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Endless controversy

Thursday, 06 February 2014 | Pioneer | in Edit

Operation Bluestar necessary, though avoidable

The furore over the revelation that the Indira Gandhi Government had sought and received London's advice on Operation Bluestar is understandable given that the matter had been kept a closely guarded secret for 30 years. The assistance has come to light after Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague confirmed what began some two weeks ago as a rumour, and after Prime Minister David Cameron directed an inquiry. Also, since the issue has come at a time when the Congress is already on the back-foot over its vice president Rahul Gandhi's remark that his party's Government in 1984 could not be held responsible for the massacre of Sikhs in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi's assassination — a fall-out of Operation Bluestar — it has assumed larger political overtones. However, in the maze of charges and counter-charges that are flying thick and fast, one must not lose sight of the other finding of the British probe, which is that New Delhi had largely ignored the solicited advice as it went about planning and executing the operation to flush out scores of militants led by Khalistani terrorist Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale from the sacred Golden temple in Amritsar. But, regardless of the now established fact that India had asked for and got advice from Britain, the necessity of Operation Bluestar cannot be denied. Bhindranwale and his band of terrorists had virtually taken over the Golden Temple and made it a base for their anti-national activities. Bhindranwale's supporters and sympathisers had been in constant touch with elements in Pakistan and the West who wanted to see India crumble. He had believed that the Golden Temple would be not just the right place to propagate his venom based on religion and community, but also a safe haven since the security forces would not dare to counter him inside the holy precincts. From all accounts, Indira Gandhi was in a dilemma: On the one hand, she could not be seen as doing anything that would desecrate the temple, and on the other, she could not watch helplessly as Bhindranwale and his men, armed to the teeth, went about trying to dismember the country. Operation Bluestar was, for the Government of that day, an unpleasant last choice.

However, this does not take away from the failure of the Indira Gandhi regime to rein in Bhindranwale in the initial stages itself. The terror head was only a rabble-rousing preacher to begin with, but the Congress leadership used his popularity to pit him against those leaders in Punjab who, in its opinion, had become too big for their boots. Soon, Bhindranwale became an effective tool in the hands of the party, and grew in stature before he metamorphosed into a Frankenstein monster ready to devour not only its creator but the country's sovereignty and integrity too. The Indira Gandhi regime also did pretty little as Bhindranwale spread  his campaign of hate, moved around heavily armed and gave seditious speeches. Such had been the Government's inability to act decisively in the early stages that Bhindranwale and his people could easily enter the Golden Temple with arms and ammunition. Had the Indira Gandhi regime cracked down effectively earlier and nipped the trouble in the bud, Operation Bluestar would not have happened and the terrible assault on the holy premises could have been avoided. It's on this point that Operation Bluestar remains a justifiably sore issue over which the people of the country and the Sikh community in particular have been upset and angry.

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