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On the Trail of Operation Blue Star


Mid-Day, Amritsar, Jun. 6, 2004

Photo: The Akal Takht, an important component of the Darbar Sahib complex (also known as the Golden Temple complex), was reduced to rubble at the conclusion of Operation Blue Star.

You cannot stop an idea whose time has come. Perhaps, the time of Khalistan never came. Though the movement peaked during the '80s under Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, it never was a complete idea as he took on the Indian establishment with his brand of terrorism.

In one of the most difficult and complex battles, the Indian army stormed the Golden Temple Complex to rid it of Bhindranwale and his band on June 6, 1984. But even after 20 years of that fateful night, the scars are yet to be wiped out.

Akal Takht head priest Joginder Singh Vedanti admits, 'Those scars of Operation Blue Star and the aftermath of the riots will always remain.'

Golden Temple manager Sardar Major Singh adds, 'How can the scars go away? It was unthinkable. If some one from outside hits you, one can forget. But when your own army hits, how can we forget? The entire Darbar Sahib was damaged.'

Preferring to overlook Bhindranwale's occupation of the temple precincts, an irked major says, 'He was a sant and was a religious preacher. He never talked of Khalistan.'

These sentiments are echoed by others who spearheaded the Khalistan movement. Former Khalistan Commando Force [K.C.F.] chief Wassar [Wassan] Singh Zafferwal [Zaffarwal], now contesting S.G.P.C. elections says, 'He was a preacher. He was surrounded by government agents.'

Today many Sikhs still do not see Bhindranwale as a terrorist. The Golden Temple has been completely rebuilt.

Only the gate adjacent the Akal Takht is yet to be repaired. Bullet marks can still be seen on the gate. In the Golden Temple museum, pictures of great Sikh leaders adorn the walls.

Amid them are pictures of Indira Gandhi's killers and a close aide of Bhindranwale.

Recently, the Amrit Sarovar was totally cleaned after Operation Blue Star, a ritual that is of paramount importance.

The buildings and shops outside the complex were removed and the government paid nearly Rs. 80 crore compensation to the shopkeepers after Operation Blue Star. Only one part remains to be renovated into a park.

A shopkeeper outside the temple remarked, 'No one will talk about those days. No one wants to expose himself,' he says referring to the Khalistan movement. But he discreetly admits that deep down every Sikh would 'want what they (Bhindranwale) wanted.'

Sukhdev Singh, slain chief of Babbar Khalsa, who was in Amritsar during Operation Blue Star pledged to take revenge. He took up arms and was later killed by the security forces.

Sukhdev's other brother Mahal Singh is now in Pakistan and wanted by the Indian government. Another brother Rasal, who stays in village Dasuwal says that he would wish to see Mahal Singh again, 'But life haunts us,' he says. Why did Blue Star happen?

The problems that triggered the trouble still exist. The creation of Chandigarh as a capital, the carving out Haryana and H.P. [Himachal Pradesh] from Punjab and even water sharing issues exist, (recently the Supreme Court order went against Punjab).

This is compounded by the growth in unemployment.

In one of the most prosperous states, prosperity itself is the cause of disgruntlement. 'People have progressed but that is not enough. This is a historical movement,' adds Zafferwal.

An immediate impact of the Lok Sabha elections has been that across Punjab, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has got tremendous support. Sikhs are pinning their hopes on him.

'We are happy that he is the P.M. He may not do wonders because of party politics but at least he brings succour to the Sikh community,' Vendanti explains. Time they say is a great healer. But often time stops in Amritsar.