Back to Amritsar

Indira Gandhi rightly concluded that a sovereign nation cannot tolerate any challenge to its integrity.

Updated: February 9, 2014 4:58 am

Try hard as we may, the year 1984 keeps coming back to haunt India. And now, the UK as well. Last month, some documents were released indicating that the UK government had been asked to send a military adviser to help tackle Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale during his occupation of the Golden Temple. Last Tuesday, MP William Hague made a statement in the House of Commons. It was repeated in the House of Lords as per normal practice. The minister in charge was Baroness Sayeeda Warsi of Pakistani origin and I was present in the Chamber when the statement was read out .

The report by Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood was prepared and released within less than four weeks of the original news about the advice. Along with the statement are copies of some original letters from government files dated February to June 1984, as well as a letter from Indira Gandhi to Margaret Thatcher dated June 14, 1984. One file had been destroyed after 25 years in a routine operation, but some papers were copied on to other files and it is those that have survived. Whether there was anything crucial in the destroyed file, we shall never know.

That one mystery apart, the news itself is intriguing, but tame. The ‘Indian Intelligence Coordinator (no name mentioned)’ requested expert advice. The then British high commissioner “commented that the request demonstrates the close relationship between Britain and India”. (All quotes from documents released were given to the members of the House of Lords and are available on the UK government website). He added that “Mrs Gandhi would find it hard to understand a refusal”. After consultation between the PM and the foreign secretary, a military adviser was sent. The Special Air Service (SAS) officer (also unnamed) visited India for eight days in February 1984. “It was clear to the officer that the Indians had not given much thought to how they should root out the extremists, beyond applying the sledgehammer to crack a nut” principle.

After a ground reconnaissance of the site, the assessment of the adviser was that “a military operation should only be put into effect as a last resort, when all attempts at negotiations had failed”. It recommended including an “element of surprise and the use of helicopter-borne forces, in the interests of reducing casualties and bringing about a swift resolution”.

This advice was obviously not accepted by the Government of India. One can sense that the SAS officer was using the experiences of Entebbe and the Munich Olympics ,where rescue operations of great daring were carried out. By June, however, the situation had worsened much more and the decision to launch Blue Star was made. As the statement by the Foreign Secretary says, “After the UK military adviser’s visit in February, the Indian Army took over the lead responsibility for the operation and the main concept behind the operation changed”.

Lord Robin Butler, who was the principal private secretary to Thatcher in 1984, was also present in the House on Tuesday and was able to confirm that Thatcher had been consulted about the visit and kept a watch on what happened. Indira Gandhi wrote to her after operation Blue Star, explaining what had happened. “Their objective was secession and disrupting the unity of the country. The paramilitary forces were insufficient in number to control growing terrorist activities. So we had to send in the army.”

The Sikh diaspora will no doubt continue to demand more answers from the UK government. It seems clear that the advice given by the SAS officer was about a much more limited and stealthy operation. But the Government of India rejected the advice. The clear conclusion that I could reach was that this was India’s problem and that India tackled it in its own way. Advice was requested but not taken.

Indira Gandhi rightly concluded that a sovereign nation cannot tolerate any challenge to its integrity. She paid for her decision with her life. As she wrote to Thatcher, “Of all malefactors, those who wear the religious garb are the most dangerous”. But many others died then as well as later. They still haunt the nation.

For all the latest India News, download Indian Express App now

  1. A
    Ashish Jain
    Feb 10, 2014 at 2:30 pm
    Very well said!!Always a pleasure to read your article.
    Reply
    1. v
      virat1
      Feb 9, 2014 at 5:23 pm
      how is this wimpy britisher allowed to get published in mainstream opinioin columns. His opinion matters?? Does he even know what he is talking about?
      Reply
      1. v
        virat1
        Feb 9, 2014 at 5:23 pm
        how is this wimpy britisher allowed to get published in mainstream opinioin columns. His opinion matters?? Does he even know what he is talking about?
        Reply
        1. E
          ERT
          Feb 9, 2014 at 8:17 pm
          WHEN ONE RESORT TO GENOCIDE PEOPLE FOR THE INTEGRITY OF THE COUNTRY. THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE CONCEPT OF THAT COUNTRY
          Reply
          1. E
            ERT
            Feb 9, 2014 at 7:59 pm
            of all the malefactors , those who wear the nationalist garb are the most dangerous. Your big piece give one line to other who were genocided in that year and 20 years from then on. The 84 will contibue to haunt india because it is the people like you who choose to support genociders and think it is necessary for the integraty of India, On the contrary you are anti national and sowing the seed of hatred in the community
            Reply
            1. E
              ERT
              Feb 9, 2014 at 7:59 pm
              of all the malefactors , those who wear the nationalist garb are the most dangerous. Your big piece give one line to other who were genocided in that year and 20 years from then on. The 84 will contibue to haunt india because it is the people like you who choose to support genociders and think it is necessary for the integraty of India, On the contrary you are anti national and sowing the seed of hatred in the community
              Reply
              1. G
                Guru
                Feb 9, 2014 at 2:07 pm
                Timing was so wrong.. when hundred of thousands were celebrating Gurpurb. They definitely could have dela it for 2-3 days and reduce so many casualities. Also to mention, Bhindrawale was used by Indira against Akalies but when he turned against Indira than she had no other idea except this operation.
                Reply
                1. G
                  Guru
                  Feb 9, 2014 at 2:07 pm
                  Timing was so wrong.. when hundred of thousands were celebrating Gurpurb. They definitely could have dela it for 2-3 days and reduce so many casualities. Also to mention, Bhindrawale was used by Indira against Akalies but when he turned against Indira than she had no other idea except this operation.
                  Reply
                  1. V
                    Vinu Koratty
                    Feb 9, 2014 at 4:57 am
                    It was necessary at that time, a time everything was going wrong & the disintegration of the Nation was indeed a real threat, to have a show of strength. Thats probably one of the reason that Indian experiment succeeded.Not because wooly headed ideas of M K hi, Nehru or Menon, but pragmatic leaders like Indira and Shastri before her.
                    Reply
                    1. K
                      ksmat
                      Feb 10, 2014 at 9:14 pm
                      While I agree with the basic premise, one needs to ask who created Bhindrawale, and thus the Punjab problem? Mrs hi was just trying to break the Akali Dal vote bank and so created Bhindrawale. In the same way that the Congress has followed the divide and rule path in their search for vote block and politics in search of the almighty vote without regard as to what is good for the country. Even today Rahul hi is going around telling people that they will suffer at the hands of the BJP. Instead of emphasizing the good and positive policies a party has, why do they focus on the negatives of the opposition ONLY?
                      Reply
                      1. K
                        ksmat
                        Feb 10, 2014 at 9:14 pm
                        While I agree with the basic premise, one needs to ask who created Bhindrawale, and thus the Punjab problem? Mrs hi was just trying to break the Akali Dal vote bank and so created Bhindrawale. In the same way that the Congress has followed the divide and rule path in their search for vote block and politics in search of the almighty vote without regard as to what is good for the country. Even today Rahul hi is going around telling people that they will suffer at the hands of the BJP. Instead of emphasizing the good and positive policies a party has, why do they focus on the negatives of the opposition ONLY?
                        Reply
                        1. L
                          Lakhinder Singh
                          Feb 10, 2014 at 9:54 am
                          VINU iCAN DEMONSTRATE TO YOU THAT IT IS PRECISELY THE PRAGMATIC LEADERS WHO WERE MORE DANGEROUS.
                          Reply
                          1. L
                            Lakhinder Singh
                            Feb 10, 2014 at 9:54 am
                            VINU iCAN DEMONSTRATE TO YOU THAT IT IS PRECISELY THE PRAGMATIC LEADERS WHO WERE MORE DANGEROUS.
                            Reply
                            1. M
                              M Patel
                              Feb 9, 2014 at 9:05 pm
                              Lessons not LearntFirst, Indira hi wrongly concluded that a political party should indirectly encourage Bhindranwale's activity for the sake of vote-bank politics.Next, Indira hi turned a blind eye to gathering storm. example, Home minister Butta Singh giving clean chit to Bhindranvale in Parliament the end, It was too late, and it did so much damage.Unfortunately, UPA has learnt nothing, and is making the same mistake in dealing with Maoist and Islamist terrorism.
                              Reply
                              1. M
                                M Patel
                                Feb 9, 2014 at 9:05 pm
                                Lessons not LearntFirst, Indira hi wrongly concluded that a political party should indirectly encourage Bhindranwale's activity for the sake of vote-bank politics.Next, Indira hi turned a blind eye to gathering storm. example, Home minister Butta Singh giving clean chit to Bhindranvale in Parliament the end, It was too late, and it did so much damage.Unfortunately, UPA has learnt nothing, and is making the same mistake in dealing with Maoist and Islamist terrorism.
                                Reply
                                1. R
                                  r
                                  Feb 9, 2014 at 10:18 pm
                                  Was it not shortsighted policies of Indira to win provincial elections the root cause of problem in Punjab? She created a problem, nurtured it in to a monster and failed to manage it and seeds of secession took roots. It was the wisdom and sagacity PVNR which had stopped the second parion of India. But people like Lord Megnath can not digest that a simple south indian like PVNR succeeded where the mighty Lordship has failed.
                                  Reply
                                  1. R
                                    r
                                    Feb 9, 2014 at 10:18 pm
                                    Was it not shortsighted policies of Indira to win provincial elections the root cause of problem in Punjab? She created a problem, nurtured it in to a monster and failed to manage it and seeds of secession took roots. It was the wisdom and sagacity PVNR which had stopped the second parion of India. But people like Lord Megnath can not digest that a simple south indian like PVNR succeeded where the mighty Lordship has failed.
                                    Reply
                                    1. R
                                      Ram Vilas
                                      Feb 9, 2014 at 1:42 pm
                                      Blue Star was a necessity .The militants had to be crushed to send a message to the secessionists that their activities cannot be tolerated.Such a strong Prime Minister is always needed to keep India together.
                                      Reply
                                      1. R
                                        Ram Vilas
                                        Feb 9, 2014 at 1:42 pm
                                        Blue Star was a necessity .The militants had to be crushed to send a message to the secessionists that their activities cannot be tolerated.Such a strong Prime Minister is always needed to keep India together.
                                        Reply
                                        1. S
                                          Syed Zaidi
                                          Feb 12, 2014 at 3:18 pm
                                          Is the good lard looking forward to some necessary shootings in Scotland?
                                          Reply
                                          1. S
                                            Syed Zaidi
                                            Feb 12, 2014 at 3:18 pm
                                            Is the good lard looking forward to some necessary shootings in Scotland?
                                            Reply
                                            1. Load More Comments