Written by Hamid Hussain on this 30th anniversary of the operation:
Operation Blue Star
June 05 is the thirty year anniversary of the Indian army operation to clear militants from the Sikh religion’s holiest temple in Amritsar. This was the culmination of chain of events simmering for several years. In late 1970s, conflict between center and Punjab, internal power struggle among Sikh political elite, poor economic conditions of rural Punjab and assertion of Nirankaris (a sect of Sikhism considered heretic by orthodox Sikhs) resulted in rapid escalation of violence in Punjab. In early 1980s, Sikh agitation took an ugly turn and a group of militant Sikhs under the leadership of a charismatic leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale upped the ante. In December 1983, fearing arrest, Bhindranwala with few hundred armed supporters moved into the Golden Temple complex. Armed militants occupied many buildings of the Golden temple complex. Many wanted militants found refuge in the temple and in April 1983, in an audacious move militant shot dead Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of police Jullundhar range Avtar Singh Atwal inside the temple. Several police officers including Inspector Bicchu Ram and Deputy Superintendent Police (DSP) Gurbachan Singh were also assassinated by militants. In June 1984, Indian government decided to send troops to the Golden Temple complex to clear it out of militants. After a bloody fight, temple was cleared resulting in heavy casualties.
Count Down to Conflict
Prime Minister Indira Ghandi, two Sikhs in Delhi; President Giani Zail Singh and Union Home Minister Buta Singh, Punjab Chief Minister Darbara Singh, Akali Dal leaders Harchand Singh Longwal and Parkash Singh Badal, Gurcharan Singh Tohra; head ofShiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC); an organization responsible for the administration of Sikh houses of worship and militant leader Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale were key players in this conflict. Former Chief Minister of Punjab Zail Singh and Sanjay Gandhi supported Bhindrawale to weaken Akali Dal. When Bhindrawale was arrested on charges of inciting murder, Zail Singh now Union Home Minister arranged for his release without due judicial process. Bhindrawale was now seen as a hero who had won a showdown with the center and his views hardened as his popularity increased. Zail Singh also thwarted Chief Minister Darbara Singh’s efforts to curtail militant activities. Bhindrawale’s opponent Sikh leaders were now fearful for their lives. Longwal fearful for his life especially when Bhindrawale moved to the Golden Temple complex hostel which also housed offices of Akali Dal and SGPC, used another splinter militant group Babbar Khalsa to push Bhindrawale’s followers from the hostel into Akal Takht. When law and order situation deteriorated in Punjab, Punjab Chief Minister was sacked and President Rule was imposed in Punjab.
‘The best place to die is the highest place of your religion and a place connected with your ancestors and this place where we are standing has got both the qualities, so this is the best place to die.’ Major General ® Shahbeg Singh at Golden Complex
Three to six hundred supporters of Jarnail Singh were the core group of militants and most radical. Small number of Sikhs belonging to Babbar Khalsa, All India Sikh Student Federation (AISSF) led by Amrik Singh and Dashmesh Regiment were also armed. There were about one dozen close confidants of Jarnail Singh and they were assigned different tasks. Rachpal Singh was Bhindrawale’s secretary and Dalbir Singh political advisor. An inner security ring of about half dozen hard line militants guarded Bhindrawale and Gurmukh Singh was in charge of weapons. Four deserters from Punjab police Kabul Singh, Gurnam Singh, Sewa Singh and Amarjit Singh joined Bhindrawale at Golden Temple complex. Near the end of 1982, more than 5000 ex-servicemen gathered in Golden Temple for a convention. More than one hundred and seventy above the rank of Colonel including retired Major Generals Shahbeg Singh and Jaswant Singh Bhullar were among the ex-servicemen. Majority of ex-servicemen were advocates of use of non-violent means to achieve objectives but few like Shahbeg and Bhullar came under the influence of Bhindrawale. Bhullar left India just before the operation but Shahbeg was in Golden Temple at the time of operation. He was responsible for the fortifications and placement of machine guns and snipers at strategic positions at Golden Temple.
In early 1980s, central government responded to deteriorating situation in Punjab by changing top positions of provincial administrative machinery. From 1981 to 1984 there were six governors; Jaisukh Lal Hathi (September 1977 – August 1981), Aminuddin Ahmad Khan (August 1981 – April 1982), Marri Chenna Reddy (April 1981 – February 1983), Anant Prasad Sharma (February 1983 – October 1983), Bhairab Dutt Pande (October 1983 – June 1984) and K. T. Satarwala (June 1984 – March 1985). In the same time period the top police post of Director General of Punjab Police was shuffled four times; Birbal Nath, C. K. Sahni, Pritam Singh Bhinder and K. S. Dhillon. In four year time period, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of Amritsar post was shuffled six times; A. S. Atwal (September 1981 – April 1982), Surjit Singh Baines (April 1982 – July 1983), Sarabjit Singh (July 1983 – October 1983), Ajay Pal Singh Mann (October 1983 – March 1984), Sube Singh (March 1984 – June 1984) and Bua Singh (June 1984 – August 1985).
Former Cabinet Secretary and West Bengal Governor Bhairab Dutt Pande was transferred to Punjab and he became head of the government as province was under President’s rule. New Delhi appointed four advisors to governor including Shivandar Singh Sidhu, Harbans Singh, P. G. Gavi and Gajjala Jagathpathi. However, all four advisors either quit or recalled as they advocated a political settlement rather than use of force. Later, Chief of Staff (COS) of Western command, Lieutenant General Ranjit Singh Dayal was appointed Security Advisor and Surendranath of Indian Police Service (IPS) advisor of law and order to governor.
Provincial bureaucracy of Punjab was headed by Chief Secretary K. D. Vasudeva, Amrik Singh Pooni was Home Secretary, Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Amritsar was Gurdev Singh and city magistrate was S. S. Dhillon. Army was suspicious that Gurdev had sympathies with militants therefore he was replaced on June 03, 1984 with Ramesh Indar Singh. Ramesh was a Bengal cadre officer then serving as director of rural development in Punjab and this was his first district appointment (later he was transferred to Punjab cadre and served as Principle Secretary to Chief Minister and Chief Secretary). Director General Police (DGP) of Punjab was Pritam Singh Bhinder and Inspector General (IG) of Criminal Investigation Department (CID) was Harjit Singh Randhawa. Police officers of Amritsar district included Superintendent Police (SP) Sital Das, Deputy Superintendent Police (DSP) city Opar Singh Bajwa, SP CID Harjeet Singh, DSP CID Sudarshan Singh and M. P. S. Aulakh was Assistant Director Intelligence Bureau (IB). Director General (DG) Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) was Ram Swarup Sharma, Inspector General (IG) Border Security Force (BSF) was B. K. Tirpathi, Director General (DG) BSF was Birbal Nath and DIG BSF in Amritsar was G. S. Pandher (he was sent on leave on June 05 due to his objections to the operation and replaced by Chaturvedi). By early 1984, civilian administration was completely ineffective due to political inertia, interference and collapse of police morale.
In Delhi, a group of serving and retired senior intelligence officers of Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) was advising Prime Minister Indira Ghandi. This group included chief security advisor Rameshwar Nath Kao (first Chief of RAW), N. F. Santook (former head of RAW) and Girish Chandar Saxena (head of RAW). Political leadership provided legal cover to security forces by passing several acts. These included National Security Act 1980, Punjab Chandigarh Disturbed Area Act 1983, Armed Forces (Punjab and Chandigarh) Special Power Ordinance in October 1983, Terrorist Activities and Disturbed Areas (TADA) Act 1984 and Terrorist Affected Areas (Special Courts) Act 1984. No Sikh political leadership could acquiesce with centre’s plan therefore Punjab was put under direct center rule in October 1983.
‘We went inside with humility in our hearts and prayers on our lips’. Lieutenant General K. Sunderji
Chief of Army Staff (COAS) was General A. S. Vaidya and he assigned the operation to GOC-in-Chief Western Command Lieutenant General K. Sundarji. Western Command with its headquarters at Chandimandar planned and conducted the operation. Chief of Staff (COS) of Western Command Lieutenant General Ranjit Singh Dayal was the architect of the operation. Western Command consists of three Corps; II with headquarter at Ambala in Haryana, IX at Yol; Himachal Pardesh and XI with headquarter at Jallandhar. XI Corps commanded by Lieutenant General Gauri Shankar and consisting of 7 Division based in Ferozpur, 9 Division based in Meerut and 15 Division based in Amritsar was assigned the task of internal security of Punjab.
There were three components of the military operation. The main operation was to clear the Golden Temple complex and it was supported by two other operations. One operation was focused on clearing other Gurdwaras in the state where militants had taken refuge. Operation Rose Wood was aimed at sealing of Indian border with Pakistan to prevent escape of militants across the border and prevent any assistance to militants from Pakistan side. However, neither political leadership prepared the army nor army leadership prepared its own troops to reorient for internal security duty. In April 1984, XI Corps went ahead with its normal Corps exercise and troops were in training area when exercise was shortened and on May 27, troops were ordered back to their permanent locations. 9 Division commanded by Major General Kuldip Singh Brar was given the task of clearing the Golden Temple and he was informed about the operation only few days before the planned date. Brar’s Deputy GOC was Brigadier N. K. ‘Nikki’ Talwar and Colonel Administration was Colonel E. W. Fernandez. Jallandhar based 350 Infantry Brigade consisting of 9 Kumaon, 10 Guards, 12 Bihar and 26 Madras and commanded by Brigadier D.V. Rao was assigned the task of clearing temple complex. Brigade was supported by paratroopers from 1 Parachute Regiment and Special Frontier Force (SFF). 15 Division commanded by Major General Jagdesh Singh Jamwal was in support role in Amritsar and along with other troops sealed the border with Pakistan in Operation Wood Rose. Deputy GOC of 15 Division was Brigadier ‘Chikky’ Diwan, GSO Intelligence was Lieutenant Colonel Adarsh K. Sharma and Colonel Administration was Colonel Onkar Singh Goraya.
Troops involved in the operation belonged to 1 Parachute Regiment commanded by Lt. Colonel K.C. Padha, 10 Guards commanded by Lt. Colonel Israr Rahim Khan, 12 Bihar commanded by Lt. Colonel K.S. Randhawa, 26 Madras commanded by Lt. Colonel Panniker, 9 Kumaon commanded by Lt. Colonel K. Bhaumik, 15 Kumaon commanded by Lt. Colonel N.C. Pant, 9 Garhwal Rifles and 10 Dogra,. All infantry battalions belonged to 9 Division with the exception of 9 Garhwal Rifles from 15 Division. Artillery was commanded by Colonel E. W. Fernandez, Armored Personal Carriers (APCs) and BMPs of 8 Mechanized Battalion and tanks of 16 Cavalry were used in the operation. Paramilitary troops of Border Security Force (BSF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Special Frontier Force (SFF) also participated in the operation. SFF was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Chowdhury and controlled by Cabinet Secretariat. 15 Kumaon and two companies of 9 Garhwal Rifles under the command of Deputy GOC of 15 Division Brigadier A.K. ‘Chikky’ Dewan were reserve.
General K. Sundarji established his tactical headquarters at Chandimandar. 9 Division tactical headquarters was on the rooftop of a building near Golden Temple. Later, Sunderji moved to the division tactical headquarters. 350 Brigade headquarters was established at Kotwali and later moved to Brahm Buta Akhara when it was cleared of militants. Military operation consisted of three phases. Phase I was to clear militants from buildings surrounding the complex and this phase started on June 03. Phase II code named SHOPS was to eliminate or capture militants from the complex. This phase also included plans to quickly extinguish fires and repair any structural damage to the holy site. This is supported by the fact that three fire assault teams from 60 Engineer battalion were assigned for this task. Phase III code named FLATS was mopping up remaining pockets of resistance all over the state. A separate operation code named METAL was to secure the holiest place of Harmandar Sahib. A group of commandos was to swim through the sarowar (sacred pool that surrounds the holiest place) and secure Harmandar Sahib.
Map is from Golden Temple Complex website; http://www.goldentempleamritsar.org/images/guide-map-of-golden-temple-amritsar.jpg
12 Bihar commanded by Lt. Colonel K.S. Randhawa and troops of BSF and CRPF were used to seal all entry and exit points to the complex and provide cover to all assaulting troops. All formations assembled at their launch positions around 7:30 pm and operation was launched around 10:30 pm (about half an hour late than original time of 10:00 pm). The operation at Golden Temple complex was divided into three phases. Phase I was main assault to neutralize militants, Phase II mopping up and Phase III securing of hostels and complete control of the complex and handing over all prisoners to other units. Different units were launched from different entrances to kill or capture militants. 26 Madras from southern (Langar side) entrance to secure southern and eastern wings, I Para from eastern Ghanta Ghar entrance to secure Akal Takht (later this objective was taken away from 1 Para and it was tasked to only secure Darshni Deodi and Harmandar Sahib), 10 Guards from eastern Ghanta Ghar entrance to secure Akal Takht and northern wing and SFF from main north-western entrance to secure Akal Takht and western wing.
Akal Takht was heavily fortified and manned by hard core militants associated with Bhindrawale. Major General ® Shahbeg Singh had placed observers and snipers on high towers and placed gun positions at multiple levels in such a way that it created a wide kill zone. The assault by 10 Guards and 1 Para came to a standstill with heavy casualties. One of the first casualties was a Sikh officer of 10 Guards Captain Jasbir Singh Raina who lost his both legs. The plan of Operation METAL by commandos was abandoned as they could not move forward to swim through sarowar to secure Harmandar Sahib. Akal Takht was taken out of 1 Para responsibility and they were now assigned the task of securing Darshni Deodi right in front of Akal Takht. Advance of 26 Madras was stalled due to heavy fire from machine guns placed on lungar hall and Gurdwara Manji Sahib. Militants belonging toBabbar Khalsa and some from AISSF were manning these positions. When troops found themselves in a kill zone due to well placed militant gun positions and their advance stopped, then tanks and APCs were requisitioned. Initially main purpose was not to use the firepower but to use headlights of tanks to blind the militants and use APCs and BMPs to provide cover for troops. Total eightVijayanta tanks of 16 Cavalry then part of 15 Division were used. Four tanks supported commandos while four supported 26 Madras. Eleven APCs/BMPs of 8 Mechanized Regiment were used. Four BMPs supported 10 Guards and commandos and three APCs and four BMPs supported 26 Madras. The lamps of tanks didn’t last long and one APC was hit by a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) and disabled.
Militants were posted on few high buildings overlooking the entire area especially water tower and two high towers; Ramgarhia Bungas. Sniper fire from these positions caused significant casualties of security forces. Neutralization of these commanding positions required use of heavy weapons. In view of stiff resistance from militants and slow progress, around 11:30 pm, an ad hoc force consisting of the reserve of two companies each of 15 Kumaon and 9 Garhwal Rifles along with elements of 26 Madras was launched from western Atta Mandi Gate. In the meantime, about thirty commandos under the command of Major P. C. Katoch tried to secure Darshni Deodi in front of Akal Takht but suffered many casualties. A second assault by another team of thirty commandoes led by commanding officer of 1 Para was launched which also suffered heavy casualties. Of the sixty five commandos seventeen were killed and thirty one injured but they were able to secure Darshni Deodi . SFF team of about fifty also suffered heavily losing seventeen. A company commander of 15 Kumaon Major B. K. Misra was killed while B Company retreated after suffering seven killed and twenty three wounded. By that time, Brar had received authorization from Delhi to use tank fire to neutralized militants entrenched in Akal Takht. Brigadier Chikky Diwan asked for one more chance to clear militants before the use of tanks. A small ten man team of 26 Madras led by Lieutenant Jyoti Kumar Dang was divided into two teams. One team was led by Subedar K. P. Raman Ravi. When this effort also failed with only three members of team surviving, then it was decided to use tank fire. Two tanks fired about twenty shells at Akal Takht that silenced the opposition. The remainder militants trying to escape from Akal Takht were killed and several surrendered. When the firing finally stopped, Bhindrawale and Major General ® Shahbeg Singh laid dead along with scores of militants and large number of innocent civilians caught in the firefight.
Tank fire resulted in fire at Sikh archives where other treasures were also kept. Colonel Goraya was aware of the importance of securing this Sikh heritage but not sure about troops operating against the militants. There was only one Sikh regiment in Amritsar; 2 Sikh Light Infantry (SLI) commanded by Lieutenant Colonel D. D. Singh. Goraya called the commanding officer and arranged for a ten man guard of 2 SLI under the command of a Naib Subedar to guard the Sikh treasures. Goraya’s concern was not unfounded as later it was discovered that some men of 26 Madras were engaged in looting. Later, Major General Jamwal made sure that all items returned.
Hostel complex around lungar hall had hundreds of rooms. 9 Kumaon and two companies of 15 Kumaon were assigned the task of clearing hostel complex. Major H. K. Palta; a company commander of 9 Kumaon escorted Akali leaders from Guru Ram Das Sarai to a MES bungalow.
Later, 10 Dogra relieved 9 Kumaon and continued the mopping up operation. In an unfortunate incident 10 Dogra’s medical officer Dr. Captain Rampal was snatched by militants while attending to injured soldiers. 10 Dogra tried a rescue mission but Rampal was killed by militants. In the phase III of the operation, 19 Mahrata Light Infantry (MLI) commanded by Officiating Commanding Officer Major Jagjit Singh (he was later arrested and tried by court martial for hiding weapons) arrested militants at Damdami Taksal without violence. 10 Assam commanded by Lieutenant Colonel S. K. Sharma arrested militants from a Gurdwara in Talwandi without any bloodshed.
The exact number of causalities is controversial. Army suffered significant casualties due to frontal assault and well placed defenses of militants in the buildings creating ‘kill zones’. Security forces suffered eight three killed including four officers, four Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) and seventy five other ranks. Two hundred and forty eight were wounded including thirteen officers, sixteen JCOs and two hundred and nineteen other ranks. 10 Guards suffered nineteen killed and fifty three wounded, 1 Para seventeen killed and thirty one wounded, 26 Madras fourteen killed and forty nine wounded and 15 Kumaon seven killed and twenty three wounded. The exact number of Sikhs both militants and civilians killed in the operation is hotly debated. Indian government claimed that four hundred and ninety two were killed including thirty women and five children and eighty six wounded. Sikhs claim that thousands were killed.
Militarily, there was poor planning and coordination at several levels. Two main commanders on the spot; Brar and Jamwal were both from the same battalion 1 Mahrata Light Infantry but didn’t get along well. Jamwal’s division was based in Amritsar and familiar with the operational area but he probably saw it as a slight that operation was assigned to 9 Division. 9 Division was chosen as government wanted a Sikh officer to lead the operation to avoid the allegation that Hindu soldiers were attacking the holiest place of Sikhs. 9 Division was not familiar with the operational area as there was no time for preparation, briefing or reconnaissance about a very difficult and unconventional task. A delicate balance was needed where Sikh troops were not used for the fear that they may refuse to attack their holiest place but two Sikh officers; Brar and Dayal were put in the forefront. In defense of Brar, he was not given the option of taking his time for planning and reconnaissance before launching the operation.
Many criticized the conduct of military operation with the benefit of the hindsight. Main objections include;
– Timing of the operation
– Conduct of operation
– Use of tank fire
– Failure to anticipate reaction of Sikh soldiers
June 05 was the martyrdom day of a Sikh guru and large numbers of devotees were inside the temple. Sikh leadership had called for non-payment of taxes from June 05 and army feared that Bhindrawale may announce establishment of Khalistan on that day. Army had to finish the operation quickly as they feared that thousands of angry Sikhs from villages may descend on Amritsar on hearing the news of attack on Golden Temple. Many suggest that army should have cut off water and electric supply of the Golden Temple and forced militants to surrender. Thousands of devotees visit Golden Temple and such action was bound to cause reaction. Few months earlier in Moga, police laid siege to a cluster of Gurdwaras and cut off water and electric supply when they were fired upon from these Gurdwaras. Sikh leaders had threatened to send ‘martyr squads’ to free these Gurdwaras. One can easily imagine the kind of reaction from a prolonged siege of Golden Temple. Army used tank fire only against heavily fortified Akal Takht and after suffering heavy casualties. Some Sikh officers suggest that if army had briefed army commanders about operation, they could have talked to Sikh soldiers to allay their concerns. The dilemma for any army commander is how much to share. If he shares information with large numbers, he risks losing the element of surprise and if he restricts information, others are surprised from the fall out.
Fall Out for the Army
Operation Blue Star enraged Sikh community and discontent quickly spread to the army. 9 Sikh stationed at Ganganagar; Rajhastan mutinied on the night of June 07, 1984. Soldiers broke into the armory and fired in the air near officer’s residential quarters forcing the officers to hunker down. Over 400 mutinous soldiers commandered battalion’s vehicles including Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel I. S. Sabarwal’s jeep and headed to Punjab. Soldiers forced through an armed constabulary check post at Rajhastan-Punjab border killing a constable. 11 Rajputana Rifles and 94 Field Regiment were given the task of intercepting these rebellious Sikhs and they were able to arrest few and later near Govindgarh a clash resulted in many casualties. Over 200 made it to Moga where they were surrounded in a Gurdwara. A force consisting of 3 Garhwal Rifles, 15 Garhwal Rifles, 12 Grenadiers, APCs of 9 Mechanized Regiment and few tanks of 20 Lancers under the command of Brigadier A. S. Bans surrounded the Gurdwara. After tense negotiations soldiers surrendered without further violence. The battalion was disbanded on April 1, 1985.
On June 10, around 1500 Sikh recruits of Sikh Regimental Center at Ramgarh, Bihar mutinied. Subedar Major ran to Commandant Brigadier S. C. Puri’s home to inform him. Puri got in the car along with Subedar Major and on the way picked up Deputy Commandant Colonel Jagdesh Singh and battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel H. S. Cheema. When the jeep came to the center, it was fired upon injuring all occupants. Driver drove the jeep to the hospital where Brigadier Puri died from his wounds. Cheema was not severely wounded and he returned to the center and tried to rally soldiers. Mutinous soldiers and recruits commandeered civilian vehicles and headed towards Amritsar. Near Vernasi, they divided into two groups for their onward journey. Indian army dispatched 21st Mechanized Infantry Brigade along with an artillery unit to put fear of God in Sikh recruits. Second group of rebels was tackled by 20th Infantry Brigade along with some artillery. In the ensuing firefight, thirty five soldiers were killed and others arrested.
In Jammu, one hundred and thirty soldiers of 18 Sikh deserted but later captured by 2 Grenadiers without violence as most deserters were unarmed. One hundred and thirty three soldiers of 14 Punjab Regiment in Pune deserted with their weapons. 13 Mahar intercepted the deserters and later 2 Kumaon clashed with deserters killing many. On June 11, over two hundred soldiers of 3 Sikh stationed in Tripura deserted. They drove their vehicles to train station to head towards Punjab. They had carried with them all the liquor. At the station, most of them got drunk. Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel G. S. Kalhoun persuaded them to return to the lines. He allowed them to keep their weapons with them at night and next morning they deposited the weapons and 5 Mahar took charge of the quarter guard. There was unrest in two artillery regiments with significant number of Sikhs. Ninety soldiers of 166 Mountain Regiment stationed in the east and twenty seven soldiers of 171 Field Regiment stationed in Alwar deserted. Soldiers of 5 Sikh (nick named Dastori) were disturbed. Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Gurcharan Singh Brar spent lot of time with soldiers and calmed them down. His main argument was that soldiers should not do anything that could harm century old traditions of the battalion. There was no act of disobedience from Sikhs of armored corps but army leaders were concerned as mutinous armored troops could cause much more damage than infantry troops. 46 Armored Regiment commanded by Colonel B. S. Sandhu sent a tank squadron under the command of Major G. S. Ghumman outside Amritsar with orders to shoot any tanks trying to enter Amritsar.
In the aftermath of the mutiny of Sikh troops, there were two opinions in the army. Non-Sikh officers especially COAS General Vaidya suggested stern measures against mutinous soldiers (an exception was a Sikh senior officer then GOC-in-Chief of Southern Command Lieutenant General T. S. Oberoi) while Sikh officers and some others suggested a lenient approach. Five retired senior Sikh officers including Lieutenant Generals Jagjit Singh Arora (2nd Punjab Regiment), Harbaksh Singh (5/11 Sikh), J. S. Dhillon, M. S. Wadalia and Sartaj Singh protested that the case of mutinous Sikh soldiers was a special one and they should be dealt differently. They met President Zail Singh to convey their feelings. Zail Singh while understanding their concerns suggested that he had no power in this matter. General Vaidya ordered mixing of some single class regiments and in this process 13 Sikh was reconstituted with Sikh, Dogra, Garhwali and South Indian companies. These battalions were nick named ‘Vaidya Battalions’ and later this trend was reversed to some extent.
The Fight Continues
General anger among Sikhs at the desecration of their holiest place provided new recruits for the militants. Later, several small scale operations were carried out primarily by police and paramilitary troops to dismantle militant infrastructure. On April 30, 1986 Operation Black Thunder I under the direction of Director General of Police Punjab J. F. Rebeiro cleared some militants from buildings around Golden Temple. In 1988, some militants again started to take refuge in Golden Temple. Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of CRPF Sarabdeep Singh Virk was shot and wounded and in 1990, SP (Operations) Taran Taran Harjit Singh was assassinated in a bomb blast. On May 06, 1988 Operation Black Thunder II under the command of Director General of Police Punjab K. P. S. Gill swept through Golden Temple complex to flush out militants. In this operation National Security Guards (NSG) under the guidance of its head Ved Marwah (native of Pakistani border town of Peshawar and a career officer of Indian Police Service) and Ajit Doval of IB played the crucial role. A thousand strong Special Action Group (SAG) of NSG participated in the operation. In 1990-91 Operation Rakshak I & II was launched. The most affected areas were Amritsar, Taran Taran, Majithia, Batala and Gurdaspur.
Militants retaliated by targeting police officers and several officers lost their life. In 1987, SSP Arvindar Singh Brar, SP Kanwar Ranbir Singh Gill, DSP Harpal Singh, DSP Tara Chand, DSP Gurcharan Singh and DSP Om Parkash were assassinated. In 1988, Senior Superintendent Police (SSP) Patiala Avindar Singh Brar and Superintendent Police (SP) Headquarters K.R.S. Gill were assassinated by Sikh militants on a jogging trail. In 1988, in Patiala, SSP Sital Das and SP (Detective) B. S. Brar were killed in office. In the same year, DSP Faridkot H. S. Gill was also assassinated. In 1989, DSP Gopal Singh Ghuman was assassinated. In 1990, Commandant 75 Punjab Armed Police battalion Gobind Ram was killed in a bomb blast. In the same year, DSP Baldev Singh and DSP Harjit Singh were assassinated while DSP Surjit Singh Ghuman was killed along with his wife and two guards. In 1991, DIG Border range Ajit Singh was killed in an encounter in Taran Taran and SP of Ropar Jogindar Singh Khaira was assassinated. In 1992, SP (Detective) R. P. S. Teja and DSP Ram Singh and DSP Rupindar Singh were assassinated. There were also life attempts on DGP Julio Rubeiro and Governor Shankar Roy. In August 1985, Harchand Singh Longwal was assassinated and in 1995, Chief Minister of Punjab Beant Singh was killed in a car bomb. This operation was organized by Balwant Singh and Dilawar Singh acted as suicide bomber.
During his two stints in Punjab as head of police, Gill put in place some tough police officers giving them a free hand to tackle the militants. The list included SSP Taran Taran Ajit Singh Sandhu, SSP of Amritsar Izhar Alam, SP Bathinda S.K. Singh, SP Gurdaspur Vivek Mishra and DSP of Taran Taran Jaspal Singh Khalra. In such situations, problems with morale due to target killing of police officers and government’s concern about potential of sympathy of some police officers with their co-religionist militants prompted induction of several officers of paramilitary forces (mainly CRPF and few from BSF) in Punjab. The list includes S.S. Virk, Rakesh Chandra, S.K. Singh, A.K. Pandey, Khubi Ram, S.P.S. Basra, R.C. Sethi and S.K. Sharma. Several of these officers served at SP rank during most troubled times in areas heavily infiltrated by militants at great personal risk. They were later absorbed in Punjab police in 2006 and rewarded with promotion to DIG rank.
Police used many controversial tactics including extra judicial killings. Some former low level police officials with criminal record were quietly hired for the job of infiltrating and in some cases eliminating militants in the countryside. The case of Dalbir Singh is a good example of benefits and risks of this approach. Dalbir was a constable in Punjab police in dismissed in 1983 on criminal charges. In 1986, he was quietly re-hired for a different task and worked undercover. He helped in arrest and elimination of some high profile militants. He was promoted Assistant Sub Inspector (ASI) and earned hefty amounts of head money of militants. He started to engage in criminal activities including extortion and even robberies. After investigation into these allegations, it was decided to remove Dalbir from the force. He was asked to report to the police station in civil lines and interviewed by senior police officers. Dalbir pulled his gun and after killing SSP Sital Das and SP Brar shot himself.
Militancy was finally tackled by Punjab police and this success was due to strengthening of police in numbers, proper equipment and training and selection of good officers to lead the campaign. Punjab police numbers increased from 35,000 to 65,000 by the end of 1989, better weapons and communication equipment were provided and policemen were trained for the job. Punjab police was also strengthened by 6000 special police and 20’000 home guard. Amritsar, Taran Taran, Majithia, Batala and Gurdaspur were the worst affected areas. In Taran Taran alone, about 200 policemen, Special Police and home guard members lost their life. Punjab police and their families paid the price and in the years 1988-92, about 1600 policemen were killed in the line of duty. In addition more than sixty family members of policemen were killed by militants in revenge attacks.
Like any crisis, there were examples of bad handling of a given situation but also many cases where volatile situations were handled by competent men professionally at great risk to their own lives. In Ludhiana, an angry crowd of Sikhs was demonstrating in the immediate aftermath of Operation Blue Star. Brigade commander Brigadier M. M. Lakhera was inclined to fire at the crowd to disperse them. Deputy Commissioner K. R. Lakhanpal dissuaded him and handled the situation at great personal risk.
The human side of the conflict is highlighted by two stories. Bhindrawale’s brother was Subedar Major Harcharan Singh Rhode then serving with 61 Engineers stationed at Jallandhar. Harcaharn visited Akal Takht in his uniform right after the death of his brother at the hands on Indian army. A young boy named Bashir Muhammad joined Punjab police and served as guard of DSP Sukhdev Singh Chahal. Punjab police needed to infiltrate Sikh militant groups and Bashir was chosen for the task. He was allowed to grow hair and beard and then a fake story was leaked that he had escaped from jail with arms and ammunition. He managed to join Babbar Khalsa and started to send reports back to police. He was influenced by the dedication and religious zeal of leaders of the group and decided to convert to Sikhism. He came clean and informed leaders of Babbar Khalsa that he was a police informant but now wanted to join the Sikh cause. He was baptized Sikh and named Lachman Singh Babbar. He was now operating on behalf of militants against security forces. However, Punjab police finally arrested or killed many militants and broke the back of militancy. In view of the precarious situation, Lachman Singh moved to Calcutta with his wife. Police arrested a colleague of Lachman and during interrogation he gave up Lachman’s address. In May 1993, SP Bathinda S.K. Singh and DSP Chahal with two other policemen went to Calcutta and shot and killed Lachman and his pregnant wife in his apartment. This incident caused a row between Punjab and West Bengal provincial governments as these officers went on their own without informing West Bengal police.
Conflict in Punjab evolved over several years resulting from clashes between central and provincial political leadership, internal power struggle of Sikh leaders and especially use of religion for political purposes. The outcome of clash of such volatile forces is never in doubt and Punjab proved to be no exception. Law and order situation was initially not tackled for political expediency and when it spun out of control fear and inertia settled in starting from the top and seeping all the way down. Finally, when government decided to tackle the issue, a short term use of brute force was thought to be the answer. Vicious cycle of incremental increase in force and predictable response of further alienation of Sikhs resulted in a conflict that lasted over a decade. On part of Sikhs, silence of priests of the Golden Temple, political leaders and civil society partly from sympathy and partly due to fear resulted in no vocal opposition to gathering of armed militants and military style fortifications inside the holiest place of Sikh religion. These gave militants wide room for maneuver and expand their influence. Even thirty years later, no Sikh is willing to talk on record against Bhindrawale and he has attained a cult status among a portion of Sikhs.
Operation Blue Star and anti-Sikh riots of 1984 left a deep scar on Sikh psyche. Elimination of militancy and continued political participation in the last two decades brought Punjab back to normalcy but 1984 still evokes deep emotions even among a younger generation of Sikhs born after 1984 especially among Sikh Diaspora.
Indira Gandhi – In 1984, she was Prime Minister of India and ordered army to flush out extremists entrenched in Golden Temple. On October 31, 1984, she was killed by her two Sikh bodyguards. Beant Singh was killed on the spot while Satwant Singh was later convicted of murder and hanged in 1989. Indira’s assassination enraged Hindus and mobs attacked Sikhs. The worst riots occurred in Delhi where Hindu mobs attacked Sikhs and some estimate that about 3000 Sikhs were killed. Sikhs alleged that many Congress party office holders were directly involved in these attacks. Member of parliament from Delhi Lalit Makan and City Counselor and friend of Rajiv Gandhi, Arjun Das were alleged to have a role in anti-Sikh riots. Makan was married to Gitanjali; daughter of former President of India Shankar Dayal Sharma. On July 31, 1985, Makan and his wife were gunned down near their house and in September 1985, Das was assassinated in his office.
Lieutenant General Srinavas Kumar Sinha – He was commissioned from Officer Training School (OTS) at Belgaum in 1942. He was the best cadet of his course. He was commissioned in 6/9 Jat Regiment. In 1952, he was transferred to 3/5th Gorkha Rifles and he commanded the battalion in 1964. In 1983, he was G-O-C-in-Chief of Western Command. He had objected to the planned operation against Sikh militants in Golden Temple and wanted a different approach. In 1984, he was Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) and as the senior most officer expected to become Chief of Army Staff (COAS) on retirement of General Krishna Rao. In an unexpected move, government announced appointment of G-O-C-in-Chief of Eastern Command Lieutenant General A. S. Vaidya as new COAS superseding Sinha. Sinha was retired and later served as governor of Assam and Jammu & Kashmir.
General Arun Shridar Vaidya – He was a cavalry officer and commanded Deccan Horse in 1965 war. He was a well decorated officer winning Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) in 1965 war and bar to MVC in 1971 war. In 1984, he was COAS. He retired in January 1986 and moved to Pune. On August 10, 1986, he was driving his car coming back home from the market when two gunmen ambushed his car pumping several bullets in the car and killing him on the spot. In 1986 Sukhdev Singh and in 1987 Harjindar Singh were arrested and charged with murder of Vaidya. Both were convicted and hanged in 1992.
General Krishnaswamy Sundarji – He was commissioned in Mahar Regiment and commanded 1 Mahar. He was G-O-C-in-Chief of Western Command in 1984. He served as COAS from 1986 to 1988. He died of natural causes in 1999.
Lieutenant General Ranjit Singh Dayal – Dayal was a well decorated officer from 1 Parachute Regiment winning MVC in 1965 war. He was Chief of Staff (COS) of Western Command in 1984 and planned Operation Blue Star. In 2005, two Sikh militants were arrested for planning to assassinate Dayal. He died from cancer in January 2012. In 2013, his local Gurdwara refused Dayal’s family request to hold prayers on his death anniversary.
Lieutenant General Kuldip Singh Brar – Brar nick named ‘Bulbul’ is from a military family with three generations serving in Indian army. His grandfather Honorary Captain and Subedar Major Hira Singh served in Indian army. His father Major General Digambar Singh Brar was commissioned from Sandhurst and served with 5/5 Mahrata Light Infantry . Bulbul was commissioned in 1 Mahrata Light Infantry (MLI). In 1984, he was GOC of 9 Division and spearheaded the operation. He retired as Lieutenant General. Sikh militants had sworn that they will kill those involved in Operation Blue Star and Bulbul was on top of the hit list. In India, he is provided extra security protection called Z category protection. On October 02, 2012, when he was walking on a London street, he was assaulted by three Sikhs who tried to slit his throat. He survived and his three assailants Mandeep Singh, Dilbagh Singh and Barjindar Singh were later convicted. He is moved to a secret location and now under Z plus category protection. He is the last surviving among the group targeted for assassination.
Krishan Pal Singh Gill – He is IPS officer of 1957 batch from Assam cadre. He served most of his career in northeast rising to the post of DGP Meghalaya. He also served as IG Punjab Armed Police (PAP), IG BSF – Jammu and DG CRPF. In 1988, he was brought to Punjab to tackle militancy. He served two tenures as Director General of Punjab Police 1988-89 & 1991-95. He crushed militants with ruthless efficiency. He survived at least five assassination attempts. In 1999, Richpal Singh was arrested with explosives in Delhi for planning to kill K.P.S. Gill.
Major General ® Shah Beg Singh – His life story is amazing and provides a window to changing borders and loyalties. He was a graduate of Government College Lahore and commissioned in 2nd Punjab Regiment during the Raj. He joined the elite paratroopers (Ist Para Battalion) as Indian citizen and participated in every war which his country fought. In 1947-48, he fought against Pakistan army in Nawshehra area of Kashmir. In 1962, Indo-China war, he was GSO-Intelligence at IV Corps headquarters. In 1965, Indo-Pakistan war, he commanded 3/11th Gorkha Rifles in Haji Pir sector of Kashmir. Later he commanded 19 Infantry Brigade in Jammu & Kashmir. He also served as Deputy GOC of 8 Mountain division during Naga counter-insurgency operations. In 1971 war with Pakistan, as a Brigadier, he was given charge of Delta sector with headquarters at Agartala to train Bengalis fighting against Pakistan. He was instrumental in organizing Bengali officers and soldiers, who were his former enemies and new friends to help them achieve their independence. He was promoted Major General and served as GOC of Bihar & Orissa. Senior Pakistani POWs were interned at Jabalpur under his command. He got in trouble with Indira Gandhi when he refused to get troops involved in arrest of Jay Prakash Narain agitating against government. He was posted out to UP area Head Quarters where he got into trouble with army authorities. Kumaon Regimental Center was in his jurisdiction and he found that commander of Kumaon military farm gave large sum of money to COAS General Tappy Raina. Court of inquiry found that Tappy received about two hundred thousand Rupees to meet the expenses of his daughter’s marriage. Shahbeg asked Tappy to return the money. Shahbeg was immediately relieved of his command and an inquiry started against him. Later he was charged with various infringements including charges that when he left Jabalpur area headquarter, he received a commemorative plaque worth 2500 Rupees, allowing sale of some items at canteens and cultivated some produce on the grounds of his official residence. He was dismissed from army one day before his retirement date of May 01, 1976 and he was a bitter man.
He joined Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and present at Golden Temple when Indian army launched operation in 1984. He was gunned down by the bullets of the same Indian army which had earlier awarded him two medals of bravery (Param Vashist Sewa Medal and Ati Vashist Sewa Medal). Ironically, his own 1 Para was at the forefront of the assault. He joined British Indian army and fought against Japanese in Burma. In this fight, Punjabi Muslims and Pathans serving in his regiment were his comrades. When India and Pakistan achieved independence, his former comrades became his enemies and he fought against them in 1947-48 and 1965. In 1971, the scene suddenly changed. Now he found new comrades (Bengalis) among his enemies (Pakistanis). He trained Bengalis and helped them fight for their independence. He ended up taking arms against the same flag which he had so proudly carried in so many battlefields. His life was ended not by bullets fired by Japanese, Pakistanis or Bengalis but by the soldiers of the same army which he had so proudly served. What a change in only one lifetime.
Acknowledgements: Author thanks many for valuable information and corrections. However, author is solely responsible for all errors and omissions.
There are many sources about Operation Blue Star looking from different perspectives. Works by security personnel present their point of view while several works especially videos are sympathetic to militant point of view. A partial list includes;
– Lieutenant General ® Kuldip Singh Brar. Operation Blue Star: the Untold Story.
– K.P.S. Gill. Punjab: The Knights of Falsehood.
– K.P.S. Gill. Endgame in Punjab 1988-1993 in Fault lines, Vol. 1 No. 1
– Julio Ribeiro. Bullet for Bullet: My Life as a Police Officer
– Kirpal Singh Dhillon. Time Present and Time Past: Memoirs of an Unorthodox Top Cop.
-Brigadier Onkar Singh Goraya. Operation Blue Star & After: An Eyewitness Account.
– S. Mahmud Ali. Sikh Separatism in East Punjab in The Fearful State: Power, People and Internal War in South Asia
– Mark Tully. Amritsar: Mrs. Gandhi’s Last Battle
– Cynthia Keppley Mahmood. Fighting for Faith and Nation: Dialogue with Sikh Militants.
– Apurba Kundu. The Indian Armed Forces ‘Sikh and Non-Sikh Officers’ Opinion of Operation Blue Star. Pacific Affairs, Vol. 67, No. 1. (Spring, 1994), pp. 46-49
– Sumit Ganguly and David P. Idler. India & Counterinsurgency: Lessons Learned.
-Hartosh Singh Bal. The Shattered Dome in The Caravan May 2014.
– Lieutenant Colonel Vivek Chadda’s Low Intensity Conflicts in India: An Analysis.
-Kanwar Sandhu’s documentary about Operation Blue Star released in 2013 is a detailed analysis of the operation. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhO5BRsTfl8
Very good news in a world where a trickle of good news is mostly drowned out by the torrents of bad news.
Hope (in our common humanity) springs eternal as Merriam is saved from certain death. We are sure her family will be immensely relieved. Congratulations to all those who protested and who believed that the protests would work (unfortunately we of little faith did not).
Merriam just had a baby girl as well. Best wishes from the bottom of our heart. ……………….
A woman sentenced to death in Sudan after marrying a Christian could be released within days, according to reports. A senior Khartoum official has told the BBC that Meriam Ibrahim will be freed following worldwide protests about her treatment. David Cameron has joined Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Tony Blair in condemning the “barbaric” punishment of the 27-year-old, who gave birth to a daughter this week while shackled in her cell.
Ms Ibrahim was raised a Christian by her mother and has refused to renounce the faith. However, a court ruled earlier this month that she is Muslim because that was her father’s faith.
Her Christian marriage was annulled and she was sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery and death by hanging for renouncing Islam.
Sex outside a “lawful relationship” is regarded as adultery under Sudanese law.
As we peruse this report on Operation Bluestar by Hartosh Singh Bal we find even more reasons why religion should stay out of South Asian politics (but then as a liberal atheist we are expected to believe that). At the minimum what is required right now are decent politicians who will not exploit heavenly matters for earthly gain.
….. The dismal story of Bluestar had been set on its tracks by Sanjay Gandhi, but it now appears that its disastrous conclusion was the work of his brother Rajiv, who swept to power with the biggest mandate in Indian history following his mother’s assassination.
Operation Bluestar was not just Indira Gandhi’s last battle; it was the first, and perhaps the most disastrous, of Rajiv’s blunders. By the time the smoke cleared over the Darbar Sahib, hundreds of innocent bystanders had died.
Bhindranwale lay murdered, and the Akal Takht, where he had set up his final defiance of Delhi, stood shattered. The operation was followed by the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, and the organised massacre of thousands of Sikhs by Hindu mobs, led mainly by Congress politicians. …….. ….
Our opinion (as informed by our relatives who survived in the war zone) is that 1984 was a great crime and happened as part of an action-reaction story (Hartosh does not account for the Hindus who were forced out of buses and summarily shot to death). But as he makes it clear like never before, the desperation of the Royal Family to get back into power in Punjab and how Rajiv Gandhi and his cronies played with fire (which later consumed the family as well). It is clear also that ordinary people matter very little in the scheme of things, with dynasties looking to survive (through a policy of divide and rule) or outstanding egos looking to be fed (by human blood). Justice in its own fashion has been handed out after more than 30 years have gone by. It is too little, too late.
There is one thing also that Hartosh does not tell us about (he is correct in his opinion that the election of the BJP and the destruction of the Congress party is not a good omen for India). If it comes to a full fledged battle, the Sikhs will lose out badly and not just in India. The holy shrines of the Sikhs are spread out all over India and Pakistan. At present there are protests that the shrines are being desecrated in Pakistan. There was a major security incident whereby Sikh protestors converged on the Pakistan Parliament.
Matters have become so polarized in South Asia that it may come to this that minority communities will not be able to survive outside of ghettos (and even imperfectly inside them). Case in point is Rabwah in Pakistan (Ahmadis) and Juhapura in Gujarat (Muslims). It will require statesmen of extra-ordinary stature to overcome the politics of polarization (the Aam Admi Party won in Punjab by associating with a Sikh militant group, see below). Politics for short term convenience and reliance on ideological extremists to get rid of moderates is the bane of South Asia. It must stop right now. We must have peace just to survive (Hartosh talks about the drug menace in Punjab threatening to derail another generation of youngsters after a previous generation has been lost to militancy), if not to prosper. …………………………..
Following the Punjab insurgency, which extended from the early 1980s to the mid 1990s, the number of pilgrims to the Darbar Sahib has increased rapidly. The queues to enter the shrine now extend beyond the causeway; but the sense of quiet calm remains, though it is at odds with the shrine’s history. Perhaps no place of worship so central to a major religion in India has seen as much violence within its premises. The sarovar was constructed in 1581 by Ram Das, the fourth Sikh guru. The tank was lined and the shrine completed by the fifth guru, Arjan Dev, in 1601. By that time, the Sikh congregation had grown large enough for the Mughal emperor Jehangir to see Guru Arjan as a threat to his sovereignty. He was arrested in 1606, and tortured to death when he refused to convert to Islam. For his followers, this first martyrdom in their incipient faith would become the paradigm for Sikhism’s relationship with the durbar in Delhi. The sixth guru, Hargobind, donned two swords to represent a change in the nature of his leadership—he would be not only a spiritual guide to his disciples (piri), but also a preceptor in their temporal lives (miri). The weapons form Sikhism’s central symbol, the khanda—a pair of linked swords. The guru ensured the same symbolism was reflected in the architecture of the Darbar Sahib. Across from the causeway, facing the central shrine, which represents spiritual authority, he constructed the building known as the Akal Takht, the timeless throne, from where he administered justice like any temporal authority. Once the line of living gurus ended with Guru Gobind Singh in 1708, this authority over the Sikhs came to be vested in the jathedar, or custodian, of the Akal Takht. Through the eighteenth century, as centralised authority broke down in the Punjab, the Sikhs grew in strength. Dispersed, led by various men, groups of Sikh warriors would gather periodically at the Akal Takht to plan and direct their course of action. Those seeking to contain them would target the Harmandir Sahib and the Akal Takht. Each person who has desecrated the shrine occupies an oversize space in the collective memory of the community. Every Sikh can recount the story of Massa Rangar, who was appointed the kotwal or ruler of Amritsar in 1740 and proceeded to host nautch parties in the Harmandir Sahib, having first removed the holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, from its place. He was beheaded by two Sikhs, Mehtab and Sukha Singh, who claimed to be revenue officers coming to deposit a large sum of money. Even better known is the story of a defender of the faith, Baba Deep Singh. In 1757, the Afghan emperor Ahmad Shah Abdali, having sacked Delhi for the fourth time, was waylaid by a Sikh contingent near Kurukshetra. Angered, he left his son Taimur Shah behind as the governor of Lahore to take care of this menace. Taimur demolished the Harmandir Sahib, but the seventy-five-year-old Deep Singh led a contingent of five hundred Sikhs to take back the complex. By the time he neared Amritsar, their number had swelled to five thousand. Clashing with a much larger Afghan army, Deep Singh was injured by a blow to the neck, but continued to fight his way to the Darbar Sahib, eventually succumbing to his injuries by the sarovar. On the parikrama, the spot where he is believed to have fallen is marked by a portrait of him carrying his decapitated head in one hand, still holding a sword aloft in the other. The martyrdom of Baba Deep Singh resonates through Sikh history. Two centuries later, in June 1984, when the Indian Army went into the Darbar Sahib on orders from prime minister Indira Gandhi, it was to disarm and dislodge Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who according to tradition was the fourteenth head of the Damdami Taksaal, an orthodox Sikh seminary once headed, it is said, by Deep Singh. In the mythology of a faith where the stories of Massa Rangar and Deep Singh arouse intense and contrary emotions, Sikhs memorialised both Bhindranwale and Gandhi in accordance with the roles they had assumed—one the defender, the other a desecrator. The trajectory of those two lives, both of which ended violently thirty years ago, intersected for the first time in 1977, when Bhindranwale assumed charge of the Damdami Taksaal, and Gandhi was swept out of power after the Emergency. Nowhere was Gandhi’s decision to suspend the constitution as strongly contested as in Punjab, and no party resisted it with quite the ferocity of the Akali Dal, which represented Sikh interests in the state. Over the next seven years, Gandhi, Bhindranwale and the Akali Dal would lead three fronts in a battle in which they faced off, realigned with and schemed against each other until the very end. From the moment an Akali Dal government, in alliance with the Janata Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), took charge of Punjab in 1977, Gandhi’s politics were guided by her desire to cut the Akalis down to size. The execution of her wishes was left to her son, Sanjay Gandhi, and her loyalist, the canny Sikh politician Giani Zail Singh, who chose Bhindranwale as their weapon. Bhindranwale saw no reason to refuse their aid; any support for his brand of Sikh orthodoxy was welcome. By the time the Congress returned to power in the state in 1980, Bhindranwale was well on his way to becoming a popular icon, accumulating so much power that the Akalis, whom he was supposed to be undermining, ended up turning to him for help. He became the dominant political force in Punjab: by 1983, he was running a parallel state from within the Darbar Sahib complex, handing down death sentences and dispensing rough justice before adoring supplicants. Even the policemen in Punjab tasked with arresting him were reduced to seeking his protection. Bluestar, the military operation to remove Bhindranwale from the Darbar Sahib, ended this regime—but at the cost of hundreds of lives, and the credibility of the Indian Army, which subsequently had to deal with mutinous troops for the first time in the history of independent India. Although the action has been examined in close detail in the years following the attack, the lack of planning and intelligence, and the hurry to carry it out, have never been properly explained. In February this year, the declassification of intelligence documents in the UK revealed information about a commando operation inside the Darbar Sahib that was planned but never executed. Given this evidence, I revisited several people who had witnessed the events leading up to Operation Bluestar. In light of these interviews, it is possible to assemble a more coherent picture than ever before of the Gandhi family’s political calculations, which were central to the nature of the final operation. The dismal story of Bluestar had been set on its tracks by Sanjay Gandhi, but it now appears that its disastrous conclusion was the work of his brother Rajiv, who swept to power with the biggest mandate in Indian history following his mother’s assassination. Operation Bluestar was not just Indira Gandhi’s last battle; it was the first, and perhaps the most disastrous, of Rajiv’s blunders. By the time the smoke cleared over the Darbar Sahib, hundreds of innocent bystanders had died. Bhindranwale lay murdered, and the Akal Takht, where he had set up his final defiance of Delhi, stood shattered. The operation was followed by the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, and the organised massacre of thousands of Sikhs by Hindu mobs, led mainly by Congress politicians. In Punjab, militancy against the Indian state reached levels unprecedented in the years before Bluestar; it took a decade for a semblance of peace to return. Over the last thirty years, the debate over Bluestar has played out between two extreme points of view: that of radicals in Punjab and abroad, who dwell on the Congress’s role while overlooking Bhindranwale’s complicity, and that of people in the rest of India, who tend to focus on Bhindranwale with little sense of the Congress’s contribution to the tragedy. Many Indians may believe the events of that June can be consigned to the history books, but their memory remains alive in Punjab. Many Sikhs continue to view the operation, and the figure of Bhindranwale, in a markedly different light from the rest of the country. Without understanding how such distinct perspectives came to exist, it may be impossible to come to terms with the history of Bluestar. – See more at: http://www.caravanmagazine.in/print/4423#sthash.VRumZKHB.dpuf
Following the Punjab insurgency, which extended from the early 1980s to the mid 1990s, the number of pilgrims to the Darbar Sahib has increased rapidly. The queues to enter the shrine now extend beyond the causeway; but the sense of quiet calm remains, though it is at odds with the shrine’s history. Perhaps no place of worship so central to a major religion in India has seen as much violence within its premises. …. The sarovar was constructed in 1581 by Ram Das, the fourth Sikh guru. The tank was lined and the shrine completed by the fifth guru, Arjan Dev, in 1601. By that time, the Sikh congregation had grown large enough for the Mughal emperor Jehangir to see Guru Arjan as a threat to his sovereignty. He was arrested in 1606, and tortured to death when he refused to convert to Islam. For his followers, this first martyrdom in their incipient faith would become the paradigm for Sikhism’s relationship with the durbar in Delhi. … The sixth guru, Hargobind, donned two swords to represent a change in the nature of his leadership—he would be not only a spiritual guide to his disciples (piri), but also a preceptor in their temporal lives (miri). … The weapons form Sikhism’s central symbol, the khanda—a pair of linked swords. The guru ensured the same symbolism was reflected in the architecture of the Darbar Sahib. Across from the causeway, facing the central shrine, which represents spiritual authority, he constructed the building known as the Akal Takht, the timeless throne, from where he administered justice like any temporal authority. Once the line of living gurus ended with Guru Gobind Singh in 1708, this authority over the Sikhs came to be vested in the jathedar, or custodian, of the Akal Takht. Through the eighteenth century, as centralised authority broke down in the Punjab, the Sikhs grew in strength. Dispersed, led by various men, groups of Sikh warriors would gather periodically at the Akal Takht to plan and direct their course of action. Those seeking to contain them would target the Harmandir Sahib and the Akal Takht. … Each person who has desecrated the shrine occupies an oversize space in the collective memory of the community. Every Sikh can recount the story of Massa Rangar, who was appointed the kotwal or ruler of Amritsar in 1740 and proceeded to host nautch parties in the Harmandir Sahib, having first removed the holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, from its place. He was beheaded by two Sikhs, Mehtab and Sukha Singh, who claimed to be revenue officers coming to deposit a large sum of money. … Even better known is the story of a defender of the faith, Baba Deep Singh. In 1757, the Afghan emperor Ahmad Shah Abdali, having sacked Delhi for the fourth time, was waylaid by a Sikh contingent near Kurukshetra. Angered, he left his son Taimur Shah behind as the governor of Lahore to take care of this menace. … Taimur demolished the Harmandir Sahib, but the seventy-five-year-old Deep Singh led a contingent of five hundred Sikhs to take back the complex. By the time he neared Amritsar, their number had swelled to five thousand. Clashing with a much larger Afghan army, Deep Singh was injured by a blow to the neck, but continued to fight his way to the Darbar Sahib, eventually succumbing to his injuries by the sarovar. On the parikrama, the spot where he is believed to have fallen is marked by a portrait of him carrying his decapitated head in one hand, still holding a sword aloft in the other. …. The martyrdom of Baba Deep Singh resonates through Sikh history. Two centuries later, in June 1984, when the Indian Army went into the Darbar Sahib on orders from prime minister Indira Gandhi, it was to disarm and dislodge Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who according to tradition was the fourteenth head of the Damdami Taksaal, an orthodox Sikh seminary once headed, it is said, by Deep Singh. … In the mythology of a faith where the stories of Massa Rangar and Deep Singh arouse intense and contrary emotions, Sikhs memorialised both Bhindranwale and Gandhi in accordance with the roles they had assumed—one the defender, the other a desecrator. … The trajectory of those two lives, both of which ended violently thirty years ago, intersected for the first time in 1977, when Bhindranwale assumed charge of the Damdami Taksaal, and Gandhi was swept out of power after the Emergency. Nowhere was Gandhi’s decision to suspend the constitution as strongly contested as in Punjab, and no party resisted it with quite the ferocity of the Akali Dal, which represented Sikh interests in the state. … Over the next seven years, Gandhi, Bhindranwale and the Akali Dal would lead three fronts in a battle in which they faced off, realigned with and schemed against each other until the very end. …. From the moment an Akali Dal government, in alliance with the Janata Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), took charge of Punjab in 1977, Gandhi’s politics were guided by her desire to cut the Akalis down to size. The execution of her wishes was left to her son, Sanjay Gandhi, and her loyalist, the canny Sikh politician Giani Zail Singh, who chose Bhindranwale as their weapon. Bhindranwale saw no reason to refuse their aid; any support for his brand of Sikh orthodoxy was welcome. …. By the time the Congress returned to power in the state in 1980, Bhindranwale was well on his way to becoming a popular icon, accumulating so much power that the Akalis, whom he was supposed to be undermining, ended up turning to him for help. He became the dominant political force in Punjab: by 1983, he was running a parallel state from within the Darbar Sahib complex, handing down death sentences and dispensing rough justice before adoring supplicants. Even the policemen in Punjab tasked with arresting him were reduced to seeking his protection. … Bluestar, the military operation to remove Bhindranwale from the Darbar Sahib, ended this regime—but at the cost of hundreds of lives, and the credibility of the Indian Army, which subsequently had to deal with mutinous troops for the first time in the history of independent India. Although the action has been examined in close detail in the years following the attack, the lack of planning and intelligence, and the hurry to carry it out, have never been properly explained. …. In February this year, the declassification of intelligence documents in the UK revealed information about a commando operation inside the Darbar Sahib that was planned but never executed. Given this evidence, I revisited several people who had witnessed the events leading up to Operation Bluestar. In light of these interviews, it is possible to assemble a more coherent picture than ever before of the Gandhi family’s political calculations, which were central to the nature of the final operation. …. The dismal story of Bluestar had been set on its tracks by Sanjay Gandhi, but it now appears that its disastrous conclusion was the work of his brother Rajiv, who swept to power with the biggest mandate in Indian history following his mother’s assassination. …. Operation Bluestar was not just Indira Gandhi’s last battle; it was the first, and perhaps the most disastrous, of Rajiv’s blunders. … By the time the smoke cleared over the Darbar Sahib, hundreds of innocent bystanders had died. …. Bhindranwale lay murdered, and the Akal Takht, where he had set up his final defiance of Delhi, stood shattered. The operation was followed by the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, and the organised massacre of thousands of Sikhs by Hindu mobs, led mainly by Congress politicians. In Punjab, militancy against the Indian state reached levels unprecedented in the years before Bluestar; it took a decade for a semblance of peace to return. …. Over the last thirty years, the debate over Bluestar has played out between two extreme points of view: that of radicals in Punjab and abroad, who dwell on the Congress’s role while overlooking Bhindranwale’s complicity, and that of people in the rest of India, who tend to focus on Bhindranwale with little sense of the Congress’s contribution to the tragedy. …. Many Indians may believe the events of that June can be consigned to the history books, but their memory remains alive in Punjab. Many Sikhs continue to view the operation, and the figure of Bhindranwale, in a markedly different light from the rest of the country. Without understanding how such distinct perspectives came to exist, it may be impossible to come to terms with the history of Bluestar
Rule Britannia!Britannia rule the wavesBritons never, never, never shall be slaves.
Not to worry little Englanders, the sole purpose of EUSSR is to force the Human Rights Act down your uncivilized throats. There will be no stopping of immigration from brown/black lands – your jails are far better than their burnt-out huts. As far as overseas aid is concerned, it is a bribe to sell first-world weapons to third-world despots. Be happy now and suck it up (freedom will be a long time coming).
We are firm believers in maximum devolution of power and hence are sympathetic to claims of UK being crushed by the dictates of imperials from Brussels and Strasbourg. How about considering an apology for UK having colonized India, causing numerous Holocausts through man-made famines, collecting trillions in illegal taxes and confiscated treasures, destroying local industries and enslaving tens of thousands of soldiers to fight Indians at home and other Europeans abroad? …. Link: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/may/30/tories-ukip-newark-by-election-farage-helmer-peoples-arm ….
…we just did not realize how bad things were. The most damning observation by Anand Soondas is the currency of “Hindu truth” vs. “Muslim truth” that has been gaining ground for quite some time. Hindus are now united (mostly) in terms of how fed up they are about muslims.
Finally, though, the marauding Muslims had been dealt a blow for all of history’s crimes. From Chengiz to Babur and Jinnah to Dawood, everything had been avenged in one fell swoop. And for this they gave credit to one man. Narendra Modi. For once a Hindu had stood up, and how. We can add the Bangladesh genocide and ongoing ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Pak/Bangla and many others to that long bloody list (see also Tipu Sultan). Never forget, their heroes are our villains.
The Muslims do not really have much with which to retaliate with against this tidal wave of hate: respond with bombs or threats of partition, and the backlash is (will be) overwhelming. The only option is to sue for peace and to live in ghettos (the Sri Lankan model).
Sad to say, this is how things will be, from now on to infinity. Hindus will (have already) disappear from a large part of the South Asian land-mass. The muslims will face the sword of injustice everywhere, in India for just being a muslim, in Pakistan (and Bangladesh) for being the wrong type of muslim.
We actually agree with Arundhati Roy that the new govt does not have an agenda for explicit harm towards muslims, but there are many indirect ways in which the screws can be tightened.
How about Muslims joining hands with the other minorities – the Sikhs, the Jains, the Christians, the Buddhists and the Parsis to face a common threat? Sorry, it is not going to happen. The Christians are secure in their fortresses in the South and in the North-East (except the tribal communities dispersed all over, and even in that case, elite Christians do not have much sympathy to spare) . The Sikhs are already in alliance with the Hindu Brotherhood. The Jains and Parsis are actually pillars of the Brotherhood, they are some of the biggest supporters of Modi.
Not to forget, the Muslims are at fault as well. Everywhere in South Asia, and if history is any guide, there is not one minority community which will feel inclined to be friendly or accommodative towards muslims. If Muslims in India can harass Tibetans because of what is happening to Rohingyas in Burma, then why should any neo-Buddhist feel kindly towards them?
Our only quibble with Anand Soondas is that Congress knows why it failed the Indian people, but it will not have the guts to do a proper introspection and take necessary steps for re-invention. As a wise BPite says, Congress is doomed with the N-G family at the top, and it is equally doomed without them. …….
Ayodhya is an unusually sleepy town with a slightly overpowering population of monkeys. It generally goes about with its existence unmindful of its place in either ancient or modern history. But the early months of 2002 were different. Its people were then wide awake – a few in anticipation, a majority in anxiety. Much of India, too, was on its toes.
The VHP had threatened to launch a 100-day yagya to press for construction of the Ram mandir and, by February 17, sadhus, mahants, sanyasis, party workers from across the country affiliated to various saffron fronts had begun converging at Karsevakpuram for the great prayer, to god and to government. The air crackled with the fire lit by hundreds of volunteers. Copious amounts of ghee flung into the flames made it seem like summer inside the camps. Something was bound to singe.
The place had been turned into a fortress, crawling with jawans and officers from the paramilitary forces and sundry intelligence men in mufti from the local and central units. There was talk of the army being called in if the VHP and the akharas did not back down. On the face of it, they didn’t.
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s repeated entreaties to everyone to wait for the court’s order on the impossibly vexed temple tangle were summarily dismissed by the yagya organizers. Ramchandra Parmahans, the eccentric president of the Ram Janmabhoomi Trust, often boomed that it was not a matter to be decided by the judiciary as it concerned faith, the religious sentiments of Hindus. He accused the BJP of selling out. VHP president Ashok Singhal was equally vituperative and unmoved. This is India, this is Ram lalla’s birthplace, he said. “Nothing will stop us from making the structure.” The momentum kept building up. The fires kept burning. Truckloads of kar sevaks kept pouring in. To get the logistics right – food and accommodation, after all, were not unlimited and had to be dispensed with care – individual groups were advised to stay at Karsevakpuram for a stipulated period of time and then head home so that everyone interested in the 100-day programme could get a chance to participate in what the sadhus were calling a historic turning point for India.
It was one such group returning from Ayodhya that got caught in Godhra on February 27. Fifty-nine Ram sevaks, many among them women and children, were locked inside the blazing compartments of the Sabarmati Express by a Muslim mob to suffocate and burn.
Something was bound to singe. Those were initial days of my reporting career and I was posted in Lucknow as the Uttar Pradesh correspondent for The Telegraph. Though I had come back to base, I wanted to go to Gujarat to see the train for myself and the trail of death and destruction it had triggered off. My editor at that paper finally relented and on the first anniversary of the tragedy, I was on my way to Godhra. It was February 27, 2003. S-6, the roasted and ravaged compartment of the Sabarmati Express, was still there at Signal Falia, the station. It looked sullen and angry at its own fate.
In a report from there, I had then written: “In the one year that has passed, Godhra has changed. Everything is divided — people, loyalties, business, bus stops, hospitals, schools. Even truth. Inquire about any incident and you are bound to get a Hindu truth and a Muslim truth…The Hindu and Muslim populations of this town were already divided, roughly in half, making it one of the most dangerous and communally sensitive hotspots in the country. Now, even the geography seems to have split vertically…
Being a predominantly Muslim locality has not helped. Business in Signal Falia, which lies next to Godhra railway station, has collapsed. The rows of shops that lined the wall adjoining the periphery of the station have been razed. There were 180 shops in all, the bread and butter of more than 2,000 people. Now, there is only one long line of rubble.”
Then, in a dispatch dated February 27, 2003: “The platform wore a deserted look. A quick scan of railway records at Godhra station showed nobody had bought a ticket to board the Sabarmati Express, scheduled to arrive at 2 am. Yet railway security officials patrolled the platform and guards stood outside the station. Five jawans huddled near a bonfire at the station entrance, listening to the commentary of the India-England match. As Ashish Nehra took another wicket, they cackled. At 1.25 am, India’s path to the Super Six stage was looking easier. “Bas, aaj India match jeet jaye, kal ka kal dekha jayega,” a jawan said softly…
The train pulled in ahead of time and lingered at the platform for 15 minutes. The few inside S-6 fidgeted nervously. Suresh Yadav, travelling with six family members, was not interested in the score. “Why isn’t the damn train moving” he muttered. His brother, Ramesh, who was peeping furtively through the closed shutters, didn’t volunteer an answer. There was a general sigh of relief when the train moved, hesitantly, at 1.56 am.”
As I left Godhra and returned to Ahmedabad, traveling to a few other places along the way, there had been one constant refrain from Hindus everywhere – in Gandhinagar, Vadodara, Surat. “Sabak ho gaya.” (They have been taught a lesson.) “Garv hai humko.” (We are proud.) Almost all of them said their anguish had been heightened by the unwillingness of mainstream political parties and the media to condemn unequivocally and in categorical terms what was a most inhuman, unthinkable act of cruelty.
Finally, though, the marauding Muslims had been dealt a blow for all of history’s crimes. From Chengiz to Babur and Jinnah to Dawood, everything had been avenged in one fell swoop. And for this they gave credit to one man. Narendra Modi. For once a Hindu had stood up, and how. In the ten years since the horrific violence startled and shocked Indians with its sheer malevolence and systematic intent, the adulation has hardly ebbed.
To some extent, I suspect, this lies at the heart of a fair amount of support for the Gujarat chief minister and the man who could be the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for 2014. Though there is no evidence yet to prove Modi let the severe reprisals against the Godhra killings go on unabated – something that would eventually take more than 1200 lives – that’s what common folks believe. And sensing the Hindu mahapurush sentiment, Modi hasn’t really gone out of his way to disabuse that notion. If anything, he has worked on that image. His ‘Gujarat model’, he has quietly and subtly signaled, is not just about keeping the economy in place.
Introducing the Vibrant Gujarat campaign a year after the post-Godhra riots was a political masterstroke. This man was a doer. People could do business with him. Faith and finance came together perfectly to photoshop further the portrait. Soon, the Tatas were happy, then the Ambanis, then industry bodies. Even Bollywood. Amitabh Bachchan, not known to be too finicky while choosing his friends, is clearly in love with Modi. His ad campaigns have brought in thousands of more tourists to Gujarat. It helps industry to support, and to be seen supporting, Modi – a man unlike the passive Manmohan Singh or the befuddled Rahul Gandhi. It will be a huge bonus if in future he heads the cabinet in New Delhi and there is need for collaborations with and investments from governments and business houses abroad.
Some foreign powers seem pleased with the prospect already and have ended their excommunication of Modi. Ethics seldom come in the way of enterprise. In the largely scripted interactions he’s had – at SRCC and FICCI – in Delhi, no one has grilled him on Godhra. He has instead talked about his vision of India, its powers – both real and imagined – and its potential. Of how it is a nation of mouse-charmers. In any case, the Modi juggernaut now ensures he needn’t go any place where there’ll be uncomfortable questions to answer. That won’t fit in with the painting under construction – of the man on a white horse. He is all about ‘listen’, not ‘ask’.
That no data on Modi’s Gujarat outshining the rest of the country has stood the test of time – or compared better with stats coming out of some of India’s now-performing states like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and even Bihar (Hooda would insist Haryana, too) – has become irrelevant and ceased to matter. A TOI article pointed out how there’s growing unemployment in Gujarat, how women and children don’t do too well, how dalits are still being victimized, how – far from the promise of farmers selling petrol – large sections are facing acute shortage of water.
In 2005, when the US denied him a visa, Modi said he would make Gujarat such a destination that one day the state will be compared with America. He said farmers would be like Arab sheikhs and will have crude oil pouring out of taps in their fields. That hasn’t happened, and most likely it never will.
But if there is anything equally responsible for the Modi wave apparently sweeping the nation – fuelled, of course, by a fawning, amoral industry and a core Hindutva vote bank – it is the disastrous rule of the UPA government, its PM and an annoying bunch of Gandhi-worshipping, directionless and out of sync ministers.
On every front the country has only gone down the ladder in this past one decade. The economy is in tatters, security is too casual, transparency is hardly visible and administration is non-existent. The lot of our women has worsened. Even as I write this, there have been four rapes in Delhi in the last 24 hours. A 19-year-old was gang raped and a 5-year-old girl brutalized so badly that she is struggling to stay alive. And this coming after the Nirbhaya case following which the government had vowed to increase police presence and patrolling. Only corruption and disparity have grown. If the number of billionaires and millionaires has gone up, so have the poor and the hungry.
In the hands of UPA 2, India has seemed too large to handle, too diverse to unify, too discontented to be mollified. Latest international rankings show that India fares poorly on all human development indicators such as education, child mortality sex ratio, environment, human rights and gender equality. The situation is actually worse than the indices indicate.
India ranks at 136 out of 187 countries with comparable data in the Human Development Index. It was at number 94 out of 176 countries in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perception Index, slipping from number 72 among 180 countries in 2007. Our gender inequality index is shameful too – at number 129 out of 147 countries.
From the absence of food security to custodial torture, and from large-scale displacement of the poor to malnourishment, the Working Group on Human Rights and the UN recently came out with a damning report on India’s rights track record. Not taking into account uprooting due to armed and ethnic conflict, India was estimated to have the highest number of people displaced annually by ‘development’ projects. That’s a whole load of bad news.
The other, quite incredible, move by the Congress and its Gandhi loyalists has been to pitch Rahul as the answer to Modi. They have to understand that the poor guy is just not interested in the top job. In fact, he keeps hinting that he’s trapped in a wrong body. For a party and alliance in disarray, it would be suicidal to have someone so confused helm it. There can be nothing worse than pushing on stage a leader who does not want to lead. It sends out all the wrong signals. Manmohan Singh says he doesn’t discount a third term for himself. That’s a chilling thought. Even for Congressmen.
If the BJP and its allies do come to power, riding on the back of Modi’s popularity and the disenchantment with the UPA, the Congress will know exactly who to blame. The Congress.
Indians haven’t been so despondent, listless and impatient as they are today. All that large sections of the public want to do is vote out the present government. But if that rage and hope coalesce into a movement that’s ready to have Modi as India’s prime minister, the country, its politics and its people will have a lot to answer – to itself and to the world watching it. Because then we will never be able to hold any politician accountable for the wrong that he does or oversees or fails to stop. And that will be too much of a price to pay – even if it is in the name of development. Or the promise of it.
Anand Soondas comments on what stories become important for the media and what is left out (especially the rape stories).
We have something to add to the points that Anand makes so well. There is now a perception (amongst politicians and much of the elite class) that India is being unfairly targeted by the media.
Rapes happen everywhere (it may even happen at a higher frequency someplace else), so why the spotlight on India?
And why are journalists (part of the elite class themselves, many of them foreigners) being so insensitive:“Aapko toh khatra nahin hua?” …. The competition was tough from the word go — Smriti Irani’s discrepancies in her affidavits, Modi’s man Nripendra Misra getting the top job with the help of a hurriedly drafted ordinance, DDA lining up 27,000 flats, the row over Article 370, IPL 7 entering the final lap.
The two little girls, sisters as it turned out, in faraway Badaun in Uttar Pradesh who were raped, beaten and hung from a tree didn’t stand a chance even in such medievally administered death to make it to the front pages of Delhi’s big newspapers.
One had it as a small single column inside on day 1, the other, also a national daily, as a brief, again in an inside page. That such things happen in today’s India, in 2014, and that such barbarism continues to exist in a country whose first-world aspirations have just decimated a non-performing party and thrust into power another that sells dreams well didn’t merit more space.
It needn’t have been so.
There is a thought, in my view somewhat misplaced and erroneous, that readers of newspapers in the metropolises aren’t concerned or particularly keen about reports, however tragic, gory or shattering, coming from the interiors. Therefore, often datelines kill bylines.
Around the time that Nirbhaya died after being violated in a Delhi bus, there was another, equally brutal, gang rape that happened in William Nagar in the Garo Hills of Meghalaya. Sixteen men, some of them boys, on the night of December 13, 2012 waylaid a teenager returning home after attending a winter festival and, just for kicks, first thrashed her and then took turns to rape her. Some of them wanted, and tried very hard, to finish her off. She survived, to be denied admission in schools, to be boycotted by society and teased by former friends.
Her story, in many ways, is more harrowing than Nirbhaya’s because she continues to live that horror every day of her life. It wasn’t compelling enough though — or so felt some of our papers coming out of the cities — for the urban readers. There wasn’t much about it anywhere. The glossing over and ignoring of the story was scandalous, to say the least.
In the name of core readership, it’s become almost routine for stories from our villages and towns to be summarily dismissed. Many, even those with larger ramifications, that speak of us as a people, disappear without a trace.
But is that how readers themselves look at things? I am not too sure. For one, there is so much migration from hinterland to heartland that large chunks of consumers of newspapers in metro cities aren’t its native residents.
Second, a newspaper’s readership these days is in reality larger, more amorphous than the numbers for it that various surveys give. For example, someone who doesn’t take The Times of India may on any given day read an article in it that is suggested by a friend, or click on a TOI link shared by another, or go through it on the FB wall of a colleague, perhaps scan it quickly on Twitter.
Most importantly, are we assuming that someone in Delhi will not be interested in, say, the persecution of a group of PUU (people unlike us) that’s happened in Bareilly? If something is important, interesting, engrossing, he will. It’s a talking point like any other. News by definition is, and should be, all-encompassing. As far as possible, at least. There is a world beyond Gurgaon on one side and Noida on the other, and it ought to be acknowledged.
Yes, space is shrinking in the papers because of the costs involved in printing and it makes sense to give the immediate surroundings priority. But it is imperative that we strike a balance. My mother is always searching for stories from Darjeeling and Sikkim, my next door neighbours, the Joshis, are perpetually hunting for tidbits from Uttarakhand, and the Beheras on the ground floor complain regularly that Odisha is all but forgotten by the publications in New Delhi.
Moreover, just because we think the poor and the uneducated unwashed don’t read the flashy dailies and aren’t our target audience, we cannot stop writing about them when they need to be written about the most. We will be unfair to them, to our readers and to ourselves as people in the media.
One story almost everyone in my building — the Joshis, the Beharas, the Gangulys, my mother — seemed to have read recently was the one about a fire flattening out a cluster of jhuggis in Vasant Kunj. Some of them went out in the evening with money, food and clothes to comfort the hapless dwellers there.
Questioned by reporters over the inexcusable rise in violence against women in Uttar Pradesh, an edgy Akhilesh Yadav on Friday shot back at the journalists, “Aapko toh khatra nahin hua? (it’s not as if you faced any danger?)” The chief minister’s insensitive counter-question left most mediapersons stunned.
Akhilesh was in Kanpur on personal work when city reporters buttonholed him over the alarming rise in rape cases in the state, apart from an abysmal slide in the rule of law.
There have been four rapes in the last two days in UP, beginning with the sexual assault and murder of two dalit teenagers in Badaun, followed by rape of another dalit teenage girl in Azamgarh. On Friday, a fourth girl was raped in Sharawasti.
Last month, Akhilesh’s father and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav had commented on the issue of rape, “Boys will be boys, why hang rapists?”
Addressing a rally in Moradabad in April, Mulayam had said, “Ladkiyan pehle dosti karti hain. Ladke-ladki mein matbhed ho jata hai. Matbhed hone key baad usey rape ka naam dey deti hain. Ladko sey galti ho jati hai. Kya rape case mein phansi di jayegi? (First, girls and boys become friends. Then, when differences occur between them, the girls accuse boys of rape. Boys may make mistakes, but should they be hanged for it?)” ……..
Here is the million dollar question. If Modi can develop a first-rate economic relationship with China, will he be able to pressurize Pakistan (via China) to sue for peace? The future picture will be more clear, if we make a careful evaluation of the past, why and how we have arrived at this bend of history.
To expect India to make ‘concessions’ to Pakistan when this country is caught in such dire straits is to be naïve. India would rather add to our miseries than bend. Let’s get it straight: whatever the government in power in New Delhi, India has no intention of resuming meaningful talks with Pakistan — Mumbai and terrorism being useful, ever-green pretexts.
Looking back, what was the primary cause behind the South Asian partitions? It was primarily because opposing elites were seeking parity with respect to each other (not just independence from each other).
If one considers Partition I in South Asia in an unbiased manner then it appears that Nehru (representing Congress) unfortunately made a few terrible mistakes. He was a Fabian socialist and was impatient to run the country HIS way. Religion as an ornament was fine by him, but (we presume) that he was put off by Hindu as well as Muslim precepts as something backward (if not outright evil) and deserving to be put in the rubbish bin.
Nehru’s mistake was two-fold: at a theoretical level he misjudged the appeal of muslim nationalism (he thought he was more popular amongst muslims than Jinnah!!!), and at a practical level he underestimated the antagonism and mistrust felt by both sides meaning there was a total absence of trust. Muslims simply did not trust Nehru that there will be adequate safeguards in India for them to lead life in their own way, AND a pathway to parity. Parity meant equality of privilege. And parity was something that Nehru was unwilling to give.
Partition I happened not just because muslims in South Asia were looking for a homeland for themselves, it happened because they felt that they deserve parity with the Hindus of India. For historical reasons it was never possible to imagine a situation where Pakistan < India. This is the reason Pakistan always has had a subservient relationship with the USA (and subsequently China and Saudi Arabia), because only with these nations as allies can Pakistan hope to achieve parity with India.
Partition II also happened because Bengalis were looking for parity (with Punjabis). The thinking was straight-forward, culturally, scientifically, Bengalis were equal or even superior to Punjabis. Economically, Pakistan was beholden to jute from the East and the jute money was being spent disproportionately in the West. Only in military prowess the Bengalis were lagging. And to seek parity in this sphere the Bengalis turned to India.
The powers that be in Pakistan made (unfortunately) the same mistakes that Nehru did a few decades ago. They underestimated the appeal of Bengali nationalism and they did not grasp the level of mistrust between Bengalis and Punjabis. When Bhutto made the offer for parity, it was too little, too late.
Indeed we believe that the secularism (plus) model as adopted by Nehru and the Congress and applied to India was because of the belated realization that you cannot demand trust from your sworn enemies, you can only hope that with time, the change will come from within the community. Thus while Nehru joined hands with Ambedkar and blew up existing Hindu society with the Hindu Civil Code, for muslims his answer was (now in opposition to Ambedkar) that as a community they are simply not ready. This is why we have (constitutionally) Uniform Civil Code as a desirable goal but something that will never be implemented (not even BJP has the willpower to do it, though they will use the resentment to catch votes). In this sense having a personal code is also an imperfect declaration of parity.
When people talk of secularism in the Indian context it is a search for parity in as many spheres as possible. Mindless application of this principle however can lead to policy incoherence. As an example take the case of minority educational institutions. While all mainstream organizations (with a few notable exceptions) must obey the standard 50 (general) + 50 (quota) reservation policy (for students and faculty alike), the MEIs do not have to follow this rule. In this way the MEIs are able to guarantee a few seats for Christians, Muslims etc. but the overwhelming composition is forward caste!!! How is this anyway fair and useful?? ….. During the first decades after independence Pakistan was indeed superior to India by most measures. India was a poor country trying to experiment with imperfect democracy, while Pakistan was being run by the military (leading from the front or from behind) with an efficient bureaucracy and fueled by a powerful, unifying, ideology.
The impact of ideology was most clear in the way the two countries played cricket (and also hockey), especially against each other. Pakistan has always been blessed with rare talent, but due to the lifting power of ideology Pakistanis managed to rise even above the sum of their talents. India on the other hand mostly played below par (this has changed of late). Gandhiji’s statement of Hindus being weak and Muslims being strong was exactly a reflection of the respective ideological strengths.
In the long run however this search for muslim (now explicitly Sunni Punjabi) parity seems headed for the quick-sands. It is not just that Hindus out-number Muslims, it is that elite Hindus out-number elite S-P Muslims. Further, the way the partitions and the aftermath have played out, elite Hindus can now co-opt muslims to fight against muslims (see Kargil war) but the reverse is not possible. This is the exact opposite of what happened during the glory days of Islamic rule when Akbar had a galaxy of Hindu generals (and Hindu soldiers) fighting against the Rajputs and the Marathas.
To his credit, Bhutto recognized this when he talked about eating grass in order to fund a nuclear weapons program (which will provide parity in face of a much larger Indian army equipped with conventional weapons). The jihadi army would then act as a force-multiplier and this is how we get to parity (+).
But as is clear from the cold war experience, this equality seeking exercise in the military domain is bound to exact a terrible penalty in economic (hard power) as well as the cultural domain (soft power). And a Pakistan which is weaker economically may not be able to withstand the pressures emanating from an economically dominant India. Most alarmingly, the economic partnerships that India now may choose to develop with China, USA and even the Middle East may outweigh (or at the least counter-balance) the strategic relationships these countries have with Pakistan.
When we reach that point (and we feel it is inevitable), the battle for parity will be lost. Perhaps it is already lost (only historians will be able to tell for sure…in a few decades time).
…………………… ‘STRUCTURED talks’ is a piece of nonsense that was first heard in the South Asian context possibly in the ’90s. Since then, the talks charade between Pakistan and India has assumed many nomenclatures — peace process (God bless Henry Kissinger for coining this phrase), ‘composite dialogue’ in the wake of Vajpayee’s visit to Islamabad to attend the Saarc conference in 2004, and — thanks to Hina Rabbani Khar — ‘not only uninterrupted but uninterruptible’ dialogue.
The prime minister’s adviser on foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz now adds the prefix of ‘re’ to make it an impressive-sounding epithet — ‘restructured talks’. The result is India’s unqualified victory in refusing to talk turkey, thus freezing the Kashmir issue.
Statements made on Wednesday by the two foreign policy managers now stand out in contrast, one by Mr Aziz; the other by the Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj; the latter has substance brimming with confidence bordering on arrogance; the former’s a poor attempt at claiming success which is not there. The latter was blunt to the point of crudity, mercifully after the visitors had left the former full of diplomatic clichés and inanities and pleading for the process to be “restructured and updated”.
Two points highlighted Ms Swaraj’s policy statement, made not at a press conference but given to the Press Trust of India (PTI), the official news agency, showing her eagerness to clarify the BJP government’s policy with regard to Pakistan in the wake of the swearing-in ceremony on Monday and the meeting between Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi.
We do not know the sequence in which the Indian foreign minister spelled out the BJP government’s priorities in the realm of foreign affairs, but going by what appeared in print she spoke first of Pakistan — in the most bullying style — and then concentrated on how India would project itself to the world. It is the latter part that is significant and gives an inkling of the ‘big power’ status that has been the obsession of Indian leaders and strategists from the founding father Jawaharlal Nehru and Subramanian to this day.
As paraphrased by the PTI and reported by our New Delhi correspondent, Ms Swaraj said her priority would be to ‘showcase India’s strengths to the world and improve relations with neighbouring countries, strategic partners, Africa, Asean member countries, Europe and others’. India’s strengths — yes, the plural.
Indeed, India has many ‘strengths’ to flaunt, not only the size of its territory and population but the breakthrough it has made in economy and the efforts it is making to have a military-industrial complex.
Slowly but to good effect, India has begun to act on the advice of its friends in the West. How long will you remain bogged down in your obsession with the infinitely small Pakistan? If you want China status, have a higher vision, go beyond Pakistan, treat your western neighbour with contempt, think of greener pastures, and do what Ms Swaraj aptly did with all seriousness on Wednesday — ‘showcase India’s strengths to the world’.
Against this ‘showcasing’, consider her advice to Pakistan whose prime minister had met hers a day earlier — “stop terrorist activities”, because talks get subdued in the “din” of bombs. This then is Pakistan’s status in her eyes and this in a nutshell is the outcome of the prime minister’s visit to New Delhi.
Finally, we have to note what most Pakistani commentators miss. India has no reason to give relief to Pakistan, knowing well that this country is in a nutcracker situation. Half the army is either already bogged down in the west to combat the Taliban or is perhaps mobilising more troops for an operation. Balochistan is in the grip of a low-intensity insurgency. The economy is in a shambles. Blasphemy and YouTube are national issues. The ISI, one of the world’s most powerful and resourceful spy agencies, is waging a war of its own against a media group by mobilising mullahs.
Development activity has ceased to exist in three of the provinces. There are polio restrictions on Pakistani travellers. Afghanistan is breathing down our neck. America and the West consider us little better than an exporter of terrorism. China has expressed behind-the-scenes concern to Pakistan over the situation in Xingjian, and the state’s writ is absent not only in Fata but in many other areas too.
To expect India to make ‘concessions’ to Pakistan when this country is caught in such dire straits is to be naïve. India would rather add to our miseries than bend. Let’s get it straight: whatever the government in power in New Delhi, India has no intention of resuming meaningful talks with Pakistan — Mumbai and terrorism being useful, ever-green pretexts. ……. Link: http://www.dawn.com/news/1109487/nonsense-no-less/ …..
On the other hand, for the conquered peoples, British rule was an unparalleled blessing. For the first and only time in their histories, they had a government that tried – and generally tried with success – to be just and moderate. India in particular gained from British rule. It got a reasonably honest administration, and the benefits of English law and of western science and education. No one who looks at India under Aurangzebe and under Queen Victoria can regard the change as other than for the best for the great majority of the Indian people. Seen purely from the right of the conquered peoples to life, liberty and property, the only disadvantage of British rule was that it finally came to an end. And this is the truth even taking into account the bloodshed of the initial conquests and of the maintenance of British rule. Every imperial power that ever existed has governed by the sword. No other has ever unsheathed the sword so reluctantly and with so many compensating benefits.
In general it is quite true that Indians suffer from deep inferiority complex (unless you are talking to mad folks who claim that the Vedic civilization was in possession of atom bombs).
However the spelling bee is one area where they may claim to have the upper hand, with the top four places secured this year and a proud tradition in the making. Great job, folks.
For the first time in 52 years, two spellers were declared co-champions of the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday.
Indian-Americans Sriram Hathwar of New York and Ansun Sujoe (top) of Texas shared the title after a riveting final-round duel in which they nearly exhausted the 25 designated championship words. After they spelled a dozen words correctly in a row, they both were named champions.
The past eight winners and 13 of the past 17 have been of Indian descent, a run that began in 1999 after Nupur Lala’s victory, which was later featured in the documentary “Spellbound.”
Earlier, 14-year-old Sriram opened the door to an upset by 13-year-old Ansun after he misspelled “corpsbruder,” a close comrade. But Ansun was unable to take the title because he got “antegropelos,” which means waterproof leggings, wrong.
Sriram entered the final round as the favorite after finishing in third place last year. Ansun just missed the semifinals last year.
They become the fourth co-champions in the bee’s 89-year history and the first since 1962.
“The competition was against the dictionary, not against each other,” Sriram said after both were showered with confetti onstage. “I’m happy to share this trophy with him.”
Sriram backed up his status as the favorite by rarely looking flustered on stage, nodding confidently as he outlasted 10 other spellers to set up the one-on-one duel with Ansun. The younger boy was more nervous and demonstrative, no more so than on the word that gave him a share of the title: “feuilleton” the features section of a European newspaper or magazine.
“Ah, whatever!” Ansun said before beginning to spell the word as the stage lights turned red, signaling that he had 30 seconds left.
Although they hoisted a single trophy together onstage, each will get one to take home, and each gets the champion’s haul of more than $33,000 in cash and prizes.
Gokul Venkatachalam of Missouri finished third, and Ashwin Veeramani of Ohio, was fourth.
Narendra Modi is supposedly very much Israeli like in character- this is vouched for by the Israelis themselves. Also it is inevitable that the enemy of your enemy is your friend.
To update the Two Nation Theory: their maximum villain-enemies are our maximum hero-friends and vice versa. ……
To his Israeli partners, Modi’s profile as an opponent of Muslim extremism—a perceived common enemy, particularly in the wake of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai—only made him more appealing.
Surveys by the Israeli Foreign Ministry have found that Indian support for Israel is higher than in any other country polled, beating out even the United States. “Rural Indians see Israel as an agricultural superpower,” said Shimon Mercer-Wood, Southeast Asia desk officer at the Israeli Foreign Ministry. “Urban India sees Israel as a leader of innovation and entrepreneurship.” ……….
It is actually high time that Israel and India take the partnership to the next level in the civilian domain (military links are already strong).
Technology wise India needs Israel..desperately.But (as we imagine) a country with one billion friends is what Israel needs India far more, in particular in the coming days as the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions campaign picks up steam in the West.
In the near future, it may well be that theEuropean doors will close. Anti-semitism is right now rampant and deadly across the continent and is likely to accelerate as the Left-Islam alliance grows in strength. In the mean-time India under the Hindu Brotherhood will be shining brightly (welcome sign: swastika?)
At the same time we wish Palestine and Kashmir to remain peaceful (it will never be resolved because their sacred ground is ours as well). It is beyond pathetic (but understandable) that people cannot see beyond their artificial communities…..all of them . …….. Israelis who have met Narendra Modi, India’s newly elected prime minister-designate, gush about him and what he means for Israel. At a recent event at the Institute for National Security Studies, in Tel Aviv, he was described in glowing terms: “outgoing”; “assertive”; “extremely, extremely clever”; and “very tachles, very direct, very Israeli.”
Among the calls Modi received congratulating him on his win last week was one from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who told his cabinet at their weekly meeting that Modi had replied by expressing the desire to “deepen and develop economic ties with the state of Israel.”
….When Modi, the head of the Hindu nationalist BJP party, is sworn in as prime minister on Monday, he will become the only Indian premier to have ever visited the Jewish state. He has close relationships with Israeli business leaders, and his landslide victory has left many anticipating the possibility of a great leap forward in Indian-Israeli relations—and with it, a billion new customers and allies.
Israel’s relationship with India has long been a quiet affair, with a lot going on behind the scenes, but not much happening in public.
Though India voted to recognize Israel in 1950, successive governments in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s avoided public ties with Jerusalem, partly to appease India’s large Muslim minority and partly out of a desire to avoid alienating Arab allies. India didn’t establish official relations with Israel until 1992, making it the last non-Arab, non-Muslim country in the world to do so.
Despite this, commercial ties, technology sharing, space exploration, and military cooperation between the two countries have all grown vigorously in recent years. Bilateral trade has shot up from less than $200 million in 1992 to almost $4.4 billion in 2013 (not including weapons sales, which account for billions more). The growth in bilateral trade has been driven largely by precious stones and by defense spending. The exception is in Gujarat, the state where Narendra Modi has served as chief minister for the past 13 years.
In Gujarat, Israeli industry was not only welcomed by Modi but actively pursued. Huge tenders for a semiconductor plant , a new port , and a desalination plant were awarded to Israeli bidders. Israeli agriculture, pharmaceutical, alternative energy, and information technology companies have flourished there. This isn’t incidental: Modi’s campaign was based on replicating his economic success in Gujarat on a national scale, and much of that success was tied up with Israel.
In Gujarat, Modi emphasized privatization and small government. He opened financial and technological parks, brought in foreign investment, and cracked down on corruption. Under his administration, the state’s economy expanded by more than 10 percent annually. In 2010, in Modi’s third term in office, Forbes named Gujarat’s largest city, Ahmedabad, as the third-fastest growing city in the world.
Modi’s career was nearly derailed in 2002 when riots broke out in Ahmedabad; an estimated 1,000 Muslims were killed by Hindu radicals during the violence. Modi’s government was accused of not doing enough to stop the massacre, and while Modi was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Indian Supreme Court’s Special Investigation Team in 2009, he was banned from visiting the United States over his role in the violence—a circumstance that drove Modi to develop relationships with other foreign partners, particularly Israel and Japan, instead.
In 2006, Modi accepted an invitation to visit Israel for an agricultural technology conference. The five-day trip sparked an ongoing relationship; Modi began encouraging partnerships with Israeli ministries and advised his constituents to study Israeli agricultural and water-management systems.
To his Israeli partners, Modi’s profile as an opponent of Muslim extremism—a perceived common enemy, particularly in the wake of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai—only made him more appealing.
Modi’s BJP has often been supportive of Israel. Though diplomatic relations between New Delhi and Jerusalem were first officially established under the dominant Congress Party in 1992, it was during the last BJP coalition government, between 1999 and 2004, that the relationship blossomed. India’s Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, of the BJP Party, visited Israel in 2000, and in 2003 Ariel Sharon became the first Israeli leader to visit India.
According to a report in the International Business Times, Modi has suggested that he may make the first official state visit by a sitting prime minister to Israel during his term of office. His timing is impeccable: The Indian public seems especially well primed for a closer alliance with Israel as well.
Surveys by the Israeli Foreign Ministry have found that Indian support for Israel is higher than in any other country polled, beating out even the United States. “Rural Indians see Israel as an agricultural superpower,” said Shimon Mercer-Wood, Southeast Asia desk officer at the Israeli Foreign Ministry. “Urban India sees Israel as a leader of innovation and entrepreneurship.”
… In the last few months a string of cooperative anti-terror agreements was signed between the two countries; negotiations over a Free Trade Agreement are ongoing. One of the largest Indian business delegations ever to visit Israel will be attending the MIXiii conference in Tel Aviv this month. But Modi’s victory has the potential to send these efforts into overdrive.
…. “Modi likes Israeli Chutzpah,” said a senior member of the AgileTree investment company who has dealt personally with him in Gujarat for years and asked to remain anonymous because of continuing business operations with both major parties. “If only a fraction of what happened in Gujarat will happen in India as a whole, the state of Israel will be one of the biggest beneficiaries.” …… Link: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/173767/modi-israels-new-best-friend ….