By Jaideep Sarin, IANS,
Amritsar : Although the Sikhs have moved on, with one of them now ruling India, there is no forgetting Operation Bluestar, the 1984 military assault on the Golden Temple here that left the community scarred and in some ways changed the face of the country.
The sprawling temple complex today attracts thousands of devotees daily and presents a renovated look. But the tell-tale marks of 1984 remain, and so do the hurt feelings in the Sikh community.
Hundreds of Indian soldiers stormed the Golden Temple after imposing curfew in Amritsar to flush out Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his armed band of Sikh separatists who were holed up in the complex.
What many thought would be an easy job dragged on for three long days, severely damaging parts of the temple complex and leaving hundreds dead — including pilgrims, militants and soldiers.
The landmark event boosted Sikh militancy, spawned years of terror attacks and counter-violence that spread to parts of north India, and led to the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi by two of her Sikh guards. The killing in turn ignited anti-Sikh violence in Delhi and elsewhere, and left thousands dead, giving further oxygen to Sikh separatism.
“The Indian state attacked our holiest shrine, ruining our pride and honour, killing and incarcerating thousands, but the irony of it all is India is portrayed as a secular nation,” Kanwar Pal Singh of the Sikh radical organisation Dal Khalsa told IANS here.
Singh, who was all of 19 years and a student at Amritsar’s Khalsa College then, plunged into the Khalistan movement after the operation.
“Till June 3 I was unconnected with the movement despite the lure. This event changed my life when I saw the state’s repression of its own people. It prompted me to think of avenging the sacrilege,” Singh said.
“I had seen Sant Bhindranwale before that three or four times but was never his admirer. But the news of his death June 7 carried me away into this movement,” he said.
A large number of Sikhs think somewhat differently.
“The scars of 1984 will never go. But we have to move on,” said Swaran Singh, a shopowner echoing the words of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is a Sikh.
Swaran Singh said he prayed at the Harmandar Sahib just hours before the army entered the temple June 3, 1984.
Bhindranwale and his men fought the army, using machine guns, rocket launchers and other automatic weapons.
The Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikh religion, took the maximum pounding from army mortars and bullets. It is a gleaming structure of white marble and paint today.
The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which manages the Golden Temple and other Sikh shrines, issued a calendar this year carrying the pictures of the Akal Takht destroyed in the operation.
Hundreds of devout Sikhs were in the temple that day to mark the martyrdom of fifth Sikh guru Arjan Dev.
Scores of them got trapped inside the complex when the army surrounded the shrine and a blanket curfew was imposed across Punjab.
“The army had orders to shoot anyone in sight. Things were on the boil. There was tension. We faced very stiff resistance inside the Golden Temple complex. God forbid, the army should not be asked to do such a thing ever again,” an army colonel who was part of the operation and who now lives in Chandigarh told IANS requesting that he not be named.
The army had nearly 100,000 soldiers across Punjab in May-June 1984 as it prepared to free the Sikh shrine from militants led by Bhindranwale and also to neutralize gun-toting terrorists elsewhere in the state.
But neither the Operation Bluestar nor the army presence ended terrorism in the state. It was finally put down in 1993.
Said Mohinder Pal Singh Kohli, a businessman: “Everything has changed since 1984. Whatever scars are left are there only in the minds and hearts of the people. The community has moved on. There is no looking back.”
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at [email protected])