A gurdwara in Sector 7 of Panchkula refused to hold prayers to mark the death anniversary of 1965 war hero Lt Gen RS Dyal on December 30, citing his participation in Operation Bluestar, the 1984 army action by which Sikh militants seeking a separate country (Khalistan) were flushed out of the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
The refusal has shocked the defence community of the region.
A devout Sikh who was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra, the country's second highest war gallantry award, for the capture of the formidable Haji Pir Pass in J&K in the 1965 war with Pakistan, Lt Gen Dyal was chief of staff, Western Command, at the time of Bluestar. He retired as army commander of the Southern Command, then served as lieutenant governor of Pondicherry (Puducherry) and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and passed away on January 29 last year.
"When I went to the gurdwara to ask them to conduct the rituals, they (the management) said he (Lt Gen Dyal) should have resigned over Bluestar. I was shocked. I said he had just followed orders," said the late officer's wife Barinder Kaur Dyal. "He was the hero of Haji Pir Pass. They don't remember his contribution in the 1965 war, but rake up Bluestar. This should end now."
The religious service was then organised at the family residence with the help of the army's priest, and the langar (community kitchen) was organised at the Khetrapal Officers' Institute (KOI) in Chandimandir.
Reasoned Harbans Singh, secretary of the Sector-7 gurudwara management, "When we had conducted the bhog (prayer) on Lt Gen Dyal's death, the Sikh sangat (community) raised a lot of questions. So this time we decided to go with the sangat."
"Even during the bhog, the gurdwara management was hesitant," said Col Iqbal Singh (retd), a former aide of Lt Gen Dyal, "Arrangements were lacking, and they appeared to be handing us a favour."
When HT contacted Avtar Singh Makkar, president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee (SGPC), he praised the gurdwara management. "Lt Gen Dyal was involved in the attack on the Akal Takht (the Sikh temporal seat in the Golden Temple complex). Artillery and tanks were used. He never apologised."
Asked whether he recognised Lt Gen Dyal's role in the 1965 war, Makkar said, "What he did in 1984 remains unacceptable."
Lt Gen Raj Kadyan (retd), chairman of the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement (IESM) and former vice-chief of army staff, reacted, "It is a sad incident. An incident like Operation Bluestar should not be used against the army, which is a secular institution. Lt Gen Dyal was a great soldier who deserves respect. We are all proud of him as he did what was required."
Terming the incident unfortunate, Lt Col SS Sohi (retd), president of the Ex-Servicemen Grievance Cell, said, "The army fights for the nation, not for a religion or caste. Soldiers like Lt Gen Dyal are rare."
Lt Gen Dyal is considered one of the main officers during Bluestar along with Lt Gen K Sunderji, who was the army commander (Lt Gen Dyal's immediate superior) in the Western Command, and Lt Gen Kuldip Singh Brar, who led the troops inside the Golden Temple.
General AS Vaidya, the then army chief, was assassinated in Pune in August 1986, while Lt Gen Sunderji died of natural causes in 1999.
Lt Gen Brar was injured in an attack by pro-Khalistan Sikh radicals in London last year.
Maj Gen KS Bajwa (retd), author of five books on wars, said, "Lt Gen Dyal does not deserve such treatment. Operation Bluestar was a Gen Sunderji's show. Lt Gen Dyal just executed what was ordered."