31st October 2020, was the 36th death anniversary of the ex-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the Iron Lady of India. We have read, heard enough about the reason behind her assassination with a detailed account, but have we ever questioned ourselves that what we know is that the whole truth or just a fragmented truth?
Indira Gandhi was shot by her Sikh bodyguards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh at her residence Safdarjung Road, New Delhi on 31st October 1984, just after the Operation Blue Star, an Indian Military action ordered by Indira Gandhi the ex-Prime Minister of India to remove Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his armed followers from the holy Golden Temple of Harmandir Sahib, Amritsar.
The ghost of the anti-Sikh riot which broke out aftermath nationwide still haunts the Indian Polity and the Sikhs. But who was this Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale? Merely a terrorist who demanded Khalistan! Is that it? Was it so easy for Indira Gandhi to pass an order one fine morning to remove this terrorist by hook or crook? What was the order then? Was Operation Blue Star successful? How was it plotted? Did Indira Gandhi issue an order to kill Bhindrawale over his demand for Khalistan and his influence in Punjab? Have we ever tried to dig into these details? To live the history, we must know it better.
Background of the Blue Star Operation:
Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale is probably the perfect illustration in Indian history of the disastrous result of not keeping religion away from politics. Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was the combined effort of the Congress and Akalis. Indira Gandhi was advised to build up this small-time hardline Sikh preacher Bhindranwale as a local leader to counter Akalis in Punjab by then President of India Zail Singh. Bhindranwale had immense popularity in Punjab and he did not fail to recognize and encash it. Punjab after the Green Revolution witnessed prosperity, but this prosperity brought degeneration. The worst sufferers were the women and children, the wives, and the offspring of the peasant who could not handle this prosperity and drowned in uncontrollable alcoholism, drug addiction, smoking, porn addiction, gambling, and fornication. During this time Bhindrawale arrived on the scene and preached against this westernization. Everywhere he went, he baptized Sikhs by the thousands and made them swear in front of the congregation that they would never touch alcohol and do things that were against religion. Surprisingly, none broke this oath, and the society went through a drastic reformation. Especially, to the women, Bhindrawale became a savior, a saint. Meanwhile, Akalis tried to woo Bhindrawale away from their opponent Congress and propped him up. In time, he became a powerful influencer and monster.
To weaken Indira Government, Bhindrawale led terrorist activities against Punjabi Hindus in the early 198s. He chose them as weapons against India Gandhi for Khalistan. Through the 1970s and ‘80s, Hindu-Sikh tension continued to bedevil Punjab. Though Bhindranwale and his followers never accepted that the terrorism against the Hindus in Punjab and labeled it as ‘Baniya Hindu Sarkar’s’ (that is what Akalis used to call Indira Government) propaganda and Bhindranwale was a saint, a mere preacher. Akalis never tried to resist Bhindrawale from giving hate speeches against Hindus in Punjab and accepted it as a medium to fight against Indira Government. In 1982, Akalis launched Dharam Yudh Morcha in Amritsar. As the tension mounted in Punjab and the killings of innocents at the behest of Bhindrawale increased, the Central Government understood that it was losing out of options and needed to address the issue as soon as possible. By then Bhindrawale shifted to Golden Temple and his admirers continued killing Hindus. Hindus were pulled out of the buses and shot; transistor bombs were going off in crowded markets all over northern India. Sikh pride was at its peak.
Operation Blue Star:
Indira Gandhi decided to put Punjab under military rule but for that Amritsar Golden Temple must be vacant. She kept President Giani in dark about this operation. History knows that Indira Gandhi made a grave mistake by doing that as Giani was the most successful Chief Minister in Punjab who brought numerous positive reformations in Punjab no one could ever imagine and he had an immense reputation for his loyalty and trustworthiness. Experts believe if Indira Gandhi and her advisory team- Rajiv Gandhi, Arun Nehru, Arun Gandhi, and Digvijay Singh would have discussed the plan with Giani, History could have been different today. Indira Gandhi might have doubted Giani’s Punjabiyat in that situation.
However, Indira Gandhi never desired such a bloody confrontation. She was assured that the entire operation was planned in such a way that within two hours Bhindranwale and his followers would be compelled to surrender and it would be as bloodless or less bloodless it could it be, while the truth was the violent confrontation was planned without any alternative methods.
Who decided the date of the operation is still unknown. June 5, 1984, was settled to launch the operation. No one had the foggiest notion of Sikh traditions. June 5 was the death anniversary of Guru Arjun Dev, the founder of Harmandir Singh Golden Temple. On this day thousands of Sikhs were expected to come on pilgrimage from remote areas.
As it happened, the Indian Army stormed the Golden Temple with tanks, armored cars, helicopters hovering on the Temple to give direction. In the crossfire almost 5,000 men, women, children perished. The central shrine was hit by seventy bullets, confirmed by both parties. The large portion of the entrance was blasted off, handwritten Guru Granth Sahib and hukumnamas signed by the Gurus were reduced to ashes. The operation lasted for two long days. Indira Gandhi was in utmost shock and was horrified knowing the horrendous loss of sacred property and lives. As Khushwant Singh wrote on her visit to Golden Temple after the Operation Blue Star, “She turned to Major General K.S. Brar and asked, ‘What is all this?’ She had believed the army when she was told that there would be no fighting.” Indira Gandhi was warned several times if the operation was mishandled it would have grave repercussions. Sending army troops at Golden Temple was not a good decision if not well thought and plotted as a community’s sentiment was attached to it.
Bhindranwale met his well-deserved fate but that was not it. The aftereffects of Operation Blue Star shook the nation and change history forever. It is said that Indira Gandhi foresaw her death. Just the day before her assassination, addressing a rally in Odisha Indira Gandhi did not follow the written script of speech, rather she went on saying her mind in which time and again death was mentioned by her. The next day at 9:29 am, she was shot dead.
Over years Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale’s large portrait was kept at Golden Temple which drew thousands of pilgrims every year. As Khushwant Singh wrote, “He (Bhindrawale) continues to be venerated as Sant Baba Jarnail Singhji Khalsa Bhindranwale. It will not be easy to exorcise Bhindrawale’s ghost from the Punjabi mind.”
Alas! Even after such a great loss and too many bloodsheds, the Indian polity did not learn anything from it. Over time religion has become a pillar of politics in India. Either be aware of it or be ready to surrender to its heinous consequences.
The views and opinions expressed by the writer are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of VOM.
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