SAS and Operation Bluestar
Today in New Delhi, India
Jan 18, 2019-Friday
New Delhi
  • Humidity
  • Wind

SAS and Operation Bluestar

The controversy relating to the occupation of the Golden Temple complex by the Sikh militant groups led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and the subsequent handling of the situation by the government simply refuses to die down. Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd) writes

chandigarh Updated: Jan 20, 2014 12:04 IST
Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd)

The controversy relating to the occupation of the Golden Temple complex by the Sikh militant groups led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and the subsequent handling of the situation by the government simply refuses to die down. Just as one thought that the memory of this unfortunate chapter of militancy in Punjab and the assault on the shrine that had hurt the Sikh sentiment grievously was fading away, a new revelation connected with Operation Bluestar has emerged: on the declassifying of some of the connected documents in the United Kingdom.

To set the tone and tenor of this debate right, it needs to be asserted that Special Air Service (a secret force of the British government to undertake covert operations etc.) had no part, whatsoever, to play in Operation Bluestar. If this operation was planned shoddily, in somewhat unprofessional manner, the blame rests entirely with us. If this tactically ill-conceived plan was carried through to a successful conclusion, the credit rests entirely with the troops who took enormous casualties without a demur in the execution of that plan.

The question that should exercise the mind of all Indians is the rationale behind the need or perhaps the motive of the Indian government in seeking advice from the British government on an internal problem. In all this, what was the role of Indian intelligence agencies, more so that of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

Bahukutumbi Raman, one of the founders of RAW, in his book, 'The Kaoboys of R&AW", records that two officers of the British Military Intelligence 5 (MI-15) visited the Golden Temple to reconnoiter the complex and its fortification by the militants. It is alleged that it was the-then prime minister who had sought this help from the British government and may be for subsequently driving out the militants from the complex. What else could be the purpose of involving the British government in a patently internal problem of this country!

Now that this sad and tragic chapter of Punjab's history has been reopened, the Indian government and its intelligence agencies must come clean on the issue. After all the Bhindranwale phenomena was a creation of the government in Delhi.

How was this buildup within the Golden Temple complex allowed to reach such proportions that it became a threat to the very security of the nation, and a state within the state had emerged, from where orders to create mayhem and murder were emanating. First it needs to be explained how the buildup of such huge arsenal of weapons and ammunition took place when central and state police had laid siege to the Temple complex. Was it a deliberate move to allow the situation to deteriorate to such a menacing level that its final crushing would garner credit for the PM who would then appear as "Durga", the destroyer of evil.

During that turbulent period, the customs authorities at the Delhi airport had intercepted a consignment of weapons, including a rocket launcher. Thereafter was a complete clampdown on further information relating to this shipment. Could it be a coincidence that the militants on that night of Operation Bluestar used a rocket launcher against an armoured personnel carrier?

It is believed that the British officers who carried out the reconnaissance of the Golden Temple complex had advised against military action. However, Raman in his book records that there was some unease among the intelligence community over the proposed course of action and Kao (RAW chief) was of the opinion that it would be better to be patient and wait for some more weeks, and taking precipitate action would prove counter-productive; or if immediate action was essential, then it was better to use the state and central police.

There are three questions that the government of India needs to answer. One, if the nation's premier intelligence agency was of the view that the state and central police could clear the temple complex of militants, then where was the need to call the military? Two, if the chief of RAW was of the view that the operation for clearing the complex could wait for a few weeks and that there was no need for a precipitate action, then who forced the army to launch the operation without delay and on the very night before the martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Dev when thousands of pilgrims were housed inside the complex, who came under the crossfire of the military and the militants eventually? Thirdly and finally, why was the British intelligence brought into an entirely internal problem of the country and what was the underlying purpose?

The writer, a former deputy chief of the army staff, is a commentator on security issues. The views expressed are his personal.

First Published: Jan 20, 2014 11:30 IST