In what can be attributed to the callousness of the union ministry of home affairs (MHA), coupled with the questionable information submitted by the intelligence bureau (IB) in court regarding the threat to his life from pro-Khalistan militants, Brig Israr Rahim Khan (retd), who commanded the first battalion that entered the Golden Temple in Amritsar during Operation Bluestar, is not being provided any security for the past 11 years.
The MHA appears to have woken out of its slumber to amend its mistake only after the attack on Lt Gen Kuldip Singh Brar (retd), the only surviving commander of Operation Bluestar, by suspected Sikh militants in London on September 30.
On October 9, a junior-rank officer of the IB contacted Brig Khan at his residence in the vicinity of the National Capital Region (NCR) and took his feedback on the possible threat to his life. The IB officer told Brig Khan that he was sent by his deputy director to gather information on whether he still faced a serious threat to life from pro-Khalistan elements for his role in Operation Bluestar.
Brig Khan, the then commanding officer (CO) of 10 Guards battalion, was the first to lead his troops inside the Golden Temple in 1984 under Lt Gen Brar's command.
The assault on Lt Gen Brar has renewed the debate on the threat the security personnel who were involved in counter-terrorism operations in Punjab are facing.
Khan, 70, and other senior army officers had been provided Z-plus security on the directions of the MHA in 1987 as there were intelligence reports that Khalistan sympathisers were seeking to avenge the attack on the Golden Temple.
Lt Gen K Sundarji, who was the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Western Command during the operation, and his then Chief Staff Officer, Lt Gen Ranjit Singh Dayal, were provided Z-plus security on the direction of the MHA. Gen AS Vaidya, the then Chief of Army Staff, was assassinated in Pune in August 1986. He was shot by motorcycle-borne assailants while he was driving home in a car. The only bodyguard in the car suffered four bullet injuries.
Without any prior intimation, the MHA began to prune the security cover provided to Brig Khan in 1999. "As per Z-plus category guidelines, I was first provided one security officer with 20 armed men. The security was first cut down to 12 guards and later to three. By 2001, I was left with no security personnel at all. I am retired, and I have no one to protect me or my family," Brig Khan told Hindustan Times.
He said that when he was occupying an official accommodation in Delhi Cantonment after his retirement in 1996, he felt safe even without security cover. However, the ministry of defence soon asked him to vacate the accommodation, saying it was meant for serving officers.
"I went to meet the then union home minister, LK Advani, in the North Block, but I was not allowed to see him by his staff, who said he was too busy with important work. I left a four-page communiqué with Advani's private secretary Deepak Chopra, requesting the home minister to restore my security. But I never got a response from the MHA," Brig Khan said.
Brig Khan then moved the Delhi high court to get his security and accommodation restored. "In 2003, the Delhi high court issued verbal instructions to the union government, asking it not to discriminate against me and provide me the same security cover as given to my senior officers who were part of Operation Bluestar," he said.
Instead of acting on the directions, the IB produced an intelligence report in the court, claiming that there was no threat to Brig Khan's life and whatever apprehensions of possible attacks by pro-Khalistan elements there were had subsided.
'What about memorial to soldiers?'
Reacting to the Operation Bluestar Memorial coming up in Harmandar Sahib, Brig Khan said, "It is unfortunate. Who will build a memorial to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the nation during the operation? Twenty of my jawans were killed the moment they entered the Golden Temple, and most of them were Sikhs. My 2nd-in-command, Major Inder Singh Sethi, was a Sikh. Both my company commanders, Capt Jasbir Singh Raina and Capt Narinder Singh, also belonged to the Sikh community. In fact, Raina was badly injured and till date he is not able to walk properly."