WAS OPERATION BLUE STAR PLANNED TO BE A SWIFT OPERATION WITH MINIMUM CASUALITIES?
Over 500 Persons were killed Of this number there were men from the Indian Army and Security Forces. Innocents killed 498 and injured 86. 1592 Civilians/Sikhs were apprehended. This Operation led to Indira Gandhi being assassinated by her own Bodyguards on October 31, 1984, and subsequently Thousands of Sikhs were killed in riots in New Delhi and all over the Country. General Vaidya, who had retired, was also assassinated outside his residence in Pune. What went wrong with Operation Blue Star? Should the Indian Army have gone into the GoldenTemple in the first place? Should Indira Gandhi have asked for help from UK? Wasn’t there any other way to tackle the militants who were holed up in the Temple complex? The Operation was planned to be a swift and surgical operation which would cause minimum casualties and to be completed by midnight. Lt Gen Sundarji was then the GOC-in-C Western Army with Lt Gen K.S. Brar was Gen Officer Commanding 9 Division.
As per the Original Plan, the area around the Golden Temple complex was firstly to be cordoned off and then the Army was to enter the Temple complex from the North Ghantaghar Clock Tower side and advance towards the Akal Takht. A smaller force was tasked as a Backup. At the same time some Divers were to dive into the Sarovar, (lake around the Golden Temple) and enter Harminder Sahib (MainTemple) for flushing out the militants. Simultaneously the Army was to clear the rooms built on the sides for visiting Pilgrims around the Sarovar. On June 4th the Army Bombarded the Historic Ramgarhia Bangus, the Water Tank and other fortified positions using 25 pounder guns and felt that they had achieved their Objective of destroying the outer defenses. The firing was suspended and G S Tohra was sent to negotiate with Bhindarawala, result was unsuccessful. The firing resumed. The Plan was modified and a Force was Tasked to also enter from the rear of the Akal Takht and while advancing they were to clear the lanes. Sundarji was confident to cordon off the area around the Golden Temple which had very narrow gullies with four storied constructions. The Plan as conceived and executed was on Paper and lacked Real Time Intelligence inputs. Commanders were required to brief the Troops as they were not familiar with the ground realities which was not done. Personal Reconnaissance by Troop Leaders was also ignored.
What Actually Happened
The Plan to cordon off the entire area around the Golden Temple could not be achieved due to narrow gullies, and Troops got bogged down even before they reached the periphery. On June 5 itself, it was BELATEDLY decided that some additional troops also be sent from the Library side opposite the Ghantaghar. This was expected to divert the attention of the militants in two directions. The Troops which were selected for this task were not from 9 Division and were not aware of the Original Plan or the Area of Operations. This Force was commanded by a Sikh officer, Lt. Col. Tejinder Singh. The Troops allotted to him were from 15 Division. Brar chose to position himself on the Ghantaghar Side for easier Command and Control and the Operation was launched.
Once when the Operation commenced, (which was many hours later than the original time planned) our Troops went down the steps to enter the Temple complex from the Ghantaghar side. They encountered heavy firing as they stepped on to the Parikarma and suffered a number of casualties. THEY COULD NOT ADVANCE and the whole column was brought to a grinding halt. More Troops were then pumped in but they also suffered heavy casualties. Another Force (SSF), which was to follow the first two groups, were then ordered to also go in and they too could not make any progress. Such Planning and Execution was a DISASTER. Even in Battle, when the first Assault fails the Commander must never reinforce the same line of advance but here, three Attempts were made from the same side which caused heavy causalities to our Soldiers. The situation became critical for Sundarji and Brar. Fighting had begun at 10 p.m. but the initial results would certainly be of concern to any Commander as to what he should do next?
What Was The Situation On Akal Takht Side
The Troops which were to enter from the Akal Takht side and who tried to get into the complex lost their way in the gullies. While advancing they came face to face against a wall and didn’t know where to go. A 106 Recoilless gun with which they fired to break through the wall gave black-blast’. It was important that the area behind the gun should have been clear. However, in this case the gully was extremely narrow and not clear. THE COMMANDERS HAD MISCALCULATED YET AGAIN. As soon as the gun was fired, it resulted in a big fire. The Troops realized that they were in the wrong place and they got busy extinguishing the fire. Had they successfully broken through the wall and entered the complex area they would not have known where they were. They too would have faced a shower of bullets. So poor was the ground study of the Temple area that Brar never took into consideration the narrowness of the gullies. One column of Troops had also been given two Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs), with ladders and pole chargers. The APCs had a crew of 11 Soldiers each. When they were ordered to enter the gully, they discovered that the APCs were too Broad to even enter and they had to be abandoned on the main road itself. The unpreparedness of the Senior Commander’s was to any standards POOR AND FAULTY. Due to the follies committed by their Commanders who were not even aware that the units were under strength but they still attacked. The Troops were all clobbered together in a hurry without Planning. The Brave Soldiers who took part belonged to the Elite Para Commandos, the Garhwal Regiment, the Guards Regiment, the Kumaon Regiment, the Madras Regiment, the BSF, the SSF, the Armoured Corps and Artillery.
The Operation was illplanned, ill conceived and a last-minute effort to bring additional Troops who were not to their full strength was a disaster. It was only on the morning of June 5 that the GOC of 15 Division, Maj Gen Jamwal, and his Deputy GOC, Brig Dewan, boarded a helicopter and took an aerial view of the Golden Temple. Having completed the aerial survey, Dewan in a jeep next day along with his Troops started reconnoitering the area. But as they came closer they were fired upon. The Troops could not go any further. The Border Security Force (BSF) who were guarding the area were told that the attack would begin at night and their assistance was sought in finding a way inside? Dewan himself was not a part of the Operation but he decided to go in with his Troops. Dewan had never visited the Golden Temple in his life and had been posted to Amritsar only in January 1984.
After failing to push in from the Gantagarh side Brar made yet another attempt to enter the complex, this time from the Library side with Troops from 15 Division who again lost their way, corrected it and finally entered thro the Library entrance late after mid night, but in this unprepared assault they lost 22 Soldiers, of which 10-12 were killed while 10-12 were seriously wounded. Brave Soldiers but at what cost? Again a wrong decision by Sundarji & Brar.
Dewan their Commander was the only one who had not entered so far from the Library side. He stood outside alone with a wireless set and called Tejinder Singh whose men were already in the Parikarma Area. A heavy exchange of fire was continuing within the complex. Singh’s advice to Dewan was better stay out since there was heavy firing. Dewan replied, “It is safer to be inside”. Because the area outside was also full of militants and he was alone and hence unsafe. However Brar, the overall Commander who was Commanding the entire Operations, was unaware of Dewan’s arrival, till after Dewan had entered the complex. Dewan informed Brar that he had only about 120 Soldiers (two companies) and many had already been wounded or killed. He was short of troops. Brar said that he would send two more Companies of the Kumaonis as reinforcements to join him. The Kumaonis had only arrived from Secunderabad that very morning and had no clue of where they were or what was happening but given orders they moved.
It was already 11 p.m. and though the ‘H Hour’ i.e. time of attack was 10 p.m. The Madrasis who were to enter form the Rear of the Akal Takht were nowhere to be seen. They too probably lost their way and were held up.
The ‘Diversionary Attack’ planned from the Library side had advantages in that it compels the defender to tackle two directions simultaneously, but here there was no such planning and troops entering had no idea of where they were. This move was ill planned and the Troops entering from three directions had no clue of what their assigned task was? The Paracommandos and Madrasis had no idea of the entry of Reinforcements from the Library side. However the Commanding Officers with the help of wireless contact, succeeded in preventing the troops shooting each other. The ground position as it existed then was that the Operation from the North had come to a halt. The Guards who were tasked to clear the Area, failed to do so. The Paracommandos could not get to the Akal Takht. There were too many casualties. The SSF could not move forward. The plan to send the Divers never worked. The Garhwals were present, minus 20 men who were killed or wounded. Two companies of the Kumaonis sent by Brar from outside as re – enforcements for the Garhwals never knew the surroundings and were lost.
At around 3 a.m. 6th June the Madrasis also fetched up and found their way in. Not knowing the position of own Troops they opened fire in the direction of Troops deployed by Dewan which were on the Library side. This happened since no one was aware of the change in plans. Dewan shouted at them that he was their Brigadier and deputy GOC. He signaled them with torches and ordered that they must not fire in their direction? What a Mess?
With this, instead of two companies, Dewan now had eight companies: plus two companies. which were initially with him on the Library side.
Meanwhile on the Akal Takht side Brar, sent two more APCs. One APC entered form the Rear of the Akal Takht, via the steps but it turned right instead of left and got lost in the gully. The other APC which managed to enter was placed ahead of the troops but there was such heavy firing as it turned the corner that the tyres of the Scot APC were punctured by bullets. It was stuck.
With no cover from any side THE BRAVE INDIAN SOLDIERS obeyed the orders of their Senior Officers and attacked the Akal Takhat, at point blank range. There was firing from the Akal Takht, from the Darshini Deorhi and from Nishan Saheb. The soldiers could not do anything to silence the guns. Brar still ordered on the wireless that our SOLDIERS must carry on with the attack. But Dewan refused to try again. He said in clear terms that it was not possible to silence the guns by murdering our Soldiers. The Soldiers who opened fire were massacred within minutes by intense machine gun fire from all sides.
Now stuck, at 4am, 6th June, Brar and Sundarji got together and took the gravest and unpardonable decision which was to use Tanks. Three Vijayanta (Victory) tanks entered the Golden Temple complex from the Bungas Tower side on to The Praikarma. The Prakirma was not broad enough to put all three tanks together. The geography of the area is strange. Darshini Deorhi comes in the way of the Akal Takht, and the men had to be very careful not to damage Darshini Deorhi. This is the Treasury house, where Jewels and Gold were stored. The militants had their armoury there.
The three Vijayanta tanks brought in took positions on the Parikarma. The fact that the tanks entered within minutes of the orders, indicates that they were handy and already positioned outside the Complex.
The tanks started firing at the Akal Takht. The range was just 50 meters. Close range and deadly, the firing continued till it became daylight. The tanks aimed at the top of ‘Gumbaj’. There was a fire. The Akal Takht was badly damaged. At around 8 a.m. Some 30-35 people ran from the Akal Takht side and jumped into the Sarovar.
Dewan told Brar that he thought their resistance had broken and that they should ask for surrender. Mean while Dewan had made all arrangements for the surrender. It was late in the afternoon that he got the orders for the surrender. The people inside were asked to leave their weapons behind put their hands on their heads and come out. Hardly had he said this hundreds of people surrendered and came out from all corners of the Temple, with their hands raised. Our Officers were sent to segregate those coming out form the Golden Temple and those from around the Parikarma. The troops had been ordered not to shoot. But the people who had jumped into the Sarovar from the Akal Takht side in the morning were shot at, as they tried to swim across. They were shot in the water itself, Their bodies went down and resurfaced only later in the day.
Tempers were running high and the Soldiers had just seen many of their colleagues being butchered before their eyes. It was a very grave situation. One officer was sent into the Golden Temple with someone who had surrendered to see whether the Golden Temple had been cleared. Inside, one dead body and one Giani Puran Singh and one other person were found. Bhindranwale was not found in the Golden Temple.
It was already 7 p.m. All rooms were searched. A large number of weapons, anti-personnel mines and Rs. 15-20 lakhs in cash were found. All those who surrendered were told to remove their turbans and with these turbans their hands were tied behind and they were all made to sit on the Parikrama.
Dewan asked for further orders. Brar told him to take the money and deposit it in the Treasury at the Quarter Guard. At 8 p. m. Brar told him that he had done his job and that he could go home. He asked where Bhindranwale was, and Dewan replied that he did not know, but if he was in the Akal Takht then he must be dead. Nobody could be alive there.
Later Brar called Dewan at his residence and thanked him, “I do not know how to thank you for all that you have done for me. We have found ex-Maj. Gen. Shahbeg Singh, Bhai Amirk Singh and Bhindranwale in the basement of the Akal Takht”.
A post-mortem was conducted and the report gave the time of death of Bhindranwale as 7.30 a.m. The post mortem was done on June 7. On the morning on June 6, the sight of the Parikarma of the Golden temple was a gruesome one. There were 717 bodies lying there, not including those of the Soldiers. Whose bodies were they, it could be, anybody’s guess? They could be of militants as well as innocent pilgrims dead bodies could not be identified.
Sundarji and Brar, of course, believe that a large number of them were militants. They said that if they were not militants then who was firing on the army from all sides. How did the army lose nearly 336 men? I say it was BAD PLANNING.
However, the other possibility of a large number being innocent civilians could be equally true. The faces of the dead were the same. The day of the Operation was Guru Arjan Dev’s birthday and a large number of devotees must have come.
Guru Arjan Dev’s birthday being chosen as THE DAY FOR OPERATION BLUE STAR MUST BE SEVERELY CRITICISED. However, Sundarji’s reason for choosing the day was that if he delayed the operation anymore there would be an uprising in the villages and if they congregated towards the Golden Temple, then this would lead to an impossible situation which he could not control.
To my mind this was a wrong assessment of the situation by Sundarji. Sundarji’s critics point out that Bhindranwale was never so powerful as to inspire an uprising. In fact, Bhindranwale was a creation of Giani Zail Singh.
But the choice of Guru Arjan Dev’s birthday as the day for the operation was wrong by any standards of assessment. Guru Arjan Dev is the fifth guru and he was the one who built the Golden Temple, while his son Har Govind constructed the Akal Takht – Eternal Seat. It had to be there. You can’t desecrate it. SUNDARJI DID THAT IN GRADUATED RESPONSES DURING HIS ILL-PLANNED, ILL-CONCEIVED AND ILL-IMPLEMENTED OPERATION BLUE STAR – A BLACK CHAPTER IN INDIAN HISTORY AND IN THE HISTORY OF THE ARMED FORCES OF INDIA. The Indian Army suffered for its action. It had a mutiny on its hands.
Sundarji during Operation Blue Star exposed his pretense of openness to the media. Sundarji, Brar and other Officers addressed the Electronic and Press Media daily giving them accounts of what was planned during Operation Blue Star. After completion of the Operation, Sundarji even told Foreign journalists that no tanks had been used. The Journalists were then taken on an inspection of the Temple complex. Later when they again met Sundarji, one journalist questioned, “General, from what we’ve seen it seems that Armor Piercing Explosive has been used and the Tracks of the Tanks used show more than one tank”. Sundarji refused to reply. The journalist had made his point. High Explosive Squash Head (HESH) had been used, and more than one tank had taken part. Even the Official version is that one tank was used, and only a few rounds were fired. In reality three tanks were used and over 60 rounds fired.Remember the men in the Golden Temple were also “INDIAN CITIZENS“.
Were we fighting in the jungles of Burma, or Italy in World War-II and were we a conquering Army? How sad that we considered it that way?
Sundarji and Brar wanted to highlight the tremendous opposition they had faced and how they overcame it. They wanted to become Hero’s overnight.
The Scar of Operation Bluestar was felt all over the country and abroad amongst all correct thinking People. It was as brutal as General Dyer’s firing at Jallianwallah Bagh.
Sundarji later maintains that the tanks were used as a last resort and when men had been slaughtered by machine – guns firing from all sides. The use of the tanks was not a part of the plan.
The Brave Soldiers of the Indian Army who actually fought in the Temple complex said that their General had grossly erred in the planning of the OPERATION BLUESTAR. The total intelligence had failed in providing adequate information about the Golden Temple complex to the Men and no reconnaissance was carried out.
Was Operation Bluestar a Political Blunder? This is how it has been mostly reported by the media. If it was not a POLITICAL BLUNDER then Mrs. Indira Gandhi would not have lost her life. It is said that Arun Nehru and Buta Singh flew into Amritsar for the final meeting with Sundarji and gave the orders to Go Ahead and clear the Golden Temple of militants by midnight.
THE ENTIRE OPERATION WAS PLANNED IN A HURRY. BUT WHY DID SUNDARJI AGREE TO GO AHEAD? I SAY, OVER ENTHUSIASM AND PERSONAL AMBITIONS IS WHAT GOT SUNDARJI TO TAKE THAT DECISION.
Sundarji continued being the “Yes, Prime Minister General” only so as to become a Field Marshal. And if revelations can be relied on then he even went beyond the decisions of the Prime Ministers, he later served.
One Senior Army Officer confided, If Indira Gandhi would not have been assassinated then Sundarji surely would never have become the Chief. General Vaidya was assassinated later outside his Pune residence, for something he was not entirely responsible for and I FEEL THAT INDIRA GANDHI WAS ASSASSINATED BECAUSE OF THE FAILURE ON HER PART TO BE IN TWO MINDS – GET UK TO STEP IN OR GO IT ALONE.
The Operation as conducted was not shared by Indira Gandhi with Brar. Could it not be possible that Indira Gandhi had shared with Sundarji – the help the British Prime Minister was ready to provide at that time ? It cannot be imagined that no reconniance time was allowed for the troops and it is surprising that a person belonging to SAS was allowed to carryout reconniance and get away stealthily. The Country demands an explanation as to how Britain’s SAS had been dispatched to help in the planning the raid on Golden Temple. The British Prime Minister today has asked for a investigation urgently to establish the facts. As a matter of consciousness India must share at some time if advice was sort from the British Government and it cannot be a Ministerial oversight. A Top Secret and Personal letter dated 23 Feb 1984, titled Sikh Community reads “The Indian authorities recently sought British advice over a plan to remove Sikh extremists from the Golden Temple Amritsar.”
The British Prime Minister David Cameron has directed his Cabinet Secretary to establish the facts behind claims that Margaret Thatcher’s Government may have helped Indira Gandhi plan Operation Bluestar in 1984. Labour MP Tom Waston and Lord Indarjit Singh have demanded an explanation after recently, declassified documents indicated that Britain’s Special Air Services (SAS) officials were dispatched to help India in planning the raid on the Golden Temple to flush out militants from the shrine. The Operation left more than 1,000 people dead. These events led to a tragic loss of life and as INDIAN’s we understand the concerns that these papers will raise. The Prime Minister has asked his Cabinet Secretary to look into this case urgently and establish the facts.
PM Manmohan Singh must also order an immediate probe and ensure that this fauxpax must be thoroughly investigated and the Nation be informed whether such an instance had indeed taken place as per the reports of British Prime Minister Cameron. Any requests today for advice from Foreign Governments must be evaluated carefully with full Ministerial and MILITARY oversight and appropriate legal advice.
The documents being referred to were released by the National Archieves in London under the 30 years declassification rule as part of a series over the New Year.
Questions For Thought
A letter marked “Top Secret and Personal” dated Feb 23,1984, nearly four months before the incident in Amritsar, title Sikh Community, reads”. The Indian authorities recently sought British advice over a plan to remove Sikh extremists from the Golden Temple in Amritsar.” The Foregin Secretary decided to respond favorably to the Indian request and with the Prime Ministers agreement, sent an SAS officer also to visit India who drew up a plan which had been approved by Mrs. Gandhi. The Foreign Secretary believed that the Indian Government may have put the plan into operation.
The Document proves what the Sikh Community have suspected all along, that plans to invade the Golden Temple went back months ,even though the Indian Government was claiming even weeks before that there were no such plans, “Lord Singh, also the Director of the Network of Sikh Organizations in the UK has corroborated this.
The need for an Independent Enquiry to establish the exact facts is very much needed. Some of the documents that have been reproduced on the Stop Deportations blog which focuses on the Britain’s immigration policy and claim Thatcher sent SAS officials to advise Indira Gandhi on the operation.It is said that there are other papers that have been withheld. This is not good enough. It is not unreasonable that India asks for an explanation about the extent of British Military collusion with the Government of Indira Gandhi. The issue has been raised in the House of Commons also and must be raised in our Parliament too.
I think British Sikhs and all those concerned about human rights will want to know exactly the extent of Britain’s collusion with this period and this episode and the People expect some answers. Trying to hide and not coming clean, I think would be a very grave error and we very much hope that the our Foreign and Home Minister will reveal the documents that exist and give an explanation to the House and to the Country about the role of Britain at that very difficult time for Sikhism and Sikhs. Five months after Operation Bluestar Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in retaliation for the raid on the Golden Temple which were followed by Riots in Delhi.
Unfortunately Captain Amarinder Singh has today questioned Parkash Singh Badal whether he had hidden himself or disappeared. Why is this Congress man bringing up these controversial points today? I would request that Politics be left out of this sad episode and we do not make the mistake of once again triggering ethnic riots amongst our people. Have we not had enough in the past during the riots that followed in 1984? Can’t we live peacefully as Indians and not throw blames all around. Today’s Government must carry out an Independent Probe and inform the Nation about the truth of Indira Gandhi asking for help before launching Blue Star. It is however well known that in April 1984 KAO from the RAW had met Indira Gandhi and discussed Operation Sundown. Was this operation discussed with the British regime also? It is believed that Kao certainly wanted to do a quick job with Heliborne Commandos who were to enter the Golden Temple and abduct Bhindranwale? KAO surely was in touch with UK and how is it that Indira Gandhi did not know that her closes aide was in touch with the British? It is believed that RAW operators in Foreign Capitals with large Sikh expatriates warned KAO of the adverse fallout of the Military Operations But did Indira Gandhi listen? Today Akali comrades dub Congress accusations as “white rhetoric lies”. The allegations are just repeat of the sick lies of the Indira Gandhi Govt of the Bluestar time to justify the Army attack on Harmandar sahib.