As the UK on Tuesday officially confirmed its “limited” and “purely advisory” role in the 1984 Operation Bluestar, it has emerged that the British military advisor recommended an “element of surprise” and use of “helicopter-borne forces” for reducing casualties and bringing about swift resolution.
This was brought out in the UK Cabinet Secretary’s 14-page report, with annexures, made public by the British government. India said the UK government has kept the Indian government informed on this and has shared the outcome of the UK government’s inquiry. “We have noted the report and the statement made,” the Ministry of External Affairs’ spokesperson said.
The report includes an analysis by current military staff of the extent to which the actual operation in June 1984 differed from the approach recommended in February by the UK military adviser. Operation Bluestar was a ground assault, without the element of surprise, and a helicopter-borne attack.
“The UK officer’s report back to the UK authorities stated the main difference between the original Indian plan and his advice was that the original plan was based on obtaining a foothold within the south complex and fighting through in orthodox paramilitary style. With a view to reducing casualties, the UK military adviser recommended assaulting all objectives simultaneously, assuring surprise.
The advice to Indian authorities identified sufficient helicopters, and capability to insert troops by helicopter, as critical requirements for this approach. The UK advice focused on command and control arrangements, and night-time co-ordination of paramilitary with Indian Special Group forces,” the report said.
A “top secret” note, annexed to the UK report said the advisor – who travelled to India between February 8 and 19’ 1984 — made a “ground reconnaissance of the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar on February 10, flown there by special helicopter. British Foreign secretary William Hague said the adviser made it clear that a military operation should be put into effect only as a last resort when all negotiation failed. “This giving of military advice was not repeated…and the Cabinet Secretary found no evidence of any other assistance such as equipment or training,” he added.
The UK military adviser’s report suggested the Indian intention in February 1984 was to pursue a police/paramilitary operation and avoid Army. But Indira Gandhi’s letter to then British PM Margaret Thatcher of 14 June 1984, explained her decision to take military action against occupiers of the temple complex, as she said the occupiers had been strengthening their position.
The British were cautious that news of their assistance should not be leaked. A “top secret” note in February 1984 says it was vital that “there should be no leak about the visit”. “If there were, it would be extremely embarrassing for both sides, and if the leak sprang from us, the Indians would never forgive us,” it said.
It also said, “If and when the Indians put the plan into operation and if it went wrong, they should not be able to pin any blame on us.”