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Business News/ Opinion / Columns/  How to prevent re-run of events like blue star

We were driving through Punjab’s lush green Doaba region. This was where my favourite poet, Avtar Singh Pash, was born. Pash was named a Naxalite, arrested and tortured by the police, after which he moved to the US, disillusioned. He returned to his homeland, however, when terrorism began to advance in Punjab. Pash was assassinated by terrorists while he was bathing at a well one day.

Pash used to say, “I share my Antriksh (inner space) with this land and its people." His story is the story of Punjab and its people.

That short trip to Doaba triggered a long string of memories. As a journalist, I’ve witnessed this land tarnished by the blood of its own children. The 40th year of Operation Blue Star begins tomorrow. On this occasion, I would want to express my admiration for the strength of Punjabiyat. The brave individuals who live here know how to heal their wounds and move on.

Amritpal, who returned from Dubai a while ago, attempted to reopen these old wounds but lacked public support. Has Punjab learned anything from the aftermath of Operation Blue Star? Are politicians tired of playing cops and robbers in the name of separatism?

To find answers to these questions, we must go back to the 1970s. Gurbaksh Singh Sidhu, an IPS officer of Uttar Pradesh cadre, gives some answers in his book The Khalistan Conspiracy. Indira Gandhi’s government had dispatched him to Canada with instructions to aid in the suppression of Khalistani activity. At the same time, instructions were given to set up ‘RAW Stations’ in various Western countries for the same reason. Sidhu says that when he arrived in Canada, he realized that there was no need for that. Until then, Khalistan was not a major concern for Canada’s Sikh diaspora.

Sidhu claims that when Indira won the 1979-80 elections, her son Sanjay and three associates started drawing up a plan. This was done first to instil the dread of Bhindranwale and then to win the following election by suppressing it.

Sidhu alleges that a task squad was established to grab Bhindranwale from the roof of Harmandir Sahib’s langar hall. The task force’s jawans received specific training for this assignment. Indira declined to approve this plan. Why? The architects of this plan feared that if the situation deteriorated further, there would be more carnage, something Indira was against. However, by then, things had gotten worse. Bhindranwale had built a reputation as a “saint". Thousands were ready to die at his beckoning. Operation Blue Star was the denouement.

In 2004, I had met then governor of Jammu and Kashmir, General S.K. Sinha, years before Sidhu’s book was published. Sinha was known for refusing to allow the army to be used at Chowk Mehta, the headquarters of Bhindrawale’s seminary Damdami Taksal, despite clear instructions from the top. This led to him being denied the position of chief of the army staff, an allegation that he maintained for long.

Operation Blue Star was soon over, but it had disastrous consequences: A mutiny by a military unit in Ramgarh cantonment, the assassination of Indira Gandhi, and the deaths of thousands of innocent people in the aftermath of the assassination. The occurrences gave the impression that the government was either paralyzed or purposely ignoring the situation. One example was the assassination of Punjab Police deputy inspector general Avtar Singh Atwal.

I don’t have enough evidence to judge whether what Sidhu wrote was correct or not. Two people he referred to as the “theory’s conspirators" are still alive. They could have disputed Sidhu’s charges had they chosen to. They have not.

This is why, when Amritpal lay siege to the Ajnala police station, many assumed that the Punjab government was repeating the errors made during the murder of Atwal. Thankfully, the government in Chandigarh arrested Amritpal before things got out of hand. But for such troublemakers, sometimes, imprisonment can be a shot in the arm. Even today, some people wish to spread the voice of terror and separatism. This is clear from the chants of so-called Khalistan supporters during a conference addressed by Rahul Gandhi in the US a few days ago. Operation Blue Star and the bloodshed of October-November 1984 are cited as pivotal moments in their movement.

People involved in politics, government, society, and the Sikh Panth are supposed to keep an eye on these forces. The best way to avoid incidents such as Operation Blue Star is to maintain vigilance, cooperation, and collaboration.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. Views are personal.

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Updated: 04 Jun 2023, 10:35 PM IST
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