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Combating Terrorism, Not Targeting Sikh Community

Combating Terrorism, Not Targeting Sikh Community

Nobody supports violating sanctity of Harmandir Sahib, hurting panthic traditions, culture or devout Sikhs way of life. Handful of terrorists aligned to Khalistan forced Operation Blue Star.

Operation Blue Star was carried out by the Indian Armed Forces from June 1 to 10, 1984. The key objective was to remove Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his associates from the Golden Temple compound in Amritsar, Punjab, where they had seized control of this sacred site revered in Sikhism and other Dharmic faiths. This holy place, recognized as the most sacred in Dharmic culture, became the center of a significant criminal justice operation. Many have misinterpreted it as an attack on the Sikh community. However, a broader perspective reveals that Operation Blue Star was a necessary response to escalating terrorism in Punjab, which was supported and backed by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan under Zia-Ul-Haq’s K2 policy. K2 aimed to foster several secession movements by promoting insurgencies and terrorism as part of its larger objective to destabilize India.

Context and Catalysts for Operation Blue Star

The roots of Operation Blue Star can be traced back to the early 1980s, when insurgency in Punjab was on the rise. Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a radical Sikh preacher, emerged as a strong supporter of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution. This resolution advocated for more autonomy for Punjab, and Bhindranwale controversially manipulated its narrative to the larger community to establish a separate Sikh state called Khalistan. His speeches and actions drew a large following, and by 1982, he and his armed supporters had fortified themselves inside the Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib) complex.

Bhindranwale held captive pilgrims belonging to Hindu and Sikh Dharmic faiths, encouraged violence, carried out assassinations, and stockpiled weapons within the sacred compound. The initial bloodshed was ignited by Bhindranwale’s gang within the Darbar Sahib or Golden Temple. The first murder was that of DIG Avtar Singh Atwal, killed in broad daylight. After Atwal’s murder, police officers were afraid to touch the body without Bhindranwale’s permission. This murder sparked a debate over the sanctity of the Darbar Sahib, which was undermined by Bhindranwale’s terrorist associates. The Indian government was under increasing pressure to maintain law and order and combat the growing threat of terrorism. Despite numerous attempts to negotiate, Bhindranwale’s intransigence forced the government to launch an operation to reclaim the Golden Temple and eliminate the militant threat.

Operation Blue Star

Operation Blue Star was carried out in two phases: Operation Metal and Operation Woodrose. Operation Metal aimed to eliminate the terrorists entrenched in the Golden Temple compound. Following this, Operation Woodrose sought to combat terrorism in Punjab by apprehending or neutralizing suspected terrorists.

On June 3, 1984, a 36-hour curfew was imposed in Punjab, cutting off all communication, electricity, and transportation. Hundreds of Sikh pilgrims who had arrived to mark Guru Arjan Dev’s martyrdom anniversary found themselves trapped inside the Golden Temple. The Indian Army, led by Lt. General Kuldip Singh Brar, surrounded the temple complex with troops, tanks, and artillery.

The operation began on the night of June 5, 1984, and lasted five days. The Akal Takht, a significant structure inside the complex, was occupied by Bhindranwale’s armed followers, making it a focal point of fierce confrontation. In the effort to save the Akal Takht, the Indian Army incurred heavy losses. By the morning of June 7, the army had taken control of the Harmandir Sahib complex, and Bhindranwale, along with his associates, were neutralized.

Separating Fact from Fiction

Operation Blue Star was not an attack on the Sikh community or its believers; it was a targeted response to terrorism. The Indian government’s primary objective was to reestablish law and order in Punjab by ending the criminals’ occupation of the Golden Temple. Critics of the operation often overlook the fact that Bhindranwale and his companions had turned a holy site into an armed fortress, risking the lives of innocent pilgrims and undermining the temple’s sanctity.

Despite the adverse conditions, the Indian Armed Forces took extraordinary steps to defend the holy site and avert civilian casualties. The timing of the operation was planned to prevent further mobilization and violence by Bhindranwale and his associates. To maintain the sanctity of the temple, it was critical to reclaim the sacred site from Bhindranwale and his terror accomplices, who had transformed it into a terrorist hotspot.

Global Propaganda

In subsequent years, outfits like Pakistan backed Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) have continued to use unfortunate unraveling’s at the Golden temple to advance their radical cause. Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a proscribed terrorist and face of SFJ has spread false propaganda to legitimize Pakistan’s agenda within the Sikh community. Pannun and his outfit continue to portray Operation Blue Star as an intentional attack on Sikhism, neglecting the background of escalating terrorism and the government’s responsibilities to maintain law and order.

The SFJ’s activities are part of a larger successionist propaganda to legitimize the Khalistan movement. This narrative is intended to manipulate emotions and create outrage, particularly among younger generations who may lack a systematic understanding of the historical background. By presenting the operation as an act of religious oppression, the SFJ aspires to impart a sense of hate and regularize their separatist and violent actions.

The Impact of Fabricated Narratives

The misleading narratives crafted by SFJ have grave consequences for civic harmony and national security. By misrepresenting the facts, these entities feed a cycle of distrust and anger within the dharmic community especially Sikhs in India as well as abroad. This divisive discourse undermines efforts toward reconciliation and peace, intensifying contentions and potentially inspiring future violence.

Moreover, describing Operation Blue Star as an attack on the Sikh community rather than a counter-terrorism operation diminishes the sacrifices made by the Indian Armed Forces. Many soldiers, especially Sikhs, endangered their lives to reestablish peace and safeguard the nation’s integrity. Recognizing the true nature of Operation Blue Star is critical to honoring their bravery while also acknowledging the government’s complicated challenges in dealing with terrorism.

Eyewitness Accounts

A veteran journalist, Satish Jacob, who was then freelancing for an international media house was an eyewitness to the operation. Having not only witnessed but also extensively reported it. Later, he wrote a book called “Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi’s Final Battle in 1984” in which he discussed terrorism in Punjab. He wrote, “From 1978 onwards, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale’s popularity was rising throughout Punjab. By the 1980s, incidents of political assassinations and politically and religiously motivated crimes witnessed a sharp rise in the state, and there were clear indications that Bhindranwale was supporting the instigators of such events. Talk of his arrest had begun. Fearing this, he convinced the gurdwara leadership to let him reside in the Akal Takht in 1983.” On Operation Bluestar he wrote that “objective of Operation Blue Star was to eradicate the terrorist elements that had desecrated the Golden Temple, thereby restoring the temple’s sanctity and upholding law and order in Punjab.”

Lt. General Kuldip Singh Brar, Commanding Officer of Operation Blue Star, stated in his book “Operation Blue Star: The True Story by KS Brar” that “Operation Blue Star was a necessary counter-terrorism measure aimed at neutralizing terrorist threats that had turned the Golden Temple into a fortified base.” Lt. Gen. Brar received several threats from Khalistani terrorists, once he was directly attacked in London with the intention to assassinate him.

Another account is from former Inspector General of Punjab Armed Forces Kanwar Pal Singh (KPS) Gill, who is renowned for his efforts to combat Khalistani terrorism in Punjab, KPS also served as Director General of Punjab Police during a period of peak Khalistani terrorism. He consistently stated that “Operation Blue Star was a counter-terrorism initiative that aimed to protect the sanctity of the Golden Temple while eliminating the threat posed by heavily armed terrorist within its precincts.”

Concluding Observation

Operation Blue Star was a resolute and essential response to the rising tide of terrorism in Punjab, fueled by the Khalistan cause. Despite the controversy and pain, it caused, it is critical to understand that the operation was not an attack on the community but rather a response to serious security threats. Contemporary outfits, such as Sikhs for Justice, use the narrative of Operation Blue Star to advance their radical cause, propagating false propaganda and instigating hatred.

(Author: Rohan Giri is a journalism graduate from Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) New Delhi, and Manager Operations at CIHS.)

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