‘Operation Blue Star’ in June 1984 will remain one of the most controversial acts of the Government in independent India. In order to marginalize the moderate Akalis, a build up of the extremists was ignored. Instead of preventing extremists hardliners from collecting in large numbers with arms and ammunitions inside the Golden Temple, the Government of India decided to look the other way. It had hoped that moderate Sikh politicians would become irrelevant. It probably had planned that on the eve of the 1984 elections a police-military confrontation with the extremists would take place and the 1984 elections would be won by the Congress on the patriotic slogan of saving Punjab and saving India from Terror.
Those in the Government of India have recorded these incidents differently. I was amongst those present at the release of Dr. PC Alexander’s memoirs a few years ago. He was the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister in May-June 1984 and perhaps one of the best witnesses to what was going on. A chapter in his book on the Operation Blue Star gives an impression that it is only when the dialogue between Dr. PC Alexander and Sant Longowal failed that General Vaidya was called towards the end of May 1984 and asked to get ready for a military operation. Did the Government of India take the necessary intelligence and political inputs as to the impact the military action would have on the Sikhs, one of the most patriotic communities? Indeed that was not a consideration for the Government of India. The fall-out of ‘Operation Blue Star’ was not only the alienation of the Sikh community but the eventual assassination of Mrs. Indira Gandhi and the massacre of Sikhs across the country.
While we in India still continue to debate on the judgement we wish to make on the controversial ‘Operation Blue Star’, a new set of documents now published in Britain throw a different light on the subject. Declassification of secret documents takes place in England after 30 years. Documents for the period February 1984 have now been published. These are top secret classified documents.
The Principal Secretary at 10, Downing Street on 6th February 1984 writes to Brian Fall of the Foreign and Commonwealth office on the plan for removal of dissident Sikhs from Golden Temple. He records that “The Prime Minister is content that the Foreign Secretary should proceed as he proposes. She will look forward to receiving a report on the advisor’s visit and notes that the Home Secretary would be informed if the Indians seemed likely to proceed with the plan.” Was the ‘Operation Blue Star’ being planned on British advise?
Thus, contrary to what we have been told that it was the collapse of the dialogue in May, 1984 that led to the ‘Operation Blue Star’, the Government of India was in dialogue with the British Government on the plan to remove the dissident Sikhs from the holy Golden Temple. This letter is followed by Brian Fall’s letter to the Home Secretary’s office dated 23/2/1984. This letter mentions the repercussions it will have on the Sikh community in England. It categorically states that “The Indian Authorities recently sought British advice over a plan to remove Sikh extremists from the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The Foreign Secretary decided to respond favourably to the Indian request and with the Prime Minister’s agreement, an SAD officer has visited India and drawn up a plan which has been approved by Mrs. Indira Gandhi. The Foreign Secretary believes that the Indian Government may put the plan into operation shortly.” Making public of this classified document after a period of thirty years as a part of declassification of confidential documents shows that there was a significant foreign hand behind the advice given to Mrs. Indira Gandhi to proceed in a particular manner. The Indian Army is informed only towards the end of May 1984. The political consultation within the Government on the subject was minimal. Was any other country also consulted on this subject? If British Government was being consulted in February 1984, it only lends credence to the fact that Government of India neither believed in nipping the problem at the initial stage nor in exploring alternative methods of evacuating the extremists from the Golden Temple. It wanted to invade the sacred precincts of the Golden Temple no matter even if it hurt the national interest and certainly the interests of the Sikhs.
We are now having some of the British documents becoming public. In the next few months, more documents between the period February to June 1984 would become public on account of the expiry of the limitation of 30 years. It is about time that the Government of India decided to tell us the truth as to what the real facts were. This would enable the people of India to conclude whether ‘Operation Blue Star’ was a strategic miscalculation.