Operation Bluestar: Admit the need for catharsis, closure | chandigarh | Hindustan Times
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Operation Bluestar: Admit the need for catharsis, closure

No one must try to justify that turning the holiest of Sikh shrines into a battlement by militants was justified. Similarly, no one must deny that Operation Bluestar was easily avoidable. Harcharan Bains writes

chandigarh Updated: Oct 22, 2012 15:20 IST
Harcharan Bains

It's more than just tragic that most of the socio-psychological wounds inflicted on one section of the society or the other in our country have been always allowed to fester, decay and turn gangrenous by our anxiety to hide them. Operation Bluestar, and all that preceded and followed it, is a classic case of a deliberate misdiagnosis, tragically targeted to ensure that only one cure was possible: amputation.

Worse still, in retrospect, instead of owning up the initial disastrous misdiagnosis, the doctor is busy justifying the amputation. The entire debate over Operation Bluestar and a peace monument being built in the form of a gurdwara amounts to a refusal of the system to admit the need for catharsis and closure.

It brings no disgrace to the nation to at least discuss whether Operation Bluestar, in both its political conception and military execution, is something from which the nation needs to draw the right lessons. The debate around the peace monument in the memory of the tragedy needs to be seen in perspective.

I was shocked to find some news channels bringing army generals, including Lt Gen KS Brar, to discuss what is decidedly a deeply psychological, religious and political issue. The contribution of the generals, who had no say in the decision to conduct the operation, to the sensitive debate is beyond comprehension. At best, they could have been called to discuss the strategic military aspect of the operation. Surprisingly, Brar spent all his energies justifying a decision that was neither his own nor taken by taking him into confidence. He was not even asked what option lay before him to make the operation as painless as possible.

He blundered even on the strategic aspect, claiming that the army had no intelligence on the key strengths of its rivals. It was common knowledge that the militants had laid bunkers around the 'parikarma' and mined a portion close to the Akal Takht. The kind of weaponry they had was also known.

The Sikh anger against the army was somewhat misplaced. The army was merely obeying orders and as a disciplined force, they should not be faulted for starting the operation. Even as a Sikh, I can understand the predicament of the army, which had been given a job that could only have been performed the way it was eventually performed, given the constraints imposed on it by the Centre.

The option lay somewhere else, and the blunders were committed there as the option was never tried. No effort was made to weaken the militants politically by strengthening the moderate Akali leadership. On the contrary, at every step, the traditional leadership was allowed to become a butt of ridicule by an increasing audacious Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale whom, everyone knew, the police couldn't touch. Ironically, the government had itself prepared the ground for Operation Bluestar through a series of omissions and wilful abdication of constitutional responsibility.

Sant Harchand Singh Longowal was sidelined by the Centre with just one remark, "The Centre does not know whom to talk to among the Sikhs." In the final analysis, the militants let the Sikhs down and the Centre let the nation down in this cynical game of chess.

Why bring all this up now? History can never be forgotten, but it can be transcended. But to transcend it, it must be faced head on. It would be a criminal blunder to believe that Operation Bluestar has been forgotten or would soon be. But the time has come both for the Sikhs and the rest of the country to transcend its history and learn from it. Let's focus on the blunders committed by all sides. No one must try to justify that turning the holiest of Sikh shrines into a battlement by militants was justified. Similarly, no one must deny that Operation Bluestar was easily avoidable.

If we are not even willing to admit that Operation Bluestar has left the entire Sikh psyche bleeding and badly mauled, we will not even be nearing a solution. To a majority of the Sikhs, the operation was not against Bhindranwale but against their holiest shrine, and that too for a political reason. Bhindranwale was used as a credible excuse.

It is necessary to expose the wounds to fresh air to allow them to heal. Keeping them under wraps could lead to further decay and turn them incurably malignant. The tragedy needs a cathartic closure. One way of providing a cathartic release was that Indira Gandhi could have come to the Golden Temple and offer an apology for Operation Bluestar. A statesman in her shoes would even have joined a Sikh 'ardas' to offer prayers for peace and for the glory of the entire country. The Akalis too could have joined the 'ardas', seeking blessings that the community may never again walk the path it was made to.

The SGPC has embarked on building a peace monument in the memory of the "innocent people" killed in the operation, but it could have been planned better. The monument should be unexceptionable, so long as it has no anti-national or communal overtones. Fortunately, Akalis are calling it a symbol of 'Sarbat da bhala'. It would be even better if some Hindu religious figures are invited to dedicate the monument to the spirit of peace and universal brotherhood.

Fears have been expressed in certain quarters that the monument may become a rallying point for violent elements again. On the contrary, not building it would give them additional ammunition both against the moderate Sikh leaders as well as against what they call an "anti-Sikh India". Their ammunition needs to be buried under the monument.

The Sikhs will continue to take pride in shedding blood for the country, but they must be allowed to express their anguish and grief in a dignified manner. The PM must personally come and offer prayers for everlasting peace in Punjab. This needs courage, but statesmanship is all about courage.