As furore begins over Britain’s SAS (Special Air Service) involvement in the Operation Bluestar and questions fly over how the matter could have been conducted in such secrecy, it appears that the intelligence unit – Research and Analysis wing (RAW) – acted as the vital “missing link”.
Just a couple of days before Operation Bluestar began, thesecret Special Group (SG) —a Special Forces unit under RAW— arrived in Amritsar. It was the first hint the army hierarchy had that RAW would also play a role in the operation.
Read: UK link to Operation Bluestar: PM Cameron orders probe, Sikhs fume
If an SAS officer did, indeed, come to India, it was possible that he worked with the SG, suggested sources in the intelligence agencies. Routing an SAS officer through the RAW would have helped avoid the normal diplomatic and military channels and maintain complete secrecy. The officer would have met his counterparts from the SG and briefed them on a possible plan to assault the complex.
RN Kao, who had founded the external intelligence agency in 1968, was very close to then PM Indira Gandhi and was her closest advisor on security matters. And even today, this secretive unit, which operates out of Chakrata in Uttarakhand, reports directly to the Prime Minister’s Office through the RAW chief.
A file photo of Army brass including the then Army chief General Arun Sridhar Vaidya (extreme right) after Operation Blue Star at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. (HT files)
Special Forces and intelligence sources familiar with the background also suggested that the officer was a Colonel in the SAS, with years of successful special operations under his belt. In 1988, the same officer paid a visit to the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) operations in Sri Lanka.
Read: Op Bluestar will be taken up with UK counterparts: MEA
The SAS had frequently been employed by the British Foreign Office since the 1950s to forward its economic and foreign policy interests. With India offering to make major arms purchases from Britain, sending an experienced SAS officer to give advice on the Operation Blue Star would be a logical step.
The SG, in fact, had a separate plan to assault the Golden Temple, using canisters of knockout gas. But the plan went awry after the gas canisters were found to have crossed the expiry date. It forced the Special Forces from the army’s 1 Para-Commando to launch a suicidal frontal attack. It was one of many mistakes committed during the operation.
Also Read: I doubt Thatcher played a role in Operation Bluestar: Mark Tully
Also Read: Govt should look into records, reveal truth about Op Bluestar: Balbir Punj
Also Read: Sikhs diaspora outraged over alleged UK help to India during Op Bluestar