Three decades after the Indian Army stormed into the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine for the Sikhs, the wounds and the hurt caused by that attack and its bloody aftermath are yet to heal even though the dream of Khalistan has faded away. The army action named ‘Operation Bluestar’ had a far-reaching impact, resulting in accelerated violence and suffering.
So, the Chandigarh Literature Festival opened with a discussion to mark 30 years of ‘Operation Bluestar’ by panellists who witnessed the massacre that ensued. The panellists included Rahul Singh, former editor of the Indian Express at Chandigarh, Ramesh Vinayak, resident editor, Hindustan Times, former bureaucrat Robin Gupta, novelist Amandeep Sandhu who has written a novel on those times, and writer-translator Nirupama Dutt, who moderated the session.
Rahul Singh’s disdain of complete failure on the part of the administration, government machinery, miscalculation of the army and the utter failure of intelligence all over, was apparent as he also lambasted the then ruling Akali party and the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. “Arms were being smuggled into the Golden Temple but the Akalis and the SGPC turned a blind eye and their cowardice is unforgivable,” said Rahul, adding that General Kuldip Brar’s shock and awe tactic was useless.
The overwhelming consensus amongt the panellists was that it was a botched operation on the part of the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi whose normally shrewd political acumen seemed to have taken a turn for the worse after the death of her son Sanjay Gandhi.
“It was the bloodiest confrontation of the military with its own people since Independence,” said Rahul sadly.
“Bluestar was a failure. A failure of the government but also a complete failure on the part of civilised society,” said Ramesh Vinayak, on what was one of the bloodiest aftermaths of our history, a legacy so divisive, it raises the question if there will ever be closure?
“There should be no closure,” said Robin Gupta, adding, “Future generations need to know their history.”
Stationed in Delhi at the time, he said the riots that resulted after Indira Gandhi’s death were not as indiscriminate as some top brass would have us believe. He also named some Congress leaders who were responsible for the massacre such as Jagdish Tytler, Arun Nehru and Arun Singh, amongst others. “There was complete law and order breakdown in Delhi, I saw policemen encouraging rioteers, either at their own behest or that of senior politicians.”
Young novelist Amandeep Sandhu wound up the discussion by saying that people like him who grew up in the aftermath needed to ask their elders one highly important and relevant question
“What is it that we need to know, so it doesn’t happen again because 30 years down the line nothing has changed? The current administration in Punjab seems to be hurtling down the same path it once did,” he gravely questioned.
“This is the only society where the diaspora rules the mainland,” said Sandhu on the Sikhs who fled India during the riots but are still fuelling old fires by raising fingers and doing nothing to help.
There were mumrmurs in the crowd; some agreed some did not. Old wounds seemed to have healed, while others seemed just as raw as they were decades ago. Thirty years down the line we still ask ourselves the same question in a quest for the truth that should not be forgotten.