The Panchkula gurdwara's refusal to hold prayers to mark the death anniversary of Lt Gen RS Dyal has sent shock waves among serving and retired defence personnel.
Lt Gen Dyal was the Chief of Staff of the Western Command, which carried out Operation Bluestar at the Golden Temple in 1984 to flush out terrorists who had turned it into an armed fortress. Undoubtedly, Sikhs had made great sacrifices and waged an endless struggle, often under very trying conditions, to uphold the sanctity of their holiest shrine. But its occupation by a group of terrorists who were carrying out all kinds of nefarious activities was in itself a sacrilege.
Terrorists armed to the teeth had taken shelter in the Golden Temple, from where diktats were being issued to carry out terrorist activities across Punjab. Though the police, state and central, had laid siege to the temple, all kinds of weapons, including rocket launchers and machine guns, had found their way into the precincts of the shrine.
A deputy inspector general (DIG)-rank officer was shot just outside the temple gate and the killers had taken shelter inside, but the police didn't dare not follow them or trace the murderers. Such was the fear of terrorists who had taken hold of the Golden Temple. It was under such dismal and distressing state of affairs and the complete failure of the state machinery to uphold the law of the land that the government decided to deploy the army to flush out terrorists.
Since the bhog ceremony was held in the same gurdwara, the refusal to conduct the death anniversary ('barsi') ceremony could have been due to some external pressure. With the gurdwara refusing to hold prayers, these had to be conducted at the officer's residence with the help of granthis from the army.
Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) president Avtar Singh Makkar has tried to justify the gurdwara management's decision on the grounds that Gen Dyal had played a role in Operation Bluestar, which had hurt sentiments of the Sikh community all over the world. In the first place, how did the SGPC allow terrorists to occupy the Golden Temple and desecrate it, unless it itself was terrorised by those terrorists?
Indian soldiers are God-fearing and highly religious. Units lay great emphasis on troops to follow religious tenants and rituals. However, when it comes to performing duty, where they have to act against their co-religionists, there can be no holding back. It is their allegiance to the Constitution which overrides all other considerations.
It may be recalled that a video clipping of the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition showed a squad of police personnel who, when ordered to open fire, turned around and declined to act. That clipping was subsequently never played. Surely, no right-thinking Indian would want the military to act in a similar fashion.
I spent considerable time interviewing Gen Dyal before writing a two-part article on Operation Bluestar. He was visibly moved in recounting the events leading to the operation. He was obviously concerned, like any other devout Sikh, at mounting this operation against the holiest Sikh shrine.
On the one hand was the issue of clearing the Golden Temple of elements who, by their very acts were violating Sikh maryada, and on the other, as a soldier there was no way he could disobey orders. Any such attempt would have delivered a grievous blow to the very ethos and discipline in the military and was unthinkable to him. He maintained that religion could not be allowed to override the demands of duty and discipline. It is another matter that the operation itself could have been planned better and conducted with some degree of ingenuity and skill by those who carried it out.
Lt-Gen RS Dyal was no ordinary soldier.
He was a national hero and winner of the Maha Vir Chakra, the second highest war gallantry award. He was a brave man for whom duty itself was religion and a matter of faith. He had shown his mettle in the capture of the Haji Pir Pass (Jammu and Kashmir) against very heavy odds. His role in Operation Bluestar was such that any other devout Sikh soldier would have ungrudgingly undertaken.
The Sikh clergy has done a great disservice to the community and Sikh soldiery by refusing to give permission to hold the ceremony in a gurdwara for this gallant soldier who did nothing more than to follow his oath to abide by the Constitution.
The writer is a defence analyst. Views expressed are personal.