Operation Bluestar: 36 years after Sikh Genocide

Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi (19 November 1917 – 31 October 1984) was an Indian politician and a central figure of the Indian National Congress. She was the first and, to date, only female Prime Minister of India. Indira Gandhi was the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India. She served as prime minister from January 1966 to March 1977 and again from January 1980 until her assassination in October 1984, making her the second longest-serving Indian prime minister after her father.

Following the 1977 elections, a coalition led by the Sikh-majority Akali Dal came to power in the northern Indian state of Punjab. In an effort to split the Akali Dal and gain popular support among the Sikhs, Gandhi’s Congress Party helped to bring the orthodox religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to prominence in Punjab politics.

Later, Bhindranwale’s organisation, Damdami Taksal, became embroiled in violence with another religious sect called the Sant Nirankari Mission, and he was accused of instigating the murder of Jagat Narain, the owner of the Punjab Kesari newspaper.

After being arrested over this matter, Bhindranwale disassociated himself from the Congress Party and joined Akali Dal.

In July 1982, he led the campaign for the implementation of the Anandpur Resolution, which demanded greater autonomy for the Sikh-majority state. Meanwhile, a small group of Sikhs, including some of Bhindranwale’s followers, turned to militancy after being targeted by government officials and police for supporting the Anandpur Resolution. In 1982, Bhindranwale and approximately 200 armed followers moved into a guest house called the Guru Nanak Niwas near the Golden Temple.

By 1983, the Temple complex had become a fort for many militants. The Statesman later reported that light machine guns and semi-automatic rifles were known to have been brought into the compound.

On 23 April 1983, the Punjab Police Deputy Inspector General A. S. Atwal was shot dead as he left the Temple compound. The following day, Harchand Singh Longowal (then president of Shiromani Akali Dal) confirmed the involvement of Bhindranwale in the murder.

After several futile negotiations, in June 1984, Gandhi ordered the Indian army to enter the Golden Temple to remove Bhindranwale and his supporters from the complex. The army used heavy artillery, including tanks, in the action code-named Operation Blue Star.

The operation badly damaged or destroyed parts of the Temple complex, including the Akal Takht shrine and the Sikh library. It also led to the deaths of many Sikh fighters and innocent pilgrims. The number of casualties remains disputed with estimates ranging from many hundreds to many thousands.

Gandhi was accused of using the attack for political ends. Dr. Harjinder Singh Dilgeer stated that she attacked the temple complex to present herself as a great hero in order to win the general elections planned towards the end of 1984.

There was fierce criticism of the action by Sikhs in India and overseas. There were also incidents of mutiny by Sikh soldiers in the aftermath of the attack.

“Almost as many Sikhs died in a few days in India in 1984 than all the deaths and disappearances in Chile during the 17-year military rule of Gen Augusto Pinochet b/w 1973 and 1990” wrote Barbara Crossette, New York Times.

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In the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination on Oct 31, 1984, 3000 Sikhs were massacred in Delhi and an estimated 8000 in other parts of the country. 50000 families were uprooted. The streets of Delhi were echoing with “Kill them.” “Burn them” “Let nothing remain of this community, not a trace.” Hundreds of dead bodies were cremated secretly. Indira Gandhi was termed as Durga Maata and Sikhs were called traitors. In an unprecedented move, the Supreme court was locked for four days while this blood bath was going on. Like the Gujarat pogrom, police tacitly approved the mass killings.

In Kotla Mubarak, a domestic help told the party workers of Gurchaan Singh Babbar that the police instigated the mob with statements like:

“We gave you 36 hrs to finish the Sikhs, but what did you do? Had we given the same amount of time to Sikhs they would have finished you all” The survivors in Kingsway Camp claimed that 70% of the loot from Sikh establishments could be found in local police stations.

According to a report on Nanaksar relief camp, it is difficult to describe the brutality with which people were killed in 3 days. 150 Sikhs belonging to different families who took shelter in this camp were killed. There are 72 widows in age group 20-45 from here alone.

There were three types of Congress workers who organised the massacre: Those who identified Sikh houses and drew up proper lists, those who organised the mobs and directed them to the targets and, finally, those who provided the ‘arsenal’ for the carnage.

School registers were searched to identify Sikh houses. Houses and other property were marked with alphabets X, D (D) and S in an operation akin to what Nazis did to establishments of Jews in Germany. Ration card and Voters’ lists were also obtained to identify houses.

Even more significant is the fact that in Trilokpuri, Mongolpuri and Sultanpuri, local Congress party leaders led the killer mobs. These colonies were set up under Congress party’s urbanisation programme and the population here has since 1984 a solid support.

The Mishra commission was setup to investigate the Sikh genocide. But Justice Mishra gave a clean chit to the Congress party by concluding the inquiry on this note:” No congress leader was involved in the violence”.

This, despite the fact that, the question, whether the Congress party had a hand in the anti-Sikh violence, was not even listed in the scope of inquiry. The Commission received 2905 affidavits but it selected only 128 out of them as proof. Nobody knows what the selection criterion was.

Justice Mishra was suitably rewarded for this. His next posting (from an ordinary judge of the Supreme Court) was the Chief Justice of India. And later on, he became the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) set up by a Congress government.

It remains a mystery why governmentt took so long to call the army. As per section 130-31 of the Criminal Procedure Code (C.R.P.C.), even a Superintendent of police (S.P) and the head of the civil administration, the District Commissionor (DC), have the authority to seek army’s help.

Besides, the services of para military forces are certainly available to the civil authorities. The rules are clear about the circumstances under which the army can be called (under section 130 of the C.R.P.C):

“If mob posing a threat to public peace cannot be dispersed through regular means, the District Magistrate can seek army’s intervention to do so. The Magistrate has the power to contact the top officers of any of the defence forces and seek their help to his or her district. The Magistrate can also order the arrest of the trouble-makers”

On the other hand, a few days later, when Indira Gandhi’s corpse needed a military escort, 3000 army men and a 1000 from navy and air, were readily available. But they were never instructed in the first few days to stop the atrocities committed during the Sikh genocide.

Sikhs have been told to “Forgive and Forget”.

Sikhs have been told to “Forgive and Forget”. Gurchaan Singh Babbar writes in his book “Sarkary Qatl e Aam” that a senior government official came to meet him along with a top Sikh industrialist. “Babbar saab, we have come to ask you for a favour.” Sure, I will do it, if I can.”

“We knew you would not disappoint us.” they cheered up. “Babbar saab you have done a lot on the November 1984 issue, spent so many years of your life on it. Isn’t it time we closed this sad chapter? It will bring relief both to the victims and to the country.”

Gurchaan Singh Babbar replied: “You forget Indira Gandhi. Let nobody ever visit her grave. Forget it is a national monument. Forget Rajiv Gandhi. Release all those directly or indirectly involved in his killing of jail. Forget they ever lived.” The two men never came again.

Individuals who were involved in the Sikh genocide of November, 1984 were named in the book “Indian Government Organized Carnage (Sarkari Qatl-e-aam)” authored by Gurcharan Singh Babbar.

Rajiv Gandhi who took over as the PM justified the Sikh genocide by saying that “When a great tree falls, the earth shakes.”

RSS and Sikh genocide

RSS claims to have always stood for Hindu-Sikh unity. It occasionally expresses its gratitude to Sikhism for saving Hinduism from the Muslim aggression. It may not be irrelevant to note here that RSS does not treat Sikhism as an independent religion, which discarded Casteism and Brahmanical hegemony, but part of Hinduism.

The RSS/BJP leaders blamed Congress for anti-Sikh violence Modi while addressing a public rally during the last parliamentary elections at Jhansi, UP (October 25, 2013) asked Congress leaders to explain who “killed thousands of Sikhs in 1984” and “has anyone been convicted for the Sikh genocide so far”. Modi during Punjab elections and 2014 general elections kept on referring to ‘qatl-e-aam’ or genocide of Sikhs.

Modi after becoming PM in a message (October 31, 2014) said that anti-Sikh riots in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination were like a, “dagger that pierced through India’s chest…Our own people were murdered, the attack was not on a particular community but on the entire nation.”

However, Modi did not tell the nation what NDA governments which ruled this country from 1998 to 2004 did to persecute the culprits. Modi also forgot to share the fact that as per the autobiography of LK Advani (page 430); it was his Party which forced Indira Gandhi to go for army action infamously named as Operation Blue Star which killed large number of Sikh pilgrims.

Renowned journalist Manoj Mitta, author of the book When a Tree Shook Delhi: The 1984 Carnage and Its Aftermath straight forwardly tells:

“Despite the BJP rule, there has hardly been any will to enforce accountability for the massacres that took place under the Congress. It’s as if there is a tacit deal between the sponsors of 1984 and 2002″.

The most important proof of such a dehumanized attitude towards the massacre of Sikhs is a document circulated by Nana Deshmukh, a prominent whole timer and ideologue of the RSS [now deceased]. This document titled as ‘MOMENTS OF SOUL SEARCHING’ was circulated by Deshmukh on November 8, 1984, may help in unmasking the whole lot of criminals involved in the massacre of innocent Sikhs who had nothing to do with the killing of Indira Gandhi.

The document also shines a light on where the cadres came from, who meticulously organized the killing of Sikhs. Nana Deshmukh in this document is seen outlining the justification of the massacre of the Sikh community in 1984.

This document also shows the true degenerated and fascist attitude of the RSS towards all the minorities of India.

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Modi paying tribute to Nanaji Deshmukh

Deshmukh in his document ‘MOMENTS OF SOUL SEARCHING’ is seen outlining the justification of the massacre of the Sikh community in 1984. His defence of the carnage can be summed up as in the following:

1. The massacre of Sikhs was not the handiwork of any group or anti-social elements but the result of a genuine feeling of anger.

2. Deshmukh did not distinguish the action of the two security personnel of Indira Gandhi, who happened to be Sikhs, from that of the whole Sikh community. According to his document the killers of Indira Gandhi were working under some kind of mandate of their community.

3. Sikhs themselves invited these attacks, thus advancing the Congress theory of justifying the massacre of the Sikhs.

4. He glorified the Operation Blue Star and described any opposition to it as anti-national. When Sikhs were being killed in thousands he was warning the country of Sikh extremism, thus offering ideological defense of those killings.

5. Sikh community as a whole was responsible for violence in Punjab.

6. Sikhs should have done nothing in self-defence but showed patience and tolerance against the killer mobs.

7. These were Sikh intellectuals and not killer mobs which were responsible for the massacre. They had turned Sikhs into a militant community, cutting them off from their Hindu roots, thus inviting attacks from the nationalist Indians. Moreover, he treated all Sikhs as part of the same gang and described attacks on them as a reaction of the nationalist Hindus.

8. He described Indira Gandhi as the only leader who could keep the country united and assassination of such a great leader such killings could not be avoided.

9. Rajiv Gandhi who succeeded Mrs. Gandhi as the PM and justified the nation-wide killings of Sikhs by saying, “When a huge tree falls there are always tremors felt”, was lauded and blessed by Nana Deshmukh at the end of the document.

10. Shockingly, the massacre of Sikhs was being equated with the attacks on the RSS cadres after the killing of Gandhiji and we find Deshmukh advising Sikhs to suffer silently. Everybody knows that the killing of Gandhiji was inspired by the RSS and the Hindutva Ideology whereas the common innocent Sikhs had nothing to do with the murder of Indira Gandhi.

11. There was not a single sentence in the Deshmukh document demanding, from the then Congress Government at the Centre or the then home minister Narsimha Rao (a Congress leader dear to the RSS who later silently watched demolition of Babri masjid by Hindutva goons as PM of India in 1992) remedial measures for controlling the violence against the minority community. Mind it, that Deshmukh circulated this document on November 8, 1984, and from October 31 to this date Sikhs were left alone to face the killing gangs. In fact November 5-10 was the period when the maximum killings of Sikhs took place. Deshmukh was just not bothered about all this.

12. It is generally believed that the Congress cadres were behind this genocide. This may be true but there were other forces too which actively participated in this massacre and whose role has never been investigated. It could be one of the reasons that actual perpetrators remain unknown. Those who witnessed the genocide were stunned by the swiftness and military precision of the killer/marauding gangs (later on witnessed during the Babri mosque demolition, burning alive of Dr. Graham Steins with his two sons, 2002 pogrom of the Muslims in Gujarat and cleansing of Christians in parts of Orissa) which went on a burning spree of the innocent Sikhs. This, surely, was beyond the capacity of the thugs led by many Congress leaders.

13. It is shocking that Deshmukh presented 1984 massacre of Sikhs as an issue between Sikhs and Hindus. He wrote: “I feel proud of all those Hindu neighbours who protected lives and property of troubled Sikh brothers without caring for their lives. Such things one being heard from all over Delhi. These things have practically increased the faith in the natural goodness of human behavior and particularly faith in Hindu nature.” These were not only Hindus but Muslims, Jains, Buddhists, Christians, Atheists, Communists who defended Sikhs’ lives and properties.