Operation Bluestar: Seven people who changed the course of Indian history in 1984
June 6 marks the 34th anniversary of Operation Bluestar, codename for the army action that was aimed at neutralizing militant Sikh preacher Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale and his band of armed supporters ensconced in the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar.
The three-day operation led to over 700 casualties, including 90-odd armymen, and caused extensive damage to the Akal Takht, the temporal seat of the Sikh faith. Here are the seven people who played a key role in the catastrophic chapter in Punjab’s recent history.
Indira Gandhi: Then Prime Minister, she ordered the operation to flush out the militants, who had taken sanctuary in the temple, after a series of talks with the moderate Akalis failed to break the logjam. Four months later, on October 31, 1984, she was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards Beant Singh and Satwant Singh to avenge the army assault on the Golden Temple.
Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale: The 37-year-old preacher, who fortified the Golden Temple and waged a war against the state, was born to a farmer of Rode village in Faridkot district. The youngest of seven brothers, he was sent to Sikh seminary Damdami Taksal that he finally rose to head. His fiery speeches and “amrit prachar”( baptism) movement got him a large following in the countryside. In 1983, he shifted his base the Golden Temple and was killed during the operation.
Amrik Singh: Son of former Damdami Taksal chief Sant Kartar Singh, who was succeeded by Bhindranwale, Amrik Singh belonged to Bhura Kohna village near the India-Pakistan border. As the president of the All India Sikh Students Federation, he became the right hand man of Bhindrawale and was killed in the Op Bluestar.
Maj Gen Shabeg Singh: Belonging to village Khiala in Amritsar, this army officer was a master of guerrilla warfare and had trained the ‘Mukti Bahini’, a covert militia group, against Pakistan in the 1971 war. He was cashiered from the army a day before his retirement. Anguished, he joined the fold of Bhindranwale and played a key role in fortification of the Golden Temple and training of Sikh combatants in the run-up to Operation Bluestar. He was killed during the operation.
Gen Krishnaswamy Sundarji: As head of the army’s Western Command, he masterminded Operation Bluestar. He is said to have been confident of flushing out the militants in a day, a fatal miscalculation that led to disastrous consequences of the army assault on the holiest Sikh shrine. Called the “thinking man’s general”, he went on to become the army chief.
Maj Gen Kuldip Singh Brar: An alumnus of Doon School, Brar was commanding 9 Division based in Meerut, as a major general when he was tasked with leading the operation. Known among his colleagues as Bulbul Brar, the Jat Sikh officer, like Bhindranwale, belonged to Faridkot and also shared his surname with militant preacher against whom he was pitted in the Operation Bluestar. He wrote a book “Operation Bluestar: The True Story” after his retirement. Describing the operation as “most traumatic, most painful”, he insisted that it was necessary.
Gen A S Vaidya, MVC Bar: A highly-decorated soldier, he was the army chief who supervised Operation Bluestar to flush out militants occupying the Golden Temple. He was shot dead by two Sikh militants while driving his car home from a market in Pune in August 1986, months after his retirement.