Nobody can reconstruct the 72 hours of Operation Blue Star in 3,000 words. Or even in 30,000. Books have been written about it by the finest reporters, notably the BBC’s Mark Tully (Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi’s Last Battle, co-authored with Satish Jacob). Mark was the unofficial but undisputed dean of the reporters’ corps for two generations, and please do read this book for diligence and detail. Books have been written by the generals who led the assault. I’d pick my dear friend Lieutenant General K.S. “Bulbul” Brar’s Operation Blue Star: The True Story (UBS, 1993) for the army’s side of the story, told as honestly as possible for a partisan, albeit an exceptionally honourable one. There was also a recent series of TV documentaries put together and anchored by my old comrade and friend, Kanwar Sandhu, currently executive editor of The Tribune. Check it out for its brilliance, depth and honesty. Even I contributed my bit in some detail, with a 27-page chapter, “Blood, Sweat and Tears”, in The Punjab Story, published by Roli in 1984. There is no real mystery about the operation, how it started and ended. But there are others that endured for decades, and some are still unresolved. Let me talk about some of those.
One, in fact, was resolved just last year, in the memoir (From Fatigues to Civvies: Memoirs of a Paratrooper, Manohar, 2013) written by Lieutenant General V.K. “Tubby” Nayar, whom I first met when he commanded the 8 Mountain Division at Zakhama in Nagaland, and who later honoured me by inviting me to speak at the release of his book. He was the deputy director general of military operations in 1984 and reveals, in his memoir, how the codename Blue Star was chosen. Contrary to speculation over the years, it had nothing to do with the way traditional or devout Sikhs dress, or their colour preferences. Tubby says he was driving home, exhausted after a long day in the ops room, a codename yet to be found, and the signboard of a refrigeration shop caught his eye. It was selling Blue Star, a prominent fridge/ AC brand. Let’s go with it, he decided. We still don’t know where the names of two other related operations — Op Woodrose to sweep the rest of the state clear of militants and maintain order and Op Metal to specifically catch or kill Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and members of his inner core team — came from.
The greatest mystery of these 30 years, however, is how and why, with such elaborate planning, the army brass miscalculated on Blue Star so horribly. It is tempting to say they were arrogant and underestimated the task, but that would be unfair. More than 70,000 troops had been called continued…