The audacity of incompetence

The first of this three-part series concluded yesterday, saying the rise of Bhindranwale and his death with Operation Blue Star was a phase of madness. Now, an argument for why we must never forget it.

There were Vijayantas to the left of the sarovar, firing from just a couple of hundred yards. There were Vijayantas to the left of the sarovar, firing from just a couple of hundred yards.
Written by Shekhar Gupta | Published on:June 4, 2014 12:31 am

this reason that I would call Operation Blue Star a bold, brave, audacious operation where soldiers did the profession of the arms proud, but both leaderships, political and military, showed gross incompetence.

But the generals of one side were not the only ones who had miscalculated. Bhindranwale too made similar, arrogantly delusional blunders. He had boasted that the Sikhs in the army wouldn’t fight him. Two of the three generals involved, Brar and Dyal, were Sikhs. The first army injury, Captain Jasbir Singh Raina of 10 Guards, was a Sikh too. Brar told me in a Walk the Talk interview on NDTV 24×7, days after the attack on him in London, that while addressing his troops before the assault, he had given the freedom to opt out to everybody, particularly Sikhs, if they had any hesitation. Nobody did. Raina, in fact, volunteered to go in first. If the generals showed an underestimation of the militants’ fervour and tactical dash, Bhindranwale —  and sadly Shabeg too — showed similar lack of appreciation of the ethos of their own country’s army.

Many militants and civilians died, but the army suffered gravely too. And brutally so. This morning, responding to the first in this series, I received a touching email from K. Ramkumar, the HR head of ICICI Bank, mentioning that his cousin was part of the “Thambis” of the hapless Madras Regiment battalion that suffered severely in the assaults. It was 26 Madras, and I had the privilege of being taken under their wing, even while the wounded were being tended to. They suffered heavy casualties and when one of their assault sections managed to enter the Akal Takht, the JCO leading it was overpowered, blinded and flung from the top of the building to the marble courtyard. But the cruellest, saddest and most unnecessary loss of life was that of battalion doctor Captain Rampal, more than 24 hours after the fighting was over. He was walking around, looking for the wounded from any side to tend to, when a group of terrorists hiding in one of the basements dragged him in, demanded that none else than the head priest of the Temple be sent down to negotiate with them and when that wasn’t done, the doctor was tortured to death, his body dismembered. The officers of the battalion, led by Lieutenant Colonel Panikkar, took me to their mess one evening and fed me a meal of sambhar and curd rice from their langar, which was such a blessing after a week of dry rations, and told more stories. One of these was of Lieutenant Ram Prakash Roperia of Jind, in Haryana, the baby of the battalion. His English was rather basic but like any self-respecting Haryanvi, he would speak in no other language. So everybody called him by a mockingly anglicised name: Robert Prince Ruparia. He fell to a sniper bullet on the afternoon of June 6 as he climbed down a rope ladder from the wide parikrama parapet, where several of his …continued »

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