25 years later: Sikhs have neither forgotten nor forgiven Indira Gandhi

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS,

Chandigarh/Amritsar : In June 1984, when then prime minister Indira Gandhi ordered the Indian Army to storm the Golden Temple complex, home to the holiest Sikh shrine Harmandar Sahib, she could not have realised that the action would engrave her name in the inglorious part of Punjab’s history.

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Even 25 years after her death on Oct 31, 1984 – she was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards at the prime minister’s residence in New Delhi – not many Sikhs in Punjab are ready to forgive her, though the chapter is no longer part of everyday discussion in India’s only Sikh-majority state.

The Congress party has had popular governments in Punjab for over 10 years since the 1984 Operation Bluestar to flush out heavily armed Sikh separatists led by radical ideologue Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Congress leaders have over the years expressed near regret for the events. But the wounds are unlikely to be healed for a long time.

“The attack on Darbar Sahib (as Harmandar Sahib is also known) in 1984 was totally illegitimate and beyond any justification. Its immediate repercussion was the assassination of Indira Gandhi,” Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) secretary Dalmegh Singh told IANS in an interview. SGPC is effectively the religious parliament of Sikhs.

He added: “Following this there were widespread anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, Kanpur and other places that crossed all limits of human rights and value. Nobody can forget those horrifying days. Those violent attacks had targeted the Sikh community and alienated it from other sections of society.

“Now when our new generation and we look back at what happened in 1984, then all our memories and wounds get fresh. No compensation or development can erase that history and it will always remain there.”

The families of Indira Gandhi’s assassins Beant Singh and Satwant Singh were honoured by religious leaders after her killing and both were declared martyrs. Now they do not find much of a mention in any circle.

The Sikh community, one of the most progressive in the world, has moved on.

When the political scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family and Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi surprised everyone by quietly arriving early morning in September last year to pay obeisance at Harmandar Sahib as a commoner, the Sikh religious leadership did not term it a stunt.

In fact, Rahul sat inside the sanctum sanctorum for a long time in an enclosure meant for hymn singers.

Younger Sikhs too say that the community has moved on but the scars remain.

“Those responsible for the killing of Sikhs after her (Indira Gandhi’s) death have not been brought to justice by the agencies concerned. There is always a looming fear that such things could happen again. The community otherwise has moved on,” said author and agriculturist Khushwant Singh, who authored a book “Sikhs Unlimited”.

Radical Sikh elements have now called for a Punjab bandh (strike) Nov 3 to observe the 25th anniversary of the killing of Sikhs in Delhi and other places.

“The 1984 holocaust left a deep scar on the psyche and social life of all Sikhs. We have not forgotten or forgiven the perpetrators behind those attacks. It is really sad that instead of punishing the culprits, the Congress had glorified them by giving them plum posts,” Kanwarpal Singh, spokesman of radical Sikh group Dal Khalsa, which has given the strike call, told IANS.

He added: “The verbal assurances given by the governments hold no water and they were all politically motivated. They did not even spare our holiest shrine Golden Temple and no true Sikh can forgive them for that inhuman act.”

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at [email protected])