Anniversary of Operation Blue Star
June 3-8, 1984
Use of Force to Quell the People
Thirty-seven 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. Other Gurdwaras were also attacked.
The Golden Temple is the holiest site of Sikhs. The stated aim of the assault, code-named Operation Blue Star, 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 who wanted statehood for Punjab — the creation of Khalistan. The ruling class 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 not religious in any way. This served as the model for later targeting all people of the Muslim faith. Equating religious fundamentalism with terrorism, all Muslims and their communities and Imams were treated as criminals subject to a demand to prove their innocence by swearing loyalty to the state and declaring themselves to be “moderates.” Meanwhile, as in the case of the Sikhs, Muslims were made and continue to be made 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 actions of the state. By modern standards, the state is not to be 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, armoured 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 during the five-day assault.
The storming of the centre of Sikh spiritual authority by order of Indira Gandhi led immediately to a mutiny in Sikh units of the Indian Army. Four months later on October 31, Indira Gandhi was herself assassinated 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 from November 1 to 3. State-organized anti-Sikh gangs of thugs 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. Government officials who are known to have instigated, authorized and organized the violence subsequently enjoyed promotions, including to cabinet positions. They were permitted to act with impunity despite repeated demands for justice.
Since that time, the use of violence has come to characterize Indian political life 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 15 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 in 1991. He wrote:
“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 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.
(Photos: Sikhmuseum.com, allaboutsikhs.com)