36th Anniversary of Operation Blue Star
Criminalization of the Polity
Founder and then-leader of CPC(M-L) Hardial Bains addresses a rally on Parliament Hill in June 1994, marking the
10th anniversary of Operation Blue Star.
Thirty-six years ago, from June 3-8, 1984, on Indira Gandhi’s orders, the Indian army launched a devastating assault and massacre of innocent Sikhs at the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar, Punjab.
The Golden Temple is the holiest site of Sikhs. The stated aim of the assault, code-named Operation Bluestar, was to “flush out” so-called “religious terrorists” led by Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. It was carried out in the context of the concerted action of the Indian and Canadian states to criminalize the political demands of Sikhs demanding statehood for Punjab — the creation of Khalistan. They labelled the proponents of this demand “religious fundamentalists.” By associating Sikhism with extremism and terrorism they managed to criminalize all Punjabis linked in any way with being Sikhs, even those who were non religious in any way. This served as the model for later targeting all people of the Muslim faith and demanding that people have to prove their loyalty to the state by proving they are “moderates.” Meanwhile, as in the case of the Sikhs, Muslims are targets of attack and everything possible is done to sow divisions amongst the people.
The Indian army operation against the Golden Temple violated the sanctity of a place of worship and established the precedent that holy places would henceforth not be considered safe haven from persecution or a refuge from the action of the state which by modern standards is not permitted to interfere with a person’s conscience and the practice of their beliefs within the sanctuary of their own church. The military action, which included tanks, helicopters, armored vehicles, artillery, and chemical weapons, was timed to take place in early June 1984. on the anniversary of Guru Arjan’s martyrdom. Over 70,000 troops were ordered to capture less than 50 men. The military assault occurred under cover of a total media blackout — thousands of innocent civilians were killed over five days.
The storming of the centre of Sikh spiritual and temporal authority by order of Indira Gandhi led immediately to a mutiny in Sikh units of the Indian Army and, four months later on October 31, to the assassination of Indira Gandhi herself by her Sikh bodyguards. Ruthless anti-Sikh pogroms were unleashed by the Indian state to wreak revenge. Thousands of innocent Sikhs were beaten and burned alive during the Anti-Sikh pogroms on November 1, 2 and 3. The state-organized anti-Sikh mobs massacred over 8,000 innocent Sikhs, 3,000 in Delhi alone. Government operations Woodrose, Blackthunder, Night Dominance, Rakshak I & II, and Final Assault led to the deaths of 25,000 to 80,000 Sikhs.
The police stood by and watched and in some cases actively participated in the attacks. The government officials who are known to have instigated, authorized and organized the violence subsequently enjoyed promotions, including to cabinet positions and impunity despite repeated demands for justice.
Violence came to characterize Indian political life which is the case to this day. Some five and a half years after Indira Gandhi was assassinated, her son Rajiv Gandhi was also assassinated on May 21, 1991, along with fifteen other people and the injuring of many more during his election campaign in Sripenumpundur, 40 km from Madras. More violence was unleashed against the people in the wake of his assassination.
Hardial Bains wrote a great deal about the anarchy and violence in Punjab and India and called on the peoples of India to oppose the criminalization of Indian politics. He pointed out that this criminalization of Indian politics underwent dramatic development during the five years Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister, from November 1984 to November 1989. Besides the broad scale killing of Sikhs all over India, especially in Delhi on October 31 and November 1, 1984, following the assassination of Indira Gandhi, thousands of politicians and political opponents from Kashmir to Assam, from Delhi to Tamil Nadu were assassinated. “Throughout this period, military and special police forces have been deployed all over India but not a single problem of a political, economic or social character has been solved,” Hardial Bains pointed out.
“Such dastardly acts have been going on since the national emergency period of 1975-77. The killing of political opponents, especially those who are branded as ‘terrorists’ and ‘anti-social elements,’ has been going on in India for a long period of time, even before the 1975-77 period. Such, for instance, is the well-known case of the killings of Naxalites and Marxist-Leninists. Killings through fake encounters organized by the police and special forces throughout the country have become notorious.”
“The criminalization of Indian politics is the symptom of an economic and political system which rebels against the peaceful solution of problems. Whether within one country or on the world scale, there has not been a single problem which has been solved in a peaceful manner during the present period. On the contrary, several big powers and powerful financial interests regularly sponsor agents who do their bidding in different countries. The financing of armed groups which operate in different countries and commit political assassinations and other crimes has become an accepted norm. The CIA-instigated coups d’état in Iran, Greece and Guatemala in 1953-54, the assassination of Allende in Chile in 1973, the financing of the Contras in Nicaragua, the invasion of Grenada and Panama, the financing of cut-throats in El Salvador, to give just a few examples, all show that it is the Americans who introduced this politics of assassination in the first place. Not only do the big powers finance clandestine terrorist groups but the reactionary ruling cliques themselves. The case of Saddam Hussein is one example. The British, Americans, French, Germans, Soviets and others provided him with billions of dollars worth of arms so long as this served their interests. They then branded him an enemy just as readily, while other reactionary Arab cliques are the recipients of their arms and favours. Just as within India ‘fighting terrorism’ and ‘anti-social elements’ has been used as a justification for state terrorism, so too internationally, the activities of the same terrorist groups which have been financed by the CIA and other intelligence services of the big powers, have been used as a justification for the international terrorism of the big powers. In this way, the U.S. bombed Libya in the dead of night. President Assad of Syria was considered by the U.S., Britain, Canada and other countries to be an international pariah before the Persian Gulf War, while Saddam Hussein was an ally. Today Saddam Hussein is branded as a Hitler and dictator, while Assad of Syria is an ally. The same ruling cliques and big powers which finance the terrorist groups in the first place use their activities to justify the acts of state terrorism, within both the national and international domains.
“This is because different cliques which have come to power in various countries have self-serving aims. Such cliques openly espouse a pragmatic, thoroughly unprincipled, policy which is set against the interests of the people. Along with it, political assassination becomes the method of ironing out political and ideological differences.
“The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi is the direct result of the sharpening contradictions within the ruling circles which are completely divorced from the interests of the people. It shows their desperation to sort these contradictions out. It is also the consequence of his own policy to criminalize Indian politics which has been supported by all the political parties in the Lok Sabha and has never been condemned by any government of other countries. All the political parties have been making promises that they will assist the people, but none of them pursue policies which are counter to the general line of serving their own narrow interests.”
“When such things take place in one country and are not condemned by the big powers, it not only assists them to establish a new modus vivendi in which such things are to be considered ‘acceptable’ but diverts the attention from the real problems which exist and from involving the people in finding solutions to these problems,” Hardial Bains said. He called on people to condemn all those responsible for the criminalization of Indian politics, including Rajiv Gandhi himself who was one of the main proponents of such a policy, and the big powers which support such a policy in India and other countries.
India’s Infamous Operation Blue Star Set
an Unacceptable Precedent
– Jaspal Singh –
Original Akal Takht, Darshani Deori and surrounding area prior to Operation Blue Star.
Thirty-six years ago on June 1, the Indian government launched Operation Blue Star to unleash violence on an unprecedented scale against the people of Punjab. More than 700,000 Army, Air Force and paramilitary forces occupied East Punjab, attacked the Golden Temple and 38 other Gurdwaras with tanks, armoured cars and lethal force, killing thousands of people in cold blood. Hundreds of thousands of people had gathered at the Golden Temple to commemorate the martyrdom of the fifth guru, Guru Arjun Dev, who was tortured to death by the emperor of Delhi.
The attack on the Golden Temple not only opened the door to the violations of the sacred places but unleashed a decade of state-organized murder, mayhem and terror against the people of Punjab. According to human rights organizations, more than 100,000 young men were killed in fake encounters and disappeared in the aftermath. No political party of any stripe in the Lok Sabha or at the state level opposed this attack but, on the contrary, they united to blame the people for being terrorists and provoking the violence. The stand the parties calling themselves political took revealed their true character as anti-people forces. So too, all major newspapers in India were uncritical. Only newspapers in Nagaland condemned the attack and similar attacks carried out by the Indian army against their places of worship.
The people of Punjab heroically resisted this attack. The young poet from Jalandhar, Arthur Victor, describes it as follows: I am Punjab, a rose that has flowered with the blood of martyrs. (Main Punjab Han, Main Kata Ke Sees Samain Samain, Khrid Da Reha Jo Gulab Han.) A young man who was tortured in prison for many years said: “Self-determination is not easy. This is the price we have to pay for our Des Punjab.”
The aim of this attack was to incite communal violence and use it as a pretext to unleash fascist terror on the just struggles of the people for a life of dignity and justice. Coming on the heels of the Nellie Massacre of thousands of Muslims in Assam, it was a watershed and declaration of the neo-liberal offensive of the Indian ruling elite against the peoples of India, which came into full relief in Ayodhaya, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Kashmir and the rest of India later. Punjab became a laboratory for the Indian state to intensify and perfect repression and its ideological arsenal with the full support from India’s Anglo-American imperialist mentors. It is a great credit to the wisdom of Punjabis that they did not indulge in communal violence, in spite of repeated incitement by the ruling elite.
Punjab was colonized in 1849 by the British. Until then it was an independent country. After Ranjit Singh’s death, the war between the Punjabi army and the British is called a war between India and Punjab. Shah Muhammad, the great Punjabi poet, alive during this war, describes the valour of Punjabis in his Jangnama Hind Punjab — a war chronicle of India and Punjab. At that time it is reported that Punjab had a higher standard of living than Britain and a higher literacy rate. There was no landlessness, unemployment, indebtedness or hunger. After the British colonized India, economists point out that they carried away more than five trillion pounds sterling worth of wealth on ships in the first two years of their occupation and systematic plunder followed. British troops went house to house burning Punjabi books. Overnight Punjab was turned into a land of illiteracy and Urdu was imposed on Punjabis along with the massive plunder and pillage of all the natural and human resources. Punjab, from being a rich area became a land of displacement, dispossession and indebtedness. Impoverished Punjabis were turned into cannon fodder for the empire with Punjab compromising close to half of the British army. It became known as the Sword Arm of the Raj.
Ever since colonial occupation, movements against the colonialists have taken many forms: the Kuka revolt, the revolts in 1857, the Pagardi Sambhal movement, the Babbar Akali movement, the Ghadar movement, the Punjabi Suba movement, the Telengana uprising, the Naxalite movement, the movement against Emergency and movement for autonomy and control of natural resources — all of these and more have raised the banner of revolt against social, economic, cultural and national oppression. It has been 180 years of continuous struggles for the affirmation of the Right to Be of Punjab and Punjabis.
For more than five centuries, Punjabis have revolted against the rulers of Delhi. Dulla Bhatti, the great and popular hero of the Punjabis raised the war cry against Akbar, Jind Desan, Punjab Na Desan (I will give my life but not Punjab). Since then and before, there have been countless rebellions of Punjabis against the rulers of Delhi. The teachings of Sants, Sufis, the revolt against the Brahmanical order and Mullahism, the Bhakti Movement and Sikh Revolution added a new dimension to these rebellions. Waris Shah, the most popular poet of Punjab refers to the war between Punjab and India during Aurangzeb’s time: Chardya Hind Te Katak Punjab Da Ji (Armies of Punjab are marching on India. Punjab became an independent country). With Ranjit Singh at the head, great prosperity developed. Invasions from the Khaibar were stopped after 2,000 years for the first time bringing peace.
Punjabis long for their Des Punjab, the affirmation of their national, social, cultural rights. Dhani Ram Chatrik, another great poet of Punjab, expressed this longing: Sada Vasda Rahe Punjab (May our Punjab live long). In 1947, the independence of Punjab was not restored; the colonial state and enslavement of Punjab continued. The British and their collaborators divided Punjab on a religious basis, killing millions of Punjabis and displacing millions more. Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed has described this genocide in great detail in his book Punjab Emptied and Bloodied. Amrita Pritam, known as the nightingale of Punjab, wrote Look at Your Punjab, expressing the trauma and pathos invoking Waris Shah. East Punjab was further divided in 1966 by the Indian ruling elite.
What is the way forward and perspective for the future? Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq, a revolutionary, thinker and scientist, the 48th death anniversary of whose death we commemorated on May 28, 2020, pointed out in 1968 in Lahore, that Punjabis cannot win their national social, cultural, economic, political rights unless they support the just struggles of all the nations and nationalities in the subcontinent for liberation. He also called on all the nations and peoples of Pakistan to support the just struggles of the people of Bengal for self determination. Aziz-ul-Haq’s thesis has stood the test of time. Although the United Nations charter had declared Self Determination a fundamental right of nations, nationalities and peoples and all the governments in the subcontinent are signatories to it, they violate it with impunity.
In 21st century, nation-building and the affirmation of the peoples’ right to be cannot be achieved by following the pattern established by the European nation-state and imposed on their colonial possessions on the Indian subcontinent This kind of nation-building turned the region into a prison of all nations, nationalities and peoples. Nation-building has to take place on a new basis, on the basis of the affirmation: One Humanity One Struggle. The Ghadarites in 1915 proposed Prajaraj — a federation of all the nations, nationalities and peoples of India with federal government having a few powers and all the residual powers resting with the nations, nationalities and peoples. Community control of natural resources and democracy in decision-making have to be the economic foundation of renovation and renewal. Such a federation is the need of the hour and a confederation of South Asia can open prospects for a prosperous future for Punjabis and other nations, nationalities and peoples in the subcontinent. This is the other world that is possible.
The 36th anniversary of Operation Blue Star reminds people of East Punjab and others about the criminal nature of the Indian ruling elite and their colonial state. The affirmation of peoples and security lies in their struggles for renewal and renovation of the ensemble of all relations against all the exploitative structures in unity with all those who are fighting for their Right to Be. Jive Punjab (Long Live Punjab) is an integral part of the quest of all humanity for emancipation and liberation.