From June 1, 1984 to June 8, 1984, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered an operation to gain control. This operation is what we refer to as ‘Operation Blue Star’. 34 years ago, thousands of Sikhs were going through a period they refer to as ‘the great massacre’. Punjab was burning back then.
Most history enthusiasts know that it was because of Operation Blue Star that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated. But what really happened?
On 5th June, 1984 at 7:00 p.m. Operation Blue Star began. This was also the day of religious significance for the Sikhs as Guru Arjan Dev ji, the founder of Harmandir Sahib was martyred that day.
1. Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale:
Often alleged to be an agent of the Congress party, Bhindranwale was also referred to as ‘Sant’ by a large number of Sikhs for his teachings. The leader of Damdami Taksal, Bhindranwale was the reason Indira Gandhi ordered Operation Blue Star. Some view him as an extremist, while others call him a martyr. He was killed during Operation Blue Star (while some say he was captured alive and tortured to death). He remains a controversial figure in history and at the centre of the infamous operation. A seven hour shootout between the armed Sikhs and army troops ensued.
2. Anandpur Resolution:
In 1973, the Shiromani Akali Dal made a statement, called as the Anandpur Sahib Resolution. Thousands of people supported the Resolution that had major demands like return of Chandigarh to Punjab, protection of Sikh culture and a large share of water for irrigation. Bhindranwale and his followers’ main aim was to get this Resolution passed during June 1984. Bhindranwale had taken residence at Harmandir Sahib (The Golden Temple) and made it his headquarters in December 1983.
3. Operation Metal & Operation Shop:
Not many know that Operation Blue Star had two parts to it, one Operation Metal that was confined to The Golden Temple and two Operation Shop that was aimed at capturing suspects in Punjab.
4. Replacement of the Chief Of The Indian Army:
Lt. Gen. S.K.Sinha who was the Vice-Chief Of the Indian Army and set to become the Chief was asked to prepare a plan for Operation Blue Star. He advised against this. Controversially, he was replaced by Gen. Arun Vaidya who became the Chief. Gen. Vaidya and Lt. Gen. Sundarji who was the Vice-Chief planned and co-ordinated the operation. 1 lakh Indian Army troops were deployed on May 25th, 1984.
5. Pilgrims & Punjab:
On June 3, all the phone lines to and fro Punjab were cut and the journalists were removed causing a total media blackout. Roadblocks were created so no one could leave Punjab. Approximately 10,000 pilgrims were trapped inside the temple complex! The curfew that was imposed in Punjab turned violent as some milk vendors were shot dead.
According to Army’s statistics, 500 Sikh militants were killed and 83 military officers were killed. Some sources back then state that the actual figures were much more with civilian casualties amounting to 20,000. And military casualties – 700.
7. Assassination of the PM:
On October 31, 1984, four months later Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her bodyguards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh. Then came the Sikh riots of 1984 which killed more than 3,000. Several human rights accusations were made by a number of people across the globe post the operation.
Many thought that the situation could have been resolved peacefully (like Operation Black Thunder in the later years). It is said that the United Kingdom knew about the operation and also sent an advisor.