Forgotten heroes of Operation Bluestar: Almost three decades have passed, but the Sikh anger hasn’t died

The attack on Lt-Gen (retired) K.S. Brar in London has revived concerns over the resurgence of the Khalistani militants.

Veteran journalist Satish Jacob, who covered Operation Bluestar as a BBC reporter along with Mark Tully, says there’s a latent admiration for Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale among Sikhs.

While the rage over the army entering the holiest Sikh shrine may have subsided, the angst remains alive. That’s why, Jacob feels, even 28 years after Operation Bluestar, the army officers who played important roles in the operation to flush out the militants from the Golden Temple remain under threat.

Bhindranwale is seen as a martyr by many Sikhs, even though they may not be supportive of the Khalistani movement. Jacob says this is true not just for Sikhs living overseas but also those in India. It is convenient to blame NRI Sikhs or those living abroad for the problem, but this would not be fair, he asserts.

“If you go to big cities in Punjab such as Ludhiana, Amritsar and Jalandhar, you will find almost every second car carrying his picture or poster. It is not that Sikhs based overseas are more supportive. He commands support in India as well,” Jacob said.

Resurgent angst

He said the Khalistan movement may not find mass support among Sikhs now, but still has sympathisers and is far from dead. The attack on Lt- Gen (retd) Brar is proof that the movement is alive.

Bhinderanwale’s posters adorn gurudwaras and every year rallies are taken out in his memory, he said. Jacob said the government must take responsibility to protect former soldiers who face a threat due to their role in the operation.

“Hundreds of Sikh soldiers had taken part in the operation, but militants have gone after the military leadership. Brad had led troops distinguishably,” he said.

Jacob recalled Brar – a non-turbaned Sikh who led Operation Bluestar and was knifed in London on Sunday by suspected Sikh militants – as “one of the finest and highly-regarded soldiers we had”.

“He was posted in Meerut before the operation was launched and was set to go abroad on a vacation with his wife. But he was entrusted with this responsibility and he took it up,” he said.

Jacob co-wrote the much acclaimed book on Bluestar, Amritsar: Gandhi’s Last Battle, with Mark Tully.

Populist blunder
He calls support and sympathy for Bhindranwale regrettable, and finds the political leadership’s pandering to populist sentiments for electoral gains equally reprehensible.

Jacob said the Akali government in Punjab was catering to such sentiments by building a shrine to commemorate the deaths of people in the operation.

“The Akalis would not be loving it, but politicians take such populist measures,” he said.

Attack on Lt-Gen Brar was planned in June

As Lt-Gen (retired) K.S. Brar, the Operation Bluestar hero who survived an attack in London, returned to India on Wednesday, the Centre is looking
to relocate him from Mumbai, besides enhancing his security from the existing Z category to ‘Z-plus’.

Indian agencies are also verifying reports that the plot to attack the 78-year-old Lt-Gen (retd) on Sunday night may have been hatched in Germany on
June 6 on the anniversary of Operation Bluestar.

Officials in Delhi said the Centre would soon relocate Brar from Mumbai to an undisclosed location, as his present location had been exposed to Khalistani terrorists.

Brar, who had a bandage on his neck and cheek, arrived in Mumbai with his wife Meena at noon. The couple were received by defence officials and escorted to their vehicle amid tight security.

A row has also broken out after Brar hit out at the ruling Akali Dal in Punjab, alleging that it was supporting extremist groups. Punjab chief minister
Parkash Singh Badal said there was nothing to suggest that Brar’s assailants had links with the Akalis.

Congress leader and former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has also accused the Akalis of encouraging extremist elements. He alleged that Badal’s silence (on the attack over Brar) “is just not criminal, it is seditious and betrays his moral cowardice”.

Meanwhile, the London Metropolitan Police on Wednesday confirmed that they are treating the attack on Lt-Gen Brar as an attempted murder.

The police are also considering whether or not to issue photo sketches of the assailants who were described of being of Asian origin. A police spokesperson denied that the police had ever commented on one of the attackers leaving behind a mobile phone at the crime scene, as was
claimed earlier. He said the police had appealed to the public for any assistance.


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