How Operation Blue Star unfolded
It has been 34 years since Operation Blue Star. The operation was ordered by the then Prime Minister, late Indira Gandhi in a bid to establish control over the Harminder Sahib complex in Amritsar.
The primary objective of the Operation which lasted between June 1 and June 6 1984 was to flush out religious militant leader, Jarnail Singh Bindranwale and his followers. The operation had two components- Operation Metal, confined to the Harminder Sahib complex and Operation Shop, which raided the Punjab country side to capture any suspects. Following this came Operation Woodrose which was launched in the Punjab country side where protesting Sikhs carrying a kirpan were captured.
Casualty figures of Operation Blue Star given by Kuldip Singh Brar, who commanded the operation put the number of deaths among the Indian army at 83 dead and 249 injured.
According to the official estimate presented by the Indian government, 1,592 persons were apprehended, though numbers put forward by independent human rights organizations are significantly higher. The Sikh Museum states that the Amritsar crematorium has counted 3,300 dead civilians in their crematorium.
Four months after the operation, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards- Beant Singh and Satwant Singh. This was viewed as an act of vengance which led to the horrific Sikh riots in which over 3,000 Sikhs were massacred in 1984.
How Operation Blue Star unfolded:
The armed Sikhs within the Harmandir Sahib were led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and former Maj. Gen. Shabeg Singh. Lt. Gen. Kuldip Singh Brar had command of the action, operating under General Sundarji.
Indira Gandhi first asked Lt. Gen. S. K. Sinha, then Vice-Chief of the Indian Army and selected to become the next Army chief, to prepare a position paper for assault on the Golden Temple.
Lt. Gen. Sinha advised against any such move, given its sacrilegious nature according to Sikh tradition. He suggested the government adopt an alternative solution. A controversial decision was made to replace him with General Arun Shridhar Vaidya as the Chief of the Indian army. General Vaidya, assisted by Lt. Gen. Sundarji as Vice-Chief, planned and coordinated Operation Blue Star.
The Sikh Museum reports the following days: Tuesday, May 25th 100,000 Indian Army troops are mobilized and deployed throughout Punjab surrounding all important Gurdwaras including the Golden Temple complex.
Friday, June 1st Thousands of pilgrims start to gather at the Golden Temple complex to celebrate the martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjan on June 3rd.
As Sant Jarnail Singh Bindranwale sat on the roof of the Langer hall, police snipers opened fire on him. They missed and Sikh militants fired back. A seven hour skirmish during the night lasting until the morning leaves 11 dead and 25 injured.
- On Sunday June 3rd All communications including phone lines to and from Punjab are cut. Roadblocks prevent anyone from entering or leaving Punjab and all journalists are expelled from Punjab. A total curfew is imposed and as many as 10,000 pilgrims are trapped inside the temple complex. Milk vendors from the villages who supply milk to the city of Amritsar are shot dead for violating the curfew orders.
- On Monday June 4th The army starts firing on the temple complex and there is a gun battle lasting 5 hours. Using machine guns and mortars the army fires at dissident positions atop the two 18th century towers called Ramgarhia Bunga's, and the water tank behind Teja Singh Samundri Hall as well as surrounding buildings. At least 100 are killed on both sides.
- On Tuesday June 5th At 7:00 p.m. Operation Blue Star, the invasion of The Golden Temple begins with tanks of the 16th Cavalry Regiment of the Indian Army moving to enclose the Golden Temple complex. Troops are briefed not to use their guns against the Golden Temple itself or the Akal Takht. Artillery is used to blast off the tops of the Ramgarhia Bungas and the water tank. Scores of buildings in and around the temple complex are blazing. One artillery shell lands more than 5 km away in the crowded city.
- At 10:30 pm commandos from the 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment try to run down the steps under the clock tower onto the marble parkarma around the sacred pool. They face heavy gunfire, suffering casualties and are forced to retreat. A second wave of commandos manages to neutralize the machine gun posts on either side of the steps and get down to the parkarma.
- Two companies of the 7th Garhwal Rifles enter the temple complex from the opposite side on the southern gate entrance and after a gun battle are able to establish a position on the roof of the Temple library. They are reinforced by two companies of the 15th Kumaons. Repeated unsuccessful attempts are made to storm the Akal Takht.
- On Wednesday June 6th After midnight tanks are used to break down the steps leading to the parkarma from the hostel side and an 8-wheeled Polish-built armored personnel carrier makes its way towards the Akal Takht. It is destroyed by a Chinese-made rocket propelled grenade launcher.
- The effect on the Sri Akal Takht, the most sacred of the five Takhts, is devastating. Over 80 shells are pumped into the sacred Gurdwara. The entire front of the Takht is destroyed and fires break out in many of the different rooms blackening the marble walls and wrecking the delicate decorations dating back to the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Marble inlays, plaster and mirror work, filigree partitions and priceless old wall paintings are all destroyed.
- The gold dome of the Akal Takht is also badly damaged by artillery fire. At one stage a 3.7-inch Howitzer gun is mounted on the roof of a building behind the shrine and fired a number of times at the beautiful dome.
- On Thursday, 7 June The army gained effective control of the Harmandir Sahib complex.
- Friday, 8 June The Army fought about four Sikhs holed up in basement of a tower. A colonel of the commandos was shot dead by an LMG burst while trying to force his way into the basement. By the afternoon of 10 June, the operation was over.