Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal sided with Sikh extremists against the state government in the strife-torn days in the 1980s, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s declassified documents released last week.
The report is a part of ‘India’s most important Sikhs’ filed under ‘India and the Sikh Challenge, a research paper submitted by the US spy agency’s directorate of intelligence.
It is among 930,000 documents made accessible on CREST, the CIA’s records archive. The trove contains 12 million pages of dispatches, memoranda and records of briefings documenting the agency’s spycraft dating as far back as the 1940s.
“He (Badal) is working to advance his personal fortunes by heading his own Akali Dal dissident party and siding with Sikh extremists against the state government. Twice chief minister of Punjab (1970-71 and 1977), Badal continues to try to position himself as a future candidate for that post,” it says.
The documents show the CIA closely monitored the terrorism period in the state as it tracked important events and personalities in India over a period of more than five decades beginning in the late 1940s.
The CIA report also talks about how it thought the then prime minister Indira Gandhi justified her decision to send the army inside the Golden Temple in 1984.
Operation Blue Star that took place between June 1 and 6 June 6, 1984, was ordered by her in order to establish control over the Golden Temple, Sikh’s holiest shrine in Amritsar, and flush out militant religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his armed followers. Bhindrawale and his associates were killed in the operation.
“Indira Gandhi’s decision to send in the army against Sikh militants in Punjab last May was an admission that her political strategy to defuse the crisis had failed. The paramilitary troops she had sent earlier had failed to bring the well-armed extremists to heel. The unrest in Punjab in our view also provided Gandhi with a justification for augmenting her military forces in a critical border state,” it says.
“We estimate that between mid-May and Mid-June the army deployed 20,000-25,000 troops to Punjab from adjoining regional commands to reinforce the more than 100,000 army personnel already there.”
Indira was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards Satwant Singh and Beant Singh on October 31, 1984.
The document also talks about Indira’s son and the next prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, saying he would renew efforts to address moderate Sikh demands after the 1987 elections.
“He might also choose to release Sikh detainees and offer agricultural subsidies to supplement the accord provisions. Concessions on autonomy would be unlikely. Even under the best scenario the likelihood of Gandhi eventually falling victim to a Sikh assassin would be about even,” it adds.
It calls Gurcharan Singh Tohra, the president of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) which is in charge of controlling the gurdwaras, a “political opportunist who probably hopes to become Punjab CM.”
Tohra held the position of the head of the SGPC for 27 years and was said to be one of the most influential and controversial Sikh leaders of the 20th century. He died of a heart attack in New Delhi in April 2004 at the age of 79.