983) that:

"These days it more closely resembles a city of death. Inside the temple compound, fierce Sikh warriors wield submachine guns, guarding against encroachment by government security forces. Outside, the security men keep a nervous vigil, all too aware that the bodies of murdered comrades often turn up in the warren of tiny streets around the shrine."

But now (3rd June 1984) the temple’s every square inch was cornered by troops from the Indian army. A final warning and a last chance to surrender was given by the army, in whose reply came, though not much unexpected, automatic gunfire. And though the mission, or rather the Operation, which many soldiers dreaded, others just considered as a part of their duty, began formally.
More than 17 houses were destroyed in the neighborhood, which the army believed provided, or might  provide shelter to the militants. After the mass destruction two large 18th centaury towers were destructed as the militants were constantly using them as watchtowers, showering heavy gunfire on anyone near the temple-campus.

After the primary success of the mission, army forces consisting of the 1st battalion and the Parachute regiment marched right into the Golden temple on the sad day of 5th June 1984, opposed by light gunfire of the Sikh militants. They marched, they fought, they killed, they died. Those who survived regrouped and requested for more forces to be sent. The commandos were thereafter followed by the 10th battalion. After suffering heavy casualties, 7 APC tanks marched into the temple and helped further with the goal of removing militants from the temple and securing Akal Takht, one of the most holy shrines of Sikhism. By the evening of 6th June 1984, most of the militants were removed (read killed) from the temple and its surroundings. And this ambitious mission was thus successfully accomplished. Or at least militarily successful. Politically, it happened to be a disaster. For it worked like a dagger piercing the sobbing hearts of Sikhs throughout the India. For it played with the religious sentiments of millions of our brothers. For it raises a question, that still needs to be answered: Was operation Bluestar really necessary? Was there no other alternative?

So strong were the aftermaths that a whole book can be written on the subject (in fact, some were). Most powerful, yet sad, aftermaths include 1984 riots and Indira Gandhi assassination. 1984 riots were primarily caused by the numerous rumors including army's destruction of the Golden temple to a major extent, soldiers consuming alcohol in the sacred premises, Sikh women being harassed by soldiers in small towns. The Sikh community, already known for its hot blood, was on fire. Sikhs initiated the riots, Hindus replied and so spread the riot like a wildfire. The entire state Punjab was in flames. Man became thirsty for man’s blood. Bloodshed corpses, destroyed property, children crying for their parents who might never return, slaughter, torn down houses, chaos, misery, agony - became a common sight. Probably riots of such intensity were never witnessed by this country, and hopefully will never be in the future.

Some questions that raise on the back of my head:
a) Why was the day of ‘Vaisakhi’ chosen as the D-day of the operation, because this meant that more than 10,000 pilgrims were captured during the whole operation inside the temple?
b) Why so many innocent civilians were killed during the operation? (Even army doesn’t deny that civilians were killed by both parties).
c) Was it really necessary to use tanks in the temple prelims?
d) Why were the Akal Takht, Research library, and the museum destroyed during the mission? (It took 15 long years to reconstruct them).
e) Why were the bodies of the dead never returned to their families, nor even tried to be identified? Just  gotten rid of without performing any rituals.

Some numbers may help in putting the brutality of the operation in some context:

The official death toll: 
Military - 83
Militants and civilians - 492

But some noted historians and researchers place the number around this:
Military - 700
Militants and civilians - 5000

Who decides how successful the mission actually was?

November 2008