Two secret meetings set up between Rajiv Gandhi, then Congress member of Parliament, and militant preacher Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in the run-up to Operation Bluestar were scuttled by then Punjab Congress chief minister Darbara Singh, reveals an upcoming book on Captain Amarinder Singh.
‘The People’s Maharaja’, an authorised biography of the erstwhile scion of Patiala royalty by young author Khushwant Singh, sheds new light on the sequence of political blunders that led to the 1984 army action at Harmandar Sahib – a catastrophic event which changed the course of the nation’s history.
Amarinder, who was a Lok Sabha MP at that time, had laid the ground for the Rajiv-Bhindranwale meetings on instructions from then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in October 1982.
Realising that peace in Punjab could no longer be achieved without bringing Bhindranwale on board, she asked Amarinder to carry out back-end negotiations with the militant preacher, who was a ‘fellow Sidhu’ (both hail from the same Jat Sikh clan). Amarinder had not met Bhindranwale before.
The 394-page book, slated for release on February 21, graphically reveals how on a freezing December night, Amarinder and his brother Malwinder Singh, armed with two pistols, drove to Bhindranwale’s native village, Rode in Faridkot district, on a secret mission.
Both brothers, curiously, slept in Bhindranwale’s bed before the latter returned home past midnight. Amarinder broke the ice by bringing up the Patiala royal family’s historic ties with 10th Sikh master, Guru Gobind Singh.
Bhindranwale’s key demand was a meeting with Indira Gandhi on his turf in Punjab but later he agreed to see Amarinder’s Doon school mate Rajiv.
During the same meeting, the fiery preacher told Amarinder since the Patiala family had been blessed by his Bapuji, as he addressed the 10th Guru, no one will be allowed to harm them as long as he’s alive, says the book.
On the first occasion, Rajiv and Amarinder were called back by Indira Gandhi from Delhi’s Safdarjung Airport just when they were about to take off in ‘godman’ Chandraswami’s aircraft for their destination.
Amarinder believes that intelligence agencies that had got a whiff of the meeting and conveyed the same to Darbara Singh, who contacted Indira Gandhi and convinced her that it was unsafe for her son to meet Bhindranwale.
Bhindranwale was infuriated at being ditched but he was persuaded after great efforts to give Rajiv another chance. But Rajiv did not turn up yet again. This time, Amarinder and Rajiv had even taken off from Safdarjung Airport only to be recalled midway.
The reason was the same as the last time.