TV Series Objects Way Of Conducting Not Politics Behind Operation Blue Star
By Jaspal Singh Sidhu
07 August, 2013
A TV serial produced and anchored by Kanwar Sandhu former Managing Editor of Chandigarh-based ‘Day & Night’ T.V. channel on the Indian Army attack on Golden Temple, Amritsar in June 1984 largely questions the way of conducting the Operation but slips the basic politics that led to the storming of the holiest place of the Sikhs. And the serial which, obliviously, finds fault with Army general’s military strategy does not unravel why the Indian State chose to suppress the political dissent of a minority with mammoth use of the force knowing well the Operation would entail serious repercussions. It does not touch the issue that while proclaiming to espouse secular and democratic ideals, why the Indian State went to the extent of trampling the minority’s religious sentiments by attacking the Golden Temple which amounted to clear bucking up of the Hindu majority religion and ethos.
The serial’s presentation remains confines to the nitty-gritty of the military operation only. It does not touch the fundamental political ideology of the Indian Establishment which, being attuned to the building of a homogenized Nation State, invariably, handles minorities and for that matter dissent of north-east states and that of Kashmiris with iron hand. And, against this backdrop the then Congress Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had raised the bogey of ‘’saving the unity and integrity of’ Indian nation’ under dire threat from the Sikh separatists’’. This slogan had instantly seized the Indian majority’s psyche and rendered the opposition politically totally ineffective.
One could hardly find any answer to the above raised issues in the T.V. serial spread over nine episodes and titled as ‘Untold Story-Operation Blue Star’. It was telecast in June last coinciding with the 29th anniversary of the Army operation at Golden Temple. The serial also gives least clue to the fact as to why the Sikhs get emotionally ruffled and feel ravaged by even a slightest threat of a sacrilege to the Golden Temple and lay their life in defending it. And, the Golden Temple has assumed status of ‘INVIOLABILITY’ for the Sikhs in the course of 300 odd year history holding a parallelism nearly to the sovereign status of Vatican, the seat of Pope’s Government in Rome.
The TV serial comes out with traditional elitist analysis tracing the causes and expediency behind the Army attack that Sant Jarnail Singh Bhinderanwale with his armed followers had occupied Akal Takht building and piled up illegal weapons there and even ‘sheltered criminals’ there. The serial depicts that Sant Bhinderanwale had snatched control of the Akal Dal from its leaders and he believed that political power flowed from the barrel of the gun. The government was left with no option but to send Army to the holiest shrine.
But one has to delve deeply as to why bloody confrontation of June 1984 between the Indian State and the Sikh minority took place at all. All above said needs to be contextualized against what Joseph Earnest Renan, 20th century French political expert on ‘Nationalism and National Identities’ says about the process of nation-building. On achieving Independence, the then ruling Congress, particularly Nehru and Patel began consolidating India as a ‘Nation’ based on the Western concept of a ‘nation-state to be followed it by those succeeding them. Renan says for building a nation such history of a constituent which generates a perception of separate identity needs to be submerged into a pan-national identity.
“Forgetting history or even getting it wrong (distorting) is one of the major elements in building a Nation; which is why progress of historical studies is frequently a danger to Nationalism” says Joseph Renan.
So, the ‘nation building’ project necessitated that the Sikh history which harps on ‘‘inviolability’ of the holiest shrine be rubbished and re-written as to render it what eminent Marxist Hobesworm says “patriotically useful’ for the Indian Nation. Viewing in this perspective, Indian Nation State with trappings of its ‘Territorial Unity and Integrity’ projected itself as a sanctimonious and ‘inviolable’ entity overriding any such claim ascribed to the Golden Temple by the faithful. Hence, Sant Bhinderanwale emerged as a rebel of the Indian State and projected as a most daunting rebel for the ‘modern Indian mind’ because his activities were described as an attempt to raise ‘a State within the Indian State’.
Leaving aside superficial treatment of serious political issues, the TV serial has made some worth-noting exposures which, undoubtedly, deserve appreciation. First, it attempted to knit a whole story from the beginning to the end that gives a fair idea about ‘what actually happened’. It rebuts claims of General KS Brar who led the operation that there was a minimum use of force. It brings General J.S Jambal and other Army officers involved in the Operation to speak out that the operation was “strategically wrong, ill-conceived and ill-timed on Guru Arjun Dev’s martyrdom day that attracts thousands of devotees on that day”. The serial presents documents in support of its contention that the Army had acted hurriedly without taking civil authorities and their intelligence inputs into consideration resulting in death of thousands innocent Sikhs including old, women and children.
Even, remaining within the limits of mainstream media, the serial rubbished the official claims and highlights that some Sikh youths with their hands tied behind their backs, were shot dead point-blank by soldiers presenting post-mortem reports to that effect. The sharp difference between the Hindus and Sikhs’ perception on the Operation with the former hailing it, has duly been highlighted in an interview of Colonel Adarsh Sharma, a Military Intelligence officer in Amritsar during the Operation who hints that non-Sikhs were hailing soldiers as ‘liberators’ unmindful of the pain suffered by the Sikhs at that time. Similarly, Brigadier Guraiya narrates an anecdote in the serial that as an expression of gratefulness, the Hindus distributed and served sweets to the soldiers. By dishing out secrets from Punjab CID files, the serial also, in a way, documents the facts that the Army had acted in haste because of ulterior political motives and used the excessive force. The serial, also refuted the official propaganda that the Army operation was conducted expeditiously because the Sikh militants, inside the Golden Temple were about to announce ‘Khalistan’ at the bidding of Pakistan. A former IPS officer, MPS Aulakh who was in-charge of IB office in Amritsar at the time of attack, unambiguously rejects it as a propaganda and narrates in the serial that ‘ the Bhinderawale camp had never been serious on Khalistan ‘’. Former BSF DIG Pandher interviewed in the serial also exposes the arrogant and inimical attitude of the Army generals towards the Sikh faithful otherwise hundreds of devotees gathered in the Golden Temple on the eve of Guru Arjun Dev’s martyrdom day, could have escaped before the Army attack.
Another notable exposure made in the serial is that a handful of dedicated Sikh militants under the directions of General Subeg Singh inside the Temple gave an exemplary fight to the Armed forces which lasted for about 70 hours frustrating the generals’ initial plan of clearing the Temple complex within 3-4 hours. And, the serial also displayed that quantity and lethal capacity of arms captured from the slain militants were in the knowledge of the Punjab CID but the Army generals contemptuously ignored the Intelligence feed back from it. While depicting the operation, the serial has shown the several scenes wherein armed Sikh militants valiantly resisted the entering of the Armed forces in the Golden Temple with tanks and armed personnel carriers (APCs) entering in ‘parikarama’. Interviews of some militants who had fought inside the Temple and escaped to safety has shed misconceptions wrapped around the death of Sant Bhinderanwale. But, interview of one and only one politician, B.S. Ramoowalia in the serial further confuses the things and gives a political color to the events.
The detail of heavy armory and excessive deployment of soldiery in the operation and putting entire Punjab under curfew and completely cutting off state’s communications with the world around are amply documented in the serial. The revolt of the Sikh soldiers in two dozen odd armed units of the military was also well- documented in the serial with minutest details.
General S.N. Sinha who has spoken at length on various issues concerning the army operation in the serial, was perhaps the first topmost functionary of the Indian Establishment to spill the beans that the New Delhi wanted to use the Army against the Sikhs around three and half years before the actual Operation on the Golden Temple, in September 1981 when Sant Bhinderanwale was to be arrested from his Mehta Chowk headquarters in the Lala Jagat Narain murder case. Besides that, General Sinha pinpointed the Army Generals’ blunders and political expediency in conducted avoidable attack on the Golden Temple.
The serial debunks General Brar’s claim that the soldiers were free whether to join the Operation or not to ‘flush out the criminals entrenched in the Golden Temple’ and those who felt even a slightest religious compunction, had been told to remain away from the fighting duty. The General says rather, a Sikh officer, Capt J.S. Raina was the first to volunteer himself to join the soldiery to attack the Golden Temple. The serial has shown Capt Raina as getting injured in the legs on his entry and getting handicapped to be given gallantry award, Ashoka Chakra by President Zail Singh on 23 March, 1985. But Capt Raina has been interviewed in the serial wherein he confessed that he has been repenting profusely for his ‘ blatant mistake’ of becoming part of the attackers and has visited the Golden Temple five times for the remission of his ‘sin’. And he says he has not looked at the award even once since he had received that.
In a nut shell, with all its mainstream media limitations, the serial did an appreciable job in documenting-- through interviews of those officials involved in the operation and dishing out official files --the excesses perpetrated by the armed forces and political hara-kiri resorted to by the then Delhi rulers by communalizing the establishment and mind of the majority of Indians to fill their vote bank. All that, ended up in metamorphosing the Indian State into a governing entity which frequently depends upon the use of force to stay in power while making the hapless Sikhs undergo an extremely tragic experience second time in 20th century after the bloodletting and uprooting of 1947.
Jaspal Singh Sidhu retired as a Special Correspondent with United News of India (UNI) at its New Delhi Headquarters in 2008. Since then, have been working as free-lance journalist and writing on Agriculture, Human rights and political affairs. He can be reached at email@example.com
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