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Operation Blue Star anniversary on 6 June: Punjab keeps its fingers crossed

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 4 June 2016, 18:26 IST
The operation
  • On PM Indira Gandhi\'s orders, army conducted Operation Blue Star to flush out militants from the Golden Temple in 1984
  • While the official death toll has been pegged at 492, human rights groups say the number is much higher
The apprehension
  • Recent attacks on religious leaders and desecration of holy books have led to massive protests and public outcry
  • These developments are expected to continue as Punjab inches towards next year\'s Assembly polls
More in the story
  • What Badal and Amarinder have been saying about the matter
  • The Akal Takht problem - why it remains the focal point for tensions

Punjab is keeping its fingers crossed for the 32nd anniversary of Operation Blue Star on 6 June.

With less than a year to go for the state Assembly polls, the anniversary assumes special significance. The state's socio-religious and socio-political spheres have seen many key developments over the last one year, and changes are expected to continue as poll dates draw closer.

What was Operation Blue Star?

Operation Blue Star was carried out by the Indian armed forces between 3 to 8 June 1984. The aim was to take control of the Harmandir Sahib Complex (Golden Temple) in Amritsar and flush out militants and their leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who were hiding there.

Also read: SAD raises demand to declassify Operation Blue Star files

The operation was ordered by the then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and was followed by Operation Woodrose to target suspected militants in Punjab's countryside.

The armed forces lost 83 men in Operation Blue Star, while more than 200 were injured

According to official estimates by the Indian government, 492 civilians were killed in Operation Blue Star. Human rights groups, however, peg the figures to be much higher. The army had 83 casualties while more than 200 personnel sustained injuries.

The Sikh community was deeply affected by the attack carried out at its supreme religious shrine. There was also resentment over the State allegedly seizing historical artifacts and manuscripts from the Sikh reference library, before burning it down.

What followed after

Four months after Operation Blue Star, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards in what is seen as revenge for the attack.

Gandhi's assassination was followed by anti-Sikh riots, in which members of the community were targeted and massacred in Delhi and other parts of the country.

Operation Blue Star has assumed historical significance, and is compared to what Sikhs call "the great massacre" that followed Ahmad Shah Durrani's invasion of 1762.

Religious attacks, political implications

Over the last one year, Punjab has witnessed a build-up of religious tension in the state.

It all started with a series of incidents of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib last year in the village Burj Jawahar Singh Wala in Faridkot district on 1 June 2015.

The worst instance was in Bargari village, where more than 110 pages of the Guru Granth Sahib were found lying on the ground in front of the gurdwara.

More such incidents were reported over the next three months in Ferozepur, Faridkot, Muktsar, Sangrur, Nawanshahr, Adampur and Tarn Taran.

Desecration of holy books across Punjab over the last year has seen massive public protests

The public responded to the attacks with massive outcry and protests. Two persons were killed and several injured when police opened fire on protestors near Behbal Kalan village in Faridkot further fuelling the unrest.

Amidst demands for the imposition of President's Rule, a large number of Akali politicians and even the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) resigned in protest over the state government's failure to protect the holy books.

Congress MLA from Khadoor Sahib constituency, Ramanjit Singh Sikki, also tendered his resignation and the party did not even contest the by-polls.

Damage control

While there have been some arrests in the instances of desecration, nothing concrete has come out in terms of who was actually responsible, despite the fact that the CBI was conducting the probe.

However, a people's commission, under former Supreme Court judge Justice Markandey Katju, squarely held the police responsible for unprovoked firing on people at Behbal Kalan.

While announcing the Congress's decision to not contest the Khadoor Sahib by-polls, state party president Amarinder Singh attacked CM Parkash Singh Badal saying, "Not a single person has been identified, leave aside punishing them for the sacrilege. Nor has any action been taken against the guilty police officials responsible for the firing and killing of peaceful protestors. It was Badal's decision to have some sort of controlled destabilisation in the state."

CM Badal wants controlled destabilisation in the state: state Cong president Amarinder Singh

The issue of desecration of holy books has remained etched in the minds of the people. Sikh hardliners had organised a Sarbat Khalsa on 10 November last year.

The state government came under massive criticism for the desecration issue and also for granting pardon to Dera Sacha Sauda head Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan at the Khalsa assembly.

Also read: Why did Censor board ban the film on assassins of Operation Blue Star head Gen Vaidya?

During the Baisakhi Mela at Talwandi Sabo, hardliners called for another Sarbat Khalsa on the same date this year.

Government vs sect

At the Sarbat Khalsa at Chabba village in Amritsar, the congregation elected 'parallel' Jathedars to those appointed by the SGPC.

The government will be looking to make sure that these parallel Jathedars do not make it to the Akal Takht on the anniversary of Operation Blue Star.

For the Akal Takht, the supreme temporal seat, the Sarbat Khalsa had appointed Dhyan Singh Mand as acting Jathedar to officiate in absence Jagtar Singh Hawara, the assassin of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh, who was declared the Akal Takht Jathedar at the Sarbat Khalsa.

Mand is likely to make all efforts to join the function on 6 June.

Adding fuel to fire

Recent developments in the Sikh religious sphere have also added to the simmering pot. Primary among these is the assault on religious preacher Ranjit Singh Dhadrianwale.

Must read- Politics on religious violence in Punjab, Kejriwal visits injured preacher

Badal has rejected Dhadrianwale's request for a CBI probe saying there there is no point in referring this case to the central agency as the state government has already entrusted the inquiry to the police department. .

Badal said, "It would be far better to wait till its final outcome rather to preempt anything now on the matter."

Amarinder has launched a frontal attack on Badal for rejecting the CBI probe. He said, "There is no doubt that Badal is trying to shield someone and that is why he has rejected the CBI probe."

Preparations in full swing

For the 6 June anniversary, elaborate security measures have been taken by the state government, amidst a call for an Amritsar bandh by Dal Khalsa, an organisation represented by hardliners.

Security forces have conducted a flag march in sensitive areas of Amritsar.

Badal has said that it is the duty of the state government to intensify security arrangements as a routine affair for ensuring law and order situation, besides maintaining peace, communal harmony and brotherhood during the Ghallughara week, which is observed every year from 1 to 6 June.

The SGPC has recently given another dimension to Operation Blue Star by seeking an apology from the Central government for the operation and the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

SGPC has demanded an apology from the Central government for Operation Blue Star

SGPC chief, Avtar Singh Makkar, said: "Such a move will be historical and strengthen mutual brotherhood. It should follow the Canadian government, which has made history by apologising for the Komagata Maru episode," he said.

There have been incidents of violence around the anniversary between SGPC supporters and hardliners in the last two years.

Also read: Why staying with Akalis will help BJP in Punjab

First published: 4 June 2016, 18:26 IST