Britain on Tuesday revealed that the advice offered to the Indira Gandhi government before Operation Bluestar in 1984 was “fundamentally different” from what was carried out under the operation. The disclosure confirms Indian commanders’ view that the military operation was carried out without British involvement.
Presenting an inquiry report in the House of Commons, foreign secretary William Hague said the military operation mounted in June 1984 at Amritsar’s Golden Temple complex differed from the advice given by a British officer in February that year, which focussed on the element of surprise and the use of helicopter-borne forces to flush out Sikh militants.
The inquiry by cabinet secretary Jeremy Haywood was set up by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, following release of documents by the National Archives in January that suggested a British involvement in Operation Bluestar. The documents sparked much concern and reopened old wounds in the Sikh community.
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Hague said, “In sum, the cabinet secretary’s report finds that the nature of the UK’s assistance was purely advisory, limited and provided to the Indian government at an early stage; that it had limited impact on the tragic events that unfolded at the temple three months later; that there was no link between the provision of this advice and defence sales; and that there is no record of the government receiving advance notice of the operation.”
The report includes an analysis by current military staff of the extent to which the actual operation in June 1984 differed from the approach recommended by the UK military adviser.
A file photo of Sikh militants marching on the streets of Amritsar, April 1984. (AFP files)
“Operation Bluestar was a ground assault, without the element of surprise, and without a helicopter-borne element. The cabinet secretary’s report, therefore, concludes that the UK military officer’s advice had limited impact on Operation Bluestar,” said Hague.
“This is consistent with the public statement on January 15 this year by the operation commander, Lieutenant-General Brar, who said that ‘no one helped us in our planning or in the execution of the planning’.”
Hague said there was no British involvement in subsequent operations in Punjab, such as Black Thunder, as well.
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The report was accompanied by documents on India’s request for assistance at the time; a report on the British adviser’s visit to Amritsar in February 1984; and a letter from Indira Gandhi to Margaret Thatcher, then UK Prime Minister, dated June 14, 1984.
The inquiry examined nearly 200 files and over 23,000 documents and found a very limited number of documents relating to Operation Bluestar. Key ministers and officials at the time were also interviewed during the interview, but Hague refused to name them.
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