| by B Raman
Book Excerpt: The Kaoboys of R&AW written by late B.Raman
( January 22, 2014, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) In the first few years after India’s independence, the Sikh migrants from Punjab constituted the largest single group of Indian origin in the Indian diaspora in the UK, the US and Canada. Some of them had migrated even during the British rule—particularly to Canada to work in the saw mills of British Columbia. Others had gone after 1947. Most of these migrants came from poor rural families and many of them in the UK earned their living by working as drivers and conductors in the public transportation systems of the municipalities. Some of the farmers, who had migrated to the US, did extremely well in citrus farming in California. The Yuba City in California had a prosperous community of Sikh farmers. The migrants to Canada earned their living in factories and in the public transportation systems.
I was given to understand that at the request of Kao, two officers of the British Security Service (MI-5) visited the Golden Temple as tourists and gave a similar advice to Indira Gandhi—- be patient and avoid action or use the police.
Despite their living in Western countries, they continued to be attached to their religion and led their lives as true Sikhs. Whenever they could save enough money, they would come to India to visit their relatives and worship in the Golden Temple in Amritsar. In the late 1950s and the early 1960s, the Sikhs, who were working abroad as salary-earners, started facing difficulties because their employers began insisting that they should shave off their beard and stop wearing turbans. This was particularly so in the public transportation companies of the UK. Moreover, the Sikh migrants in the West faced difficulties in getting permission from the municipal authorities for acquiring land and constructing gurudwaras where they could worship.
In the UK, many of the affected Sikhs took up the matter with the Indian High Commission in London and sought its intervention. The High Commission declined to intervene and advised the Sikhs to approach the local authorities for a redressal of their grievances. Jawaharlal Nehru, who was India’s Prime Minister at that time, followed a hands-off policy with regard to the migrants of Indian origin living abroad. He was against the Government of India intervening on their behalf with their host governments. They were told that they should sort out matters themselves by taking up their problems with the local authorities.
The affected Sikhs compared what they thought was the indifferent attitude of the Government of India with the helpful and interventionist role played by the Government of Israel in responding to the religious sensitivities of the Jewish people, wherever they might be living and whatever might be their nationality. The Israeli Government, according to the aggrieved Sikhs, always assumed a moral responsibility for protecting the religious interests of the Jewish people. Moreover, Israeli citizenship laws permitted dual nationality, whereas the Sikh migrants, who acquired a foreign nationality, had to renounce their Indian citizenship. Another demand of the Sikhs was that the Government of India should take up with Pakistan the question of facilitating pilgrimage visits by Sikhs living in India as well as abroad to their holy shrines in Pakistan such as the Nankana Sahib gurudwara.
When Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980, Chauhan went back to London and re-started his Khalistan movement.
Dissatisfaction over the reluctance of the Government of India to vigorously take up such issues with other Governments gave rise to a feeling among some of the Sikh residents of the UK, the US and Canada that only by creating an independent State for the Sikhs would they be able to have their religious rights protected. A group of Sikh bus drivers and conductors in the UK formed an organization called the Sikh Home Rule Movement under the leadership of one Charan Singh Panchi. Some well-to-do Sikh farmers in the US floated an organization called the United Sikh Appeal, which was modeled after the United Jewish Appeal, which had actively supported the rights of the Jewish people and worked for an independent State of Israel. However, the majority of the Sikh communities in the West kept away from these organizations. They did not support the idea of an independent Sikh State.
Before the India-Pakistan war of 1971, Dr. Jagjit Singh Chauhan, who had served for a few months between 1967 and 1969 as the Deputy Speaker of the Punjab Assembly and then as the Finance Minister of Punjab, went to London, joined the Sikh Home Rule Movement, took over its leadership and re-named it as the Khalistan movement. He wanted that the independent Sikh State to be created in Punjab should be named as Khalistan. Even before his arrival in the UK, the Pakistani High Commission and the US Embassy in London were in touch with the activists of the Sikh Home Rule Movement. They established contact with Chauhan after his arrival and started encouraging his propaganda against the Government of India in order to embarrass Indira Gandhi. Gen. Yahya Khan, Pakistan’s military dictator, invited him to Pakistan. He was received warmly and lionized as the leader of the Indian Sikh community even though he had no following in the Sikh community of Punjab. During his visit to Pakistan, the Pakistani authorities presented to him some of the Sikh holy relics kept in the gurudwaras of Pakistan. He took them with him to the UK and sought to use them in order to project himself as a leader, who could protect the religious interests of the Sikhs.
Before the outbreak of the war in December, 1971, the R&AW, on the instructions of Indira Gandhi, had started a PSYWAR campaign to highlight the violation of the human rights of the people of East Pakistan and the resulting refugee exodus into India. The CIA and the ISI sought to counter this by starting a PSYWAR campaign on the alleged violation of the human rights of the Sikhs in India and the indifferent attitude of the Government of India to the problems of the Sikhs living abroad. Chauhan visited New York and met the local media and others in order to brief them on the Khalistan movement. These meetings were discreetly arranged by some members of the staff of the US National Security Council Secretariat, then headed by Dr.Henry Kissinger. On October 13, 1971, he had an advertisement published in the “New York Times” proclaiming the beginning of a movement for an independent Sikh State. Enquiries made by the R&AW indicated that the Pakistani Embassy in Washington DC had paid for this advertisement. This PSYWAR campaign against India and Indira Gandhi on the question of the alleged violation of the human rights of the Sikhs continued till 1977. When Indira Gandhi lost the elections in 1977 and was replaced by Morarji Desai, this campaign was abruptly discontinued by the CIA and the ISI. Dr. Chauhan returned to India and stopped campaigning for the creation of the so-called Khalistan.
When Indira Gandhi lost the elections in 1977 and was replaced by Morarji Desai, this campaign was abruptly discontinued by the CIA and the ISI. Dr. Chauhan returned to India and stopped campaigning for the creation of the so-called Khalistan.
In the meanwhile, a number of other Sikh organizations formed by sections of the Sikh youth in the UK, the US and Canada came into being with names such as the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), the Dal Khalsa, the Babbar Khalsa etc. These advocated a violent campaign for the creation of Khalistan and repudiated the leadership of Dr. Chauhan, who was against resort to violence. By the end of the 1970s, the ISI had lost interest in Chauhan and started encouraging the new organizations. When Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980, Chauhan went back to London and re-started his Khalistan movement. As part of his propaganda campaign, he got postage stamps and alleged currency notes of the so-called independent State of Khalistan printed in Canada and started circulating them. He went to Ottawa, met a Chinese diplomat there and allegedly sought Chinese support for his movement. The Chinese declined. He reportedly went to Hong Kong and tried to go to Beijing in order to meet the Chinese leaders. The Chinese authorities refused him entry into China. After 1980, he was thus spurned by China and downgraded by Pakistan, but the US continued to maintain interest in him. He frequently visited Washington DC, met US officials and members of the Congress and testified before Congressional committees on matters such as India’s relations with the USSR, the alleged presence of Soviet military officers in India etc. The CIA maintained a distance from the new Sikh youth organizations because they advocated violence, but it kept itself briefed on their plans and activities through journalists and other intermediaries.
After Indira Gandhi came back to power, a new Sikh leader became active in the US. His name was Ganga Singh Dhillon, who was in the Punjab Police as a junior official before he migrated to the US and settled down in Washington DC. After migrating to the US, he married a Sikh woman of Kenyan origin, who was a close personal friend of the wife of Gen.Zia-ul-Haq, and also belonged to a Kenyan family. With the help of wives, Dhillon came to know Zia and became one of his trusted friends. He formed in Washington DC an organization called the Nankana Sahib Foundation and used to visit Pakistan often. The two families became so close to each other that when Zia visited Washington DC, his physically disadvantaged daughter used to stay with the Dhillons and not in the hotel in which Zia and his wife were put up by the local authorities. Dhillon also became a strong critic of Indira Gandhi and helped the US in the propaganda campaign against her.
As a result of these activities, Suntook decided towards the end of 1980 to create a separate Division to collect intelligence about the activities of the Sikh extremist elements abroad and monitor their links with the ISI. I was put in charge of the Division. After taking over, I collected all past reports bearing on this subject, collated them and prepared a detailed background note, which I could use as a database in the Division. One day, a Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) rang me up and asked me whether the R&AW had any background note on Sikh extremist activities abroad, particularly in the US. I sent him a few copies of the detailed note which I had prepared.
My view was not accepted because till then the Sikh extremists—-apart from carrying out a massacre of some members of a sect known as the Nirankaris— had not indulged in any act of terrorism.
Some days later, the office of Narasimha Rao, who had taken over as the Minister for External Affairs under Indira Gandhi, rang me up and said that Rao, who was going on a visit to the US, wanted me to meet him and brief him on Khalistani activities in the US and their links with Pakistan. I met him and briefed him. He showed me the background note, which I had prepared of which he had a copy, and asked: “This is a very good background note prepared by the MEA. Why can’t the R&AW prepare something like this?” I replied that I had, in fact, prepared it after going through the R&AW files on the subject and sent some copies to a Joint Secretary in the MEA. Rao remarked in surprise: “But the Joint Secretary said he had prepared it!”
On September 29, 1981, the then Cabinet Secretary (CS) received a flash from the New Delhi airport control tower that an aircraft of the Indian Airlines had been hijacked by some unidentified terrorists and forced to fly to Lahore. The Crisis Management Committee of the Government of India immediately met in the office of the Cabinet Secretary. The initial assessment was that the hijacking must have been carried out by the members of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which had earlier carried out a hijacking in 1971. I was called by the Cabinet Secretary. At that time, the terrorists had not identified themselves. The CS asked me for my assessment. I disagreed with the view that the JKLF must be responsible for it and added that it was most probably carried out by a Sikh extremist organization called the Dal Khalsa headed by one Gajendra Singh. My view was not accepted because till then the Sikh extremists—-apart from carrying out a massacre of some members of a sect known as the Nirankaris— had not indulged in any act of terrorism.
As I reached back my office, my Personal Assistant told me that the office of the CS was frantically trying to contact me and that they wanted me to come back to his office. When I reached there, an official in the CS’ office told me that the terrorists had identified themselves. It was some members of the Dal Khalsa led by Gajendra Singh, who had carried out the hijacking. He asked me how I was able to identify them before they had identified themselves. I replied that a few days earlier the then “New York Times” correspondent in New Delhi had visited the Golden Temple in Amritsar and met some members of the Dal Khalsa. He had also interviewed Gajendra Singh on the objectives of the Dal Khalsa and the problems of the Sikhs. In that interview, Gajendra Singh had said: “The time has come for the Dal Khalsa to emulate the Palestine Liberation Organisation.” The official asked me whether the “New York Times” published the interview. I said I did not know since I did not get the paper.
The hijackers wanted that they should be allowed to go to the US. They seemed confident that the US would not act against them.
He asked: “How then do you know he was interviewed by its New Delhi correspondent?” I replied that the IB used to intercept for the Press Information Bureau all telex despatches sent by the foreign correspondents based in New Delhi to their headquarters. They used to circulate to all senior officers dealing with national security intercepts of relevant despatches. They had intercepted the telex message sent by the “New York Times” correspondent to his headquarters about his meeting with Gajendra Singh and other members of the Dal Khalsa. I also received a copy of that intercept.
The Pakistani authorities persuaded the hijackers to release the passengers and the plane and to surrender themselves. The plane with the passengers returned to India. The surrendered hijackers, including Gajendra Singh, were allowed to live in the Nankana Sahib gurudwara. The Zil-ul-Haq Government refused to hand them over to the Government of India for investigation and trial. They promised that they would try them in their court after proper investigation. They made a sham of an investigation and trial. They were convicted and sentenced to imprisonment, but instead of sending them to jail, they were allowed to continue living in Nankana Sahib. Gajendra Singh used to meet Sikh pilgrims visiting Nankana Sahib from India and abroad and carry on propaganda against the Government of India. New Delhi’s protests against this used to be rejected by the Pakistani authorities.
Three more hijackings followed, with a similar course of events. The Pakistani authorities would allow the plane to land, facilitate interactions between the hijackers and the media to enable the hijackers indulge in anti-India and anti-Indira propaganda, persuade them to release the passengers and the aircraft so that they could return to India, make a pretense of arresting the hijackers and allow them to stay in a gurudwara instead of in a prison.
However, in the case of the fifth and last hijacking on August 24, 1984, they did not follow this drill since their earlier fraternization with the hijackers of the previous flights had come in for criticism from some sections of the international community. When this aircraft landed in Lahore, the ISI officials found that the terrorists had hijacked it with a toy and not a real weapon. They, therefore, gave the terrorists a revolver and persuaded them to go to Dubai. When the plane landed at Dubai, the authorities of the United Arab Emirates persuaded them to terminate the hijacking, by promising that they would not be handed over to the Indian authorities. The hijackers released the plane and passengers so that they could go back to India and handed over the revolver to the security authorities of Dubai. They wanted that they should be allowed to go to the US. They seemed confident that the US would not act against them.
As soon as the Government of India came to know of the plane taking off from Lahore for Dubai, they despatched a joint team of the IB, the R&AW, the MEA and the Ministry of Civil Aviation to Dubai to interact with the Dubai authorities and persuade them to hand over the hijackers to India along with the revolver for trial as soon as the hijacking was terminated. Initially, the UAE authorities seemed hesitant to do so. Indira Gandhi deputed Romesh Bhandari, then Secretary in the MEA, who had very high level contacts in the ruling family and the bureaucracy of the UAE to go to Dubai to persuade the UAE authorities to hand over the hijackers and the revolver. He was successful in his mission. An aircraft chartered from a Western company was sent to Dubai with a joint team of officers from the IB, the R&AW, one of the central para-military forces and the MEA. It was headed by an officer of the R&AW, who was then on deputation to the MEA to be in charge of security in the Ministry and the Indian diplomatic missions abroad. After the plane landed in Dubai, all the members of the Indian team stayed inside the aircraft so that the hijackers were not able to see them.
The R&AW officer in Bangkok detected his arrival in Bangkok from London through his sources. The R&AW kept him under surveillance in Bangkok as well as Kathmandu.
After the aircraft had landed, the Dubai authorities told the hijackers that as desired by them they were being handed over to the US authorities and that a special plane had come from the US to take them. They were then taken to the chartered aircraft and handed over to the Indian security team inside, along with the revolver. Only then the hijackers realised that they had been misled and that they were actually being taken to India. By then, it was too late for them to do anything. The pilot and the other members of the crew of the aircraft were also taken by surprise because they did not know that the aircraft had been chartered by the Indian security establishment for flying back the hijackers. They murmured some protest, but ultimately flew back to Delhi with the hijackers.
This was a brilliant piece of operation made possible by the co-operation of the UAE authorities, the excellent contacts of Romesh Bhandari in the Gulf countries in general and in the UAE in particular and the professionalism of the Indian security team headed by the R&AW officer. However, all this would not have been possible but for the high regard in which Indira Gandhi was held in the UAE. When some terrorists belonging to the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) of Pakistan hijacked an Indian Airlines plane from Kathmandu in December, 1999, they first took it to Lahore and then Dubai before finally going to Kandahar. The Government of the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee did not get the same kind of co-operation from the UAE authorities as Indira Gandhi was able to get. They allowed the plane to proceed to Kandahar after re-fuelling it. The failure of the Vajpayee Government to persuade the UAE authorities to terminate the hijacking could be attributed partly to its lack of good contacts in the UAE and partly to its image in the Gulf as anti-Muslim. Moreover, the MEA did not have in 1999 any senior officer with the kind of high-level contacts in the ruling circles of the Gulf countries as Romesh Bhandari had.
His contacts were not confined to the Gulf countries only. He had similar high-level contacts in South-East Asia. Once the R&AW received information that a Khalistani terrorist had taken shelter in the Philippines. It immediately sought the assistance of Bhandari. He was able to persuade senior officials in Manila to pick him up informally without arresting him and hand him over to the Indian security officials. In order to avoid media publicity, which might have invited judicial intervention, they picked him up and detained him in an Air Force base in the interior of the Philippines. An ARC plane flew in there and brought him to India. Such informal networking and contacts at the political and bureaucratic levels greatly help in counter-terrorism. One got an impression that the Vajpayee Government was not able to develop such networking during the six years it was in office.
During the interrogation, the hijackers also admitted that they got the revolver at Lahore from Pakistani officials. But, the US authorities were not prepared to accept this oral evidence as conclusive proof against Pakistan.
The revolver given by the ISI to the hijackers at Lahore before the aircraft was taken to Dubai was of West German make. The R&AW sent the details of the revolver to its counterpart in the then West Germany and sought its help for ascertaining to whom the West German company had sold it. After making the necessary enquiries, the West German intelligence intimated that the revolver was part of a consignment sold by the company to the Pakistan Army. The Government of India immediately shared this information with US officials and pointed out that it was a fit case for declaring Pakistan a State-sponsor of international terrorism. The US authorities did not agree. They said that there was no credible evidence to show that this revolver was given to the terrorists by a Pakistani official. The information that the revolver was handed over to the hijackers at Lahore by Pakistani officials came from one of the passengers of the hijacked aircraft, who had seen the revolver being handed over. During the interrogation, the hijackers also admitted that they got the revolver at Lahore from Pakistani officials. But, the US authorities were not prepared to accept this oral evidence as conclusive proof against Pakistan.
The action of the Dubai authorities in handing over the hijackers and the revolver to Indian officials created a scare in Khalistani circles and some nervousness in the ISI too. As a result, hijackings by Khalistani terrorists stopped completely. There were some instances of hijackings subsequently too, but these were carried out by individual elements unconnected with the Khalistan movement.
When the ISI noticed the motivation and the determination of the Khalistani elements, it decided to exploit them for its purposes to create instability in the Punjab. It set up clandestine camps for training and arming the Khalistani recruits in Pakistani Punjab and in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). Gajendra Singh, the hijacker of the Dal Khalsa, was put in charge of these training camps. Other Sikh terrorists such as Talwinder Singh Parmar of the Babbar Khalsa in Vancouver, who was involved in the massacre of some Nirankaris in Punjab, Manjit Singh alias Lal Singh of the ISYF, Canada, and Gurdip Singh Sivia of th ISYF, UK, were allowed to visit these training camps in Pakistani territory and motivate the Khalistani recruits. Many Khalistani elements from India were also allowed to cross over into Pakistan and provided with safe sanctuaries. This was the time when the ISI was in receipt of large funds from the Saudi and US intelligence agencies and arms and ammunition from the US for arming the Afghan Mujahideen against the Soviet troops. These flows continued till the Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988-89. The ISI diverted part of these funds and arms and ammunition to the Khalistani terrorists.
Indira Gandhi also sent Kao abroad to contact foreign-based Khalistani elements and seek their co-operation for making Bhindranwale and other Khalistani elements vacate the Golden Temple.
After giving up hijackings as a weapon, the Khalistani terrorists intensified their terrorism on the ground in Punjab and Delhi. Initially, they committed many acts of terrorism with hand-held weapons given by the ISI. Then, they started using improvised explosive devices (IEDs)—- timed as well as remote-controlled. The explosives, detonators and timers were supplied by the ISI. There were targeted killings of political leaders, officials, journalists and innocent civilians such as farm workers from other parts of India.
During the training in Pakistan, the ISI impressed on them the need to weaken the economy of Punjab by attacking its irrigation canals and the farm workers from other parts of India, who go to Punjab to work there. It also emphasized the need to extend their operations to Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and other parts of India. There was hardly any reaction from the Western Governments to the ISI’s sponsoring of terrorism against India in Punjab. The ISI looked upon its operations in support of the Khalistan movement as a reprisal for India’s role in the liberation of Bangladesh. It also felt that the destabilization of Punjab would weaken India’s ability to maintain internal security in Jammu & Kashmir and enable the Pakistan Army to annex J&K. The ISI code-named its operation as Operation K-K (Khalistan-Kashmir).
Initially, the Khalistani terrorists did not have much ground support from the people of Punjab, but the position changed in their favour after the Asian Games of November 19-December 4,1982, which were held in Delhi. Around that time, the London-based Jagjit Singh Chauhan flew to Bangkok and from there proceeded to Kathmandu to meet some Khalistani elements from Punjab. The R&AW officer in Bangkok detected his arrival in Bangkok from London through his sources. The R&AW kept him under surveillance in Bangkok as well as Kathmandu. The Government of India requested the Nepalese authorities to pick him up and hand him over to the Indian Police. They did not oblige. They picked him up and put him on board a flight to Bangkok. The Thai authorities were not helpful either. They forced him to go back to London. Before the Games, the IB and the R&AW were in receipt of alarming reports that the Khalistani terrorists were planning to disturb the Games through IEDs. The Police and the central para-military forces took tight security measures. Security barriers were set up on all roads leading to Delhi. Cars and buses were stopped and many Sikhs were subjected to physical search for any concealed weapons or IEDs. The feelings of humiliation caused by these measures drove many Sikhs of Punjab and Delhi into the arms of the Khalistani terrorists. The years 1983 and 1984 saw a serious deterioration of the situation in Punjab. The Khalistani terrorists started using the Golden Temple in Amritsar as a sanctuary for their operations. On April 26, 1983, A.S. Atwal, a Deputy Inspector-General of Police of Punjab, was gunned down by the terrorists as he was coming out of the Golden Temple.
The ill-advised actions of Zail Singh, former Home Minister, who subsequently became the President of India, in trying to use Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to create a split among the Khalistanis in the hope of thereby weakening them boomeranged. Instead of weakening them, he became their leader. He acquired a religious aura and attracted a number of Sikh peasants and other poor Sikhs to the Khalistan cause. He and his supporters took shelter inside the Golden Temple at Amritsar and started operating from there. The number of incidents of terrorism started going up. Punjab and even Delhi kept bleeding more and more. There was panic in the Government when the trans-border sources of the IB and the R&AW started reporting that the ISI had been infiltrating Pakistani ex-servicemen and even some serving members of the Pakistan Army into Punjab to help the Khalistanis. There were even some reports that some of these Pakistani mercenaries had taken up position inside the Golden Temple and were acting as advisers to Bhindranwale and other Khalistani leaders.
Lt. Gen. Sunderji, who co-ordinated the Operation, blamed the intelligence agencies for the untidy operation. He claimed that the Khalistanis were much larger in number inside the temple than he had been told by the intelligence agencies…
The alarm caused by these developments and reports made Indira Gandhi contemplate for the first time sending the Army inside the temple to arrest the terrorists and their supporters. However, before doing so, she tried frantically to find a political solution and to use the leaders of the Akali Dal for persuading Bhindranwale and other terrorists to vacate the temple. Rajiv Gandhi and two of his close associates held a number of secret meetings with Akali Dal leaders in a New Delhi guest house of the R&AW. I was given the task of making arrangements for these meetings, recording the discussions, transcribing them and putting up the transcripts to Kao for briefing Indira Gandhi. These talks failed to persuade the Akali Dal leaders to see reason and co-operate with the Government of India by persuading the Khalistani elements to vacate the Golden Temple peacefully. These transcripts, which were kept in the top secret archives of the R&AW, were very valuable records with historic value. They showed how earnestly Indira Gandhi tried to avoid having to send the Army into the Golden Temple. One hopes they are kept safely and would be available for future historians.
Simultaneously, Indira Gandhi also sent Kao abroad to contact foreign-based Khalistani elements and seek their co-operation for making Bhindranwale and other Khalistani elements vacate the Golden Temple. Two other officers of the R&AW and I accompanied him. My job was again to record the discussions secretly, transcribe them and put up the transcripts to Kao for briefing Indira Gandhi on our return to India. A Khalistani leader from the US, who met Kao in Zurich, offered to try to help if he was allowed to go into the Golden Temple and meet Bhindranwale. As proof of his goodwill, he claimed that the Khalistani elements in the US had planned to kill the R&AW officer in Washington DC, but he had prevented them from doing so.There was no way of verifying his claim. I was told that Indira Gandhi was against accepting his proposal to send him inside the temple. She felt that if this person also stayed behind inside the temple and joined Bhindranwale it could add to the problems of the Government of India.
Things thereafter started moving inexorably towards an army raid into the Golden Temple in order to arrest Bhindranwale and all terrorists, who had taken shelter there. There was some unease in the intelligence community over the wisdom of the proposed course of action. One had an impression that Kao felt that it would be better to be patient for some weeks instead of taking any precipitate action, which might prove counter-productive or, if immediate action was considered necessary, to use the police and the central para-military forces instead of the Army. The Army is trained in a manner different from the police. Once the Army is launched into action, it has to prevail over the adversary. In the case of the police, it tunes its action to suit the circumstances. It does not have to prevail whatever be the circumstances. If it finds that the resistance of the adversary is high and that its attempts to prevail could cause high fatalities, it does not mind withdrawing and awaiting a better opportunity, when it can prevail at much less human cost. I was given to understand that at the request of Kao, two officers of the British Security Service (MI-5) visited the Golden Temple as tourists and gave a similar advice to Indira Gandhi—- be patient and avoid action or use the police. There was also concern in the intelligence community over the likely repercussions of any Army raid on the discipline of the large number of Sikh soldiers of the Army, but senior Army officers were confident that there would be no negative impact on the Sikh soldiers. Ultimately, when the raid was made, their confidence was belied and the concerns of the intelligence community proved correct. There were instances of resentment openly expressed—and even violently at one place—in the Army, but these were brought under control after some initial anxiety.
The lack of co-ordination in trans-border operations often resulting in inaccurate, misleading and alarming reporting continues to be the bane of our intelligence community.
The Army’s raid into the Golden Temple from June 3 to 6, 1984, code-named Operation Blue Star, was not a totally tidy operation. It experienced more resistance than it anticipated from Bhindranwale, his followers and the terrorists inside the temple. In the prolonged exchange of fire, Bhindranwale was killed and the Akal Takht was badly damaged. There were instances of violent protests by the Sikhs in some parts of Punjab and other parts of the country. The Operation caused deep feelings of hurt in the hearts of large sections of the Sikh community in India and abroad. Its negative consequences were to be felt for another eleven years. Among these consequences was the assassination of Indira Gandhi by two of her Sikh bodyguards belonging to the Delhi Police on October 31, 1984.
Lt. Gen. Sunderji, who co-ordinated the Operation, blamed the intelligence agencies for the untidy operation. He claimed that the Khalistanis were much larger in number inside the temple than he had been told by the intelligence agencies and much better armed. He blamed what he projected as the poor intelligence for the long time taken by the Army to overcome the resistance and take control of the temple. Over-confidence in his ability to score easy success before launching difficult and sensitive operations and a tendency to blame the intelligence agencies when his over-confidence was found to have been misplaced were the defining characteristics of Gen. Sunderji. One saw them during and after Operation Blue Star and one saw them again after he took over as the Chief of the Army Staff, when the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) went to Sri Lanka.
Many ISI-trained Khalistani terrorists were arrested during the raid. Large quantities of arms and ammunition supplied to the terrorists by the ISI were recovered. But not a single Pakistani Army mercenary—serving or retired— was found inside the temple. The reports of the IB and the R&AW in this regard were found to have been wrong. Many of these reports had come from trans-border sources such as smugglers etc. In some instances, the same source was reporting to the IB, the R&AW and the Military Intelligence without these organizations being aware of it. The lack of co-ordination in trans-border operations often resulting in inaccurate, misleading and alarming reporting continues to be the bane of our intelligence community.
More than the large number of casualties, what hurt the Sikhs deeply was the damage caused to the Akal Takht by the Army action. At the instance of Indira Gandhi, some Sikh leaders of her party organized a ‘kar seva’ (voluntary religious work) to have the Akal Takht repaired. But it was not that easy to repair the hurt in the hearts of large sections of the Sikh community all over the world. This lingering hurt aggravated the problem of Khalistani terrorism and led to the assassination of Indira Gandhi the same year and of Gen.A.S. Vaidya, who was the Chief of the Army Staff at the time of the operation, in 1986 in Pune, where he was living after his superannuation.