Assassinations and After (1984-1988)
Dr. Sukhbir Singh Kapoor, Vice Chancellor, World Sikh University of London
This period witnessed the assassinations of Indira Gandhi and Sant Longowal and the Fourth Holocaust in the Sikh History.
20.1 The first and the most crucial phase of the battle was over. Sant Bhinderwale was dead. Akal Takhat, the glory of the Sikh nation was destroyed, the whole complex was smelling of blood and corpses; the stamp of the bullets could be seen all over the holy place. The shrine which had given refuge to a number of Congressmen, including Jawahar lal Nehru during the long struggle for India’s independence, lay devastated before the nation. The Gurdwara which was revered both by the Mughals and by the English, and which the English could not dare to molest despite their bitterest enmity with the freedom fighters, most of whom were Sikhs and Congressmen, was destroyed by our own forces at the orders of our own Prime Minister. Millions of eyes must have wept at this most tragic happening, but people could not show it due to the fear of reprisals. 33 other gurdwaras in the Punjab were also attacked simultaneously and destroyed by gunpowder along with the pilgrims and the devotees.
20.2 After finishing the job at Akal Takhat, the army marched towards other directions of the Complex. Sant Longowal, Gurcharan Singh Tohra and many other Akali leaders were arrested from Teja Singh Samundri Hall. Hundreds of SGPC employees hiding in the gurdwara offices were shot dead in cold blood, and most of the collections of the Sikh museum were destroyed. The old manuscripts, hand written copies of Guru Granth Sahib and a number of valuable gifts offered to Harimandir by the sovereigns like Maharaja Ranjit Singh and others were burnt down. The honour of the whole Sikh nation lay scattered all over the complex. The magnitude of destruction which even Ahmed Shah Abdali and Nadir Shah could not inflict on the Sikhs, who were only a few thousand in numbers in the eighteenth century, Mrs. Gandhi was able to wreak on 17 million Sikhs in the twentieth century. The military deployed Rajput, Dogra and Madrasi units with a Muslim, Lt. Colonel Issar Khan as the battalion commander, to lead the units inside the holy shrine for its destruction and molestation.
20.3 It is claimed that miracles are non-historical but they do happen and become the history. With the fierce tank fire the whole facade of the Akal Takhat had collapsed except the Kotha Sahib (the holy chamber), where Guru Granth Sahib is taken ceremoniously, everyday, in a procession from the Harimandir Sahib for the night rest. How was this chamber undamaged when everything else around it had collapsed, remains a divine mystery.
20.4 President Zail Singh visited the Golden Temple on 9 June where as Mrs. Indira Gandhi went there on 12 June and both offered their prayers. President Singh even wept. Both could see with their inner eyes and consciences the tears rolling down God’s face for their grossly wrong and highly erroneous decision regarding the invasion of the Golden Temple. History cannot forgive either one of them for this unpardonable offence.
20.5 Operation Blue Star wounded and outraged the whole Sikh nation. Their psyche was badly injured. Allover the world demonstrations and processions were organised to express their anguish. Many retired Army officers, including General J.S. Aurora (hero of Bangia Desh), General Harbaksh Singh (hero of Kashmir) and Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh (hero of wars with Pakistan) were stunned and shocked. Philanthrophist Bhagat Puran Singh, Journalist and author Khushwant Singh and ex Maharaja Amarinder Singh handed back their decorations to the Government. The Sikh hearts allover the world were crying. They were badly hurt and severely wounded. People all over the world could see the blood dripping from their hearts. Many Sikh soldiers who heard about the invasion of the Golden Temple in their barracks, mutinied and deserted their posts.
20.6 Many a time one wrong leads to another wrong. The Government now anxious to restore the sanctity of the shrine entrusted the repairs of it to the government contractors under the supervision of Home Minister Buta Singh and a Buddha Dal Nihang, Baba Santa Singh, against the wishes of the SGPC. The gurdwaras are built by kar seva and not by paid employees. Sikhs believe that the repairing and maintenance of their holy places is a sacred duty and the work must be carried out by the holy men. The Government ignored the protest and speeded up the construction work. Buta Singh requested a number of Sikh saints to come forward and help in the reconstruction work, but all of them refused to cooperate with the government. The reconstruction went with lightening speed and was finished within three months. It is estimated that about $30 million were spent to restore the building to its old glory. The whole complex remained in the possession of the army until 25 September, when the keys of the temple were handed over to the SGPC representatives.
20.7 Operation Blue Star re-invoked the tradition of Sarbat Khalsa. The first such meeting was called by Nihang Santa Singh, on 11 August 1984 to declare himself authorised to rebuild the Akal Takhat. High priests of the Sikh Takhats called a Sarbat Khalsa on 2 September and declared President Zail Singh and Home Minister Buta Singh as ‘tankhahiyas’ (religious offenders or renegades) and ex-communicated them from the Sikh fraternity unless they apologised and accepted the punishment given to them at the Akal Takhat. Nihang Santa Singh had already been excommunicated on 22 July. President Zail Singh later apologised and was pardoned on 25 September.
20.8 The Punjab was still a disturbed area and the army was combing every inch of this unfortunate land for tracking and shooting the runaway and hidden associates of Sant Bhinderwale. Many thousand innocent young Sikhs, including university students, were unlawfully detained and tortured in this purge. In the middle of August the army was ordered to pull back from Punjab. By that time they had arrested 5000 people. 3000 of them were later released but the remaining 2000 were detained in prisons for more than five years without any trial. Many black laws were also passed in this period to eliminate the so called suspicious characters. To rub salt on the Sikh wounds, the Doordarshan (Indian television network) and All India Radio towed the Government line and broadcast programmes to justify Operation Bluestar. After the media had trampled Sikh sentiments into the mud came the Government White Paper, which once again outraged the whole of the Sikh community. The White Paper, in its anxiety to highlight the circumstances which had forced the Administration to order Operation Blue Star, came near to describing the Akali Dal as separatists too.
20.9 Mrs. Indira Gandhi was shot dead in the gardens of her official residence at 9.18 a.m. on 31 October 1984. Like Sukha Singh and Mehtab Singh who killed Masa Rangar for molesting the holy shrine in 1740, and Baba Deep Singh who mowed down a number of Afghan military officers for desecrating the Harimandir in 1762, Sub-Inspector Beant Singh and Constable Satwant Singh gunned down Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for ordering the destruction of Akal Takhat in June 1984. General A.S. Vaidya. the Commander-in-chief of Indian armed forces, under whose command the Operation Blue Star was actually executed was also shot dead by two zealot Sikhs on 10 August 1986, thus completing the revenge of the desecration of the holy Sikh shrine.
20.10 In the contemporary world history there are two other assassinations that can be compared with that of Mrs. Indira Gandhi. President Park Chung- Hee of South Korea was slain by the head of Korean Central Intelligence Agency, at a high level official meeting, on 26 October 1979; and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt was shot dead by his own soldiers when he was watching their march past on 6 October 1981.
20.11 When Mrs. Gandhi was gunned down on the morning of 31 October, all of her guards and security men had run away for shelter, unlike President Reagan’s guards who had fallen upon him to protect him from bullets when an attempt was made on his life, during his Presidency of America. Mrs. Gandhi was rushed to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, where she was declared dead on arrival. Her son Rajiv Gandhi was away to West Bengal at that time and he returned to Delhi at about 4 p.m. President Zail Singh was away to Yemen, he too returned at about 5 p.m. Rajiv Gandhi was sworn in as the Prime Minister of India at 6.55 p.m.
20.12 The violence that followed the killing of Mrs. Indira Gandhi proved the two nation theory, that the Sikhs belonged to a separate nation. For three days there was no rule, no police, no army and no administration. The hooligans, who were recruited just after Rajiv Gandhi took oath of office, by the Congress (I) leaders, let loose havoc on the Sikhs. The reports of all the top journalists of India and abroad, the eye witnesses, and the findings of various human rights groups chaired by retired Justices of Supreme Court of India, point to the most unfortunate fact that the killings of the Sikhs all over India were planned and engineered by the Congress (I) leaders who physically led the mobs and incited most of the killing of the innocent Sikhs. The important names so mentioned, include, Bhajan Lal (Chief Minister of Haryana), Jagdish Tytler (Congress I, M.P.). H. K. L. Bhagat (Union Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting) Sajjan Kumar (Congress I M.P.), Lalit Makhan (Congress-1 Trade Union leader and Metropolitan Councillor), Dharam Dhas Shastri (Congress-I, M.P.), Arjan Das (Member Delhi Metropolitan Council) and Babu Ram Sharma (Member-Municipal Corporation of Delhi).
20.13 The calculated carnage of the Sikhs in Delhi and 80 other towns in the country started on the morning of 1 November and it went on unabated for three days. The Sikh homes were looted, the women gang raped and the men burnt alive. The Sikh families were dragged out from buses, trains and from the cars and were beaten to death in front of the police and the army. No curfew was imposed, the Sikh policemen were sent back to the barracks and their weapons were siezed. In this fourth holocaust more than 10,000 people lost their lives or were injured, besides several hundred million pounds worth of property pillaged and gutted.
20.14 The police refused to write any criminal report against the hooligans and the government refused to set up any commission for judicial enquiry. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi could go to the site of a cyclone in Andhra Pradesh but had no time to visit any refugee camp in Delhi. The Government had alienated the whole Sikh community. Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu Brahmin, but there were no reprisals against the Brahmin community in India. Yet the two Sikh assassins of Mrs. Gandhi brought the whole Sikh nation into the docks.
20.15 Most of the top officials who watched the carnage of the Sikhs from the balconies of their offices were rewarded with promotions and status elevations and the Congress (I) workers who led the mobs for destruction of Sikh identity were made ministers in Rajiv Gandhi’s new government.
20.16 The mobs were lured by greed and lust rather than by any national feelings. The pattern of killing was similar allover, the brutality unbelievable and barbaric, the tragedy unspeakable. The worst hit cities were Delhi, Kanpore (U.P.), Bokaro (Bihar) and Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu). The hooligans though well equipped were cowardly. Wherever Sikhs faced them with lathis and swords the mobs had run away. But at most of the places when the Sikhs prepared to defend themselves against the advancing mobs, the police forcibly took away their sticks and swords. The whole administration machinery was out to destabilise and annihilate the Sikhs. When the Sikhs were being butchered all over India, the Punjab was completely sealed and was under curfew. No news was allowed to go to Punjab.
20.17 About 54 days after this gruesome tragedy, the country went to the polls to elect its new government. The eighth general election to the Parliament was held on 24-26 December 1984. The Congress (I) routed every other party and won 79% of the seats in the Parliament. The sympathy wave got Rajiv Gandhi 401 seats out of 508 parliament seats. Congress (I) also won.in majority of the states. Only elections to the Punjab were withheld.
20.18 The Punjab problem was at the top of Rajiv Gandhi’s agenda. He ordered the release of most of the Akali leaders early in 1985. The violence in the Punjab and Delhi increased as a reprisal of the Sikh massacre in the post-assassination period. On 10-11 May bomb blasts in Delhi killed about 45 people. On 11 June 1985 an Air India plane exploded in the mid-air, near Ireland, and all the 329 passengers were killed. During this period many Sikh groups gunned down Congress (I) leaders including Lalit Makhan and Arjan Das, who were responsible for the Sikh sufferings in the three days riots after Indira Gandhi’s death.
20.19 To compensate the Sikhs for their long fight for their rights and unfulfilled demands, Rajiv entered into an agreement with Sant Longowal, popularly known as Rajiv-Longowal accord. It was officially signed and released to the press on 24 July 1985. The accord guaranteed to fulfil all Sikh demands, which had been submitted to the successive goverments in the last twenty years, (see appendix 1). The Akalis called it a triumph, the Bhinderwale supporters called it a sell out.
20.20 On 20 August 1985, Sant Longowal was shot dead at a public meeting which he was addressing in his native village. In September, Punjab elections were held and the Akalis won 73 out of 117 assembly seats. Sardar Surjit Singh Barnala was elected as the Akali Chief Minister.
20.21 On 30 April 1986 the Punjab police surrounded the Golden Temple to rescue it from a group of people, known as Panthic Committee, who on the previous day had declared ‘Khalistan’ as their goal. This operation was known as Operation Wood Rose. The Panthic Committee had convened a Sarbat Khalsa at Akal Takhat on 29 April and passed a resolution demanding Khalistan. As a protest to the police action, 28 Akali legislators walked out of the party and formed their own Akali group. Ragi Darshan Singh, the acting Jathedar of Akal Takhat declared Barnala a ‘Tankhaiya and ex-communicated him for sending police in the Golden Temple Complex.
20.22 The popularity of the Akali government in Punjab started fading away as the Central Government showed no signs of implementing the accord. Chief Minister Surjit at that time. He was appointed to his present post on 1 April 1986 and was renowned for his atrocities in West Bengal. The Rajiv- Longowal accord which could solve most of Punjab problems was buried by the Central Government before it could even breathe a sigh.
20.28 President Zail Singh retired on 25 July 1987. In the last two years of his presidency he was completely ignored and overlooked by the Prime Minister. It was a great insult to the Indian Constitution, but Rajiv did not bother about it.
20.29 During this period various commissions appointed to solve Punjab problems included: Mishra Commission which looked into the 1984 riots and concluded that the riots were not organised, but he named 18 persons, some of them known Congress leaders, as guilty and asked for their prosecution which was not carried; Mathew Commission, which looked into Punjabi and Hindi speaking areas; Ventararamiah Commission (2- 4-1986), who looked into the transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab and the compensation which should be paid; Desai Commission (20-6-86), which was appointed to determine certain specific areas for inclusion in the Punjab, but within 24 hours, he threw up his hands in despair.
20.30 On 12-18 May 1988, the new Director General of Police, Mr. K.P.S. Gill launched Operation Black Thunder to flush out about 150 militants from Golden Temple complex. Gill surrounded the complex and cut its electricity, water supply and rations. Within 6 days most of the militants surrendered to the police though some of them committed suicide by swallowing cyanide capsules.
20.31 In June 1988, the Government announced a beautification plan around the Golden Temple complex by the construction of a 2.5 km long corridor around the temple but nothing had been done to fulfil this promise.
20.32 On 25 July 1988, the Golden Temple Head Priest, Giani Sohan Singh and SGPC’s general secretary Bhan Singh were gunned down in Ludhiana. All factions of the Sikh community condemned this killing of two saintly persons. Despite the presence of large number of BSF, CRPF and Punjab Police personnel the killings in Punjab were increasing day by day and the law and order problem was becoming more and more complex.
20.33 On 14-15 September 1988 happened the Bidar carnage. Six Sikh students of a local college were brutally killed and dozens of Sikh homes and shops were ransacked. Bidar, formerly a territory of Hyderabad state and now a part of Karnatak is a holy place for the Sikhs since Guru Nanak. He visited this place in 16th century and the Gurdwara Nanak Jhira was built to commemorate his visit. One of the five’ Punj Piyaras’ also came from Bidar. The population of Bidar is around 100,000 of which only 2,000 are Sikhs. The riots in Bidar were the direct result of state’s Janta Government granting permission to the Guru Nanak Foundation to establish a medical college in the city when the Congress (I) and Shiv Sena were also interested in establishing such a college. On 14 September, organised gangs ambushed the Sikh students and killed them all. The communal fury which was ignited by the Congressmen in 1984 was still smouldering in different parts of the country.
20.34 The Sikhs and their institutions were on the swift slide towards destruction not only because of clever manoeuvers of the Congress Government but also because of reckless and stupid policies and senseless adventures of the Sikh leaders. By the end of 1988 there was no one Akali Dal to represent the Sikhs. There were about 5 Akali Dais and all were blowing their own trumpet. The Dais were, Barnala Dal, Unified Dal (which was formed in 1987 by Ragi Darshan Singh, by merging a number of Dal factions), Pheruman Dal, Master Tara Singh Dal and Istri Akali Dal. There were also three Jathedars of Akal Takhat: Raagi Darshan Singh, appointed by SGPC, Bhai Jasbir Sigh Rode appointed by Sarbat Khalsa, convened in January 1987 and Bhai Gurbachan Singh Manochahal, appointed by the five member Panthic committee.
20.35 On 20 October 1988 Bhai Jasbir Singh Rode marched into the Golden Temple complex with 200 of his followers, and occupied the Akal Takhat pulpit and announced his authority of the Takhat and called another Sarbat Khalsa for the 9 November.
20.36 After Bhai Jasbir Singh’s burst into the Golden Temple complex, the SGPC issued a new Code of Conduct to maintain the sanctity and discipline inside the Golden Temple and other gurdwaras under its management. It banned overnight stays of any pilgrims in the Parikarma rooms, the carrying of household articles into it, and the preparation of food or taking cooked food there. It also prohibited the carrying of firearms into the shrines. All the windows and doors of the rooms situated in the parikarma were removed to form open galleries rather than closed enclosures. It also banned all non-religious gatherings in the complex without SGPC’s prior permission.
20.37 Sardar Barnala, the Chief Minister of Punjab, appeared before the five high priests of the Sikh Takhats and apologised for his religious wrong: this was the refusal by Barnala to accept Akali Takhat Jathedar’s directive of 1987 to dissolve the Sant Longowal’s Aka! DaJ, of which Barnala was the president and to merge it with the unified Akali Dal. On 5 December 1988 the High priests announced their verdict and Sardar Barnala’s ex-communication form the Panth; the order issued in 1987 was revoked. Barnala was fined and was asked to perform a required number of paths and specified services in the gurdwaras. Barnala was thus readmitted in the Khalsa Panth.