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Sikhs demand probe into British role in Operation Bluestar

Official papers suggest then British PM Margaret Thatcher ordered an elite military unit to help India plan an attack against Sikh separatists in the Golden Temple in 1984

Radical Sikh organisations as well as Punjab’s ruling Akali Dal yesterday came out against revelations that Britain had helped the Indian government in plans to launch Operation Bluestar on the Golden Temple complex in June 1984.


The commissioner of police protects his head while other troops fire at the gate of the Golden Temple, on June 7, 1984. Pic/AFP

Dal Khalsa shot off a letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron through the British High Commission in India expressing its “pain, concern and anguish over the startling revelations as to how the then British government under Margaret Thatcher helped Indian government to attack the Golden Temple in June 1984”.

The All India Sikh Students Federation (AISSF) will hold a rally outside the British High Commissioner’s office in New Delhi on Jan 17, said its president Karnail Singh Peermohammed. “The aim of the rally is to demand that the British Parliament should immediately pass a resolution that action of PM Margret Thatcher of colluding with Indira Gandhi to attack the holiest Sikh shrine was wrong,” he said.

The controversy erupted after documents went public in Britain and Liberal MP Tom Watson procured documents showing that Britain’s elite Special Air Service (SAS) was involved in planning the attack on the Golden Temple. The papers indicate that Thatcher was aware of the involvement of an SAS officer in drawing up a plan although it is not clear whether the Indian army operation followed this advice.

The request for British advice is disclosed in a letter, dated February 23 1984, from Brian Fall, private secretary to then foreign secretary Geoffrey Howe, to Hugh Taylor, his counterpart under home secretary Leon Brittan. The letter said: “The Indian authorities recently sought British advice over a plan to remove Sikh extremists from the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

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.” The Akali Dal blamed the Congress party for its ‘nefarious designs against the Sikh community’.

Akali Dal spokesman Daljit Singh Cheema said that the top secret British documents had exposed the real conspiracy behind Operation Bluestar. “The media reports published today have unearthed a major conspiracy of the Congress party which even went to the extent of compromising the national sovereignty for its political gains,” he said. He said the Congress-led government must come clean on the “unknown compulsions under which it had to take the help of forces from such a country against whom the nation had fought a battle of freedom for more than 200 years”.


Golden Temple at Amritsar

Operation Bluestar
Heavily armed terrorists, led by separatist leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, were flushed out by the Indian Army in its Operation Bluestar on the Golden Temple complex in June 1984. The then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, had ordered the Army operation in which hundreds were killed. Punjab had witnessed a bloody phase of terrorism between 1981 to 1992 as separatists demanded a separate Sikh homeland Khalistan (Land of the pure). The terrorism phase left over 25,000 people dead.

General speaks
Lieutenant General KS Brar, who led the assault, said, “There was no question of getting help from the British government and no suggestion or mention at any stage of a British officer who had come and advised. It was a last-minute operation because the PM was negotiating with the Sikh leaders to arrive at an amicable solution. As a last resort, she ordered the operation.”

British PM orders inquiry
British PM David Cameron has ordered an urgent investigation into an alleged British collusion in the 1984 attacks. A British government spokesman said: “These events led to a tragic loss of life and we understand the very legitimate concerns that these papers will raise. The prime minister has asked the cabinet secretary to look into this case urgently and establish the facts. The PM and the foreign secretary were unaware of these papers prior to publication.” The British government will also examine the decision to release such sensitive government papers.

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