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Operation Blue Star, 27 years on

Posted by Admin on June 5, 2011–27-years-on.html

By Anirban Choudhury | Yahoo! India News – Fri, Jun 3, 2011

It was on this day 27 years ago that Operation Blue Star flushed out Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his separatist followers from the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

Bhindranwale was using the shrine as a refuge and had piled up weapons for use in hate crimes against non-Sikhs.

But to this day the scars of 1984 are visible. The siege on the temple lasted three days and claimed many innocent lives. Though the operation was the brainchild of prime minister Indira Gandhi, she later regretted it. The military action led to her assignation two months after Operation Blue Star.

Yahoo! India News brings you pages from a violent chapter.

What was Operation Blue Star?

It was a military raid ordered by Indira Gandhi to eliminate separatists who had taken cover in the holiest of Sikh shrines. The operation spanned four days, between June 3 and 6, and was carried out by the Indian Army which laid siege to the temple complex with tanks and armoured vehicles.

The then Vice-Chief of Indian Army SK Sinha was first asked to lead the operation, but he advised against it saying it this would hurt Sikh sentiments. Indira Gandhi replaced him with Lt Gen A S Vaidya, who along with Lt Gen K Sundarji then planned the operation.

The operation kicked-off with a 36-hour curfew on June 3. All communication was suspended in Punjab, cutting off the state from the rest of the world.

The assault on the temple and the timing of it came in for heavy criticism as heavy artillery was used in the congested by lanes of Amritsar which lead to the death of many innocent bystanders. There was a huge uproar in the Sikh community worldwide, which was followed by hate crimes on Sikhs in parts of India.

Who was Bhindranwale?

Born in 1947, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was enrolled in a religious school. Later, he travelled across Punjab to teach and persuade people to live life according to the tenets of Sikhism. He became the new leader of Damdami Taksal,  a 300-year-old educational organisation founded by Guru Gobind Singh, when his guru Kartar Singh died in an accident. That was his first step to power.

Though he was not successful in electoral politics, he wielded a great deal of authority using which he overthrew the authority of the Shiromani Akali Dal. He became so powerful that political leaders in Punjab could not take any major decision without first seeking his assent.

His support for the creation of a Sikh majority nation of Khalistan led to his fall-out with the Indira Gandhi regime. In the early eighties, Sikh extremists who dreamt of carving out an independent nation, had slowly begun to take control of the state by unleashing terror and killing hundreds of non-Sikhs.

Bhindranwale was seen as an inciter, running his bloody campaign from the confines of the Golden Temple. He had turned the holiest shrine of the Sikhs into a safe haven for his followers. He openly defied the centre, but the state police did not dare to take any action against him.

Bhindranwale was suspected to be behind the assassination of Lala Jagat Narain, owner of the Hind Samachar group of newspapers and a Congress leader. He was arrested but was released as no evidence was found against him.

He lived all his life by the principle of hate and spurred the killings of innocent people, and was killed during Operation Blue Star.

What was the problem in Punjab?

In 1947 when India was divided on the basis of religion, Punjab was split between India and Pakistan. Sikhs opposed the partition and felt they were being treated shabbily. When the idea of Pakistan was put forth, Sikhs said they should have a nation for themselves. Thus the idea of Khalistan was born.

The partition of India had left a deep scar in Sikhs as they were forced to abandon their homes and become refugees. The Sikhs were the most affected by the partition as they were torn between two nations and a mass exodus took place during which many Sikhs lost their lives in the carnage that followed.

Punjab in India was a Hindu majority state and the Sikhs felt that they were being discriminated against. Many eminent Sikhs alleged that the Indian government was conspiring to destroy the Sikh community and their culture.

In the 1950-60s, there was an uproar in India when the government declared Hindi as the national language which led to a nationwide movement of linguistic majority groups to seek separate states on the basis of language. This gave the Sikhs a ray of hope for carving out a Punjabi-speaking state, a demand that intensified the tension between Hindus and Sikhs. At that time, Punjab’s capital was Shimla even though the majority of Sikhs lived in Punjab.

The States Reorganisation Commission rejected their demand for a separate state, a move that reinforced the feeling that the Sikhs were being discriminated against.

The Akal Takht played a vital role in organizing Sikhs to campaign for the Punjabi speaking state, during which thousands of Sikhs were arrested. In 1966, Sikh leaders again demanded Punjabi Suba—a Punjabi speaking state—a demand which was later agreed to and led to the trifurcation of East Punjab into three states: Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.

Events after partition, some groups convinced many Sikhs that they were being discriminated against. Calls for the creation of Khalistan became violent and anti-Indian.

What happened in the aftermath of Operation Blue Star?

Sikhs across the world were shocked when news poured in that the Golden Temple had been captured by Indian armed forces.

Many Sikhs in prominent administrative positions resigned in protest, and many in the armed forces quit. Sikhs also returned awards and honors they had received from the Indian government, the most prominent being author Khushwant Singh who returned his Padma Bhushan.

The operation also led to the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31. She was gunned down by two of her Sikh bodyguards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh.

The assassination triggered anti-Sikh riots that went on for four days when Congress supporters went on a rampage killing Sikh men and women, destroying homes, and attacking Gurdwaras.

The worst-hit was Delhi. Sikhs fled the city in huge numbers. Human rights organisations put the death toll at between 10,000 and 17,000. Human Rights Watch says the government has yet to prosecute those responsible for the mass killings. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh apologised for the raid two decades after it was conducted.

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