Memories. Proud, bitter, sad, painful. If only...what if?...why me? Whenever Lt Col Gurinder Singh Ghuman (Retd) relives the momentous days of Operation Bluestar, these memories strike at his inner self like a hundred shards, leaving him bruised afresh. As a young major commanding a squadron of tanks in the 46 Armoured Regiment posted at Amritsar, the summer of 1984 was a turning point in his life. Not because he saw the operation at close quarters, or because he was charged with supervising the cremation of scores of dead bodies, including that of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Doing all that was duty. The real cause of his anguish is that he was mistrusted by colleagues and betrayed, as he sees it, by the very organisation he had sworn to serve faithfully. Ghuman took premature retirement from the army in 1997 and is now an advocate at the Punjab & Haryana High Court. Excerpts from an interview to Chander Suta Dogra:
Revisiting Operation Bluestar 25 years later, what is the first thought that comes to your mind?
Though I was a young officer at that time, intent only on executing the orders given to me and had no idea of the planning that went into the operation, with the perspective of hindsight, the overriding thought is that it all got marred due to faulty planning and poor intelligence inputs.
In what way has Operation Bluestar affected you?
It has left a permanent mark on my psyche. I am not normal any more, I suffer from insomnia. I was never a very religious person to begin with, because in the army, we are trained to be secular and keep religion within the four walls of our homes. But now I go to the gurudwara every day. My career in the army was affected because I was a Sikh officer and my seniors suspected me of being sympathetic to the Khalistan cause. Despite above-average reports and a brilliant record, I was passed up for promotion.
Could you elaborate?
I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was a time when Sikh troops in some other units were revolting and there was a question mark on the conduct of Sikh officers too. This hurt more than anything else. On the night of June 6, I was tasked with cremating the dead bodies from the Golden Temple and I supervised the cremation of some 70 bodies in the cremation ground next to Gurudwara Shaheedan. Just then, some police personnel brought the bodies of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, Bhai Amrik Singh and Bhai Thada Singh. I noticed Bhindranwale’s left leg was dangling and on lifting it to see why, I realised his shin was broken due to three bullet wounds. It was idle curiosity. But later on, there was an inquiry against me at which I was asked if I had touched his feet in obeisance. There were questions also on why I folded my hands when the granthi was reciting the antim ardas (a prayer for the dead).
A couple of days earlier, I had been given the task of dispersing a crowd of angry Sikhs who had presumably gathered to attack some Hindus at Chiwinda Devi village on the outskirts of Amritsar. As soon as we took up position, the crowd dispersed. But the inquiry officer wanted to know why I did not open fire on the crowd. All this when I had also been tasked with the job of stopping the possible advance of a mutinous armoured squadron of Sikh troops coming from Jalandhar on June 9. Being a Sikh officer, I was the only squadron commander of my unit who was operationally deployed at that time!
Do you think if you were not a Sikh officer, your career would have taken a different turn?
Certainly. All Sikh personnel in the army were looked upon with suspicion at that time. We were clubbed with the terrorists and almost overnight the very organisation that nurtured us professionally turned adversarial. As if battling with our own countrymen in the operation was not enough! For me, personally, I could never think of questioning an order. Which is why facing the subsequent inquiry ordered against me was distressing.
What about the idea of Khalistan? Was it a very emotional issue with Sikhs at that time?
The Sikh masses were never in favour of Khalistan. Contrary to popular perception, Bhindranwale did not really have a great following. The whole situation was mishandled and allowed to get out of hand.
Several points worth reading upon
1. Army training exercises were prematurely called off in March(I will reconfirm the dates)
2. Intelligence was woefully lacking
3. Lookup Op. Black Thunder
I cannot say if there was actual discrimination against the said officer, I have not heard of such religious discrimination in the army though.
Although many senior Sikh officers and jawans resigned and rebelled, some because of the anti-Sikh policies during Asian Games and some after Operation BS.
Gen Aurora, Gen Harbaksh Singh etc were especially critical of Op BS.
I seriously doubt this, What about Gen JJ Singh ?
In fact even Bhindranwale never categorically said that he was for Khalistan.
Operation Bluestar is often criticized as being one of the worst military operations in Indian history, and Indira Gandhi is demonized for it. I would disagree with such opinions. The operation was necessary because Bhindranwale and his terrorist buddies had holed up in the Golden Temple, and his associates were committing all sorts of crimes outside with impunity. In effect, Bhindranwale was daring Indira Gandhi to hold him accountable for his actions.
Sadly for him, the woman who vivisected Pakistan was not to be bullied by a common thug like him.
There are many Sikhs abroad, especially in Canada, UK, etc who regard Bhindranwale as their hero and guru. All I can ask them is that if Bhindranwale was innocent, why did he convert the upper floors of the Temple into a virtual fortress? Why were dozens of AK47s and thousands of rounds of ammunition and heavy weapons recovered from the Temple? Isn't it a sin in Sikhism for anyone to reside above the Guru Granth Sahib? Then what were Bhindranwale and his gang of thugs doing living on the first floor of the Akal Takht?
He got what he deserved. I feel bad for the hundreds of the innocents caught in the crossfire, but Indira Gandhi and the Indian government made it very clear that day that no temple or religious building will be allowed to give refuge to terrorists, whatever its religious significance.
In any case, if he had lived, there would have been far more innocents killed in the long run.
in a fast food joint next to the imperial shipyards on coruscant capital of the galactic federation
More people have died and sufferred in the name of religion than any other issue in human history(the holocaust, the inquisition, the crusades, muslim invasions of kaffir lands etc), yet we only get more and more religious.
i agree withp2prada
religion is a pain a big one!
I think this episode also applies to other communities as well. Like insurgents in NE, muslims in Kashmir or even the Naxals. For example, in 89 majority of the Kashmirs even muslims were not against India and most sepratists were just instigated by Pakistan. In 1965, local Kashmiris had actually helped in beating back the Pakistani irregulars.
However, because of the initial mishandling and human rights violation by security forces the situation got worse, the political attitude was also not helpful. The problem is not religion or regionalism but how we handle grievances and act justly. Hopefully the GoI and security forces have learnt from this and after 1995 they have a much better record and it has been improving considerably after 2005.