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Vote bank politics created Punjab crisis leading to Operation Blue Star

By Vinod

New Delhi: Operation Blue Star that was ordered by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to neutralize Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and some more terrorists holed up in the most celebrated Sikh shrine Golden Temple in Amritsar. But like any other movement this too has its roots in the vote bank politics. Bhindaralewale was made a terrorist from a preacher by the internal squabbling of the Congress, which had the main political aim to get Anandpur Sahib Resolution passed. Pakistan's ISI also played an important role as the country wanted to settle score with India to avenge creation of Bangladesh.

Vote bank politics created Punjab crisis leading to Operation Blue Star

Political observers say that aspiration was created in the mind of Bhindranwale by the then Union home minister Zail Singh to counter growing influence of Akali Dal in Punjab.

The Sikh preacher was nurtured by the central government under Indira Gandhi.

However, he quickly gained control over the situation with his charisma and influence. He capitalized on resentment of Jat farmers who were brainwashed that gained of the Green Revolution being cornered by the large landowners and Hindu money lenders. Bhindranwale was also benefited from rapid and unexpected economic development of the state.

Political observers further say that throughout his life Bhindranwale remained in touch with Indira Gandhi and had moved to Harmandir Sahib making it his headquarters in December 1983, when he was accused of the assassination of Nirankari Gurbachan Singh.

34 years since Operation Blue Star: What led to the birth of the Khalistan Movement

The Congress has been causing artificial antipathy to fragment cohesive group which later on had gone out of its hand. These groups with the support from Pakistan's ISI had started demanding a separate Khalistan. Pakistan providing these people money, arms and ammunitions and in some cases shelter as well.

During the same time a group of students met at the Golden Temple proclaiming formation of an independent Sikh republic named as Khalistan. A Sikh politician based in London named Jagjit Singh Chauhan was declared its President. However, the Centre was not worried by these fringe elements rather its focus was on Akalis, who had chosen the path of confrontation after losing power. Akali Dal leader Harcharan Singh Longowal too lodged himself in the GoldenTemple, from where he would announce street protests on a variety of themes such as the handing over of Chandigarh, or the greater allocation of canal water. Bhindranwale was operating from the other part of the temple. He had acquired a group of devoted gun-toting followers who acted as his acolytes and bodyguards and, on occasion, as willing and unpaid killers.

How Operation Blue Star unfolded

Some people trace the Khalistan movement as early as 1940's and 50's, but the movement became popular in 1970s and 1980s. By this time Bhindranwale became head of seminary called the Damdami Taksal. Now throughout 1982 there were many rounds of negotiations between the Centre and the Akalis but no agreement was reached, the sticking points being the areas Punjab would give up to Haryana in exchange for Chandigarh, and the sharing of river waters. On January 26, 1983, Republic Day, the Akali legislators in the state assembly resigned, the timing of their action suggesting perhaps an uncertain commitment to the Indian Constitution. The challenge of Bhindranwale was forcing them to become more extreme. The Akalis were now prone to comparing Congress rule to the bad old days of the Mughals. They began organizing shaheed jathas (martyrdom squads) to fight the new tormentors of the Sikhs.

On April 23, 1983, Punjab Police Deputy Inspector General A. S. Atwal was shot dead as he left the Harmandir Sahib compound. A spate of bank robberies followed. Sections of the Hindu minority began fleeing the state. Those who remained organized themselves under a Hindu Suraksha Sangh (Defence Force). This time a warrant went out for the preacher's arrest. The police went to pick him up from a gurdwara in Haryana, but by the time they arrived Bhindranwale had returned to the safety of his own seminary in the Punjab. He was allegedly assisted by the then Union Home Minister Gyani Zail Singh.

Punjab chief minister Darbara Singh was all for pursuing him there, but he was dissuade by the Union home minister, Zail Singh, who was worried about the political fall-out that might result. Analysts say that Bhindranwale visited Delhi many a times but was not arrested and even the Haryana government was not ready to lay its hands on him due to the political patronage handed out to him by the Centre.

Explainer: Who is Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the man who necessitated Operation Blue Star

The differences started widening among Sikhs and Sikh pride took another beating in 1980, when the Akali Dal government was dismissed and the Congress returned to power in Punjab. With the Congress at the helm, Bhindranwale with approximately 200 armed followers moved into a guest-house called the Guru Nanak Niwas in the precinct of Harmandir Sahib In 1983. After Atwal's murder, Harchand Singh Longowal the then president of Shiromani Akali Dal claimed the involvement of Bhindranwale in it. Harmandir Sahib Compound and some of the surrounding houses were fortified.

According to the government, Operation Blue Star was launched to eliminate Bhindranwale and his followers who had sought cover in the Amritsar Harmandir Sahib Complex. 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 Gen. Sundarji. Political analyst said that Maj. Gen. Shabeg Singh, a war hero of Bangladesh, had trained Sikh militants placed in Golden Temple as he had nurtured a grudge for not being promoted as chief of the Army. But the actual reason for him not getting promoted was that he was accused of amassing huge money from Bangladesh and inquiry was being conducted against him.

Vote bank politics created Punjab crisis leading to Operation Blue Star

The government was not only behaving arbitrarily but was clueless as it does not have any intelligence information that how many terrorists were present in the Golden temple.

For observers, there was a big casualty of commando forces forcing the government to move tanks. Indira Gandhi's reckless decision of replacing Lt. Gen. S. K. Sinha with General Arun Shridhar Vaidya as the Chief of the Indian Army for not towing her line and suggesting otherwise made the situation even worst. However, General Vaidya, assisted by Lt. Gen. Sundarji as Vice-Chief, planned and coordinated Operation Blue Star in best possible manner in which officially 500 Sikh Militants and 83 Armymen were killed and 236 wounded.

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