British Prime Minister David Cameron has directed his Cabinet Secretary to establish the facts behind claims that Margaret Thatcher’s government may have helped Indira Gandhi’s Operation Bluestar in 1984.
Labour MP Tom Watson and Lord Indarjit Singh had demanded an explanation after recently declassified documents indicated that Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS) officials had been dispatched to help India plan the Golden Temple raid to flush out militants from the shrine, an operation that left more than 1,000 dead.
“These events led to a tragic loss of life and we understand the very legitimate concerns that these papers will raise. The PM has asked the Cabinet Secretary to look into this urgently,” a UK government spokesperson said.
“The PM and the Foreign Secretary were unaware of these papers prior to publication. Any requests today for advice from foreign governments are always evaluated carefully with full Ministerial oversight and appropriate legal advice,” he added. The documents being referenced were released by the National Archives in London under the 30-year declassification rule.
A letter marked “top secret and personal” dated February 23, 1984, nearly four months before the incident in Amritsar, titled ‘Sikh Community’, reads: “The Indian authorities recently sought British advice over a plan to remove Sikh extremists from the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
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“The Foreign Secretary decided to respond favourably to the Indian request and, with the Prime Minister’s agreement, an SAD (sic) officer has visited India and drawn up a plan which has been approved by Mrs Gandhi. The Foreign Secretary believes that the Indian Government may put the plan into operation shortly.”
“These documents prove what Sikhs have suspected all along, that plans to invade the Golden Temple went back months even though the Indian government was claiming even weeks before that there were no such plans,” Lord Singh said.
Brar calls claims ‘fiction’, Jaitley asks for ‘truth’
The military commander who led Operation Bluestar to flush out militants from the Golden Temple in 1984 has rubbished claims that the UK special forces provided assistance for the operation. Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, meanwhile said the government has to “tell us the truth as to what the real facts were”.
The row broke out after a UK MP claimed he possessed declassified documents dated February 1984, which “reveal” that the then PM Margaret Thatcher’s government had aided India by sending an advisor from the British SAS special forces on the request of the then PM Indira Gandhi.
Lt Gen (Retd) K S Brar, who led the operation, said he is “surprised and aghast” at the claims. “It sounds like fiction to me. I can assure you that Operation Bluestar was planned and executed by the Indian Army. There is no question of any foreign, British assistance or the SAS planning the operations for us,” Brar, who survived a murder attempt by a Sikh group in London in 2012, told The Indian Express. “I am very surprised that something as malicious as this has been brought out just when elections are due here. I do not know if this is politically motivated or a move to get the British Sikhs agitated once again,” he added.
Jaitley, meanwhile, said, “It is about time the government of India decided to tell us the truth… This would enable people to conclude whether Operation Bluestar was a strategic miscalculation.” He reminded the government that “in the next few months, more documents between the period February to June 1984 would become public on account of the expiry of the limitation of 30 years”.
While the documents have been put up on the ‘Stop Deportations’ blog, there has been no official confirmation on their authenticity.
Saying that the then Congress government was holding a “dialogue with the British government”, Jaitley said the Congress regime “neither believed in nipping the problem at the initial stage, nor in exploring alternative methods of evacuating the extremists from the Golden Temple.” ENS