An ominous malaise looms over the 32nd anniversary of Operation Bluestar on June 6. With Sikh radicals sticking to their guns and the SAD-BJP government in Punjab not ready to budge, everyone is keeping their fingers crossed and hoping that the day when the Army stormed the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1984 to flush out armed Sikh militants led by Jarnail Singh Bhrindanwale, passes off peacefully.
On Friday, a five-member committee of leaders comprising SAD (Amritsar) general secretary Jaskaran Singh Kahansinghwala and Prof Mohinderpal Singh, and United Akali Dal leaders Mohkam Singh, Gurdeep Singh Bathinda and Wassan Singh Jaffarwal met Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal.
They demanded that a task force of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and policemen in mufti should not be deployed in the Golden Temple on June 6. They also asked Badal to allow the three parallel jathedars, announced by the Sarbat Khalsa last year, to address the gathering from the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikhs. In 2014 and 2015, clashes had broken out between supporters of Sikh radicals and police when they were stopped from addressing the public. Their last demand was that Sikh political prisoners should be released.
The government has not given any assurance to thwart any untoward incident on the day. Fifteen companies of paramilitary forces have been deployed in Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Gurdaspur. Large contingents of Punjab Police are staging flag marches. Jathedar Dhian Singh Mand under house arrest in Ferozepur. Radical leader Gurdip Singh was arrested in Bathinda early on Saturday. Sikh Youth Federation Bhindrawale president Gurjinder Singh has also been arrested. “The government is responsible for whatever unprecedented incidents are happening in the state and it is bent on spoiling the atmosphere,’’ said Mand. Sikh scholars have asked the government to constitute a commission to probe the reasons for Operation Bluestar.
In another incident, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal visited Sri Harmandir Sahib, the sanctum sanctorum of the Golden Temple on Friday, and was denied a siropa (robe of honour) by Sikh priest Balbir Singh. The priest had denied a siropa to Sukhbir Singh Badal when he visited the Golden Temple on January 20, for which Balbir was transferred. The Badals have said that calm should be maintained at all cost.
Radical organisation Dal Khalsa took out a march on Friday to mark Operation Bluestar, carrying pictures of the damaged Akal Takht and of Sikh martyrs, and raised pro-Khalistan slogans. Posters and leaflets were distributed in Amritsar. Local newspapers have been carrying advertisements of the operation’s anniversary and messages supporting the radicals are doing the rounds on Facebook and WhatsApp.
Intelligence inputs say the situation is more volatile than last year due to the polarisation of Sikh radicals, increased support for them from abroad, hate messages on social media demanding Khalistan, confrontation between Sikh and Hindu radicals and infighting among Sikh preachers.
When Death Knocked
Operation Bluestar was a military operation ordered by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. It was carried out between June 3-8, 1984, to establish control over the Golden Temple and to flush out Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his armed followers.
In all, 493 civilians and 136 soldiers were killed, 220 were wounded in the operation.
On October 31, 1984, Indira Gandhi was shot dead by her two Sikh bodyguards in an act of vendetta for the operation.
Subsequently, over 3,000 Sikhs were killed in the ensuing anti-Sikh riots.