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Demand for probe into UK’s ‘role’ in Operation Bluestar grows

The issue assumed significance after some papers declassified in January 2014 revealed that the Margaret Thatcher government had extended advice from a special forces officer to the Indira Gandhi government before the operation was launched in June 1984.

world Updated: Jun 15, 2018 11:55 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Operation Bluestar
On June 6, 1984, over 1,000 lives were claimed during Operation Bluestar, the raid on Sikh’s holiest shrine Golden Temple to cow down extremists led by Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale. (HT File)

A tribunal ruling directing the release of four classified government files related to the situation in Punjab in the mid-1980s has intensified calls to hold a public inquiry into Britain’s role in the 1984 Operation Bluestar at the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

The four files were to be released in 2014, but were held back by the Cabinet Office on the ground that they may adversely affect relations with India. Their release was sought by journalist-researcher Phil Miller under the Freedom of Information Act.

The issue assumed significance after some papers declassified in January 2014 revealed that the Margaret Thatcher government had extended advice from a special forces officer to the Indira Gandhi government before the operation was launched in June 1984.

The revelation led to members of Britain’s Sikh community seeking more details of the UK’s involvement. The opposition Labour Party has promised an independent inquiry, while the ruling Conservative Party says it is against reopening the issue.

After the 2014 revelations, the former David Cameron government conducted a review of the classified papersby cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood, whichdisclosed the advice was limited and, in any case, was not followed by the Indian Army.

The latest ruling by Judge Murray Shanks dismissed the contention that releasing the files would affect relations with India. Some evidence by top officials during the hearingwas provided in closed sessions due to the sensitive nature of the subject.

The Cabinet Office has until July 11 to appeal against the tribunal’s ruling, or to release the files related to UK-India relations from 1983 to 1985, meetings between Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi’s advisor LK Jha, the situation in Punjab, “activities of Sikh extremists”, and the assassination of IndiraGandhi in October 1984.

The ruling states: “We recognise that the period we are concerned with was a highly sensitive one in India’s recent history and the strength of feeling it continues to evoke; in particular we note that the activities of Sikh separatists continue to be seen to represent a potential existential threat to the State of India.

“(It) should be remembered that the fact that 30 years has gone by is bound to have reduced any prejudice that may have resulted from release of the withheld material…It is notable that the disclosures leading to the Heywood review and the review itself do not appear to have produced any adverse reaction on the part of India.”

The ruling accepted the public interest argument in transparency and accountability, and mentioned the strength of feeling of the Sikh community in the UK and beyond on the issue.

The Cabinet Office said it was reviewing the ruling. Labour MPs reiterated the demand for an inquiry, andAmrik Singh of the Sikh Federation (UK) said: “Theresa May should reflect on the judgement and accept the British Sikh community and the public deserve the truth nearly 35 years later with an independent public inquiry.She should not listen to those paranoid about relations with India.”

First Published: Jun 15, 2018 11:08 IST