THE ATTACK WAS NOT A “LAST RESORT”
Lt. Gen. Sinha on Operation Blue Star
A fascinating perspective on the June 1984 attack on the Golden Temple by the Indian Government by Lieutenant General (Retd.) Srinivas Kumar Sinha, He candidly discusses the political circumstances and motivations that lead up to the attack. Interesting that he was actually friends with Major General Shabeg Singh who lead the fortifications of the Darbar Sahib complex.
Indira Gandhi first asked Lt. Gen. S.K. Sinha, then Vice-Chief of Indian Army and who was to succeed as the Army chief, to prepare a position paper for assault on the Golden Temple. Lt. Gen. Sinha advised against any such move, given its sacrilegious nature according to Sikh tradition. He suggested the government adopt an alternative solution. A controversial decision was made to replace him with General Arun Shridhar Vaidya as the Chief of the Indian army. General Vaidya, assisted by Lt. Gen. K Sundarji as Vice-Chief, planned and coordinated Operation Blue Star.
The attack on the Golden Temple was in plans even before the armed Sikh militants fortified it.
Major-General Kuldip Singh Brar, a clean-shaven .Sikh belonging to the caste of Sant Bhindranwale was chosen by the Indian government to launch a frontal attack on the Akal Takht, He was personally inimical to Sant Bhindranwale. for he was snubbed by him for having shaved his head and beard Thus carrying a personal malice against him. Major General Brar. Commander of the 9th Division which is considered.as a crack division of the Indian Army. launched a frontal attack on the Akal Takht. It was not the only Division that had taken part in the military operation. There were six divisions more. There were Madrasis from Tamil Nadu and Biharis from the Tribes of Central India, Dogras from Jammu & Kashmir and Kumaonis and Garhwalis from Uttar Pradesh. Besides there were Rajputs from Rajasthan. There were Sikhs too whose presence was symbolical. The Sikhs were inducted by the Indian government for the purpose of publicity and to show the world that the Sikhs had also taken part in the attack. These few Sikhs however could not be called true Sikhs. They were mainly supporters of Narankaris and some of them were Mazhabis.
The main armaments used by the Army against Sant Bhindranwale and his supporters were :-
(i) 38 Ton Vijayanta Tank fitted with 105 mm heavy guns.
(ii) Heavy artillery including 25 pounder canons and Howitzers, mortars and 3.7 inch Howell guns.
(iii) Armoured Cars.
(iv) C)t64 Armoured Personnel Carriers-These are Polish built eight-wheeled mechanized carriers.
Carrying with him this heavy and sophisticated armaments to attack the Golden Temple Complex K Sunderji slyly said. “We went inside the premises of Golden Temple Complex with humility in our hearts and prayers on our lips?
This reminds one of a typical proverb used by (the Hindus. The proverb is ‘.“Munh mein Ram Ram, Baghal mein Chhuri”
(A man having name of God on his lips and hiding a dagger under his arm-pit).
They attacked the Golden Temple Complex nevertheless with all malice in their hearts and cruelty in their minds. They continued incessant firing on the Akal Ta-kht and surrounding residential buildings throughout the day but failed to frighten the brave Lion, Sant Bhindran-wale and his fighters. They failed either to win the battle. The battle of the day again ended in a stalemate. But the Indian Army was severely beaten.
The Generals of Indian army had assured the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi that they will get control of Akal Takhat sahib within just half an hour only. And shall arrest Sant Jarnail Singh ji Bhindranwala dead or alive. Indira Gandhi had given such orders to General Vaidya, the Commanding officer in chief of Indian army as;
“I don’t give a damn if the Golden Temple and whole of Amritsar are destroyed, I want Bhindranwale dead.” (Indira Gandhi, Indian Prime Minister, communicating with Gen. Vaidya during “Operation Blue Star”)
When night fell the three experienced Generals, K. Sunderji, R.S. Dyal and K.S. Brar, put their heads to-gether desperately to chalk out a fresh strategy to subdue the one brave General, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. They strained their nerves to fulfil the desire of Indira Gandhi. to capture Sant Bhindranwale dead or alive. This was the main and the only objective of Indira Gandhi which she had assigned to the Army. But this task was not easy. That is why the Generals were worried and so was Indira Gandhi.
The final strategy formulated by the three Generals was to launch frontal attacks on Akal Takht from all sides simultaneously. Specially trained Commandos from the 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, dressed in black denims, wearing bullet proof vases, were directed to force their entry from the main entrance of the Complex. But as soon as they stepped in. the Sikh defenders, positioned on either side of the entrance, gunned them down. The few who managed to flee towards Parkarma were taken care of by other defenders entrenched around the Akal Takht. Thus the Commandos, assault utterly failed. It looked impossible for the so-called brave Commandos to accomplish the task assigned to them. Now Brar was dismayed as he had failed to dislodge the hrave Sikh fighters from their positions. In order to accomplish his task he ordered his troops to fire stun-gas bombs at the Sikh defenders. These chemical weapons made the Sikh fighters semi-unconscious. It was only then that the Commandos could force their entry to the Clock Tower gate and shot the semi-unconscious Sikhs dead. Could it be called a fare war? Could it be called a bravery? It was all shame and nothing else.
Any way, when the Commandos, reinforced by the 10th Battalion of the Guards, known as another pride of the Indian Army, stepped in the Parkarma, they faced withering fire from all directions. It was remarkable planning and strategy of General Shahbeg Singh which out manoeuvred all the three Generals of the Indian Army. The Sikh defenders trained and positioned by General Shahbeg Singh, mowed down these fresh Guards too. Thus the second assault was also repulsed by the brave Sikhs by inflicting heavy casualties on the attackers.
However the third assault carried out by about 200 Commandos and the same number of Guards succeeded to a limited extent when some of them managed to make their way in front of the Akal Takht. But no sooner did they reach the courtyard than they were gunned down by squads of defenders positioned inside the Akal Takht itself. The rest of them fled to safety. This was the battle scene on the North side or the main entrance of the Complex.
The Madrasis. who were ordered to enter the premises of Golden Temple Complex from the side of Sarais (Hostel Complex) failed to appear anywhere near the Parkarma. They were badly bashed by the lightly armed squads of the Sikh defenders positioned on the Southern side. Thus the strategy chalked out by the three Generals to effect the entry of the Commandos and Guards from northern side. and Madrasis and Gurhwalis, from the southern side simultaneously, and then to take up positions to attack the AkaS Takht was also foiled by the Sikh fighters.
The three Generals, Sunderji, Dyal-ji and Brar-ji, who had boasted before Indira Gandhi that they would capture Sant Bhindranwale dead or alive within two hours had to cut a sorry figure. They had taken three days i.e. 72 hours but they were nowhere near their objective. They became frustrated and desperate. The same was the condition of Rajiv Gandhi, K.P. Singh Deo and Arun Singh who were anxiously waiting in the Delhi Control Room to hear some “good news” Indira Gandhi was perhaps most nervously waiting for that news. She had instructed her Generals to accomplish the job assigned to them at all cost and without further loss of time. But it was easier said than done.
Sunderji and Dyal, now furious, ordered the Commandos to launch the fourth assault. This time the General reinforced the beaten Madrasis with two more companies of the 7th Garhwal Rifles and placed them under the command of Brar. Their objective was to push their way inside the premises of the Golden Temple Complex from the South entrance but Madrasis and Garhwalis were again badly beaten back by the Sikh fighters.
When Infantry surrendered;
A braggart Brigadier A. K. Diwan was commanding the Madrasis and the Garhwalis. Seeing his soldiers badly beaten he requested Brar for further reinforcement of his troops who had suffered heavy casualties. Brar sent him two companies of the 15th Kumaonis. Reinforced by the fresh troops Diwan made repeated assaults in order to storm the Akal Takht but each time his troops were forced to flee. Finding that the Akal Takht was impregnable for the Indian Army and feeling that Sant Bhindranwale was invincible. Brigadier Diwan asked General Brar to allow him to use Vijayant Tanks to blast the Akal Takht. He pleaded if he was not permitted to use Battle Tanks his troops traped in the battle field would be finished in no time as they looked like sitting ducks before the Sikh fighters.
It is pertinent to note that the troops of the Indian Army were repeatedly reinforced with fresh soldiers who had been provided with all comforts of life. They were also equipped with the most sophisticated weapons available in the world. On top of this, they had outnumbered the Sikh defenders thousand times. Still they were kept at bay by a handful of Sikh fighters.
On the other hand the Sikh defenders were confined inside the parched buildings and that, too. in the scorching heat which was at peak in the 1st week of June. 1984. They had nothing to eat but roasted grains, nothing to drink but their sweat. They spent sleepless nights without rest. They had no provisions and no source of reinforcement of troops as the Army had. They had no sophisticated weapons to match armoury of the Indian Armed Forces. They did not sleep since 1st June. Naturally. in such circumstances ordinary men are bound to become weary and teary. But they were not ordinary men, they were the Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh. inspired and resurrected by Sant Bhindranwale and trained by General Shahbeg Singh. Inspite of all this atrocious life they remained dauntless and valiant warriors. They remained unfrightened and unshaken. Heavy bombardment and incessant firing,by-guns could not demoralise them. Had they been equipped with the weapons like the Vijayanta Tanks, heavy field guns and artillery as the Indian Army had been equipped with. what would have been the result of the battle? Had this been the case the Sikh fighters must have chased the Indian Army beyond Vamuna river. That’s why General Brar pitiably explained to Lt. General Sunderji. the hopeless condition of his fighting troops.
“That infantry was in danger of being massacred. The infantry just cannot carry on doing the impossible task. 1 should be allowed local! up tanks to bombard and blast the Akal Takht.”
Sunderji contacted Delhi where a special Control Room had been set up to keep track of the battle. K.f. Singh Deo, Deputy Defence Minister, and Arun Singh were present there to assist Rajiv Gandhi, who was overall in-charge of monitoring Operation Blue Star. Rajiv Gandhi in turn discussed with her mother Indira Gandhi, who called in the Army Chief A.S. Vaidya. A quick decision was taken and permission was given to Sunderji to use whatever armament was effective to subdue Sant Bhindranwale. This blanket order included use of even jet bomber to blast off the Akal Takht if the Main Battle Tanks Vijayanta failed to achieve the assigned objective.
Even before the final orders were received from Indira Gandhi seven Vijayanta tanks were already positioned inside the Golden Temple Complex. As soon as a “go ahead” signal was given to General Brar he ordered the tank operators to bombard the Akal Takht,
The Vijayyanta tanks fitted with 105 mm guns fired hundreds of high-explosive squash-head shells at the Akal Takht and blasted the sacred shrine, the highest seat of Sikh authority, during the night of 5th & 6th June 1984. The whole front of the Akal Takht was destroyed and hardly a pillar was left standing. The adjoining buildings were also bombarded and razed to the ground. Even “Darshni Deori” and “Tosha Khana” were destroyed.
A simultaneous Operation under the command of K. Sunderji was being carried on in the Hostel Complex where the traitor, Harchand Singh Longowal and his cowardly stooges, had hid themselves. The main objective of this Operation was to secure the safety of Longowal and perhaps Gurcharan Singh Tohra and to escort ihem out safely. There was a discernible difference of obieclives in the two sided operation simultaneously carried on! in the Golden Temple Complex. The main objective of’ the military operation conducted in the Akal Takht was to en- sure the physical liquidation of Sant Bhindranwale whereas the objective of other operation was to ensure the safety of Longowal. This act of the Indian government proved beyond doubt that Longowal was acting as an agent of the Congress government while Sant Bhindranwale was gallantly defending the Golden Temple Complex and as such he was identified as the enemy of the Indian government.
As the main gate. fortified by iron gate, had blocked the way to the Hostel Complex, the Army had to bring in the battle tank to crash the gate. After smashing the iron-gate Armoured Cars were driven in and positioned on the road separating the two Complexes. Then followed the 9th Kumaonis and (he commandos wearing bullet proof vases. As soon as the troops moved in they came under heavy firing from the roof-tops on both sides of the road. The resistance was not as tough as was met by the Army inside the Golden Temple Complex. Therefore the troops managed to enter (he Hostel Complex where the traitor of the Sikh Panth. Longowal, along with his hoodlings, had huddled himself in the office room of Gurcharan Singh Tohra. When the Commandos entered the office all those who had hidden themselves there surrendered meekly by raising their arms above their heads. Among those who had surrendered by raising arms were Harch-and Singh LongowaL Gurcharan Singh Tohra, Bhan Ssngh, Balwant Singh Ramuwalia and Abinashi Singh, Assistant Secretary of Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee Surprisingly Harmander Singh Sandhu. Genrel Secretary of.MSSF, was also present in the office of Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee who, too. surrendered himself along with Longowal. The fact that Longowal and Tohra had surrendered by raising their arms above iheir heads was later confirmed by Abinashi Singh and Nazar Singh. a personal bodyguard of Tohra whom 1 incidentally met in the Central jail Ludhiana in August 1984.
Nazar Singh told me the whole story about Tohra’s activities beginning from 2nd June to 5th June 1984 till the latter had surrendered himself at about 2 A.M. on 6th June.
After surrendering themselves Tohra and Longowal were separated from others and were taken to a safer place. The remaining lot was left behind. They were made to sit in the compound where sudden firing was opened and a hand grenade was also thrown. There were at least seventy casualties of the Sikhs. Among the dead were some female and children. It was confirmed by Nazar Singh that the troops had opened fire killing seventy persons and wounding many others. He too suffered two bullet injuries, one in the leg and an other in the upper arm.
Interestingly Gurcharan Singh, Office Secretary, and Bagga Singh, a staunch critic of Sant Bhindranwale, were not killed by the troops. They were shot dead by supporters of Sant Bhindranwale. Thus both the traitors were punished.
A letter is often seen on internet which was written to personal Secretary of Indira Gandhi, Shri RK Dhawan on 25th April 1984, in which he mentioned all his previous correspondence, their meets and requested for a quick army action against Sant Jarnail Singh ji. Please see copy of the letter;
Contents of the letter;
SHIROMANI AKALI DAL, SRI AMRITSAR
April 25, 1984.
To, Mr. R. K. Dhawan
1, Safdarjang Road,
Respected Mr. Dhawan sahib,
As you know that Mr. Gurcharan Singh’s (Tohra) life is in great danger, so I am writing you this letter. Sant Jarnail Singh is not going to give up and now I strongly feel that we have to do what we planned earlier and Sardar Parkash singh Badal has already explained to you in details. Most of Bhindranwala (sic) men will run away when they see the army and most probably he will too.
Major Genral Jaswant Singh Bhullar and Professor (sic) Manjit Singh Sidhu have agreed to go to America. Full arrangements have been made. Sardar Didar Singh Bains of America and Dr. Jagjit Singh Chauhan will work with him. They have been told to stop Sikhs living abroad before they get organize (sic) and start supporting Sant Jarnail Singh. Please let your people know to support these men with all assistance in every form.
We will soon provide you the names of those Sikhs who live abroad and supporting (sic) Sant Jarnail Singh. I am sure that our plan will work and this ordeal will be over in no time.
Signed by Sant Harchand Singh Longowal.
Indira Gandhi had written various letters to Sikh leaders between February to May 1983.
The first letter in the series was shot to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale at his Damdami Taksal, Mehta Chowk, at Amritsar address. One of the letters was also written for incumbent head of Shiromani Akali Dal, Sant Harchand Singh Longowal. Gandhi had asked him to help resolve the burning issues in the letter.
The editor of a Punjabi daily, Bharpoor Singh Balbir, was mediating the entire affair.
A letter written to the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee head Gurcharan Singh Tohra was also found.
Indira’s letter to Longowal:
Indira has written about sending the demand of Sikh Personal law to Law Ministry in the letter to Longowal. She also wrote that Sarkariya Commission has been established to look into the matters of the centre and the state and added that a commission will work on the suggestions and proposals provided by the Sikh leaders. The former prime minister also asked the Sikh leaders to remain united with the rest of nation in wake of impending fears of wars, hovering over the nation. She also lauded the efforts of Sikhs for their contribution towards security of the country.
Indira’s letter to Sant Jarnail Singh ji Bhindranwala on 21 February 1983
“I received your letter from Bharpoor Singh Balbir on 19-02-1983. I completely agree with your views, as everyone should follow his/her religious obligations with sincerity. Sardar Bharpoor Singh has appraised me about your religious works in detail. As you already know, I am concerned about my nation’s unity and security capabilities. For the very reason, we all should find a peaceful solution to conflicts. The argument that has taken birth between Sikhs and Nirankaris can affect a large section of our society. I request you to play a part in resolving the issue at the earliest.
Lots of wishes and regards from my side.
MP Rajinder Kaur, daughter of Akali stalwart Master Tara Singh and chief of Istri Akali Dali, had also reiterated her allegations in the January 1985 issue of her monthly journal ‘Sant Sipahi’ after her suspension, which was reported by TOI on January 21, 1985.
“Several prominent Akali leaders were holding secret meetings in Delhi with ruling party leaders for secret deals,” Kaur was quoted as saying by TOI. The 1985 news report about her suspension and controversy reads: “She alleged that some Akali leaders met central leaders barely four days before the Army action against terrorists in June.”
In an article, ‘Rajiv Gandhi ‘te Sikh’ (Rajiv Gandhi and Sikhs) Kaur, who was editor of ‘Sant Sipahi’, wrote: “It is surprising that on May 26, three Akali leaders, including Parkash Singh Badal and Gurcharan Singh Tohra, met Indira Gandhi. On May 27, the Prime Minister decided to send the Army inside Darbar Sahib. On May 28, Sant Jarnail Singh (Bhindrawale) got the wind of this decision, and decided that if condition was so bad he would come out and offer arrest, but on June 1 information was planted on him that Army would besiege Darbar Sahib but would not attack it.”
She wrote when Tohra went to meet Bhindrawale on June 3 and hinted he should move out to prevent damage to Darbar Sahib, the Sikh militant leader told him the Army would only surround the Golden Temple complex and not attack. The editor-cum-Akali leader further wrote in the article that Bhindranwale was deliberately given wrong “inside” information.
It is disgusting to note that Longowal, had vowed repeatedly in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib at Manji Sahib. Amritsar, to defend the Golden Temple Complex if it was attacked by the army, but when the sacred shrine was actually attacked he surrendered without making a fuss and walked over the dead bodies of his own people. Thus ended the terrible night of 5th June 1984.
Ajmer Singh Randhawa