Operation Blue Star

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Operation Blue Star was the code name of an Indian military action which was carried out between 1 and 10 June, 1984, in order to capture the Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers hidden inside the buildings of Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) complex in Amritsar, Punjab.

The decision to launch the attack rested with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who, according to retired general S.K. Sinha, had been considering the operation for more than 18 months prior, authorizing army preparation for it long before any insurgents were in the complex.

In July 1982, Harchand Singh Longowal, the President of the Sikh political party Akali Dal, had invited Bhindranwale to take up residence in the Golden Temple Complex to evade demolition of Sri Akal Takht Sahib.

Background

Indian intelligence agencies had reported that three prominent figures in the operation, Shabeg Singh, a court-martialed Indian Army officer who fought in major battles for India, Balbir Singh, and Amrik Singh, referred to in reports as "prominent heads of the Khalistan movement," had made at least six trips each to Pakistan between 1981 and 1983. The weapons training was being provided at Akal Takht Sahib by General Shabeg Singh. The Intelligence Bureau alleged that the training was being provided at Gurdwaras in Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. Amrik Singh responded to these allegations by stating that student training camps with “traditional weapons” had existed prior for four decades at these locations. The Soviet intelligence agency KGB reportedly tipped off the Indian intelligence agency R&AW about the CIA and ISI working together on a plan for Punjab. From its interrogation of a Pakistani army officer, R&AW received information that over a thousand trained Special Service Group commandos of the Pakistan Army had been dispatched by Pakistan into the Indian Punjab to assist Bhindranwale in his fight against the government, but there only common Sikhs could join Bhindranwale because of the high level of Indian Border Security. Many Pakistani agents also followed the smuggling routes in the Kashmir and Kutch region of Gujarat, with plans to commit sabotage.

However, in 1981 the Soviets had launched Operation Kontakt, which was based on a forged document purporting to contain details of the weapons and money provided by the ISI to Sikh militants who wanted to create an independent country. In November 1982, Yuri Andropov, the General Secretary of the Communist Party and leader of the Soviet Union, approved a proposal to fabricate Pakistani intelligence documents detailing ISI plans to foment religious disturbances in Punjab and promote the creation of Khalistan as an independent Sikh state. 

Indira Gandhi’s decision to move troops into the Punjab was based on her taking seriously the disinformation provided by the Soviets regarding secret CIA support for the Sikhs.

On 1 June 1984, after no attempts at any negotiations, Indira Gandhi rejected the Anandpur Resolution and ordered the army to launch Operation Blue Star, simultaneously attacking scores of Sikh temples across Punjab. 

On 1 June Indian security forces commenced Operation Blue Star when they fired into various buildings with the goal of assessing the training of the militants, which resulted in the deaths of 8 civilians. A variety of army units and paramilitary forces surrounded the Golden Temple complex on 3 June 1984. The official stance of the army was that warnings were made to facilitate the evacuation of pilgrims but that no surrender or release occurred by June 5 at 7:00 PM.

However, in April 2017 the Amritsar District and Sessions Judge Gurbir Singh gave a ruling which stated that there was no evidence that the Indian army provided warnings for pilgrims to leave the temple complex before commencing their assault. The army's assault on the temple complex ended on June 8. A clean-up operation codenamed Operation Woodrose was also initiated throughout Punjab.

The army had underestimated the firepower possessed by the militants, whose armaments included Chinese-made rocket-propelled grenade launchers with armour-piercing capabilities. Tanks and heavy artillery were used to attack the militants, who responded with anti-tank and machine-gun fire from the heavily fortified Akal Takht. After a 24-hour firefight, the army gained control of the temple complex. The official casualty figures for the army were 83 dead and 249 injured; however, Rajiv Gandhi disclosed in September of 1984 that 700 soldiers were killed.

The government-issued white paper stated that 1,592 militants were apprehended and there were 554 combined militant and civilian casualties, much lower than independent estimates which ranged from 18,000 to 20,000. According to the government, high civilian casualties were attributed to militants using pilgrims trapped inside the temple as human shields. However, the Indian army had allowed thousands of pilgrims and protestors to enter the temple complex on 3 June 1984 and prevented them from leaving after imposing a curfew at 10:00 PM on the same day.

Eyewitnesses alleged that on 6 June after the fighting had stopped the Indian military executed detainees who had their arms tied behind their backs, and fired on men and women who had heeded the announcements of the military to evacuate.

The military action in the temple complex was criticized by Sikhs worldwide, who interpreted it as an assault on the Sikh religion. Many Sikh soldiers in the army deserted their units, several Sikhs resigned from civil administrative office and returned awards received from the Indian government. Five months after the operation, on 31 October 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated in a suicide bombing in an act of revenge by her two Sikh bodyguards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh. 

Public outcry over Gandhi's death led to the killings of more than 3,000 Sikhs in Delhi alone, in the ensuing 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Unofficial estimates of number of Sikhs massacred during the first week of November, 1984 are as high as 17,000 killed across several cities in North india and Central India.