Operation Blue Star : Indian Army’s biggest security mission ever

Pro-Khalistan Sikhs carrying swords and sticks clashed with the members of the SGPC (Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee) inside the Harmandir Sahib Complex (Golden Temple) yesterday, which marked the 34th anniversary of the ‘Operation Blue Star’ which was the biggest security mission ever undertaken by the Indian army.

There are many questions that arise, What is ‘Operation Blue Star’?, What is ‘Khalistan’ ? and Why did Indian Army undertake a mission against its own people?

Here is a detailed account.

What is ‘Operation Blue Star’?

Operation ‘Blue Star’ was the very reason for the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Her two Sikh bodyguards, Beant and Satwant Singh, shot her on 31 October 1984 for giving permission to the operation.

Operation Blue Star started after the rise of Khalistan movement in India. It was a political Sikh nationalist movement which aimed at creating an independent state for the Sikhs. Jagjit Singh Chauhan was the first who supported the idea of an independent Sikh country. Chauhan declared himself president of the “Republic of Khalistan”, named a Cabinet, and issued Khalistan “passports”, “postage stamps” and “Khalistan dollars”.

Who was Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale ?

In the late 1970s, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale  who was the main reason for the ‘Operation Blue Star’ was backed by the Congress to weaken their major opposition party Akali Dal in the state and split the Sikh vote. The association of Bhindranwale with the Congress increased his influence and stature in politics.

In the early 1980s there were a series of murders in Punjab. In 1981, a journalist and Congressman named Lala Jagat Narayan was found murdered. Bhindranwale and his men were associated with these acts of violence.

The Punjab government arrested Bhindranwale but later released him for lack of evidence. The Akali Dal which had been considering Bhindranwale a Congress agent, began to make common cause with him.

The Akali Dal and Bhindranwale launched the Dharam Yudh Morcha in August 1982.  They wanted a different state based on their language ‘Gurmukhi’ as Andhra Pradesh got post Independence and their main aim was to pass the ‘Anandpur Resolution’ which focused on devolution of powers to the state and lessening of government influence which Indira Gandhi had time and again rejected.

Situation on ground zero:

On 29 September 1981,an Indian Airlines plane was hijacked on its way from Srinagar to Delhi by a group of Sikh terrorists who diverted the route to Lahore and on 22 August 1982, a single militant hijacked a Boeing 737 on its way to New Delhi from Mumbai. There was twice an attempt to murder Darbara Singh. In April 1983, DIG A.S.Atwal was murdered inside the golden temple. On 5 October 1983 a bus which was heading to Delhi from Amritsar was hijacked and 6 Hindus were killed. All these incidents prompted Indira Gandhi to take stern action against the perpetrators of these heinous crimes.

Thousands of paramilitary personnel were sent from Delhi. The state government was dismissed in October 1983 as it failed to prevent the chaos in the state.

Bhindranwale had taken over the Golden temple and made it his headquarters in December 1983 along with his followers.

India’s most prosperous state had been engulfed by communal violence. A radical group of Sikhs led by a fiery religious practitioner Bhindranwale had declared war against the state. His supporters had murdered over 100 civilians and security personnel. He had a huge influence over the Sikh youth.

The Operation Blue Star was specifically aimed to eliminate him and his followers from the Golden Temple complex which he had stuffed with arms and ammunition.

Bhindranwale on 11 May 1984 rejected the final settlement offer by Indira Gandhi’s think tank Narsimha Rao.

Army Chief General Arun Shridhar Vaidya (who was later murdered in Pune on 10 Aug 1986) had assured Indira Gandhi that there would be no casualties and no damage would be caused to the Golden Temple.

The Final act:

On 2 June Indira Gandhi through All India Radio appealed the militants to surrender which they didn’t heed to and then the very next day Punjab was put on a total curfew. Phone lines were cut, water, electricity, media telecasts were put on a halt. No one was allowed inside the state including the journalists, Media personnel were put on a bus and were dropped off at Haryana border. The Operation had begun and the sanctum sanctorum was surrounded by the military.

To the army’s dismay, thousands of pilgrims had gathered at the Golden Temple on 3 June to celebrate the anniversary of Guru Arjan Singh. The militants used these pilgrims as hostages. 10,000 pilgrims were trapped inside. In a 7 hour skirmish between the army and the militants many were dead.

The operation was divided into two parts. The first was Operation Metal which was confined to the temple complex and the other one Operation Shop which raided Punjab’s countryside to capture any suspects. Following this, Operation Woodrose was launched throughout Punjab were Sikhs carrying kirpan and protesting were targeted.

Machine guns, light artillery, helicopters, rockets and eventually battle tanks were used to overwhelm Bhindranwale and his militants.

Finally on June 6 with a clear bullet on the left side of his forehead, Bhindranwale was shot dead and the army gained control on 7 June.

This military assault led to tensions across members of Sikh community worldwide.

Death Toll:

The Death toll was massive. According to the official reports 83 Indian soldiers attained martyrdom while 492 civilians died, and approximately 500 Sikh militants were dead.

It set a chain of disastrous events throughout the country were 8000 Sikhs were murdered including 3000 in Delhi itself. The unofficial death toll might be even more.

‘Operation Blue Star’ is written in India’s history as one of the biggest misread and miscalculated one.

(Data in this article is compiled from various sources)




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