THE SIKHS IN INDEPENDENT INDIA-II
Indira’s Sikh War
(1975 – 1984)
The declaration of the state of emergency by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on the night of June 25-26, 1975, to save herself from the aftereffects of Allahabad High Court Judgement unseating her for her corrupt practices, as laid down by herself, shook the very foundations of the democratic spirit underlying the Constitution. Armed with the draconian powers including rigorous press censorship, it ushered an era of arbitrariness and arrogance for personal survival and family aggrandisement, with new upstart Sanjay Gandhi and his goons creating terror and playing havoc with the system. Precisely, M.C. Kamatr, in the Constituent Assembly (CA), had warned against such a type of subversion of the constitution by the people in authority. Shiromani Akali Dal, the premier Sikh organisation, in 1950, had mentioned of the dictatorial powers that could be assumed under the emergency provisions as one of the reasons for its rejection of the Constitution as adopted by the CA.
Paradoxically, the emergency was within the framework of the Constitution; Supreme Court having knuckled under, with the vacation Judge, a self-serving leftist, wilfully passing an utterly confusing and mutually contradictory order granting her partial stay of the Allahabad High Court Judgement. Verily, this was upshot of Indira’s resolve to have committed Judges. Now, she went wholehog to bend the judiciary by capricious transfer of Judges, suppressions, and by weighted new appointments.
In shock and disbelief, timid and supine nation almost capitulated. There were individual cases of protest, especially by the students of Delhi University for a couple of months, and an obituary notice in the Time of India, “death of Mrs. Democracy, wife of Mr. Freedom”, but by and large the people in hushed tones took it casually. No political party except Shiromani Akali Dal took up the challenge; the only other exception was the Rashtriya Swym Sevak Sangh (RSS) whose Chief Balasaheb Deoras, while still in Jail pleaded for a compromise, and the RSS periodicals started praising Indira and her son Sanjiy. According to the Amnesty International, 140,000 persons were detained without trial during the emergency,1 and of them 60,000 were Sikhs. Akali volunteers were so motivated that when released they would restart with anti-emergency slogans passing through villages, creating a piquant situation.
When the whole of India lay prostrate before Indira and her son Sanjay, the anti-emergency agitation from the Golden Temple complex, with volunteers offering prayers at Akal Takht before offering themselves for arrest, was taken as a serious and personal affront by Indira. This was aggravated by the failure of her emissaries, Amarinder Singh and Bhai Ashok Singh of Bagrian to strike a deal, including formation of a coalition government in Punjab, with Akalis,2 who would not compromise with pretensions of almighty absolutism.3 Indira got into her head that it were only the Sikhs who constituted a threat to her imperious and dynastic rule, and decided to inflict blows from which they take long, if at all, to recover. She also took the decision at the time to push them out of
the national mainstream, which was the undercurrent of the whole Nehruvian era, to prevent them from playing such a role of upholders of the rule of law henceforth.
To begin with, the Maintenance of International Security Act (MISA) was extended to all top Akali leaders while still in gaol for defying the ban orders. The MISA was amended third time in October 1975 to forbid disclosure of grounds of detention, or the ground information on which these were based.
She followed up with two punitive measures to inflict permanent injury to the Sikh economic interests. Firstly, she came up with a bitchy Award on March 25, 1976, allocating the waters and hydel power of the Punjab rivers, under section 78 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act of 1966 to Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi and Punjab. The Central Government under this section had retained arbitrary powers to allocate waters of the Beas project. Indira now used the discretion with malice aforethought and vengeance to award over 75 percent of waters to neighbouring non-riparian states and create in them vested interest to the detriment of legal rights of Punjab.4 This was grossly destructive of the Punjab economy and was intended to cause ruination of the Sikh peasantry, the mainstay of the Akali Dal. The loss in agricultural produce to Punjab and gain to non-riparian states was estimated at Rs. 2500 crores (Rs. 25 billion) per annum, apart from considerable loss on account of transfer of hydel power.5 The loyalist Punjab Chief Minister, Giani Zail Singh, who protested at this unjust treatment to Punjab interests, was brusquely told to shut up, while the Akali protests against this Award, not warranted by national or international norms, went unheeded.
Secondly, the Defence Ministry for the first time issued orders for recruitment to the armed forces based on quotas to provinces on the basis of population. This was designed to reduce the intake and content of the Sikhs in the armed forces to just two percent.
Verily, the Sikhs were asked to pay a very high price for their uprightness and standing up to the dictatorial pretensions of Indira Gandhi. The worst part of it was that the Hindus of all denominations while appreciating the Sikh’s tenacity to stand up to the Emergency excesses, were not in favour of undoing of Indira’s vindictive fiats against the Sikhs.
The Congress, for the first time, was swept out of power by the grand opposition alliance in March 1977 elections to Lok Sabha. In Punjab, Akali-Janta combination won all the 13 seats. The opposition parties won 91 (Akalis 58, Janta Party 24 and Communists 9) out of 117 seats in the Punjab Assembly in June 1977. The apparent Hindu-Sikh modus vivendi, to Indira seemed failure of Congress strategy of creating controlled distrust between the two communities. Akalis formed a coalition government in Punjab with Janta party, and for the first time joined the government at the Centre. But this did not mean the end of Sikh woes, or that they now had the sunwai, patient hearing to undo the wrongs done to them by the previous government.
The new Prime Minister Morarji Desai, an ultra Gandhiite had opposed the formation of Punjabi Suba till the very last, and was fully imbued with anti-Sikh spirit. For instance, when the Minorities Commission was set up in 1978, Morarji Desai, as also Chaudhary Charan Singh, wanted to exclude the Sikhs from within its purview as, they contended, the Sikhs were not any different from the Hindus.6 Parkash Singh Badal, Punjab Chief Minister, not unexpectedly, failed to get Indira’s Water Hydel Power Award of March 1976 modified by Morarji Desai on the specious plea of lack of consensus of other parties involved (as if there was a consensus when the Award was originally made), and left it to the parties concerned to make a reference to the Supreme Court.
That was duly made under section 162 of the Constitution. Nobody wanted to go into the background in which Indira’s punitive award was made, and undo the wrong to Punjab as part of emergency excesses. Akalis should have pulled out of the central government on the issue as part of undoing of emergency wrongs, which they failed to do. At least, the Supreme Court could have been made to hear the parties on day to day basis, and give its judgement within a stipulated period.
By the time, when Morarji Desai was contending that the Sikhs were Hindus, Indira Gandhi initiated certain moves to push the Sikhs out of the national mainstream, with a view to eventually create conditions in which they could be exterminated, a la Buddhism, from the land of their birth. She was quite sure of that. She removed all references to the Golden Temple, Amritsar, and also possibly deleted any references to the Sikhs from her book Eternal India published in French (in Switzerland) in 1978. The map of India published in the volume showing, inter alia, Amritsar betrayed the contours of her original draft.7 Sikhism in her estimation was not a permanent fixture in India, was a passing phase, and had no place in her eternal India.
Indira took three steps to achieve her objectives. One, accepting Giani Zail Singh’s advice, she sought to bring to the fore a Sikh savant, a holyman, to contain the Akalis and erode their position in the Sikh community; two, she used the breakaway, heretical, Sant Nirankaris, who had been patronised by various Congress governments since the time of Sardar Patel including herself, to cause an armed conflict, to add new dimensions to Punjab problem; and last, but not the least, she decided to reactivate the dormant Naxalites in Punjab, with Sikh scriptures and slogan of Khalistan on their lips and their hand on the hilt, to cause dissensions between the Hindus and the Sikhs, and otherwise serve as destabilising agents to create controlled violence. The interaction of various processes could produce an explosive situation to marginalise the Akali leadership and help achieve other wider objectives.
Indira’s objectives in coopting a Sikh savant to outsmart the Akalis were more sinister than simply embarrassing the Akali leadership. Giani Zail Singh and Darbara Singh who were entrusted to do the preliminary selection, chose two of them and left it to Sanjay to do the final selection. Kamal Nath, M.P. and Sanjay’s friend told Kuldip Nayar that one did not look a ‘courageous type’ and that Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale looked bold enough and was selected. 8
Giani Zail Singh’s objective, inter alia, was Gurdwara politics. Sant Bhindranwale had become head of Damdami Taksal, which traced its origins to Baba Deep Singh,9 only a year back. He was Carrying on a militant campaign to “cleanse the Sikhs of impurities which had entered their hearts and was manifest in their actions.”10 He apparently welcomed the patronage of Indira Congress through Giani Zail Singh and others, as a welcome opportunity to act on a wider canvass.
There was least doubt about the missionary zeal of Sant Bhindranwale who was carrying on his campaign, ‘nashe chado, amrit chako, Singh sajo’- discard intoxicants, take baptism, and become practicing Sikhs – and was warning his people against the evil tendencies of trimming of beard, cutting hair, taking to drinking and drugs – deeper social and religious issues – that had been neglected by the Akalis long in power in the SGPC. Bhindranwale was a religious fundamentalist in the sense he earnestly believed in fundamentals of Sikhism. Sanjay Gandhi and Zail Singh, however, needed a religio-political issue to cause a confrontation between Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and the Akali Party and the Government. This, they found in obliging Sant “Nirankaris a schismatic and heretical sect. Already, Bhindranwale was being provoked by senior Sant Nirankari officials in the Punjab administration who were harassing him.”
Sant Nirankari Chief, Baba Gurbachan Singh’s holding a special Diwan on the auspicious occasion of Baisakhi, April 13, 1978, at Amritsar, holy city of the Sikhs, with permission of Badal government under pressure of Morarji Desai, was sinister. The customary protest by devout Sikhs against his unwholesome references to the Sikh Gurus and the Sikh scriptures, the presence of Lala Jagat Narain (the prominent Congress leader who had done nothing but emit venom throughout his life at first against the Muslims and later against the Sikhs) who provided the stiffener to the Sant Nirankari Chief, and the Sant Nirankari’s use of fire arms which led to the murder of 18 people – 13 devout Sikhs, 3 Nirankaris and 2 passersby -were all premeditated. 11
The devout Sikh protestors were from the Akhand Kirtni Jatha of late Bhai Randhir Singh of Narangwal,12 and the Damdami Taksal.
The pre-planned Sant Nirankari firing caused deep resentment in the Sikh community. It provided an instant issue for Sant Bhindranwale to seize and confront the Akalis. This caused glee in Indira circles and made Sanjay and his cronies, apart from Zail Singh and the Punjab Congressites, to whip up anti-Nirankari agitation.
On the other hand, mischievous Hindus of various denominations including some of the former Jan Sangh elements, now forming part of the Janta Party and sharing power in Punjab, and various elements in power at the Centre, marshalled their support in favour of the heretic Sant Nirankari’s right to freedom of worship, or freedom to vilify Sikhism, which was at the receiving end. There was also failure of intelligence agencies as Janta Party government never came to know of Indira Congress’s machinations. The Akalis were in a dilemma so long they were in power, and failed to adequately deal with the emergent situation in Punjab.
The partisan attitude of the Centre including that of national, read caste-Hindu, press contributed to intensification of Sikh hostility to Sant Nirankaris, a situation in which petulant violence against Sant Nirankaris could be seen to be justified. Bibi Amarjit Kaur wife of Fauja Singh, Inspector in Punjab Agricultural Department, one of the devouts killed in the Baisakhi clash, who was critical of, what she termed, Sant Bhindranwale’s pusillanimity, entrenched herself in the Golden Temple complex. She caused the emergence of Babbar Khalsa, its militant wing.13 She got full cooperation from another lady, Bibi Harsharan Kaur, who shared her woes. Thus, a nascent force to uphold the best traditions of the Khalsa, not foreseen by Indira Gandhi, came into being and added another dimension to conflict-management in the Punjab.
Side by side, on the same Baisakhi, April 13, 1978, was enacted another dram a, the reactivation of the dormant Naxalites at a meeting at Aroma Hotel, Chandigarh – the hotel bill of Rs. 600 being paid by Giani Zail Singh.14 Indira had used both Giani Zail Singh and Prof. V. N. Tiwari of Chandigarh who later was nominated to Rajya Sabha.15 Giani Zail Singh used his knowledge of the Sikh history to give the group the name of Dal Khalsa. Khalsa Dal had been established in 1734 under Nawab Kapur Singh to consolidate the Sikh power; and now an organisation with corresponding nomenclature was being set up to liquidate the Sikh Panth! Indira’s objectives were quite different than those given later by Giani Zail Singh in his interview with Hindi Weekly, Dinman, when he stated, “I did organise Dal Khalsa. My objective was to participate in Sikh Gurdwara politics. The Gurdwaras are after all not the monopoly of Akalis.”16 In candid moments he stated that he did so, as he was told by his leader, Indira Gandhi, whom he followed blindly.
The two declared objectives of Dal Khalsa on April 13, 1978, were the formation of Khalistan, an independent sovereign Sikh state, and ordering of lives of the Sikhs according to tenets of the Khalsa. Giani Zail Singh later indicated that he had gathered eight to ten former Naxalites for formation of Dal Khalsa.17 The Naxalities, it may be mentioned, belonged to Charu Majumdar faction. After being badly mauled in 1971 police encounters, they had settled down as granthis in various village and town Gurdwaras, with the help of Gurcharan Singh Tohra. After taking over as President of SGPC, Tohra acted in close collaboration with CPM leader Harkishan Singh Surjeet in infiltration of Marxists as well into the Gurdwara administration.18 Some of these Naxalites had also joined the police and para military forces with the connivance of Giani Zail Singh, Chief Minister.
The Naxalites did not believe in international borders and indulged in insensate killing to create terror. Now, with sacred hymns on their lips and their hands on the hilt, as subsequently came out, mostly Chinese made arms of Bangladesh war vintage which they unearthed, they resumed their armed activity under Congress(I) patronage. Despite their strings to Moscow which brought them closer to CPM, the Naxalite Dal Khalsa got intertwined with Dr. Jagjit Singh Chauhan, who had for long acted as a stooge of Congress(I) and fathered disruptionist movements, as suited his mentors.
Presently, Harsimaran Singh, Stenographer of Prof. V.N. Tiwari, who had a shortwhile earlier written a book on Khalistan, was inducted as Mukh Panch, or President. Other Panchas, members of the executive, of the five member council were: Jaswant Singh Thekedar of Gurdaspur, Gajinder Singh, Satnam Singh of Chandigarh, and 80 year old Giani Harbhagat Singh of Narangwal, Ludhiana. The group was financed by “Punjab Congress leaders.”19 Later, Dal Khalsa set up branches in U.K. in January 1983 and in West Germany in June 1983. 20
As to the character of Dal Khalsa, the White Paper issued by the Government of India in July 1984 rightly observed that,
It appears to have been based on the ideas of late Giani Bakhshish Singh, a pro-Naxalite leader of Birmingham. The Dal Khalsa advocates use of violence to achieve its objectives. According to it, ‘only terror will help us to achieve our target’. . . . Political power is not served to anybody on a platter; nor can it be acquired through ‘Bhakti’; without a guerrilla warfare and without an armed revolt it would be impossible to achieve our aims.’… Political power flows out of the barrel of a gun. An armed battle is the only way of achieving Khalistan.’ 21
Verily, Indira Gandhi by reactivating Naxalites and giving them the slogan of Khalistan was unbottling the genie, not simply for the sake of personal power which could be the immediate gain, but with wider designs. It may be seen that the objectives of Indira Gandhi, Zail Singh and the Naxalites in the formation of Dal Khalsa, as also those of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in accepting Congress(I) patronage were at cross purposes and incompatible. These suited Indira very well.
By mid-1978, various components were in their places, and Indira’s plan was fully operative. Sant Nirankari-Sikh clash had activated Hindu chauvinism which came out in defence of Sant Nirankaris all over northern India. The former Jan Sangh is like Harbans Lal Khanna at Amritsar were openly taking cudgels on behalf of Sant Nirankaris, and the communal Jalandhar press was livid with its venom. The die-hard elements, soaked in Congress culture, headed by Premier Morarji
Desai, by their cynical attitude, sought to aggravate the situation. The Akalis were on the defensive and under pressure both from Jan Sangh elements in the Punjab coalition government, and from the Centre which upheld the Sant Nirankari position.
Bhindranwale’s religious sermons were laced with references to “the unSikh Sikhs dominating the Akali Dal and SGPC”. He was bitterly critical of Badal.22 In this light, Bhindranwale saw nothing reprehensible in getting succour from Indira Congress which, however, was hunting with the hounds and running with the hare. The Akalis had the experience of running the Punjab government with Jan Sangh and had realised how hard it was. To them, embracing the Jan Sangh was embracing a scorpion and lesser evil, while embracing Congress was embracing a poisonous Cobra. Bhindranwale was yet to learn the lesson the hard way.
Indira met Sant Bhindranwale, Jathedar Santokh Singh of Delhi now toeing her line, and others on May 14,1978, outside her residence during the massive Sikh protest march against the Sant Nirankari’s massacre at Amritsar, redirected from the truant Prime Minister Desai’ s house to Rashtrapati Bhavan, President’s house.23 The Indira Congressites at various places carried demonstrations against Sant Nirankaris and showed earnestness of their anti-Sant Nirankari stance. For instance, Youth Congress(I) leader, Kanwaljit Singh Gill, headed the massive Sikh protest march against Baba Gurbachan Singh then holding congregation at Kanpur in September. This resulted in police opening fire leaving 12 killed and 80 injured.24 The Kanpur episode further embittered the Sikh feelings and caused chain reaction, including the one on November 5, 1978, at Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, Delhi, when the Sikh protestors were subjected to teargas and police firing, leaving three, including Jathedar Avtar Singh Kohli, President of Akali Dal, dead and many injured.25 Meanwhile in June 1978, the Sikh-Sant Nirankari relations had reached a new denoument with Sant Nirankaris being ostracised from the Sikh Panth by a Hukamnamah, Ordinance, issued by the Jathedar of Akal Takht.
Dal Khalsa consisting of non-entities started getting prominent coverage in the media, thanks to the assistance of Giani Zail Singh. He started ringing up various newspaper editors and correspondents to give their statements and activities coverage on the front page.26 Dal Khalsa also activated the dormant Naxalites throughout the state. They were helped by Giani Zail Singh in getting arms licences, often in fictitious names. Dal Khalsa also joined in strength the All India Sikh Students Federation (AISSF) recently activated with Bhai Amrik Singh’s taking over as President. It captured some leading positions. The Naxalite operations during this period of mid-1978 to mid-1980 when Congress came into power in Punjab, were mostly confined to hospitable Faridkot area.27 Even the hit squad against Sant Nirankaris in revenge against the killing of her husband, raised by Bibi Amarjit Kaur of Akhand Kirtani Jatha, who got mixed up with Jaswant Singh Thekedar of Gurdaspur, one of the original Panchas of Dal Khalsa and a family friend, included three incumbents from Police Department – two Head Constables and a Constable from Faridkot District. 28
The news about the armed activity along with motivatedly overplayed propaganda to achieve Khalistan through armed means, combined with Jalandhar Press’s diatribe against the Sikhs vis a vis Sant Nirankaris, and the objectives of Anandpur Sahib Resolution of 1973, helped to create misgivings among the Hindus.
Akalis were on the defensive by the time they held the massive convention in Ludhiana on October 28-29, 1978, with Jagdev Singh Talwandi as President. The Anandpur Sahib Resolution of
1973 was put to a closer scrutiny and its authentic English version was adopted and released for general dissemination. Some of the phrases of the earlier resolution, handiwork of Kapur Singh I.C.S., were reworded in English translation, but the emphasis on real federal set up by redefining centre-state relations in the Indian constitutional infrastructure remained intact. That, however, did not help improve matters much.
The re-worded resolution did not become more palatable or yield any results. There was nothing in the 1973 or 1978 draft that by any stretch of imagination could be termed secessionist or violative of the Indian unity. In the words of Chand Joshi “There is a difference between a ‘nation’ and a ‘sovereign state’, and that A perusal of the three different versions presented at the Anandpur Sahib meeting would show that not a single one talks of a ‘sovereign state’.29 But the question again, as in 1949 when the Constitution was adopted, was one of intentions: whether the Sikh aspirations could be accommodated within the constitutional framework, to give them a sense of participation in the Indian democratic set up. When intentions are not clean, no amount of drafting or redrafting of a document can help. The Janta Party, lacking the necessary strength in the Upper House, was in no position to amend the Constitution to redefine the Centre-State relations, even if it wanted to. It really had no intentions whatsoever.
With Janta Party in power at the Centre and in Haryana, and sharing power in Punjab, it was possible for Akalis to arrange the holding of elections to the SGPC in 1979, after 13 years. The elections, due in 1971 were put off by Indira Gandhi whose Congress party had earlier made several unsuccessful attempts to capture the SGPC. Not that, Congress was reconciled to Akalis continuing their hold over the -SGPC. It had no hope of capturing it, even when Giani Zail Singh as Chief Minister was running away with the clothes of Akalis. It simply wanted to make the whole process of elections, and legitimacy of the SGPC set up, redundant.
Congress(I) through Giani Zail Singh got the opportunity to try its luck again, with no better results. Sant Bhindranwale, according to Surjeet Jalandhary, put up only one candidate, Bhai Amrik Singh son of his predecessor, Sant Kartar Singh, and President of AISSF from Beas. But Akalis put up Jiwan Singh Umaranangal, who resigned his Minister’s post to successfully face him. Some 45 candidates had been put up by Dal Khalsa and Jagjit Singh Chauhan outfits30 – both products of Congress(I). Congress(I) actively campaigned for them with the assistance of Bhindranwale. Only four of them were successful, with 136 seats going to Akalis. Obviously, by the time Congress even with the support of Sant Bhindranwale was not able to cause a dent in the Sikh support to Akali Dal.
Indira’s policy of causing disruption all around was a success in breaking the Janta government at the Centre in mid-1979 on the issue of RSS alignment of former Jan Sangh elements. Now, Chaudhary Charan Singh took over as Prime Minister with Congress(I) support which was as hastily withdrawn leading to mid-term elections.
Sanjay tried to romp home Akalis by a proposition that they should accede to Congress the dominant position on Parliament seats in Punjab, in return for Akalis sharing seats with Congress for Punjab Assembly elections on 60:40 basis. Balwant Singh to whom he spoke informally had no authority to proceed, and nothing came out of the move.31 Possibly, Badal banked upon the Akali-BJP (Bhartiya Janta Party, successor of Jan Sangh) alignment, representing the Sikhs and the Hindus respectively, to be a natural alliance. Also, this was not the first time that Congress was making such a proposition. In the absence of that, Congress worked upon dissensions within the Akali leadership over the issues facing the Central government, and reportedly drafted Jathedar Jagdev
Singh Talwandi to play a fissiparous role during and after the forthcoming elections. Talwandi trained his guns on Akali Dal (Longowal) and played a divisive role, as suited his Congress mentors.
Indira adopted a new posture. With the aid of RSS, she marshalled Hindu support, as against the earlier plank of seeking support of backward classes, minorities and a section of caste-Hindus. She was voted to power at the Centre in January 1980 elections. Congress(I) won 12 of 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab. Sant Bhindranwale alongwith Jathedar Santokh Singh, who acted as Polling Agent, had played a prominent part in the election campaign of Sukhbans Kaur wife of Pritam Singh Bhinder, Police Commissioner, from Gurdaspur constituency which included Chowk Mehta. Bhindranwale also shared platform with Indira Gandhi during the election campaign.32 A couple of candidates issued posters saying “Bhindranwale supports me.” Bhindranwale also helped a couple of other candidates, including Raghunandan Lal Bhatia, then President Punjab Congress(I) from Amritsar constituency.
Punjab Assembly, as also other eight provincial assemblies, were dissolved. Congress(I) repeated its performance in the Punjab Assembly elections in June 1980 winning 63 seats, to Akalis 37, in a house of 117, to the chagrin of the latter who looked askance at Indira’s methods and were not amused at their questionable ouster. It was in between these two elections that Bhindrawale’s bete noir Baba Gurbachan Singh, Chief of Sant Nirankaris was, killed on April 24,1980, at Delhi, with Congress(I) or Union Government’s complicity.
Indira was not, and not expected to be, magnanimous in her victory, especially after playing the Hindu card which gave a new orientation to her outlook. She got reconfirmed her Gangu-Brahmin ancestry by a reference to the family records maintained by Pandits at Mattan shrine in Kashmir valley. A small team led by Yash Pal Kapoor former M.P. in 1980 collected the data. This firmed up her resolve to carry on her war against the Sikhs to its logical conclusions.
The sort of things to follow was clear from the arbitrary manner in which Giani Zail Singh, Union Home Minister interfered in the Imposition and management of Sikh pilgrim parties to the Sikh Brines in Pakistan. The policy came into full action at the time of Ending of pilgrims’ groups to Lahore on Guru Arjan Dev’s martyrdom anniversary in May 1980. Home Ministry made a messy move to take over the work from External Affairs, but abandoned it. Giani Zail Singh, however, stuck his neck and nominated Jathedar Santokh Singh of Delhi to lead the pilgrims party. Traditionally, the SGPC used to nominate the leader of the party, as maximum number of pilgrims used to be nominated by it. The SGPC in protest refused to participate.
Santokh Singh, an ordinary citizen, holding no office in the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) either, had no wherewithals to organise langar (free kitchen) and religious services in Pakistan. The Sindhi devotees from Pakistan organised langar at Lahore, but the bills were not paid to the suppliers. This gave a bad name to the pilgrims. Santokh Singh collected the offerings and brought the money to India. According to some sources, these were distributed between him and some of his collaborators.
Shortly afterwards another pilgrims party under auspices of the SGPC went in June 1980 on the occasion of death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and under advice of the author (who was Chief Liaison Officer with the Pilgrims Party) cleared the bills of the previous month as well. The Sindhi devotees asked searching questions about disposal of the money taken by Jathedar Santokh Singh; whether the same had been deposited with Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management
Committee, etc. etc. to which there was no answer. It was months later that Congress after amending the Delhi Gurdwara Act was a success in imposing him as President of the DSGMC.
Indira Gandhi found a strange bedfellow in President Zia ul Haq, President of Pakistan, whose mind was working on the same wavelength. Zia was a keen observer of the socio-political disruption that was being caused in the Indian Punjab. He felt that pushed to the walls, the Sikhs would either be crushed, or would assert their independence, either of which would not be an unwelcome development. Anyhow, it would usher in a long period of turmoil and instability. It was but natural for him to fish in the troubled waters. Pakistan has not forgotten Bangladesh: pledge taken every morning by cadets at Kakul academy reminds them of their commitment to take revenge.
By the end of 1978, Zia had announced that he would receive| any number of pilgrims from India to visit the Sikh shrines in Pakistan on the occasion of four pilgrimages in a year as hitherto: Baisakhi in April, Guru Arjan’s martyrdom in May/June, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s death anniversary in end June, and Guru Nanak’s birthday in October/November. And, the pilgrims would be permitted to visit all the shrines at Panja Sahib, Nankana Sahib and Lahore on each pilgrimage. He was partially influenced by similar arrangements for Haj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. He also agreed to receive the pilgrims in groups all the year round, except during the month of Ramazan. Already, Naxalite elements after their reactivation had sought to alert their contacts across the borders and had come into contact with Pakistani intelligence agencies.
The Indian authorities were specifically warned in 1979 during the Janta regime and again in 1980 when Indira had returned to power, of the nexus being established between Pakistani intelligence agencies and the undesirable, smuggler and criminal, elements, especially from the border districts of Punjab visiting Pakistan for pilgrimages. The suggested remedial measures were ignored as these impinged on small groups especially from Delhi some of whom were serving as» agents of Indian intelligence agencies or were possibly double agents.”
Rather, with the establishment of highly specialised intelligence set up known as the Third Agency34 under direct orders of Indira Gandhi, with a view to coordinate and organise multipronged controlled violence in Punjab, the various elements working haphazardly on the Indian side were canalised and inter alia, regular channels, for drug smuggling in return for Indian goods including hard drinks, etc. established. Since all intelligence and para-military people were not involved, this resulted in many channels of drug smuggling, not all controlled by the State agencies.
The spread of drug in the Indian Punjab, particularly among the youth including college and university students in early 1980s was direct upshot of the linkup. It also constituted another of Indira’s planks to weaken the Sikh community. The immediate impact was that it affected the quality of Sikh youth and the already limited recruitment to the armed forces. The drug mafia working in close collaboration with criminal elements started functioning under the aegis of various militant and security set ups. It constituted another highly motivated but destabilising factor.
Precisely, by the middle of 1980, various militant set ups functioning in Punjab were: One, Dal Khalsa or Naxalities working in close collaboration with Indira Congress and select intelligence agencies; Two, Babbar Khalsa set up owing allegiance to Bibi Amarjit Kaur and Bibi Harsharan Kaur of Akhand Kirtani Jatha but highly critical of Bhindranwale, aimed mainly at elimination of 32a This type of interference in pilgrims parties was not repeated later.
Sant Nirankar is; Three, drug smuggler mafia and criminal elements, numerous groups, working independently or in close liaison with various security agencies and seeking refuge with the first or second militant group above, as the need arose; and Four, a highly specialised Indian intelligence set up working with selective militant and mafia groups and often at cross purposes because of high degree of operational secrecy involved. Sant Bhindranwale with his armed bodyguard could not be termed a militant group, but an extremist outfit. But since it was working in collaboration with Indira Congress, it was prone to be used by the government-inspired militants and others to provide cover to them in their distress.
With induction of Darbara Singh as Chief Minister of Punjab in mid-1980, Punjab became a battle ground between him and Union Home Minister, Giani Zail Singh. Not only were they heading contending groups, but also were poles apart. Zail Singh had used Akali weapons to contain them. Barbara Singh denied the very existence of anything like the Sikh culture. He stated, “There was a Sikh culture before. That Sikh culture has now reached the limit. Sikh culture is now dead. . . . Now the Sikh culture has been converted into composite culture. That is what I am doing.” 35
Hence, Darbara Singh established one of the most communal anti-Sikh governments in Punjab. Its mission was transformation of the Sikh culture into the composite one! In that, he was avidly assisted by the Punjab Chief Secretary, Ishwar Chandra Puri. The duo sought to promote the Congress brand of secularism. Puri administration applied a simple yardstick. A Sikh who was maintaining his keshas, hairs unshorn, was a communalist; only that Sikh who trimmed his beard, better still shaved off, could be secular. Thus, the Sikh employees in Punjab government were victimised in promotions, transfers and deployment. How far this had the blessings of Indira cannot, be gainsaid. But she could not but be amused. It is commonly asserted that Darbara Singh was the only Sikh leader not to have had an apprenticeship with Akali Dal, and was a class by himself. Even without the complicating factor of Zail-Darbara conflict, Bhindranwale, placed as he was in mid-1980, was bound to be affected by the goings on in Punjab.
The defeat of Akalis in the Assembly elections caused a lot of jubilation in the Hindu circles who began calling the Akali-Janta coalition as a ‘Sikh government’. The reaction was rather on the same scale as was that of Muslim League following the resignation of Congress provincial governments in 1939! Short of celebrating the ‘deliverance day’, the Hindus marhsalled facts and figures of placement of the Sikhs in various positions to substantiate their contentions. 36
The Punjabi Hindu easily forgot, that shorn of scheduled castes and the migrant Bihari labour, according to 1971 census, they constituted only 15 percent of Punjab’s population. Though Arya Samajists constituted one-third of that i.e. hardly 5 percent of the total population, they had greater propensities for mischief as they controlled the. Hindu media. Indira Gandhi regarded Punjabi Hindus, who had become a minority after formation of the Punjabi speaking state, as her special responsibility. They were to be pampered and kept in good humour. 37
The Punjabi Hindu press now became acrimonious and started a malicious reinterpretation of events leading to the partition of the sub-continent. They asserted that the Sikhs were at the old game of establishing Khalsa Raj. Virendra of Partap warned that the Hindus would turn Punjab into Assam, and lead an agitation to throw out foreigners from the state. He regarded the Sikhs as unwelcome intruders who should be shown their place. Lala Jagat Narain, another Congress leader, of Hind Samachar and Punjab Kesri, regarded extremists espousing Khalistan as true reflexers of the Sikh mind as against the moderate Akalis, ‘deft in deception of their inner feelings’. He also berated
BJP for its alliance with Akalis and articulated Hindu political helplessness. Because of its strident attitude, the circulation of Punjab Kesri went up to 242,000 copies in early 1981, as against 81,000 in 1977.
Darbara Singh administration came upto Hindu expectations though Jagat Narain’s son Ramesh Chandra saw no difference between Bhindranwale, Darbara Singh and Santokh Singh, for “all Sikhs are Sikhs.” 38
A mention may now be made of the role of Dr. Jagjit Singh Chauhan who had returned from abroad in July 1977 in search for a political career. Akalis then in power had nothing to offer him; Congress(I) then in wilderness sought to use him as it had done in early 1970s. He remained in close touch with Giani Zail Singh and met Indira Gandhi a number of times before the general elections. In 1978-79, he played the assigned role in the SGPC elections, and also in propping up Dal Khalsa Naxalites. In November 1979, Chauhan installed in the Golden Temple complex a small toy transmitter, a propaganda gimmick, which did not violate the Indian Telegraph Act. After Indira’s coming into power, he again met her before announcing at Anandpur Sahib on Baisakhi, April 12, 1980, the formation of National Council of Khalistan with himself as President and Balbir Singh Sandhu, an unsuccessful teacher and an unsuccessful journalist, as Secretary General. 39
Uptil now he had been liberally funded by Indira Congress. In May 1980, he left for London wherefrom the following month he announced the formation of ‘Khalistan’; a similar announcement was made in Amritsar by Sandhu who also released stamps and passport of Khalistan, as if all in a great fun. The Intelligence Bureau men present were more interested in finding out as to what journalists had to say. The inaction of authorities gave credence to Akali Dal(L) charge that the Khalistan movement was a political stunt inspired by Congress(I).40 Jagjit Singh Chauhan and his set up continued to provide a lot of grist to the publicity mills of the Hindu press to carry on its propaganda war against the Sikhs.
In another few months Chauhan was becoming stale and fresh inputs were needed to make the melodrama go on. This was provided by the Presidential Address of Ganga Singh Dhillon (President of Nankana Sahib Foundation and in touch with President Ziaul Haq of Pakistan in quest for greater Sikh participation in the running of Sikh shrines in Pakistan) at the non-political, and pro-government Chief Khalsa Diwan organised, Sikh Educational Conference in March 1981 at Chandigarh. Dhillon rightfully spoke of the Sikhs as a nation. And, the Conference adopted a meaningful resolution asking for associate status at the United Nations on the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) pattern. But the intentions were questionable. Dal Khalsa came into prominence as its activists lustily cheered Dhillon on his ‘Sikhs are a nation’ talk.
The White Paper issued by the Government of India mentions of Dr. Jagjit Singh Chauhan’s link up with Ganga Singh Dhillon. That was part of the story. Dhillon had visited India in 1979 and, at Karnal, held detailed discussions with Giani Zail Singh who, according to Dhillon’s letter to Gajinder Singh, an intermediary, was to provide finances and “other required things” for some surreptitious purposes.41 Obviously, Zail Singh sought to use Ganga Singh Dhillon for the same purpose as he had done with Dr. Chauhan. There was truth in Atal Behari Vajpayee’s assertion that both Zail Singh and Darbara Singh were supporting the Khalistan movement.42 They also roped in Jagdev Singh Talwandi who lent support to Dhillon’s proposition at Anandpur Sahib in April 1981.
This not unnaturally gave grist to the Hindu media whether Sikhs were a Qaum – translated as nation, nationality or a distinctive group – or not. The coy Chief Khalsa Diwan dissociated itself with the resolution, but the SGPC came out with a resolution affirming that the Sikhs are a Qaum. Sant Longowal, however, made distinction between the Sikh nation and the Sikh sovereign state.
As a matter of fact, Hindus were unnecessarily becoming peevish at the use of word Qaum for the Sikhs. Historically speaking, Sikhs had become a distinctive Qaum by 17th century; and so had the Marathas been welded as a Qaum by Shivaji. A sense of Qaumiat or nationality a-ose in Hindus in parts only in the 19th century. Tilak contended in second decade of 20th century that India was not yet a nation. India’s only field Marshal, Sam Manekshaw, in a foreword to Maj Gen (Retd) Joginder Singh’s book Behind the Scene (1992) reemphasised he point when he wrote, that, “There is no national integration and India as yet has not become a nation state.” In the fifth decade since Independence, India is rather redefining the contours of its nationhood, and it is still in the process of making of a nation. Anyway, the purpose of adding acrimony to the debate in Punjab for which Garga Singh Dhillon had willy nilly been used by Zail Singh had been achieved.
Obviously Giani Zail Singh was succeeding too well in creating a frankenstien’s monster in the shape of a movement for Khalistan that would strike at the very roots of Indian unity. Early in 1930s, in similar circumstances the scheme for Pakistan was sponsored by Chaudhary Rahmat Ali of Cambridge University, which was dubbed by the then responsible Muslim leaders as a ‘students scheme,’ ‘chimerical,’ aid ‘impracticable’. But it matured quite early, though Rahmat Ali faded away. It is debatable whether Indira Gandhi had any appreciation of historical processes. However, in March 1981, she wrote to the Home Ministry that while “we should not get excited, it is necessary that this (Khalistan Movement) does not grow.” In another month she wanted that “some action be taken” but cautioned that “careful thought is needed”.43 Obviously, she did not want to call off her sinister plan to crush the Sikhs in the name of nonexistent demand for Khalistan.
Pursuant t» her concerns, Giani Zail Singh and Darbara Singh on May 1, 198 , decided to “patch up their differences”. Zail Singh immediately condemned Khalistan as an “abstract concept supported by a microscopic faction devoid of nationalism.”44 That anyhow did not mean any change in the policies being pursued.
The Hindu, were in a nasty mood questioning the very rationale of Sikhism. Thin followed the demand by the AISSF closely aligned with Sant Bhindranwale for declaring Amritsar as holy city. They asked for shifting of Pan-Biri-Cigarette and intoxicant shops outside the walled city by the end of May 1981 on the pattern of sacred Hindu centres like Haridwar and Varanasi. The Akali leaders fell in line and sought cooperation of urban Hindu leaders to get the demand conceded. This presented a great opportunity to the mischief makers.
A couple of days before May 31, fixed by the AISSF for demonstration the Hindus from Indira Congress, BJP, Arya Samaj and other Hindi organisations, held a massive demonstration asking for ban on sale and use of meat and liquor as well from within the city limits. That was quite unexceptional. But, the malicious intentions of demonstrators were manifest in their having cigarette packets on poles and sword ends. They raised provocative slogans, “Biri-Cigarettes piyen ge, Hum shaan se jiyen ge” -We will smoke Biris and Cigarettes, and live in aplomb. This gave momentum to the AISSF demonstration on May 31, 1981, led by Sant Bhindranwale. There was some violence and a dozen persons were killed in police firing. Bitterness in Hindu-Sikh relations was on the increase.
During the next couple of months attempts were made to atomise the Akali Dal around various groups. Tohra though ideologically close to Talwandi chose to remain with Akali Dal(L). Sukhjinder Singh quit the party over the issue of Khalistan, while Talwandi orchestrated a series of marches during the monsoon session of Parliament, pressing for acceptance of Anandpur Sahib Resolution, to distract Akali Dal(L) from political and economic issues. Bhindranwale accompanied by Congress(I) activists continued his missionary tours of Punjab districts. Congress(I) also helped maintain Jathedar Santokh Singh in power in DSGMC despite his having lost majority support. The turning point came at the World Sikh Convention held at Manji Sahib in the Golden Temple complex in July 1981 presided over by Sant Longowal. It placed primacy on implementation of Anandpur Sahib Resolution by end August, failing that, Dharam Yudh, holy struggle, was to be launched. The government’s evil designs to control the Gurdwaras by manipulating jathas for pilgrimage to Pakistan, and by foisting Jathedar Santokh Singh as President of DSGMC by questionable means was condemned.
Indira Gandhi now wanted to use Jatheder Santokh Singh to defy Akal Takht and bring it down in general Sikh estimation. She looked puzzled at Akal Takht’s hold over the Sikh mind and the willingness with which the Sikhs subjected themselves to its punishment though it had no temporal force at its command to enforce its decisions. Jathedar Santokh Singh had been summoned at Akal Takht. After prevarications he had decided to present himself at Akal Takht on September 10, 1981. Indira was very unhappy at Santokh Singh’s decision.
The march to Parliament on September 7, by Akali Dal(L) was subjected to harsh police treatment. This, and the presentation of 45 political, economic, religious and social demands by Akalis on September 8, were just coincidental. To thwart Santokh Singh, some big incident was needed. And, that was provided by the murder of Lala Jagat Narain on September 9, at Ladowal railway crossing in Ludhiana district. There is circumstantial evidence of linkage between the two, and of the murder being engineered by interested elements who wanted to drive political mileage out of it.
Giani Zail Singh rang up Jathedar Santokh Singh on the night of September 9, 1981, at the office of Station Master, Old Delhi Railway Station, wherefrom he was leaving by the Frontier Mail. He pleaded with Santokh Singh not to go to Punjab in view of the situation arising out of Jagat Narain’s murder. Santokh Singh was adamant. Finally, Zail Singh conveyed Indira’s extreme displeasure to Santokh Singh, to dissuade him from undertaking the journey, but to no effect. For Lala Jagat Narain’s murder, Nachhattar Singh of Rode village (wherefrom Bhindranwale came) already in police custody was declared to have been arrested on the spot, and was believed to have named Sant Bhindranwale as the one who had ordered the killing of Jagat Narain.
The murder of Lala Jagat Narain constituted a watershed in the Punjab developments. Who killed him and why? The White Paper is quite explicit: hat “Lala Jagat Narain was murdered because of his criticism of the murder of Sant Nirankaris.”45 There is no doubt that he was present at Amritsar at the time of Sant Nirankari firing on the Sikhs, and stood witness at Karnal trial in favour of the accused. Surjeet Jalandhary propounds the same views.46 In short, it is projected both by the government and by Bhandranwale’s biographer, that Jagat Narain’ s was like any other murder of persons deeply involved in criminal cases in Punjab. It tends to exclude the possibility of murder being engineered by a panthic set up, which could very well be the case. It was another matter that his family sought to make him a martyr.
As for murderers, the White Paper mentioned of both the Babbar Khalsa and Dal Khalsa claiming responsibility for that.47 Both the claims could not be true. The claim of Babbar Khalsa, which was hostile to Bhindranwale, could be more plausible; but there is reason to believe that it was the work of Dal Khalsa, and pre- planned with direct participation of central intelligence set up. The promptness with which Bhindranwale and his nephew Swaran Singh, as also Nachhattar Singh, were indicted pointed to that. Jagat Narain lost his life without Indira achieving her objective of persuading Santokh Singh to defy Akal Takht!
Bhindranwale came to know of the warrants of his arrest through the news bulletin of All India Radio when he was at village Chandokalan, in Haryana. He was on his way to Bombay for religious preachings. He also heard of the Punjab police plan to eliminate him in a false encounter. For arresting him, Darbara Singh sought assistance of Haryana Chief Minister Bhajan Lal. According to Kuldip Nayar, Giani Zail Singh conveyed Bhajan Lal instructions over phone and accordingly he (as a senior police officer told Satish Jacob of B.B.C.) placed an official car at the disposal of Bhindranwale to whisk him away, back to his head-quarters in Chowk Mehta.48 Dal Khalsa activists provided protective escort.
The Punjab police party reached Chandokalan on September 14, 1981, and not finding Bhindranwale there wantonly thrashed some of his followers. It put to fire his two preaching vans, containing two volumes of holy Granth Sahib and other religious literature. Local Hindu mobs joined in this incendiarism. That later constituted one of the factors of Bhindranwale’s alienation from his mentors.
Meanwhile, the Hindu crowds at Jagat Narain’s funeral threw stones at the Sikh passersby, and raised anti-Sikh slogans: kachha, kara aur kirpan – bhejenge inhen Pakistan– underwear, steel bracelet and sword – essentials of Sikhism – will be made to run to Pakistan.
There was immediately a perceptible change in the attitude of Darbara Singh to Bhindranwale, as a result of Jathedar Santokh Singh’s intervention with Indira. Punjab government on orders from “the highest quarters”49 permitted Bhindranwale, since advised by Akali leaders at their meeting at Anandpur Sahib, to offer himself for arrest, to choose his mode and time of arrest. This was fixed for September 20. A day earlier, a Punjab police car took him to the Golden Temple for a dip in the holy tank. Punjab police also ignored Union Home Ministry’s orders to confiscate his weapons, or at least cancel their licenses. In the words of Kuldip Nayar, “It looked as if Barbara Singh was now Bhindranwale’s godfather.”50 The Union Home Secretary, T.N. Chaturvedi’s top secret scathing indictment of Punjab government after a visit to Punjab was quietly shelved,51 as it did not suit the bosses that be.
Bhindranwale on September 20, amidst a great fanfare, and in the presence of lakhs of Sikhs from the surrounding areas, offered himself for arrest, with a clear advice to his followers to remain calm. In a highly emotional speech, he said,” The truth will ultimately prevail.” Sant Longowal and Jathedar Tohra from Akali Dal were present; so was Jathedar Santokh Singh from Delhi, with a briefing from Indira Gandhi.
Tohra made Jathedar Santokh Singh to sit in his car and they left for Amritsar. Midway, Santokh Singh met a senior police officer coming from the opposite direction, alighted and travelled back to Chowk Mehta in the police jeep. On return, Santokh Singh delivered a most provocative
speech to the gathering, causing a clash with the police. This resulted in about 25 people being killed and several injured. Bhindranwale by now had undoubtedly become a political force. He said, “What I could not achieve in a year, they have done for me in a week.”
Bhindranwale’s arrest marked the beginning of the wave of terrorism. The same day, a youth on a motor cycle fired in a market place at Jalandhar leaving 4 killed and 12 injured. The White Paper lists incidents of firing, bomb explosions and sabotage of rail track in almost all parts of Punjab between September 21 and October 15 – the release of Bhindranwale – including the hijacking of Indian Airlines plane to Lahore on September 29, by Dal Khalsa activists led by founder Panch Gajinder Singh (who had been closer to Zail Singh) to draw international attention to Bhindranwale’s arrest. This was, however, a most amateurish hijacking, with hijackers running out of ideas on landing at Lahore. The way Bhindranwale highlighted this hijacking, it seemed, he was drawing more closer to Dal Khalsa Naxalites without knowing their real character. A pattern of professional killing emerged. Naxalites were on the prowl, in a different garb. It had its impact on Hindu and Sikh journalists in Punjab. The Editors Guild of India team after touring Punjab reported that newspapermen in Punjab – Chandigarh, Jalandhar, Amritsar – by their own admission were divided all the way down on communal lines. 53
In the prevailing atmosphere of violence, the mafia operators and criminal elements chose to pass out their activity as sub-part of political activity. The politicisation of lumpen elements and lumpenisation of politics went hand in hand from September 1981 onwards till the things went really outside the limits of controlled violence, or rather reach the stage which could enable the State to resort to a surgical operation.
The police not unnaturally treated the emergent violence as a law and order problem. The security agencies in order to show results in the highly fluid situation began to resort to third degree methods on suspects, and plant stories of false encounters to cover up deaths in police custody. Because of known proximity of Bhindranwale to Giani Zail Singh, such affected elements started approaching him for redressals. This caused ruffling of tempers and counter mobilization. The criminal elements also sought to infiltrate Dal and Babbar Khalsa outfits. So did the intelligence agencies. It was free for all. The situation had great potentialities for mischief. A decisive stage of simulated violence seemed at hand. That would make moderate leadership of Akali Dal irrelevant. Indira seemed determined to strike the final blow.
On the very next day of arrest of Bhindranwale, Indira visited Chandigarh and invited Akalis to sham talks.54 Akali Dal submitted revised list of 15 demands: implementation of Anandpur Sahib resolution on centre-state relations; redistribution of river waters; merger of Chandigarh with Punjab without transferring from it Abohar and Fazilka to Haryana; formulation of All India Gurdwara Act. Akalis also asked for unconditional release of Bhindranwale. This was after Indira’s heart.
On the eve of first round of talks, Indira ordered Barbara Singh to release Bhindranwale. The magistrate dutifully arrived in Ferozepur jail on October 15, 1981, and acquitted him unconditionally. At the first round of talks the following day, Indira with a mischievous smile told Akalis that “Bhindranwale is not a good man. You have been supporting him unnecessarily. “Akalis retorted, “You supported him for four years; we have supported him for twenty days.”55 They gave details of Congress(I)’s collaboration with Bhindranwale since 1979. 52
There was brief discussion and main issues were identified -the sharing of waters and territorial claims. Indira left it to the then Foreign Minister, P. V. Narashimha Rao, to deal with them in detail. The selection of Foreign Minister to talk to Akalis on Punjab was significant. Earlier, Akalis on hint from Zail Singh did not accept Swaran Singh being associated with the talks. The meeting ended on optimistic note. 56
The second round of talks took place on November 26, 1981. It was preceded by two rounds of talks between Akalis and Narasimha Rao. These were regarded by one Akali leader as sheer “waste of time.”57 Akalis talked about the desirability of All India Radio having a channel for religious music and kirtan so that all religions could benefit; reduced intake of the Sikhs in the armed forces following certain orders issued during the emergency, and taking into view other considerations. Indira remarked, “Then, all of you people will come in”. Tohra quipped, “Are we not equal citizens?” But most of the discussion took place on division of waters. Akalis wanted to reopen the 1955 agreement and stated their objections to Indira’s 1976 Award. Akalis pleaded to include Jumna waters which earlier undivided Punjab utilised and were now available to Haryana to form part of the common pool, but drew a blank. The talks were inconclusive.
R.N. Kao, Head of RAW, the external intelligence agency, advised Indira that he saw great potentialities in the nascent violence, professional in character, to overtake normal political processes in Punjab. But Bhindranwale since his release in mid-October was striking a discordant note. He seemed more indebted to Akalis for making an issue of his false involvement in Jagat Narain murder case which led to his release. He was also bitter about the police high-handedness and incendiarism at Chandokalan, and also at the time of his arrest at Chowk Mehta. Giani Zail Singh now because of his official position had limitations in influencing Bhindranwale.
Indira wanted Santokh Singh to perform that function and also serve as a conduit for sustaining terrorism in Punjab. Earlier in August 1981, she had wanted him to defy Akal Takht summons to appear before it.
Santokh Singh, a politically mature person saw through Indira’s nefarious game and declined. It was one thing for him to play a divergent role in Delhi’s Sikh politics, but quite another to thwart Akali leadership in Punjab. That soured his relations with Indira. Santokh Singh told his family members that his days were numbered as he was not performing the acts Indira wanted him to. On December 21, 1981, finding him exchanging hot words with Pritam Singh Sandhu, a fellow member of DSGMC, his security guard from police at first shot Sandhu and then Jathedar Santokh Singh.
Thereafter, the police went to Sandhu’s house in Vishnu Garden and took into custody his licensed revolver. It projected a story of clash and murder of Santokh Singh by Sandhu. The government’s media high ups phoned the news agencies and newspapers to ensure that only the official version of the news was published. The report of the ballistic expert, however, showed that both Santokh Singh and Sandhu had been shot by the same weapon. Santokh Singh’s security guard now denied that the had fired at all! Even murder case was not registered; government refused to order a CBI enquiry. Instead a judicial enquiry by a High Court Judge was ordered and conducted in a perfunctory manner.58 Indira and the government media, thereafter, started promoting Jathedar Rachhpal Singh to fill the void in Delhi.
Bhindranwale came to Delhi to attend the bhog (last rites) of Jathedar Santokh Singh when both Giani Zail Singh and Buta Singh, Union Minister for Sports and Parliamentary Affairs, touched
his feet, and seemed to make up. Bhindranwale spoke of Hindu-Sikh unity as an article of faith with him, but the Hindus did not believe him. It was surmised that Bhindranwale was operating at a different level and could still be of use to Indira Congress. On his way back, Bhindranwale moved freely in Haryana and Punjab preaching pure Sikhism.
It was in this background that Indira in consultations with the Law Ministry, and not Irrigation Ministry, issued another Award on December 31, 1981, on Punjab river waters. She arbitrarily raised the estimated availability of water to 17.17 MAF (million acre field); i.e. about 2 MAF more than before. She allocated Punjab 4.22 MAF, Haryana 3.50 MAF, Rajasthan 8.60 MAF, Delhi 0.20 MAF, and J&K 0.65 MAF. The crux of the Award was provision for completion of Sutlej-Yumna link canal within two years, i.e. by December 31, 1983. Punjab Chief Minister, Darbara Singh, though protesting at the inequity of the Award, was forced virtually at gun point to withdraw the suit earlier lodged by Badal government with the Supreme Court.
The manner of issuing this award, without consulting Akalis with whom the talks were still going on, showed her contempt for the Sikhs. Similarly, she convened the third round of talks with Akalis on April 5, 1982, a day before she was to inaugurate the digging of Sutlej-Yumna link canal at Kapuri village in Patiala district. That was an affront to Akali leaders. The third round was a cold and a ritualistic get together when Akalis felt insulted.59 In the circumstances, Akalis vainly proposed re-referring the river waters to the Supremes Court; their proposal for an All India Gurdwara Act was scuttled on the specious plea that all the Sikhs were not agreeable!
Indira had obviously decided to fight out Akalis because of political vendetta. Meanwhile, the arrest of Harsimran Singh, President of Dal Khalsa, wanted in half dozen murder cases, at the residence of driver of a serving Congress(I) Minister in Punjab, caused sensation. His confessional statement spilled the beans by naming senior Congress(I) leaders and administrators both at the Centre and in Punjab, including Giani Zail Singh, as also Tohra and Talwandi from Akali leaders who provided him succor and shelter.60 But the clues were inconvenient, and not followed up. Harsimran Singh had obviously been used as a tool by Congress(I) leaders with Indira’s blessings in their confrontation with Akalis.
When Indira was inaugurating the digging of Sutlej-Yumna link canal on April 6, 1982, at Kapuri near Patiala, Akalis were holding a protest meeting at Ghannaur, 6 kms away. Some of them were arrested. Indira by her arrogance thrust upon Akalis this conflict. On April 24, 1982, they gave a call to stop digging of the Canal, nehar roko. Joined by CPM, they started an agitation from Kapuri itself.
To give a new twist to the Punjab situation, severed heads of cows were placed before the Hindu temples at Amritsar, the following two days. According to governments’ media management, Dal Khalsa claimed responsibility. This is also reflected in the White Paper. The denial of Dal Khalsa activists was deliberately got blocked out. In an interview, they told Dr. Gopal Singh of Himachal University, that it was the work of Darbara Singh’s Congress(I) agents.61 If so, orders must have come from the highest quarters. It is for record that some Muslim butchers from Saharanpur recruited to throw cow heads at places of Hindu worship were arrested at Amritsar,62 but the inconvenient news was suppressed.
The government’s ire fell on Dal Khalsa and National Council of Khalistan, both creations of Giani Zail Singh with Indira’s blessing. These were banned on May 1, 1982. Union Home
Minister, Giani Zail Singh, who knew better about the placement of cow heads, was over-ruled. He was told by Indira henceforth not to speak on Punjab or profer any advice unsolicited.
Bhindranwale by now had taken full circle and matured into a bitter critic of Indira and her policies. Basically, he was a cuckoo which had got mixed up among the crows. In the words of Bhai Gurdas, cuckoo lays its eggs in the nest of a crow who hatches them. The young cuckoos flutter in discomfort as they grow, and a time comes when they part company with the crow family. They realise that they belong to a different species. Bhindranwale’s first fluttering came in September 1981 at Chando Kalan. The Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) police’s shearing of keshas, sacred hair, of a Sikh youth in the second week of April 1982 in a mood of pique,64 took him a stage further as to the real nature of Congress(I). And in end-April, Darbara Singh’s attempts to arrest him when he was in Bombay on a preaching mission, constituted the last straw. The Police Commissioner at Bombay, as he was about to enter the Gurdwara and arrest Bhindranwale, received “top secret message” from Zail Singh’s Home Ministry not to do so. Bhindranwale, as at Chandokalan, was rushed back to his head- quarters in Chowk Mehta in 30 hours.
The agent provocateurs continued their operations by desecrating the Sikh and the Hindu places of worship. The White Paper takes note of a number of such incidents during May 1982 affecting the Sikh Gurdwaras and the Hindu Temples, especially in Amritsar.65 The SGPC after a short while called off nehar roko, stop the canal, agitation. It was to be resumed later from Amritsar from August 4. Akalis were having second thoughts about the timing of resumption of the agitation and meanwhile (July 13) had made a puerile gesture to Indira by supporting the candidature of Giani Zail Singh, their tormentor, for Presidentship of India. Darbara Singh, however, sent a message to Bhindranwale to start a morcha earlier. He gave him reasons for that by arresting two of his workers on July 17. Bhai Amrik Singh, President of AISSF, was arrested on trumped up charges of murdering a Nirankari two days later, and Thara Singh on July 20. Thus provoked, Bhindranwale shifted from Chowk Mehta to Guru Nanak Nivas, and launched a morcha, agitation, for release of his men, in the process pre-empting Akalis.
All the work done by Rajinder Singh Bhatia, who was in touch with Rajiv Gandhi, to defer the morcha indefinitely went awry.66 Darbara Singh felt that R. S. Bhatia in collaboration with Rajiv Gandhi was trying to bring about Congress(I)-Akali coalition that would replace him as Chief Minister. When Akali leaders told Bhindranwale to merge his morcha with their Dharam Yudh under the leadership of Sant Longowal, he readily agreed. Akalis were strictly against any slogan for Khalistan, and Longowal told Kuldip Nayar that those who were raising such a slogan were ‘agents of the Congress party’.67 The Akali demonstrators in front of Parliament on October 11, against the contrived accident of a bus carrying Akali detenues a month earlier, were fired upon by a panicky police.68 All the 50,000 satyagrahis were, however, released on the eve of Diwali, October 15, when fresh attempts were made for Indira-Akali accord.
Swaran Singh, drafted for the purpose, began talks with Akali leaders on October 25, 1982, on their demands one by one. They quickly arrived at an agreement. Akalis agreed to have kirtan at Amritsar being relayed from All India Radio, Jalandhar, instead of its being broadcast from Golden Temple itself; Chandigarh to go to Punjab, and a territorial commission to go into all the Punjab and Haryana claims on the basis of their linguistic complexion; the sharing of water issue to go to Supreme Court Judge who may be assisted by a team of experts. Akalis agreed to abide by the decision and left it to Swaran Singh to choose the mode of reference. Akalis agreed to Indira’s appointing a committee to look into the Centre-State relations envisaged in Anandpur Sahib 63
Resolution; and Akalis withdrew their demand for renaming the Flying Mail train as Harimandir Express.
Swaran Singh had kept his lines of communications with Indira alive, and conveyed her the details of the agreement. She praised Swaran Singh and accepted the agreement. There and then she constituted a Cabinet sub-committee consisting of Pranab Mukherjee, Venkatarman, Narasimha Rao and P.C. Sethi as members. Swaran Singh explained the details of the draft agreement to them. They accepted it and told Swaran Singh that a fresh reference to the Prime Minister was not needed, as they had the full authority to convey government’s acceptance. Swaran Singh accordingly conveyed the government’s approval of the agreement, and a draft statement to be placed before Parliament the following day. Meanwhile, Indira overwhelmed by her Gangu-Brahmin heritage changed her mind, as had her father in 1961. The statement placed before Parliament was materially different than the agreed version, and did not cover all the points. 69
On November 4, 1982, Akalis at first announced that they would ‘disturb’ the forthcoming Asian Games in Delhi. Shortly afterwards, they re-emphasised that they would be holding only a symbolic protest. Fresh talks began between Akalis and the government side.70 Balwant Singh (either on his own or at the instance of Tohra, one does not know) phoned Harkishan Singh Surjeet of CPM to the venue of the ongoing talks, and unnecessarily made him an obstructionist factor in the bilateral negotiations between Akali Dal and the government. Nonetheless, a near settlement emerged. The government on its own offered to release Amrik Singh and Thara Singh71 and the rest, except those involved in violence.
Indira again had second thoughts. A top Congress(I) leader told Kuldip Nayar that “Mrs. Gandhi herself sent for Bhajan Lal Haryana Chief Minister and told him about the proposal” – about Chandigarh and territorial adjustments. The agreement was torpedoed. Bhajan Lal took the responsibility that no Akali crossed into Delhi to create any disturbances.
Indira Gandhi’s at first agreeing to and then reneging on the two agreements, one after the other, within a few days of each other, showed that her mind was gravely disturbed by her overall strategy in operation since mid-seventies, and broad objectives she sought to achieve. 72
What happened to the Sikhs in Haryana at macro level was repetition of what they were facing in Punjab at micro level during the year. Since the banning of Dal Khalsa in May 1982, the pattern of killings in Punjab underwent a substantial change, and in a matter of couple of months, law and order machinery virtually collapsed. The police in order to show results raided the houses of suspects, beat up inmates and killed a few of them in ‘fake’ encounters. Respectable Akali leaders like Kulwant Singh Nagoke were shown to have been killed in ‘encounters’ while they were in police custody. The police excesses became a byword and Akalis had nothing but to offer saropaos (robes of honour) to the victims of murder and violence. Both Longowal and Talwandi groups of Akali Dal brought out lists of ‘murdered’ amritdhari Sikhs killed in police lock up and encounters.
Bhindranwale with his affiliations with Dal Khalsa, and a more cardinal attitude, was most bitter at the treatment meted to innocent Sikhs. There was wide schism between perception of the administration and of the people. This made Peoples Union for Civil Liberties(PUCL) to sponsor a two man team consisting of Mr. Justice V. M. Tarkunde as Chairman and Kuldip Nayar as member to assess the police excesses.
In the words of Kuldip Nayar, “We had no hesitation in saying in our report that the police had behaved like a barbarous force out for revenge. They had even set houses of a few absconders on fire and destroyed utensils, clothes and whatever they found in them. “Relatives of absconders were harassed and even detained. Even many days after the excesses committed by the police, we could see how fear-stricken the people were.” 73
What happened to the Sikhs in Haryana in November 1982 was worse, shaking them emotionally and affecting their sense of belonging to India. Bhajan Lal issued blanket orders prohibiting travel of the Sikhs through the state. No distinction was made between a Sikh and an Akali. The Haryana police maltreated every Sikh without any inhibitions, including senior Congress leaders like Swaran Singh and Amarjit Kaur, Congress(I) M.P., despite their telling them who they were. The Sikhs simply were not permitted to proceed to Delhi. Retired Army Generals, senior officers, visitors from abroad or ordinary citizens were treated alike. They were subjected to harsh treatment and humiliated.
Bhajan Lal behaved like a minion of Satan out to degrade the Sikhs and made them realise that they were non-entities – third class or even unwanted citizens. The Hindus, as if they were from the ruling race, were not even questioned. Amarjit Kaur, ruling party M.P., was in tears when she narrated her horrible experience in the Central Hall of Parliament. She, however, did not have the courage to resign from the party at indignities meted to her. 74
Neither the government – Central or Provincial – nor the Hindus – intellectuals or mediamen – with few exceptions, offered any apologies at this mass degradation of the Sikh people. The newspapers blacked out the excesses as if the Sikhs simply did not exist, or had become irrelevant in India.
Talking about Khalistan did not now become disrespectful, though neither Akali Dal(L) leaders nor Bhindranwale vouchsafed for it. The net result was that it gave wind to extremism with all sorts of elements including the Babbar Khalsa coming to the forefront, not to kill, but to instill fear. Bhindranwale also gained tremendously.
Indira drew sadistic pleasure at this turnabout to the Akali threat to make some sort of show at the Asian games. She was prepared for a long drawn confrontation against Akalis and sought to take it a stage further by making them enter into unending all-party negotiations, and by encouraging terroristic groups to erode the credibility of the moderates.
After having been betrayed by Indira’s reneging twice from agreements in October-November, and after having been subjected to national shame and humiliation with impunity, it was futile for Akalis to expect anything from the all-party talks that began in January 1983 and went to ten rounds till they called these off in February 1984. By their very nature, these talks were not expected to yield positive results.
Akalis kept on pressure at first by asking their MPs and MLAs to resign effective from February 21, 1983, and simultaneously asking for Shaheedi volunteers, martyr squads. Indira announced acceptance of three religious demands of Akalis at Gurdwara Bangia Sahib, New Delhi, to give credit to the pro-Congress group led by Harbans Singh Manchanda.75 She, however could not implement them.
Akalis went in for Rasta Roko, (block the roads) agitation on April 4, 1983, when there was widespread violence all over Punjab, particularly Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Patiala, and Faridkot regions, leaving 21 dead. The Hindu youth and women also participated in Rasta Roko. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, too, threw his weight behind Akalis.
The sort of things to follow was clear from the camp at Anandgarh (Anandpur Sahib) on Baisakhi, April 14, 1983 to train ‘true Khalsa’ to face the onslaught of modern Mughal – Indira Gandhi. It was resolved, inter alia, to make concerted attempts to secure unlicensed weapons and create secret channels of communications. Significantly, such type of decisions are never taken at public meetings. Obviously, there was a lot of infiltration. In the words of Chand Joshi, it “was a clear victory for the extremists, aided directly by the Tohra-Talwandi groups and the Congress(I) elements within the movement.”76 Badal made futile attempts to point out at the links between factions of Congress and Akali Dal, who were “willing to hoodwink the movement by secret parleys.”77 At Akal Takht, Amritsar, Sant Longowal administered oath to over 30,000 Akali volunteers, the first batch of shahidi Jatha to make supreme sacrifices for protection and prosperity of Sikh panth. Two more batches, making it a total of 100,000 volunteers, were to be administered similar oath on April 27, and May 12, 1983.
There was duplicity all around and it was a complex game. In the context of the forthcoming elections in Jammu and Kashmir where Indira was playing the Hindu card, a move was needed to temporarily neutralise Akalis because of sizeable Sikh vote in Jammu. Already, as a measure of identity, Akalis had permitted their members dual membership of the National Conference. Indira drew Akali leaders to secret parleys with two of her Ministers who were assisted by senior officials on April 21, 1983 at Airport Lounge, Chandigarh.78 Two days earlier, Rajiv Gandhi had visited Chandigarh when Congress(I) legislative party leaders had spoken of far reaching political-administrative changes in Punjab. A rumour was now afloat of a possible Congress-Akali coalition government.
It was in this background that the murder of Deputy Inspector General of Police, Jalandhar Range, Avtar Singh Atwal, outside the precincts of Golden Temple followed on April 25, 1983. The assassins fired him from the point blank range, continuously turned over his body to be sure that he was dead, and escaped in a police jeep. His security guards, and a police posse, 100 yards away, stood by. Handwritten posters on the walls in Golden Temple complex buildings, welcoming Atwal’s murder, ended with ‘Lal Salam’ (Red Salute).79 Obviously, these were handiwork of some Naxalites from the banned Dal Khalsa. Longowal, the following day, hinted at Darbara Singh’s involvement,80 while Bhindranwale condemned it as the “handiwork of the Punjab government.”
There was hue and cry in the Hindu press. Darbara Singh early in May 1983 made elaborate arrangements to flush out ‘terrorists’ but was over-ruled by Indira Gandhi. Earlier, P.C. Sethi, Home Minister, made a statement threatening entry into the Golden Temple complex, but retraced it later. The government handed over a list of criminals inside the Golden Temple complex to the SGPC, but the Senior Superintendent of Police(SSP)’s letter was first shown to the wanted criminals.81 They simply disappeared when Longowal went around checking. The list also contained a number of names who had earlier been killed in police ‘encounters’ or were dead or living abroad.
The only upshot of this ballyhoo was the governments’ much belated move to confiscate the property of Dr. Jagjit Singh Chauhan which they should at least have done a decade earlier, and to
prosecute Balbir Singh Sandhu, General Secretary, National Council of Khalistan. Sandhu, however, daily commuted between Amritsar and Tarn Taran but was never arrested. Sant Longowal, in a talk with Kuldip Nayar, verily described him as an agent of the Intelligence Bureau.
With the question of Akali support to Congress(I) in Jammu out of the way, Indira’s three pronged strategy in Punjab crystallised in May-June 1983. Firstly, the instrument of Hindu-Sikh communal rioting was used to create tension all over Punjab through the medium of Punjab bandh. The call was given by Hindu Suraksha Samiti headed by a Youth Congress(I) activist Pawan Kumar Sharma following massive Hindu-Sikh riots over the question of use of loudspeakers in a Gurdwara at Patiala, causing a large number of deaths, arson and looting. A number of Hindu organisations had mushroomed in Punjab83 saying, “We are Hindus first and anything else afterwards”. The ire of the Hindus fell on the Sikhs in Jammu, where they were humiliated by mobs shearing their keshas, sacred hair.
Secondly, Pritam Singh Bhinder, a trusted protege whose wife was Congress(I) M.P. from Gurdaspur and was closer to Bindranwale, was brought in as Inspector General of Police, Punjab, with a clear mandate to sharpen the contradictions between Bhindranwale and moderate group of Akali leadership, push the state to a general lawlessness, and strike fear in the hearts of general populace by police counter-terror. According to Chand Joshi, “On an average, the police detained 50 Sikh youths every week and shot in coldblood at least half a dozen of them.”84 The mini shake up of the senior police officers affected those who had taken tough stance towards the extremists. From now onwards, “no effort was made to round up the actual terrorists and criminals,” who “continued their activities with impunity and were successful in giving the impression that they controlled the state.” Further that, “Disturbances and sundry killings all over Punjab added to the pall of fear. Criminals had a free hand and a series of bank robberies occurred while government looked helplessly.” Verily, amidst this repression, U.S. Ambassador to India, Harry Barnes, compared the Khalistan movement to that of Puerto Rico “where the oppressed trampled under a dictatorship were seeking liberation.” 85
Lastly, Indira called her security Adviser, Ram Nath Kao, to study Punjab situation and lay down clear guidelines for the various security agencies, including the third agency. With the help of his former deputy, Sankaran Nair, Kao made a full analysis of the situation in a fortnight and rationalised the channels of. communications.86 With rationalisation of police and intelligence setup in mid-1983, “the pattern of violence took a decidedly sinister form.” For instance, the rail roko, stop the trains, agitation called by Akali Dal on June 17 saw professional sabotage of rail tracks to the alarm of the moderate Akali leaders. From July 1983 onwards, there were a series of bomb explosions. Police connivance with the extremists was apparent in a number of acquittals; the beneficiaries being the banned Dal Khalsa and Dr. Chauhan’s National Council of Khalistan activists. These elements were used by intelligence agencies for infiltration into terrorist and anti-social groups. 87
On completion of a year’s detention, Bhai Amrik Singh and Thara Singh were released in July 1983. It was on their arrest that Bhindranwale had started the agitation a year earlier. Chand Joshi would make us believe that the release was result of secret parleys between the central government and Bhindranwale. 88
Bhindranwale’s was a most tormented soul. The resort to shearing the keshas and beards of Sikhs had started in U.P. in April 1982 and then repeated ad nauseum in Haryana where it had the 82
blessings of the impish Chief Minister, and lately in Jammu. This was the second. time that the Hindus posed such a problem, the earlier one being their denial of Punjabi language as their mother tongue, to which the Sikhs had no appropriate answer. The question now faced by Bhindranwale was: what sort of retaliation could be equally devastating to Hindus emotionally. Incidentally, this type of sacrilege under state auspices was revived under inspiration of Indira Gandhi after a lapse of over 200 years. It was last practised by later Mughals before the Sikhs became masters of Punjab. Had the Muslims instead of the Sikhs been the other party involved, they could possibly have put the same sort of barbers to forcibly circumcise the Hindus. That would have equally shattered them emotionally, and also possibly caused their slow death because of wounds turning septic. But circumcising the Hindus though emotionally shattering to them, would not give any emotional satisfaction to the Sikhs. Besides causing slow death by septic wound or titnus was against the Sikh tenets.
Bhindranwale must have pondered over pros and cons of various options, before he gave a call on August 17 to the Sikh youth “to give up all worldly pleasure and buy one motor cycle and a revolver” for self defence. He also stated that “Sikh Panth never teaches murder or torture of innocent people and if any body encourages these two things, he is the biggest traitor to the Panth.” 89
The Hindus ignored these type of Bindranwale’s statements as against his outburst a few days earlier threatening to kill 5,000 Hindus in an hour if his mini bus – to pick up just released Bhai Amrik Singh’s family members – which was detained by the police was delayed any longer. There was a beeline of mediamen from India and abroad, including foreign TV teams, correspondents from news agencies and individual newspapers and magazines, to interview Bhindranwale as if he was the sole fulcrum of the Punjab imbroglio. It ignored the fact that elements like Naxalites, criminal and antisocial elements were either controlled by the intelligence agencies, or were operating independently, and the organisations like Babbar Khalsa were opposed to him. Bhindranwale could not be the sole spokesman of the various strands operating in Punjab. But it suited the government to project him otherwise.
For the last few months, there was increasing schism between Longowal and Bindranwale over the latter’s proposition to give the morcha a militant edge. Akali workers were also drawing closer to Bhindranwale who stated that, “The Hindus are trying to enslave us; atrocities against the Sikhs are increasing day by day under the Hindu-imperialist rulers of New Delhi; the Sikhs have never felt so humiliated, not even during the reign of the Mughal Emperors and British colonialsts. How long can the Sikhs tolerate the injustice.”90 The difference in approach came to the fore at the ‘Convention of True and Honest Sikhs’ held in Guru Nanak Nivas on September 3-4, 1983. In another speech on September 20, Bhindranwale said, “To be armed is the birth right of every Sikh… A Sikh without weapon is naked, a lamb led to slaughter” Further that, “Indira Gandhi is a very clever woman. She is full of double standards. . . She either wants to liquidate all the Sikhs or make them lick her chappals. . . Born in a Brahmin family, what does Mrs. Gandhi know about the problems of the Sikhs. She is more interested in establishing her dynastic rule than anything else.” 91
Bhindranwale had crossed the litmus test when he threatened to kill mass scale Hindus. In Indira’s views, Hindus being the ruling race needed different treatment. One such incident on October 5, 1983, when a Delhi bound bus from Amritsar was hijacked at Dhilwan, passengers segregated, leading to six Hindus being shot dead and one injured, caused dismissal of Darbara Singh government and imposition of President’s rule the following day. Bhindranwale said, “Six
Hindus are killed and the Government has fallen. Two hundred Sikhs have been gunned down by police, and nothing has been done. This shows that to the Government Hindu lives are more important than Sikh lives.”
In retrospect, it seems to have been an engineered incident,93 as the intelligence agencies now operating for sufficient time had reached a decisive stage to upgrade the Centre’s operations in Punjab. When a similar incident occurred on November 18, of hijacking of a Punjab Roadway Bus at Moga and killing of four Hindu passengers, Bhindranwale categorically condemned the incident. The Tribune (Chandigarh) in its editorial of November 20, 1983, observed that the first “inescapable conclusion” was “that such acts of butchery are not sponsored by the Sikh community as a community, nor even the Akali Dal, or (as it seems now) by Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who has condemned the killings as has Sant Harchand Singh Longowal.”
With induction of President’s rule, the security agencies had a freer hand, and there was a sharp increase in the number of violent incidents. For instance, the White Paper lists 30 violent incidents during two months proceeding imposition of President’s rule on October 20. The number of such incidents during the rest of the month of October itself was the same.
Bhindranwale again crossed the litmus test on December 1, 1983, when he stated that the Hindus in the Punjab should be “prepared for the worst”, if Jai Hindu Sangh’s threat, asking the Sikhs to leave Rajasthan by December 5, was implemented.94 The earlier burning of the Gurdwara at Churu in Rajasthan and Jai Hindu Sangh’s threat to the Sikhs, as causes belli, were conveniently downplayed by the Members of Parliament who raised a furor over Bhindranwale’s statement and wanted his arrest and prosecution. The Centre by a strategem widened the schism between Bhindranwale and Akali leaders. According to Chand Joshi, at a secret meeting with Governor Pande, who was making attempts to put an end to confrontation between the Centre and Akali Dal, Akali leaders had agreed to the arrest of Bhindranwale, provided the security forces did not enter the Golden Temple complex.95 This was leaked to Bhindranwale by the security agencies who also probably preferred him the advice of his moving over to Akal Takht, a la Sant Fateh Singh. Accordingly, when Babbar Khalsa activists, close to Longowal, occupied Guru Nanak Niwas rooms allocated to Bhindranwale, he chose to avoid bloodshed and moved over to Akal Takht on December 16, 1983.
By end of the month, there was gradual evolution in Bhindranwale’s attitude towards the issue of Khalistan. This was reflected in his statement of December 31, 1983. “Earlier”, he said, “we did not ask for ‘Khalistan’ but had no objection to accepting it if the government offered it. Today, it is different. It is for the government to make up its mind on the question whether it wishes to remain with us or not.”96 Indira’s recurring theme during the next few months was that the moderate Sikhs had lost control over the situation and were not in a position to implement any agreement that may be arrived at.
With Bhindranwale in Akal Takht, Indira was now nearer her objectives. She made up her mind for launching a full scale military invasion, war on the Sikh, with Akal Takht, supreme seat of the Sikh temporal power, within the Golden Temple complex, constituting the main target for destruction. She passed instructions to Defence Minister, Ramaswamy Venkataraman. General K. Sundarji, overall incharge of the Operation Bluestar later told Inder Malhotra that he was told by Defence Minister to prepare for the operations on January 15, 1984, the Army Day.97 The Army had about six months time for preparations. Similar instructions were given independently to highly 92
trained commandos, a secret outfit of RAW at Chakrata; they had a large replica of the Golden Temple complex for practical exercises at Chakrata and Sarasawa near Saharanpur. They also started making reconnaissance of the Golden Temple complex.
Meanwhile, Indira lulled the Akali leaders through intensified but sham negotiations and as many as seven secret meetings starting January 24, 1984, and the last one on May 26, 1984, a few days before the start of actual operations, were held. 99
Indira by her guile and craftiness had pushed the Sikhs to a position wherefrom she could enact a ghastly tragedy.
By the time what struck observers was her new religiosity, and her catering to her new constituency – the upper caste. Hindu chauvinists, vis a vis Harijans, Muslims and other minorities.100 In the words of Richard Nations by visiting scores of prominent Hindu temples and talking of rights of majority, she gave a new content to the notion of secularism. She was playing upon the morbid fears of intrusion and disintegrations of Hindu society.101 The theme, Indira in a Hindu role stuck, so much so that she was being publicly upbraided by her friends like C. Rajeshwara Rao, General Secretary of CPI for becoming a ‘Hindu communalist’.102 CPM, however, kept mum about Indira’s Hindu role.
Harkishan Singh Surjeet closely associated with Congress-Akali talks since November 1982 and having close liaison with both Indira Gandhi and Tohra had developed a new understanding of Indira’s motivations of making moderate Akali leadership irrelevant in Punjab. Surjeet saw in that a great opportunity for Marxists to come up as a major force and establish their stronghold in Punjab, a la Bengal. The later reports about KGBs feeding false information about Pakistani deployment of 300,000 forces in Kashmir, mainly Punch-Rajauri sector in Jammu, and Kargil in Ladakh in April- May 1984,103 to ensure that Operation Bluestar remains on, is to be seen in that light. It is another matter that CPM’s ambitions of emerging as the dominant political factor in the Punjab after the Operations Bluestar has not been realised. That constitutes its greatest disappointment. It continues to colour its reading of the political situation in the Punjab.
Indira, however, did not need promptings from KGB to go ahead with the Operation Bluestar. After conveying orders to the armed forces in January 1984 to make preparations, the D-day had to be fixed. Since the objective was to inflict maximum damage to the Sikhs, it had to be a religious festival. The Baisakhi, April 13, with main celebrations at Anandpur Sahib was not suitable. The next date could be Guru Arjan Dev’s martyrdom anniversary, June 3. That seemed ideal and was chosen. Meanwhile, she went ahead complicating the Punjab situation to justify, if that was needed, her war against the Sikhs all over Punjab, including the shrines and places that had no connection with Bhindranwale.
Mention has already been made of Indira’s holding secret talks with Akalis to lull them to their destruction. The moderate Akali leaders, basically functioning within constitutional framework and peaceful agitation, had great limitations. They were no match to wily Indira and her cohorts. There was yet what proved to be the last round of all-party talks that took place on February 15, 1984. Akalis had earlier called for a peaceful bandh on February 8. The Hindu Sanghathan’s Punjab bandh, a week later, was marred by violence against the Sikhs in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana from February 15 to 20. The connivance of authorities in Haryana in violence against the Sikhs in Panipat and Jagadhari was explicit. Akalis called off the talks but still advocated peaceful 98
Hindu-Sikh relations. Bhindranwale was for retaliation because the situation had gone beyond the limits. This resulted in sporadic incidents of violence in Punjab, and was a welcome development for Indira government.
In order to completely rout Akalis in the eyes of the opposition parties, Indira threw a bait to them to go in for an agitation for amendment of article 25 of the Constitution. It clubbed the Sikhs alongwith Jains and Buddhists to fall within the mischief of Hindus religious institutions. That was a ruse, in a very subtle way. Rajiv Gandhi conveyed to Tohra that the government would accept the demand once it was agitated.104 Akalis non-challantly fell into the trap and announced boycott of biennial elections to Rajya Sabha, foolishly gifting one seat to Congress(I). Anyhow, that was not a big loss, keeping in view the quality of their members – Tohra, Talwandi in Rajya Sabha – who were most ill equipped and seldom opened their mouth.
After moderates announced their decision to burn article 25 of the Constitution at Delhi on February 27, 1984, they waited in vain for the government announcement. Obviously, the government wanted to tarnish Akali image in the eyes of the opposition. Badal burnt article 25 in Bangla Sahib Gurdwara, Delhi, while Tohra did so in Chandigarh. The government accepted the demand as agreed to between Rajiv and Tohra, on March 30, which it could have done on February 26, a day before the planned Akali demonstration. It was a pyrrhic victory.
Meanwhile, the AISSF was banned on March 19, and a hunt started all over Punjab to haul up its members. The same day a case of sedition against Sant Longowal was registered for having addressed a letter to the Commonwealth Heads in November last. Longowal termed the ban as an “attack on Sikhism” and also “unconstitutional, shameful and diabolical”. Bhindranwale said that it “was a challenge to the Sikhs and such government designs may constrain the Sikhs to adopt a path leading to the formation of ‘Khalistan’.”104a The Tribune and the Hindu termed the ban ill conceived and counter productive.
Bhindranwale knew that the die was cast and now started fortifications. General Jagjit Singh Aurora who visited Golden Temple complex a couple of times in the first half of 1984 later affirmed that the fortifications came up only during March-June 1984. It was herein that expert knowledge of Maj. Gen. Subeg Singh, who had organised Mukti Bahini during the 1971 Bangladesh crisis, came handy. General Subeg Singh after his unceremonious exit from the army, the charges being later dismissed by appropriate court, had turned towards religion. He drew closer to Bhindranwale and served as his military adviser.
The other senior army officer, Maj. Gen. (Retd) Jaswant Singh Bhullar had a different work plan. He ingratiated himself with Bhindranwale, obtained a letter from him and left for USA in the last week of May: at the instance of Indira Gandhi, Punjab Congress(I) leader Tarlochan Singh Riyasti oversaw Bhullar’s travel from the Golden Temple, Amritsar, to Delhi to catch the international flight. He was suitably briefed.
By the time, the Third Agency was in full control. It was creating a situation in which massive central operations could be seen to be justified. It was dumping army weapons, brought in kar seva trucks, in Harimandir to bring about a confrontation. The systematic burning of 38 railway stations on April 15 was handiwork of that agency. So were many of the much publicised killings including internecine warfare between various groups which too claimed the life of Surinder Singh Sodhi, Bhindranwale’s right hand man. The government drew appropriate lessons from BSF’s laying of siege at three Gurdwaras in Moga and imposition of curfew when thousands of the Sikhs from the neighbouring areas marched ‘to free the gurdwaras’. That ended in BSF-fiasco in third week of April. Amidst the ongoing confrontation, Bhindranwale told the Janta Party delegation on April 28, 1984, that he was against Khalistan.
Akali workers arrested in connection with Article 25 agitation were released on May 11, but the killing of Ramesh Chandra, Editor of Hind Samachar group and son of Jagat Narain the following day, came as an anti-climax. The declaration of Sant Longowal on May 23, for non-cooperation movement, including non-payment of land revenue, charges for canal waters, loans and electricity bills, and stoppage of foodgrains movement out of Punjab from June 3, 1984, was irrelevant, as Indira by the time had already fixed the Operation Bluestar around that time.
G.K.C. Reddy tells us that Information and Broadcasting Minister, H.K.L. Bhagat, had called editors of Delhi newspapers individually one month before the action, seeking full support in case of a ‘strong action’.106 Already, the media had helped to build up the national hysteria against the Sikhs; Akashvani (All India Radio) and Doordarshan (TV) had become Indira Vani and Indira Darshan while the ‘national’ press “betraying Hindu communal attitude” had overplayed Sikh terrorism, without trying to investigate as to who was behind it. It did not report “the terrorism of police, the CRPF, the BSF and later the army”.107 Indira wanted to make it a big affair to enable her to derive maximum electoral advantage in elections by end of the year. CRPF and BSF were deliberately allowed to be discredited to legitimise the final use of the armed forces. And, it was a full scale war reminiscent not of Lord Dalhousie’s declaration of war on the ‘Sikh Nation’ 135 years earlier, but that of Ahmad Shah Abdali in 1762, 222 years ago.
Indira met President Zail Singh on May 30, 1984, and talked about new formulae on Punjab. Zail Singh even on June 4 talked of army’s surrounding the Gurdwaras to pressurise ‘terrorists’ to come out and said that the army would not go in.
The Army Chief was asked to mobilise on May 25. All important Gurdwaras all over Punjab including the Golden Temple complex were surrounded by the armed forces by May 30. Briefing the troops, commanders used the terms “enemy” for the Sikhs all over Punjab. Bhindranwale had the exact information of arrival of 100,000 Indian troops at Halwara airport near Ludhiana, and their spread out all over Punjab to start military action on June 5. He said on June 1, that the day the armed forces enter the Golden Temple will mark the foundation of Khalistan.
As a probing mission, BSF, CRPF, and ITBP fired at the Golden Temple complex without provocation on June 1 for 8 hours from 12.40 to 20.15 hours, killing 11 people and injuring many. 3 6 bullets hit the golden dome of the Golden Temple. A 32 hour curfew was clamped from 2100 hours. Singh Sahiban of the Golden Temple, Giani Kirpal Singh and Giani Sahib Singh termed it as an invasion of the Golden Temple by dushats, wicked people, and called for their liquidation. Sant Longowal made futile efforts to talk to Zail Singh who warded off the calls.
Harbir Singh Bhanwar mentions in his diary of June 2, that it was generally known in informed circles by that time that the government had decided on a general massacre of the Sikhs in Punjab, to turn it into another Assam and that every Sikh found near the Golden Temple would be put to death.108 The same night, Indira addressed the nation saying that Punjab had been handed over to the armed forces and the Governor of Punjab appointed as Administrator of Chandigarh. She gave an ultimatum to the Sikhs “to accept the framework of settlement the government has 105
outlined” but gave no warning of the impending catastrophe, to permit exit of innocent persons from the Golden Temple or other shrines. The whole of Punjab had become a trap for the Sikhs. Longowal rejected the appeal-cum-ultimatum.
Because of Guru Arjan Dev’s martyrdom anniversary on June 3, curfew was relaxed from 9 to 11 and 17 to 21 hours. According to Mark Tully of BBC, the temple was unusually crowded. Balbir Singh Sandhu puts the figures at 10,000. Some of the extremists escaped before the curfew was reclamped. A number of journalists including Subhash Kirpekar and Harbir Singh Bhanwar met Sant Bhindranwale in the evening. (Mark Tully had met him a day earlier). To a question whether he supported creation of Khalistan, Bhindranwale said, “I never opposed it; nor have I supported it.” To another question he stated that the Sikhs “can neither live in nor with India. If treated as equals, it may be possible. But frankly speaking, I don’t think it is possible,” Further that, “The Sikhs are slaves in India, and we have to cut those chains of slavery. 109
Bhindranwale’s disclosure to the journalists that he had learnt from reliable sources that the army would start its operations on June 5, shocked Harmindar Singh Sandhu and brought in him an element of realism. At night, there was no light in the Golden Temple complex. Taking advantage of darkness, a number of extremists of Babbar Khalsa and Akhand Kirtni Jatha, and recently created Akal Force escaped through the back lanes.
By the evening of June 3, 1984, Punjab was subjected to worst type of curfew of a most savage kind. It amounted to more than martial law with all sorts of restrictions; it being cut off from the rest of India. There was complete stoppage of all communications – rail, airways, buses, tractors, cars, bullock carts, cycles and even movement on foot. Nothing, except air, on which Indira had no control, moved in Punjab without government permission. Blanket ban on uncensored reporting in media and curfew was kept throughout the period army action was at its peak. This scenario had all the similarities of a war waged by a tyrannical authority against an alien people who were subjected to violence and reign of terror in violation of all civilised laws, national or international. Major General Ranjit Singh Dayal was appointed Defence Adviser to the Governor. The Press in Punjab and Chandigarh was subjected to pre-censorship, not to publish anything about army or para military forces operations. Telex and telephone lines were cut. Borders with Pakistan were sealed by the army. The trains and communications infrastructure was used only for troops movement.
The eerie silence of June 4 morning was broken by the first big bomb which, according to Longowal, fell on Akal Takht. Side by side there was burst of army’s gun firing aimed at extremists’ positions atop Ramgarhia Bunga and water tank behind Teja Singh Samundri Hall. The extremists returned the fire by light machine guns (LMGs). The damage was repaired by the evening and defences strengthened. Army units moved to dislodge extremists from residential houses around the Golden Temple complex. In pitched battles, about 100 people died from both sides. Tohra, with army’s blessings, made last ditch efforts to persuade Bhindranwale to surrender but was rebuffed. The foreign journalists and Indians working for foreign media were made to leave the Punjab. The milk vendors who came from villages to supply milk to the city were shot dead for violating the curfew orders. That was portent of things to follow, as to the sort of treatment for civilians devoted to the Sikh faith. The aroused Sikh consciousness could make atleast 300,000 villagers from all over Punjab to violate the curfew and march on Amritsar to face the army.
The army’s shelling of buildings in the Golden Temple complex started in the morning of June 5. Army commanders also repeatedly used hailers asking for surrender of the people, who got
no opportunity 7 to move. Tohra and Longowal sent Bhan Singh, Secretary, SGPC to negotiate the coming out of 2,000 persons gathered in the Golden Temple complex for Akali morcha. By the time he contacted the army units, firing had started. He hastily retraced his steps barely saving his life.
As the clock struck 1900 hours, Indian army’s war on the Sikhs in Punjab began with all its fury. Various Gurdwaras in Punjab were subjected to simultaneous attack. The White Paper mentions of 42 places of worship attacked, but some accounts mention their number at 74, and Bhindranwale was not connected with most of them. Fierce fighting took place in Moga and Mukatsar, while there was moderate resistance at Faridkot, Patiala, Ropar and Chowk Mehta. The main battleground was Amritsar.
The first task was to blast off the tops of two Ramgarhia Bungas and the water tank. Since the Golden Temple complex was surrounded by the Sikh houses and bazars, army had no compunctions in using artillery fire to cause maximum damage. By 2230 hours, two groups of commandos entered the Golden Temple complex, and Zail Singh informed of the army action. The first forces, despite tank coverage, failed to clear their respective areas for a joint action. The Tanks had to hammer repeatedly the steel gates at the Serai-entry side for operations by the 26 Madras which could not make conjunction with the 10 Guards. The RAW’s Special Frontier Force which had rehearsed thoroughly, despite bullet proof jackets, failed to break into Akal Takht. The troops of Madras and Kumaon regiments got mixed up. The Madrasis were 5 hours late, and straightaway started firing on Brigadier A.K. Dewan’s Garhwalis, killing about 50 Jawans before the things were sorted out. 110
The infantry was facing stiff challenge and Gen. Subeg Singh’s placing LMGs nine inches above the Parikarma floor made crawling impossible. RAW’s Estt-22, especially equipped, could not get any closer to Akal Takht despite use of chemical gas canisters, in violation of international conventions. The use of prohibited gas did not yield the desired results because of stiff breeze and heavy sand bagging of windows and entrances. They asked for Tank support. After seeking Indira’s approval, APCs and seven of the army’s main battle tank, Vijayanta, were brought within the Golden Temple complex in early hours of June 6. Another 20 tanks were stationed in strategic positions. The lead APC was knocked out by the Chinese made Rocket Propelled Grenade tender (RPG-7). Hence, all the seven Vijayanta used their 105 mm main guns to fire at Akal Takht with devastating results.’” The Golden Dome was damaged and Akal Takht almost completely destroyed. So was the case with Darshani Deori, entrance gate, of the Golden Temple. The infantry assault led by Madras regiment to capture Akal Takht met stiff resistance and it suffered 80 per cent loss. At about 11 a.m., a group trying to escape from Akal Takht to the Golden Temple was mowed down. Room to room fighting continued till 1230 hours, but resistance continued from basement and ground floor of Akal Takht. Curfew was relaxed in Amritsar city between 1500-1700 hours.
Across the road three battalions combed the adjoining serais “with ruthless efficiency fuelled by total anger”. In the words of Chand Joshi, “Army units acted in total anger and unwittingly shot down all suspects rounded up from Golden Temple complex.”112 They used stunner grenades and at about one o’clock in the morning reached Teja Singh Samundri Hall to evacuate the moderate Akali leaders. The government later used the word “surrender” as if it were like surrender of Pakistani armed force and civilians in eastern sector in 1971! The Akali leaders were not fugitives and not wanted in any criminal cases. It only reflected Indira’s mental framework of an all-out war against the Sikhs.
The armed forces killed in cold blood a large body of peaceful Sikhs in the Golden Temple complex and outside, during the operations, in violation of all norms of national or international laws including the Hague and Geneva Conventions. Some of the instances were widely reported by various journals.
* According to Bhan Singh, Secretary, SGPC, about 250 people came out of Teja Singh Samundari Hall at the time Akali leaders were being taken into custody. A grenade was thrown by the soldiers; they started shooting wildly till Longowal came out and shouted at the Major, ‘Don’t shoot these people. They are not extremists. They are employees of SGPC’. 70 people, including 35 women and 5 children were killed.113The White Paper glosses over army’s killing of them.
* Again, when Bhan Singh contacted the army Major on June 6, at 0830 hours to seek medical assistance for the injured, “I saw about 35 or 36 young Sikhs lined up with their hands raised above their heads and the Major was about to order them to be shot. When I asked him for medical help, he got up into rage, tore my turban off my head and ordered his men to shoot me. I turned back and fled jumping over bodies of the dead and injured and saved my life crawling along the walls. I got to the room where Tohra and Sant Longowal were sitting and told them of what I had seen. S. Karnail Singh Nag who had followed me also narrated what he had seen as well as the killing of 35 to 36 young Sikhs by canon fire.” 114
* Mark Tully narrates Manbir Singh’s account of Kumaon Regiment’s rescuing people on the morning of June 6, from Guru Ram Das serai. About 150 persons “were asked to hold up their hands and then they were shot after fifteen minutes.” Other youngmen were told to untie their turbans. These were used to tie their hands behind their backs. “The army hit them on the head with butts of their rifles.”115These persons also must have been killed.
* Subhash Kirpekar who was one of the last journalists to interview Bhindranwale, writing of June 6 afternoon, said, “On the way back to the hotel, I witnessed a scene at the Kotwali which is blood curdling. This is where some Jawans were kicking some of the 11 suspected terrorists as they knelt on their bare knees and crawled on the hot road surface. . . . The hundreds of spectators who saw this incident felt anguished. The sight put them off.” 116
* Giani Chet Singh, former Head Priest, Golden Temple, inter alia, gave a graphic account of atrocities to which the residents of areas around the Golden Temple were subjected. The people were taken out of their houses. Men’s hands were tied with their turbans. Women’s necks were sought to be asphyxiated with their plaits. Then they were shot in the chests. No quarter was shown to women, aged or children; in the eyes of troops every Sikh was a terrorist. Those who survived died of thirst. Their houses were ransacked, and then put to fire. The areas surrounding Darbar Sahib was full of debris. “What has happened is beyond description of sight, hearing or words. The Indian troops have outdone the atrocities committed by Abdali.”
Verily, in the words of G.K.C. Reddy, “Thus the Operation Bluestar will go down in history as one of the biggest massacres of unarmed civilians by the organised military force of a nation.” Further that, “The word ‘unarmed’ is used deliberately as the disparity in arms on the two sides was so great that those resisting army invasion of the Temple could hardly be termed armed.”117 In short, General Dyer was out-Dyred, and he must be turning in his grave.
How did Bhindranwale die? There is some direct evidence to suggest that Bhindranwale and Gen. Subeg Singh died of treachery.
The report by Anshu Swaraj in the Probe India of July 1984 seems nearer the truth. Of the 35 extremists who had taken position in the Golden Temple, three crawled over to Akal Takht, about 40 meters away. They must have done so with the approval, if not at the instance, of the army. They pleaded with Bhindranwale and the group there to give up and surrender. There was said to be difference of opinion: this culminated in extremists fighting among themselves! It was in this short but bloody battle that Bhindranwale was gravely wounded and Gen. Subeg Singh killed.
The White Paper in corroboration says that “room to room engagement commenced. Some extremists were then observed rushing down towards the first and ground floors, where shortly thereafter an explosion took place and a fire started. The troops also heard an exchange of fire among the extremists themselves in the ground floor and in the basement.”118 Further on, it speaks of surrender by 200 terrorists including 22 from the Golden Temple. It seems that the group from the Golden Temple where Harminder Singh Sandhu was located, first surrendered and thereafter some from that group ‘crawled’ to the basement of Akal Takht to persuade Sant Bhindranwale to surrender, and failing that finish them off. This group in Golden Temple atleast must have consisted of infiltrators and agents of intelligence agencies. Union Home Secretary’s statement that Bhindranwale was killed by Babbar Khalsa was misreading of the character of the elements involved. Even General Dayal contradicted Home Secretary’s version. 119
Army circles gave out that Sant Bhindranwale did not have God’s word on his lips at the time of his death. His last words were, “Tell her (Indira), she is daughter of a bitch.” According to some reports, Sant Bhindranwale, critically injured, was alive when captured. The army authorities sought instructions from Delhi whether to render him medical assistance, or finish him off. It took Army Headquarters six hours to obtain orders from Indira to follow the latter course. He was tortured and died defiantly.
The victory of the armed forces over the Golden Temple, Amritsar, caused wild jubilation amongst the Hindus all over northern India. It gave fulfilment to atavisitic feelings of Hinduism’s victory over Sikhism. It had its reverberations in Hindus of north Indian origin across the world. 120
The army units in Amritsar were feted by the Hindus and this went on all over Punjab.
The Sikh opinion throughout was gravely disturbed at this sacrilege which, more than anything else, signified that they had no place in India and could subsist only at the sufferance of the Hindus, shorn of their dignity and self-respect, if not face extermination. Admitted, Gurdial Singh Dhillon, who had served as Congress’s cat’s paw against the Sikhs, the Hindu-Sikh relations were reduced to a mere formality.
The Sikhs rose in strength in Amritsar and Gurdaspur districts and areas especially west of Beas at this grave sacrilege. Mark Tully mentions of rise of angry Sikhs from villages near Amritsar on the night after Golden Temple was surrounded and their being dispersed in Sultanwind area by the army after using tanks.121 Shekhar Gupta talks of large mobs gathering near Verka and Gollwad near Jhabal, 25 kms from Amritsar, and large crowds around villages Dhandkesali, Fatehpur Rajputan, and around Batala in Gurdaspur district.122 With every hour there was increase in mob fury and according to an army officer, “each successive mob that we encountered was more furious and required greater use of force. Now there is a limit to which you can use force against a crowd. After all, you can’t use artillery against them and kill lakhs of people.”123 That is, the people according to the army officer were killed in thousands! Harbir Singh Bhanwar mentions of the Sikhs
coming from the countryside in hundreds of thousands in Raja Sansi, Ajnala, Nawankot, Tarn Taran and other places outside Amritsar, when armed forces used guns to kill as many Sikhs as they could.
Besides, helicopter-borne reconnaissance patrols scoured the countryside and hundreds of wireless sets all over Punjab repeated alarming messages from the police chief asking all officers to “shoot at sight anyone seen on the streets and at once fire at the mobs.” 124
It was in this melee of hatred and destruction, that the army at first ransacked the Sikh Reference Library in the Golden Temple complex. As Buta Singh told Giani Kirpal Singh on July 9, 1984, the army had taken away 125 bundles of Library records and books to Amritsar Cantonment.124a Thereafter, the army in a deliberate and a calculated move wantonly put it to fire on June 7; it contained thousands of rare manuscripts and handwritten Hukamnamahs of the Gurus. Similarly, Teja Singh Samundri Hall and other buildings in the Serai were put to fire. It also engulfed some of the nearby houses. The Toshakhana, treasure house, of the Golden Temple was systematically looted, reminiscent of Mahmud Ghazni’s plunder of the Hindu temples. Other Gurdwaras, all over Punjab, were similarly pillaged by the Indian army.
How many people died in Operation Bluestar? It may be kept in view that Operation Bluestar had two components – Operation Metal confined to the Golden Temple complex and Operation Shop, to raid extremist hideouts all over the state, and mop up terrorist remnants in the countryside.
The government did not deliberately keep a proper account of the number of civilians killed and instead used sweepers and Municipal garbage trucks to cremate the bodies. Apart from Rum and monetary incentives, Sweepers were permitted to retain personal belongings including money, watches, gold bangles, etc. found on the persons of the dead. This was in violation of Geneva and Hague conventions. Even the injured who were taken to local hospital and kept in a site with a board “prisoners of war” (POWs) outside were not given facilities normally offered to POWs. Similarly, POWs kept in Amritsar Cantonment were harshly treated and many of them shot in cold blood. In short, the treatment given out to Pakistani POWs after 1971 war was much humane than that given to the Sikh POWs after Indira’s Sikh war of June 1984. The government also falsified the number of troop casualties.
In view of the general resort to falsehood by the government, one has to broadly guess the total loss of civilians during the Operation Bluestar, say from June 3 to 7, 1984.
Chand Joshi was nearer the truth when he said that 700 troops and 5,000 civilians died in the Golden Temple complex.125 Another 1000 Sikh youth must have been killed by the army and the para military forces in Amritsar city in mass scale destruction of buildings surrounding the Golden Temple complex, and shooting down of Sikhs looking out of their windows and doors within the walled city during the curfew period. The number from the Sikh crowds from Amritsar and Gurdaspur districts, especially west of Beas killed by troops could vary between 10,000 to 30,000. Of the 42 Gurdwaras raided according to the White Paper, 2,000 people each must have been killed at Moga and Mukatsar; 1250 each at Faridkot. Patiala, Ropar and Chowk Mehta; and an average of 500 each at the other gurdwaras. Adding another 12,000 persons who would have come out of their houses in violation of curfew all over Punjab, and who were sighted by helicopters and shot by trigger happy police, between 100,000 to 120,000 Sikhs died in five days, June 3-7, in the Operation
Bluestar. Army atrocities, however, continued beyond June 7, as was demonstrated in firing with tanks on the Sikhs congregating on Amritsar in the next few days.
The desertion of 4,000 Sikh soldiers from different parts of India constituted high water mark of the Sikh reaction to the government’s severest censorship at its atrocities in Punjab. On June 7, some 600 soldiers of the Sikh Regiment in Sri Ganganagar deserted; some of them escaped to Pakistan. This was followed by desertions in the Sikh Regimental Centre, Ramgarh in Bihar on June 10, involving 1461 soldiers – 1050 of them being raw recruits. Then there were desertions in the Sikh regiments in Jammu, Punjab Regiment at Pune, and other places including Thane, Silchar, Siliguri, and Alwar. Though it represented failure of command, government unnecessarily tried to bring in extraneous factors, such as inspiration from Pakistan which was rejected by the Court Martial.
Similarly, because of extreme provocation from Indian-Ambassador-designate to Norway, a Punjabi Brahmin, who simplified Sikh losses in the Operation Bluestar to 2-3 kg of gold plating, and his assertion that the world would go by the media coverage which was in control of the government, Harinder Singh Khalsa, Charge d’ Affairs in Oslo resigned from the Indian Foreign Service in protest against Operation Bluestar. The first news given about Harinder’s misappropriation of funds was found untrue; the Ambassador-designate was let off with a warning, after expressing regrets. The External Affairs Ministry, cancelled postings of all Sikh employees to the Western countries, and kept them on the tap for a sufficient time before resuming normal operations.
The resignation earlier of Simranjit Singh Mann from the Indian Police Service and his letter to President Zail Singh putting in its perspective the import of the fast moving events had its echo in the national and international media. He hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “Mrs. Gandhi, your Prime Minister, has, by this cruel action outdone Mahmud Ghazni, and she like Shankaracharya, who eliminated the Buddhist faith in India, has, by this action, achieved a dubious reputation, though to the Hindus she has become the greatest Hindu leader since Shankaracharya.” Mahmud Ghazni was known as Ghazi to Muslims of his day and is treated as scourge by Hindus to this day. So would go down Indira with the Sikh people for times to come. Indira, verily, as we shall see later, wanted to achieve elimination of Sikhism as a vibrant faith during her lifetime, surpassing Hitler’s persecution of the Jews.
Indira’s healing touch was a misnomer. It was more of sprinkling salt over the open wounds. Even the children ranging from 2 to 16 years held during the Operation Bluestar were not released till Kamladevi Chattopadhaya approached the Supreme Court later in September.
The Operation Woodrose was complementary to the Operation Bluestar in scanning the Sikhs in the countryside. The army in baat cheet, talking points, simply laid down that an amritdhari, baptised, Sikh was a potential terrorist. The baat cheet un-abashedly declared Guru Gobind Singh to be the fountainhead of the Sikh militancy and virtually declared war on him. This was for the third time in the history of the Sikhs that such a decree of mass annihilation was issued. The first decree to kill worshippers of Nanak – the Sikhs – was issued by Emperor Bahadur Shah (1707-12) and was repeated by Emperor Farrukh Siyar (1713-19). Now, the Government of India made a distinction between the Sikhs of Guru Gobind Singh and others, as it had effectively used patit, renegade, Sikhs in the Operation Bluestar. Also, Guru Gobind Singh had been persona non grata to M.K. Gandhi, later acclaimed father of “our nation,” who had described him as ‘a misguided patriot’, and had
otherwise till his death carried on a campaign against the Sikhs maintaining keshas and keeping kirpans.
During the Operations Bluestar and Woodrose, one wearing kesari turban was summarily shot at, while the one wearing blue turban and keeping kirpan could in certain circumstances save his life after giving up both. Honour of no Sikh was safe. It counted for nothing.
The Sikhs keeping keshas especially became victim of wide witchhunt for the armed forces with youth especially between 15 to 35 years coming for searching inquisitions. The army combed each and every village and town, and with the help of known Congressites, BJP and CPM activists rounded up all the Sikhs active in community services in local Gurdwaras, besides activists of Akali, Dal. Many were summarily shot: and a lot of them got indicted| because of generations old enmities. In the words of Sanjeev Gaurl “The army arrested fewer terrorists and more innocent Sikhs during mopping up operations. The army indiscriminatingly raided Sikh homes in the villages, abused their family members and took into custody young people. . . Said a police officer, ‘Sikhs in Punjab villages today hate the army. (It) really let loose a reign of terror’. Go to any Punjab village and they have those sad and tragic stories to narrate to you.” 126
The author’s enquiries in end-1984 revealed that during the first four to six weeks of Operation Woodrose about 100,000 youth had been taken into custody, and many of them were not heard of again: and about 20,000 belonging to third generation after independence escaped to Pakistan. That was having very adverse repercussions on the Sikh perception of the armed forces as a force of occupation and a vehicle of oppression. The army and the para military forces were breeding terrorism, which was natural reaction to tyranny.126a The government’s oppressive intentions were clear by promulgation of National Security Act Ordinance on June 22, 1984, and Terrorist Affected Areas Ordinance on July 14, 1984. This was precursor of Terrorist and Disaffected Areas Act.
The Operation Bluestar constituted a watershed in the Sikh history and deeply hurt the Sikh psyche. It also affected other minorities who felt that if this can be done to the Sikhs, they could be the next target. Khushwant Singh and following him a number of other Sikhs, a la Rabindranath Tagore in 1919, renounced their Padam Bhushan/Shri and other awards. Amarinder Singh, Congress(I) M.P. and closer to Indira, resigned from Parliament and the Party. Another Congress(I) M.P. Devinder Singh Garcha resigned from Parliament but not the Party. There was a sharp reaction in the Sikhs in foreign countries. A Human Rights sub-committee under American Senator Gus Yatron was set up to look into human rights violations. Indira was vigilant as to the happenings. Maj. Gen (Retd) Jaswant Singh Bhullar, had taken over as Secretary General of the World Sikh Organisation, established in New York on July 28, to provide the Government of India access to all what was happening at international level on Sikhism, and to subvert the Sikh movement from within.
The government sought to spread disinformation and misinformation surpassing Goebbles in the process. The statement of the Army Chief, A.S. Vaidya and other senior Generals that no harm was caused to the Golden Temple and Akal Takht, was in sharp contrast to ocular evidence. The TV news on June 11, giving details of arms seized from the Golden Temple complex mentioned of a rocket launcher and two medium machine guns among others. But these did not find mention in the White Paper. It starts with LMGs. In the words of G.K.C. Reddy, “Poised against the heavy tanks and armoured vehicles and the heavy guns of the Indian army, these would
appear as toys.”
The response of media to incidents of mutiny, desertions, etc. by the Sikh soldiers was extremely irresponsible. Except for Chandra Shekhar, N. T. Rama Rao, Subramanian Swamy, opposition leaders fell into the trap of Indira, fanning the flames of Hindu chauvinism. The BJP and Lok Dal behaved like frenzied Hindu set ups. The Communist Parties toed the Moscow line, with H. S. Surjeet adopting a more balanced and critical attitude of the army action with a view to help CPM emerge as a major factor in Punjab polity. Even, Chandra Shekhar showed reluctance to criticise the army which was treated as a holy cow by all and sundry, and its brutalities befogged. One Editor told Richard Nations that the national press was giving good play to the government line “out of sympathy for the army, the last holy cow we have.”129 Special dispensation was shown to those army men killed in action in sharp contrast to 1965 and 1971 wars. In the words of Jaswant Singh of BJP it was indicative as if army had done something outside its functions and was being treated as a mercenary force.
The Indian army’s continued occupation of the Golden Temple complex after successful culmination of the Operation Bluestar was not without precedent. The Sikh contingent of the British troops had continued to occupy Juma Masjid in Delhi following the failure of 1857 revolt, termed by historians as India’s first war of independence. The Golden Temple complex was treated like any other conquered territory and subjected to victorious soldier’s drinking and kabab bouts, smoking and moving with shoes on within the precincts of sanctum sanctorum as a normal routine. The visit of Giani Zail Singh on June 8, and innumerous visits of Buta Singh only helped to demarcate inner sanctum sanctorum wherefrom troops were prohibited from smoking or entering with shoes on.
Some of the VIP visitors like H.K.L. Bhagat and later Indira herself headed a group of slanderers of Sikhism whose only purpose was to draw bizarre pleasure from the extent of damage suffered by the complex. Giani Sahib Singh was in the forefront pointing to various VIPs the misdeeds being perpetrated by the occupation army. Indira must have drawn inordinate satisfaction when Sahib Singh told her that she was the first one in history to destroy Akal Takht which had escaped destruction even at the hands of Ahmad Shah Abdali.
To Indira now, all the Sikhs, except a few acting as her chamchas were enemies and least trustworthy. Reflective of her new stance, as she later told Inder Malhotra, were her instructions on June 11-12, 1984, during her visit to Ladakh, to replace the detachment of the Sikh soldiers assigned to guard the helipad. That caused annoyance to the troops whose loyalty and discipline was 127 Similarly, the White Paper mentions of Maj. Gen. Subeg Singh having a walkie-talkie in his hand, but mentions of no one else having that to receive or pass on orders. Subeg Singh was also mentioned as having been sacked from the army, but no mention was made of the fact that he was acquitted by appropriate court of all the charges against him. The media indulged in unjustified character assassination of Bhindranwale, Subeg Singh and others in order to justify the army action. Brutalities committeed by Jawans were slurred over. Press Trust of India (PTI) was used to report on June 14, recovery of huge quantities of heroin, charas, hashish and foreign currency in the Golden Temple complex to show that the extremists were involved in smuggling activities. A week later, another news report denied the recovery of narcotics which, it was now disclosed, were recovered from India-Pakistan border, and not the Golden Temple complex.128 These probably belonged to the Third Agency working directly under Indira’s supervision. As for reports about women being forcibly kept in the Golden Temple complex, Inspector General Police, Punjab, Bhinder, thought them to be cooked up.
questioned so brazenly.
Indira, in order to pacify the Sikhs, started relay of regular kirtan singing of hymns, morning and evening (0430-0600 and 1700-1730 hrs) from the Golden Temple from June 8. The inauguration prayer offered stated that “whatever had happened had occurred in accordance with the will of God. Forgive, shortcomings of us all: Thou may grant thy acceptance to what was Thy bhana.” 132
In another week, Giani Sahib Singh decided to strike back through gurbani. Guru’s hymns contained in Adi Granth. Guru Nanak’s hymns against political oppression and condemnation of Babur’s atrocities, Bhai Gurdas’s composition on bitchy nature of rulers, and Kabir’s condemnation of Brahmins arrogance, amongst others, came quite handy in keeping awake the spirit of Sikh defiance among the populace. A couple of these shabads were invariably sung before closure of the service over All India Radio’s relay at 0600 hours. The government’s protests were brushed aside. Buta Singh kept fulminating at singing of these shabads which did not form part of his gutka of Asa di Var, special hymns for morning service, in the Gurdwaras.
Zail Singh’s reaction on June 17, putting a seal of approval on Indira’s misdeeds, after spending a week in remorse, at the destruction of the Golden Temple complex, only reflected that he and his tribe of Congressite Sikhs were committed only to Nehruvian dynasty and not to the interests of the nation. Buta Singh’s inability to meet the conditions of withdrawal of troops from the Golden Temple complex laid down by Baba Kharak Singh, to undertake the kar sewa, reconstruction of damaged shrine by the voluntary service of the community, which was in the best traditions of Sikhism, was glaring. He agreed to the army withdrawal but was overruled by Indira whose appetite had rather been whetted. Her objective now was to strike at the roots of the democratic Sikh institution, the SGPC, and overwhelm it.
Buta Singh announced the agreement of Baba Santa Singh, the opium eating head of Buddha Dal of Nihangs, who was involved in various criminal cases which were withdrawn, to undertake the reconstruction of Akal Takht at the instance of the government. The five high priests immediately warned both Buta Singh and Santa Singh.
Indira now entered into another strategem of sham talks. Army’s top brass including Lt. Gen. Tirath Singh Oberoi landed in Amritsar on July 13, to negotiate about kar seva of the Golden Temple complex. After three days of intense negotiations, a formulae of sorts was thrown up. Akalis promised not to let arms enter the temple and to invite Baba Kharak Singh to perform the kar seva. While the army insisted on keeping a picket at darshani deori, Akalis were willing to give two rooms on the parikarma facing the temple to Jawans dressed in mufti.
New Delhi’s duplicity was obvious from the fact that this period of negotiations was utilised to transport a fleet of buses of Santa Singh’s Nihangs from Bhatinda, 300 kms away, guarded by Punjab Police commandos. Arun Nehru, Indira’s special confidant and K. C. Pant flew from Delhi on the evening July 16, and conveyed the move to the army brass. The Generals now unabashedly 130 To her the position of the Sikhs was only that of mercenaries. The Sikh officers and troops “for at least three years afterwards” in the words of Tavleen Singh “felt less than comfortable about their future in the army.” The Sikh officers on their part found themselves being diverted into administrative rather than ‘command’ jobs and the feeling grew that “there were likely to be fewer and fewer Sikh Army Commanders.”131 The position of the Sikhs in civil services was not much better.
told Akalis that Indira had decided that they were still not trustworthy, and Baba Santa Singh’s gang had been brought in for the kar seva.
The five high priests struck immediately and issued a hukamnamah barring the Sikhs from participation in the kar seva without their sanction. Santa Singh refused summons and was immediately excommunicated from the faith. There were misgivings in the State Congress(I) circles that the move could misfire. Amarinder Singh said that “the Akal Takht constructed by the Government shall be demolished”, and “If no one else does it, I would”.133 This found ready echo in the Sikh community.
Indira’s sinister designs were discernible from the fact that the Union Home Ministry was now contemplating amendment of the SGPC Act to constitute a Board with government nominees on it, to manage the Sikh shrines. It was with this objective in view that New Delhi decided to convene a Sarbat Khalsa.
Buta Singh, following in footsteps of Zail Singh in serving as cat’s paw in organising subversion of Sikh institutions, now took over the task of organising a Sarbat Khalsa, a meet of the whole Sikh people, which would provide a new authority to override the premier Sikh organisation, SGPC, and convert Sikh shrines into handmaids of Congress(I) politics. The Sarbat Khalsa had been conceived in the first half of 18th century as an institution to bring the whole body of Sikhs, then in distress, at one platform to take cumulative decisions in the best interests of the Panth. It had been in disuse now for over two centuries. It was now being revived in form, by malicious elements, to denigrade Sikhism, strangulate Sikh institutions and subvert Sikh identity. The Sarbat Khalsa convened on August 11, 1984, at Amritsar in which Buta Singh acted as the frontman of Indira, was retrogressive, pernicious and malevolent in character.
The directive from the five high priests threatening excommunication to those joining the sarkari (government sponsored) Sarbat Khalsa, kept away the Sikh saints and scholars. Only Giani Man Singh, Jathedar Patna Sahib, could be flown in BSF plane under heavy security; and he too refused to speak on any resolution. The main gathering consisted of 85 percent of tamashbeen, sightseeing Hindus, smoking biris and cigarettes within the panda! and lacking any devotion whatsoever. They were all mobilised with state assistance from all over Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu, Delhi, Rajastan and Western U.P. The twin objective to show that Congress(I) had hold over the Sikh masses and could control the Gurdwaras, its intrinsic desire since Nehru’s days, were defeated. It rather had counter impact of regrouping of the Sikhs which made five high priests to reject all resolutions adopted at the meet, and instead call for a conference of the Sikhs from all parts of the world to give proof of their solidarity.
Despite all hurdles and virtual ban imposed upon it, the World Sikh Convention of September 1-2, was a massive show of popular Sikh sentiments. The Government’s nervousness could be gauged from the fact that all entry routes to Amritsar were closed 24 hours before the convention. The Correspondents of the bi-monthly India Today who covered both the sarkari sarbat khalsa and the World Sikh Convention stated that the former “paled against the spontaneous fervour of the convention.”134 Giani Zail Singh was peeved at the considerable effectiveness of the Convention. He and Buta Singh were singled out and condemned as tankhahiyas (literally mercenaries) and ex-communicated from Panth. The government came under trenchant attack for its army action and “rampant enslavement” of the Sikh community. Whereas, Giani Kirpal Singh, headpriest of Akal Takht, accused the government “of trying to divide the Sikh community and
enslave it”, Giani Sahib Singh called upon the Sikhs “to rise against the new Aurangzebs of Delhi.” The resolutions, purely religious in character, eschewed politics, and served a notice to the government to hand back the Golden Temple complex to the SGPC by October 1, 1984. Failing that the Sikh masses would assemble at Amritsar to wrest control from the government.
No mention was made of Sant Bhindranwale at the convention: he was uppermost as a martyr in the mind of the people. Intelligence reports spoke of possible rise of classical terrorism, and the couple of Bhakra Canal breaches done with an expertise was a pointer to that. A number of small militant groups styling themselves as suicidal/assassination squads had reportedly come into being135 to kill a number of VVIPs. It was also surmised that even if the moderate Akali leadership was discredited, its place would be taken by extremist groups owing allegiance to Sant Bhindranwale to the discomfiture of Congress(I) and CPM which had hoped to fill the void.
The ultimatum of the World Sikh Convention served as a catalyst and hastened the pace of reconstruction of Akal Takht. Already Muslim craftsmen from Rajasthan and U.P., and 600 paid labour of Central Public Works Department (CPWD), National Museum and National Archives of India besides Tejwant Singh’s Skippers Group, New Delhi, were hurrying up the construction work. It was complete by the end of September.
Giani Zail Singh sent a number of emissaries to the five high priests explaining his constitutional position and sought the withdrawal of the edict declaring him tankhahiya. He also advised Indira to relent. As she was licking her Andhra wounds and was facing onslaught from the opposition parties including the BJP and Lok Dal who favoured withdrawal of army from the Golden Temple complex, and were otherwise attacking her for the Punjab imbroglio, she decided to make a tactical retreat. She asked Zail Singh to find a solution. As a result of the goings on, a modus vivendi was arrived at. The high priests also showed a degree of pragmatism and accepted certain stipulations. Indira announced on September 25, 1984, her decision to withdraw the army and hand over the temple to the SGPC. This also meant abandoning of her earlier plans to supercede it by a government nominated Board. Baba Santa Singh hurriedly disappeared from the scene.
Zail Singh visited the Golden Temple complex the following day for the ceremony to hand over the temple, and made a highly emotional speech. In a choked voice, he said, “I ask for sincere forgiveness from the Gurus for the unfortunate incidents.” He also spoke of martyrs blood shed in the complex, without specifying who were martyrs and who the tormentors.
The high priests responded by exonerating Zail Singh from indictment as tankhahiya. Giani Kirpal Singh warned that continuously treating the Sikhs as second class citizens would endanger the unity of the country and also cause communal disharmony. He also asked for immediate revocation of the ban on AISSF, unconditional release of AISSF and Akali leaders detained; an end to arrest of the Sikhs in Punjab and other provinces, and sufficient compensation to families hurt in the army action.
The handing over of the Golden Temple complex and other Gurdwaras in Punjab to the SGPC did not mean a change in Indira’s policy. She only shied away from enacting, what could have been, a massacre of genocidal proportions on October 1, protest-march by the Sikh community on their Gurdwaras to liberate them from army’s occupation. She shied away, not because she did not want to, but because of glare of adverse publicity that the attempt would
involve, and being in adverse circumstances. She needed to make some other dramatic move, as by that time the aura of gaining Hindu votes because of the Operation Bluestar had worn thin. According to political pundits, she had little chance of gaining an absolute majority in the forthcoming elections slated for end of the year.
Indira drew a diabolical plan, named Operation Shanti, to carry out a general massacre of the Sikhs, of genocidal proportions, around November 8, when the Sikhs would assemble in various Gurdwaras for Guru Nanak’s birthday celebrations. According to the plan, large scale skirmishes virtually amounting to a war, were to take place all along the India-Pakistan borders. And, it was to be given out that the Sikhs had risen in revolt in Punjab and joined hands with Pakistani armed forces which had made considerable advances into the Indian territory.136 The Sikhs all over Punjab, especially in Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Ferozepur, Kapurthala and Jalandhar districts were to be subjected to massive aerial bombardment, apart from being slaughtered by army and para military forces. The Sikhs all over India were to be subjected to mass scale massacre, loot, arson and incendiarism by lumpen elements organised by Youth Congress(I) activists. Elaborate preparations were made by Youth Congress(I) network all over India; they were to await a coded signal to start the mayhem.
The plan was discussed with certain army generals who advised Indira against it. They pointed out that Nazis had used gas chambers to finish off the Jews, but had not been able to do so. And, her plan to finish off the Sikhs in one go would only club her name with that of Hitler. But she was unrelenting.
Meanwhile, the plan to provoke hostilities with Pakistan had leaked out to major international intelligence agencies because even top secrets in Prime Minister’s secretariat were being sold for a song by personal staff of P.M.’s Principal Secretary, P.C. Alexander.137 President Zia ul Haq made earnest attempts to ward off the war with India. He instructed his Ambassador in New Delhi, Humayun Khan, to convey directly to Indira of his great concern at the deteriorating India-Pak relations, and suggest resumption of direct talks between the two. Consequently, Humayun Khan, bypassing Indian Foreign Office, called on P.C. Alexander on October 25, 1984, to convey his President’s proposals for summit level talks, without any preconditions. 138
Indira was not receptive. In view of her nefarious Sikh genocidal plan, she paid a sudden visit to Kashmir on October 27, when, however, she got the omen of her imminent death.139 Back in New Delhi, the following day, records Alexander, “she sent for Gen. Vaidya and asked him in my presence about the preparedness of the Indian army in J&K to meet any unexpected outbreak of trouble. General Vaidya assured her that the army was very well prepared for any eventuality and there was no danger of it being taken unawares by the Pakistanis.” 140
After General Vaidya’s departure, Indira asked Alexander to fully apprise Vice President, R. Venkataraman of the developments in the Punjab and J&K, and “remain in close contact” with him for “it would be helpful to keep him fully informed of all developments and get his views on them.” Alexander records, “I do not know what prompted her to give such instructions to me at that time.” Alexander met Venkataraman on October 30 and apprised him of Prime Minister’s “concern and fears.” 141
Indira wanted to involve Vice President from that very stage, as he was to be the acting President once Operation Shanti was operative, and inconvenient Zail Singh was bumped off.
Significantly, Zia ul Haq stated at Indira’s funeral that it was with great difficulty that he had been able to avert a war with India. His then No. 2, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, after demitting the office of President of Pakistan in July 1993, stated that Indira had planned to attack Pakistan but was shot dead some ten days before the D-Day.
The omen of her imminent death weighed on Indira for the rest of her four days of life. That was uppermost in her mind when she spoke of her violent death at the public meeting at Bhubaneshwar on October 29. Later, in the evening, she broached the subject with Orissa Governor, B. N. Pandey, at the dinner table.142 The thought lingered on, as she returned to Delhi on October 30 night. But unlike Aurangzeb who was remorseful at the ‘burden of sin’ he was carrying, Indira, not being religious, was unrelenting.
Beant Singh, Sub-Inspector in Indira’s security, got the contours of Indira’s Sikh-genocidal plan from R. K. Dhawan, Special Assistant to Prime Minister, and decided to act to thwart it. He commissioned Satwant Singh to assist him.
On October 31, 1984, at 9.00 a.m. Beant Singh with his service revolver shot Indira in the abdomen and pumped five bullets. In less than a minute, at his call, Satwant Singh emptied his automatic carbine in Indira’s abdomen region. Actually, one bullet in the head would have been sufficient. But abdomen was chosen because, firstly, they had been assured that she would not be wearing her bullet proof jacket, and secondly, they did not want to hurt anyone else, which a shoot out at head might have entailed.
Beant Singh had cautioned Satwant Singh to ensure that his friend Dhawan, was not hurt in the melee. After shooting Indira, both threw down their weapons. And, Beant Singh said, “I have done what I had to do. You do what you want to do.” In another six minutes, the forces behind the shootout had the two shot by Tarsem Singh Jamwal and Ram Saran of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP). Beant Singh died immediately, while Satwant Singh managed to survive to face the hangman’s noose.
Dhawan while in All India Institute of Medical Sciences where efforts were being made to resuscitate Indira, rang Prime Minister’s residence a number of times, enquiring about Beant Singh and Satwant Singh. He must have been nervous at Beant’s disclosing of Indira’s Sikh-genocidal plan, Operation Shanti, as the motivating factor for his act.
What was Dhawan’s motivation? Did he do that at the instance of some outside agency? Or, was it just friendship with Beant Singh and/or general indiscretion? Thakkar Commission pointed needles of suspicion towards Dhawan. The American Magazine Newsweek had named the outside agency possibly involved. Rajiv Government chose to ignore these, as these did not fit in its Sikh-genocidal policy. Rajiv had to pay a high price later, as a similar agency masterminded his slaughter.
Whether Dhawan or some one else was involved in shooting of Beant Singh and Satwant Singh by ITBP? Who was the man who asked ITBP men to finish off Beant Singh and Satwant Singh, killers of Indira Gandhi? Or, did they act on their own? No one has sought to go into these questions, or atleast the findings still remain highly classified. Beant Singh’s death prevented the full story from coming out, and that suited the government very well.
Beant Singh, the mastermind behind the slaying of Indira, as also Satwant Singh, were motivated by highest considerations, of the good of the Panth. But for their timely action, with Indira’s Sikh genocidal plan, Operation Shanti, getting through, the Sikhs all over India including Punjab would have suffered immeasurable and infinite losses. What happened in Delhi and Hindi belt grievously hurting the Sikhs in loss of 12,000 to 20,000 lives, and billions of worth of property, was on a much lesser scale than originally planned.
The final reckoning of the last phase of Indira’s Sikh War could have been far more severe had she been able to carry out her blitzkrieg planned around November 8. That would have enabled her goons to commit genocide of the Sikhs with downright thoroughness.
Referring to the atrocities perpetrated on the Sikhs, Hindus tauntingly said, yad karega khalsa, Khalsa shall remember, in parody to the Sikh litany raj karega khalsa, Khalsa shall rule.
Indira deliberately sowed insurrectionary seeds in the Sikh polity in order to suppress the Sikhs easily, and to justify their suppression. In the process she not only instituted killing of the Sikhs en masse, but also to inflict on them moral degradation by resort to shearing their keshas, inhibiting the Sikhs to do unto Hindus what was being done unto them.
Verily, 1984 was one of the worst years in the Sikh history when they suffered immense losses affecting their dignity as a people and their charhdi kala – loftiness of spirit – leading to fall in their self estimation. This can’t go off their memory.
That was the price paid by the Sikhs for their temerity to stand up to Indira-Sanjay emergency excesses.
Right from Indira’s water and hydel power Award in March 1976 to her raising Bhindranwale and introducing violence as factors in Sikh polity, through Bhindranwale’s alienation from his mentors, frustration at the treatment meted out to the Sikhs and his occupation of Akal Takht, to the Operation Bluestar and after, Indira had a whipping hand, and conducted the affairs of Punjab as a circus master. The Akali leaders, operating within the parameters of the Constitution, were inherently at an unequal position. Even Bhindranwale, throughout, was only reacting to the situation he was placed in by Indira. He never had the initiative to act, much less mould the events. He was more or less a prisoner of events and acted within the parameters laid by New Delhi. He was not much aware of the moles within his establishment and the damage they were causing from within.
The Sikh leadership regarded Indira as a political factor, a dominant one, but she regarded the Sikhs simply as enemies to be defeated in detail, by all the possible avenues of statecraft and vast resources available to her. It was this difference of perception on the two sides, that played a havoc and enabled her to inflict severe losses on the unsuspecting Sikhs.
In a decade, Indira by her singleness of purpose and relentless pursuit of her Sikh war in all its ramifications, transformed the Sikh position in India, making them irrelevant as a factor in the Indian union. That affected their sense of belonging to the country and gave a new poignance to the Sikh identity. She also brought about rebarbarisation of the state administration vis a vis the Sikhs, to carry on her war to its logical conclusions.
Before proceeding further, it would be of interest to dilate on Indira’s overall legacy of a decade-and-a-half in power in two phases. She destroyed the Congress as a political institution and instead brought in wastrels or lumpen elements to the fringe of power. She brought into the politics big money, and outright buying of the people. Acquisition of wealth became the loadstar of public activity. She destroyed the independence and integrity of the judiciary, and packed the Courts with lackeys and flunkeys. She used, with deadly effect, provisions of the Constitution to destablise non-Congress governments. Booth capturing and use of force against the underprivileged became-common.
In short, she provided a legacy of complete absence of integrity, public morality and traditional values. That set the ball rolling for her son and successors.
- Inder Malhotra, Indira Gandhi, A Personal and Political Biography, (London, 1989), p. 78.
- Mark Tully and Satish Jacob, Amritsar, Mrs. Gandhi’s Last Battle, (London, 1985), p. 75.
- The current Akali agitation against emergency was coterminous with the announcement for holding of general elections in January 1977 and withdrawal, of emergency.
- The water allocated was as follows:
Rajasthan (non-riparian state) 8.90 MAF (Million Acre Fields)
Haryana (non-riparian state) 3.5 MAF
Delhi (non-riparian state) 0.2 MAF
Punjab (riparian state) 3.5 MAF
- Dhillon, G. S. “The Role of Akali Dal During Emergency, (June 1975-March 1977)” Journal of Sikh Studies Vol. XIV, No. 2, August 1987, pp. 103-05.
- Kuldip Nayar and Khushwant Singh, Tragedy of Punjab: Operation Bluestar and After, (Delhi, 1984), p. 35.
- Indira Gandhi, Eternal India (English edition), (Bombay, 1980).
- Nayar, n. 6, p. 31.
- Cf, p. 104 ante.
- Chand Joshi, Bhindranwale: Myth and Reality, (New Delhi, 1984), p. 5.
- Tavleen Singh in Amarjit Kaur, et at., The Punjab Story, (1984), p. 32; also Tully & Jacob, n. 2, pp. 58-59. According to some sources, firing on the devout Sikh was let by an Inspector of Punjab Police in league with Congress(I).
- Bhai Randhir Singh of Narangwal had been sentenced to life imprisonment in Second (Supplementary) Lahore Conspiracy Case, because of his efforts to raise a revolt in the armed forces over the question of demolition of the walls of Gurdwara Rakab Ganj. See, Sangat Singh, Freedom Movement in Delhi, (Delhi, 1972), p. 213.
- White Paper on the Punjab Agitation, (New Delhi, Government of India, July 10, 1984), p. 40.
- Tully and Jacob, n. 2, p. 60.
- For Tiwari’s role in foundation of Dal Khalsa, see Nayar, n. 6, p. 33.
- Giani Zail Singh, “Main Majboor Tha” (I was under compulsion), Dinman, January 30, 1988.
- In conversation with the author.
- Amarjit Kaur, n. 11, p. 26.
- Chand Joshi, n. 10, p. 6.
- White Paper, n. 13, p. 38.
- Chand Joshi, n. 10, p. 6.
- Surjeet Jalandhary, Bhindranwale Sant, (Jalandhar, 1984), p. 25.
- Ibid, p. 39.
- Ibid. p. 40.
- Tully and Jacob, n. 2, p. 60.
- Chand Joshi, n. 10, p. 105-06.
- Ibid, p. 37.
- Ibid, p. 44.
- Surjeet Jalandhary, n. 23, p. 42.
- Kuldip Nayar, n. 6, p. 36.
32a. The sort of Congress government’s interference in Gurdwara affairs was obvious from the fact that the union government amended the Delhi Gurdwara Act in 1972 to provide that one must either have passed Matriculation or Giani examination to hold executive post. That was designed to disqualify Jathedar Santokh Singh. Later in 1980, the amendment was rescinded to help the same Santokh Singh to come into power.
- It was suggested to External Affairs that a pilgrim should not be permitted to perform the next pilgrimage within two years. Later, India’s Ambassador to Pakistan, K.D. Sharma, recommended restrictions for a period of 5 years for performing the next pilgrimage. The External Affairs Ministry reduced the period to two years, but did not implement it, because of pressure of intelligence agencies which were operating through small pilgrim groups from Delhi.
- For Third Intelligence Agency, see Surya, September 1984, issue.
- The Sunday, Calcutta, August 8, 1980, p. 39, quoted in Tully, n. 2, p. 65.
- Kuldip Nayar, n. 6, p. 38.
- Satinder Singh, Khalistan: An Academic Analysis, (Delhi, 1982), p. 114.
- Kuldip Nayar, n. 6, p. 51.
- Satinder Singh, n. 37, p. 55.
- For text, see Kuldip Nayar, n. 6, p. 51. Gajinder Singh later in September was one of Dal Khalsa activists to hijack an airplane to Lahore.
- Satinder Singh, n. 37, p. 53.
- Kuldip Nayir, n. 6, p. 72.
- Chand Joshi, n. 10, p. 81.
- White Paper, n. 13, p. 24.
- Surjeet Jalandhary, n. 23, p. 51.
- White Paper, n. 13, p. 24.
- Kuldip Nayar, n. 6, p. 43; Tully & Jacob, n. 2, p. 67.
- Chand Joshi, n. 10, p. 90.
- Kuldip Nayar, n. 6, p. 4.
- Chand Joshi, n. 10, p. 90.
- Ibid, p. 91.
- Kuldip Nayar, n. 6, p. 41.
- Partipants were: H.S. Longowal, G.S. Tohra, P.S. Badal, S.S. Barnala, and Balwant Singh: Indira Gandhi, C.R. Krishnaswamy Rao Sahib, Cabinet Secretary, P.C. Alexander Principal Secretary to P.M., and T.N. Chaturvedi Home Secretary.
- Kuldip Nayar, n. 6,p. 44.
- Ibid, p. 45.
- Participants were: same as in n. 54 above with addition of P. V. Narasimha Rao, Minister for External Affairs on government side.
- The Spokesman Weekly, (Delhi), Guru Gobind Singh Number, 1983.
- Participants were: same as in n. 54 above with addition of Bhan Singh, R.S. Bhatia, P.S. Oberoi and Ravi Inder Singh on Akali side, and Zail Singh and Pranab Mukherjee Ministers for Home and Finance respectively on government side.
- Chand Joshi, n. 10, p. 99.
- Gopal Singh (Ed), Punjab Today, (Delhi 1987), p. 227.
- Cf. The Spokesman Weekly, March 12, 1985.
- Giani Zail Singh, n. 16.
- Chand Joshi, n. 10, p. 111.
- White Paper, n, 13, p. 114.
- Chand Joshi, n. 10. p. 58.
- Kuldip Nayar, n. 6, p. 60.
- Chand Joshi, n. 10, p. 119.
- Kuldip Nayar, n. 6, pp. 62-63.
- Participants were: P.S. Badal, Balwant Singh, Ravi Inder Singh and R.S. Bhatia: R. Venkataraman, P.C. Sethi, and Shiv Shankar Union Ministers, Amarinder Singh, M.P., P.C. Alexander, T.N. Chaturvedi.
- They were not released till July next.
- Another Accord was arrived at on November 18, 1982, with the assistance of Farooq Abdullah, but Indira again backed out.
- Kuldip Nayar, n. 6, p. 55.
- Ibid, p. 66.
- G.K.C. Reddy (Ed), Army Action in Punjab: Prelude & Aftermath, (Delhi, 1984), pp. 25-26.
- Chand Joshi, n. 10, p. 132.
- Participants were: G.S. Tohra, P.S. Badal, S.S. Barnala, Balwant Singh Ramuwalia, P.S. Cheema: P.V. Narasimha Rao, Pranab Mukherjee Union Ministers; C.R. Krishnswamy Rao Sahib, P.C. Alexander, M.M.K. Wali, Prem Kumar.
- Kuldip Nayar, n. 6, p. 76.
- Precisely, Longowal said, “Whenever the situation becomes ripe for settlement, some violent incidents takes place. I think there is a government conspiracy behind the DIG’s murder.” When asked by a newsman, who, Longowal thought, could be behind the murder, he said, “The one who is afraid of losing his seat (of power)”, meaning Punjab Chief Minister, Darbara Singh. Indian Express, April 27, 1983, quoted in Ghani Jafar, The Sikh Volcano, (Lahore 1987), p. 78. Also, Tavleen Singh, n. 11, p. 30.
- Chand Joshi, n. 10, p. 134. As a result, 45 persons were asked to vacate various rooms.
- Kuldip Nayar, n. 6, p. 78.
- As Virat Hindu Parishad (VHP), a RSS front organisation, with branches all over India, because of compulsions of state politics in BJP’s support to Akalis, kept a low profile, Congress (I) engineered a number of Hindu organisations, in various parts of Punjab. These being: Hindus Sanghathn at Jalandar in June 1983 with Amar Nath Vidyalankar, a veteran Congress, leader and former Minister as President, and Virendra of Pratap group as Vice President; Rashtriya Suraksha Samiti in March 1983 at Amritsar by Virendra of Pratap group of newspapers and an Arya Samajist; Rashtriya Hindu Sanghathan, Punjab, with headquarters at Amritsar, established by Surinder Kumar Billa, a Youth Congress (I) activist with himself as President; Hindu Shiv Sena established by Jagdish Tangri, a RSS-BJP activist at Ludhiana;
Hindu Front organised by Kali Charan at Ludhiana. Of these, only Hindu Suraksha Samiti established by Pavan Kumar Sliarma on September 26, 1982 was a mass based organisation with 23 branches all over Punjab. See, Gopal Singh, n. 61, p. 204.
- Chand Joshi, n. 10, p. 139.
- Ibid, pp. 139-40.
- Ibid, pp. 141-2.
- Ibid. p. 143.
- Ibid, p. 144.
- Kuldip Nayar, n. 6, p. 73.
- Ibid, p. 74.
- Tavleen Singh in Amarjit Kaur, n. 11, p. 41.
- Some criminals being tried for murder were released and entrusted to carry out the killings. According to an eye witness account, they after the incident prayed to Satguru to forgive them as they had done so under duress.
- Ghani Jafar, n. 80, pp. 139-40.
- Chand Joshi, n. 10, p. 149.
- Ghani Jafar, n. 80, pp. 139-40.
- Inder Malhotra, n, 1, p. 344.
- Shekhar Gupta in n. 11, pp. 58-59.
- White Paper, n. 13, pp. 92-93.
- Cf. Inder Malhotra, n. 1., Chapters 15 and 16.
- Cf. Richard Nations, “The Devil’s Alternative”, Far Eastern Economic Review (Hong Kong), July 12, 1984, pp. 24-28.
- Inder Malhotra, n. 1, p. 259.
- Chand Joshi, n. 10, p. 12. It was widely talked about in the corridors of power in New Delhi that Indira had discussed the Punjab situation with Mikhail Gorbachev who recalled the Soviet’s facing similar situation in the Central Asian Republics in 1920s when they killed bulk of men of 15-35 years of age. This helped to firm up the soviet hold in Central Asia. That all the more firmed up Indira’s resolve to go ahead with the Operation Bluestar.
- Kuldip Nayar, n. 6, p. 84.
104a.Later, Sant Longowal said, “I can say with authority that Bhindranwale had no links with Pakistan, nor with the CIA.” Interview with Kuldip Nayar, Sunday, March 31, 1985, p. 26.
- Ghani Jafar, n. 80, p. 142.
- Reddy, n. 75, p. 52.
- Ibid, pp. 52-53.
- As a result he left his quarters in Golden Temple complex to stay with friends outside.
- Subhash Kirpekar in n. 11, p. 78; Harbir Singh Bhanwar’s Diary of June 3, 1984.
- India Today (bi-monthly). New Delhi, June 3, 1984; Tully & Jacob, n. 2, p. 162.
- Probe India, (monthly), August 1984, p. 12.
- Chand Joshi, n. 10, p. 160.
- Tully & Jacob, n. 2, p. 169. Longowal’s interview with Kuldip Nayar, Sunday, March 31, 1985, p. 27.
- Statement dated June 23, 1984, reproduced by Khushwant Singh in n. 11, pp. 12-13.
- Tully and Jacob, n. 2.
- Cf. Amarjit Kaur, n. 11, p. 82.
- G.K.C. Reddy (Ed), n. 75, p. 49.
- White Paper, n. 13, p. 49.
- Kuldip Nayar, n. 6, p. 104.
- In Kabul, Afganistan, where the author was posted at the time, Hindus despite having best of relations with local Sikhs, distributed Halwa and Luchis – typical Indian dishes – for celebration.
- Tully and Jacob, n. 2, p. 152.
- India Today, June 30, 1984.
- In n. 11. p. 62.
- See. n. 122.
124a.Giani Kirpal Singh had this confirmed through his staff members who saw part of the army’s haul from the Library in Amritsar Cantonment. What has happened to these 125 bundles is not known. The Sikh leadership should have pursued this matter at least with the governments of V.P. Singh and that of Chandra Shekhar. Cf. Giani Kirpal Singh, Operation Bluestar: itihas de Khooni Patre (Pierrefonds, Canada, 1994), p. 104.
- Chand Joshi n. 10, p. 161.
- Sanjeev Gaur, “Punjab: One Year After”, Sunday, June 9, 1985, p. 30.
126a.“The truth is that during such operations, the army harassed, humiliated and kept in illegal custody a larger number of innocent Sikhs, a majority of them youths from villages. Official sources disclosed to Sunday that the army personnel relied on mere heresay while arresting people. A majority of the Sikhs arrested and kept in custody for months by the army after Operation Bluestar were actually innocents….More reports started pouring in that innocent Sikh youths were being falsely implicated in criminal cases involving the killing of Hindus, bomb blasts and arson….All through the CRPF has been blatantly pro-Hindu and anti-Sikh. The Akali Dal has time and again demanded the withdrawal of the CRPF from Punjab.” Sanjeev Gaur, “Punjab: Terrorism on the Rise”, Sunday, June 16, 1985, pp. 32-33.
- G.K.C. Reddy, n. 72, p. 48.
- Ibid, pp. 54-55.
- Far Eastern Economic Review July 12, 1984.
- Inder Malhotra. n. 1, pp. 294 & 345.
- Tavleen Singh. “The Indian Army Under Fire”, Indian Express, (Magazine Section), October 8, 1989.
- Harbir Singh Bhanwar’s diary.
- India Today, August 15, 1984.
- Ibid, September 30, 1984.
- Ibid, August 15, 1984.
- Some one close to R.K. Dhawan, Special Assistant to Prime Minister had just been to see him. He met the author around October 22, 1984, and said that war with Pakistan was around the corner, and could take place in the first week of November 1984. He, however, agreed with the author that there was no causes belli for the war at the time. The author got the contours of Indira’s nefarious Sikh-genocidal plan in second half of November 1984.
- Despite his being privy to selling national secrets, or because of it, he was rewarded with High Commissionership in London, and later with Governorship of Tamil Nadu etc.
- P.C. Alexander, “My Years with Indira Gandhi, XII”, Economic Times, Delhi, October 22, 1990.
- Inder Malhotra, n. 1 p. 304.
- P. C. Alexander, n. 138.
- Inder Malhotra, n. 1, p. 16