That day my wife asked me very cautiously, “What are your thoughts on Operation Blue Star? Do you think it could have been avoided?” Disclosure: by birth I am a Sikh from Punjab and my wife is a Hindu Brahmin from UP. Although she firmly believes that the 1984 riots should have never happened and the perpetrators must be punished severely (a big reason why she loathes the Congress party), she also believes that the Sikh community in Punjab maltreated the Hindus during the Khalistan movement. She also believes that the impact of the 1984 riots would have been less if some of the Sikhs in Punjab hadn’t been as nasty as they had been. We have had strong political, religious and social opinions and they don’t always tally. Hence, caution.
Anyway, I shared my thoughts with her, and I am also taking this opportunity (the 1984 riots happened during this time of the year) to talk about the subject again.
Since I’m not an expert I don’t know what the ground reality was at that time. I wasn’t much into reading news or keeping myself updated – my immediate concerns those days were how to deal with my multiply disabled body as a teenager. But I know one thing, the Golden Temple is not a bastion. It was not built to support an uprising or an armed battalion. There were armed terrorists encamped there and they had taken some people hostage, the mainstream media tells us, and this might be true. A complete uprising was being organised from there, this might also be true. But personally, I don’t think Operation Blue Star was necessary. I don’t say this as a religious person.
The Golden Temple is the holiest of the holy for many. In fact, the basic structure of the temple is so sacred that it should never be altered. The legend says that whoever alters it structurally his or her entire lineage dies. Maharaja Ranjit Singh covered the entire temple with gold knowing quite well that he would have to pay a heavy price for that. So Sikhs devoutly believe that nobody should meddle with the structure of the temple. I think the sentiment should have been respected.
There was no need to mount an attack on the temple. They could have easily blocked access to electricity, water and food from all the sides. If there were secret passages in and out of the temple, they could have been easily blocked. On top of that they could have also released massive amounts of tear gas into the temple and smoked out the terrorists. Teargas bombs could have been dropped by air or even from adjacent buildings. I think the military carrying out prayers before the attack or them going inside the temple barefoot was all very silly and pretentious. If they really wanted to solve the impasse, they could have figured out how to do it without mounting an attack.
The only positive outcome of the attack was that Bhindrawala died, but if they wanted, they could have also killed him after capturing him.
You can call my reasoning biased, I don’t think we have capable politicians and administrators in the country. Do you really believe that people like Indira Gandhi at that time had enough intelligence to solve such a volatile problem? All the institutions in our country are subverted (during Indira Gandhi’s rule even the judiciary was controlled by her). People come to power not based on their administrative abilities and political acumen, they come to power due to their communal, caste and political affiliations. Which politician do you know who was elected for his or her views on economy and realpolitik? Just one?
If such is the situation, how can we trust them to properly think through such vital issues as how to handle terrorist situations and hostage crisis?
I don’t think Indira Gandhi was assassinated for Operation Blue Star; Sikh terrorists would have anyway attacked her. The desecration of the temple was just an excuse. In the similar vein, for the 1984 riots, the assassination of Indira Gandhi became an excuse. But do I think had Indira Gandhi not been assassinated, the 1984 riots wouldn’t have occurred? Since her killing was used as an excuse, so obviously if the excuse hadn’t existed, the riots wouldn’t have happened, logically. Logic, on the other hand, doesn’t often work in our country, so one can never say. If they wanted riots, they could have orchestrated them under one pretence or another.