(Viewpoints based on book)
Events imbued with the potency to change the face of mankind are often preceded by occurrences that reek of the inevitable. One can say this with conformity in the context of instances such as the Operation Blue Star, 1984. For some especially the Sikhs the world never remained the same and ascertaining their identity became a raging question ever since.
Amritsar – Mrs. Gandhi’s Last Battle authored by Mark Tully and Satish Jacob tracks moments of trepidation when the Indian state took stand against men of its own origin. Beant Singh and Satwant Singh the two bodyguards of Indira Gandhi had not only fired several bullets into her body their misdeed in fact was to snowball into a catastrophe of humongous proportions. Block-32, Trilokpuri was one such locality in Delhi that had to bear the brunt of harboring the Sikh population in hordes, which became the site of genocide at the hands of the rioters. Rahul Bedi a reporter of the Indian Express became a witness to the human slaughter lasting for almost 30-hours that ensued after Indira’s assassination. Figures are dreadful indeed with around 2717 people killed in anti-Sikh riots, among them 2150 had died in Delhi alone. As many as 50,000 Sikhs had fled from Delhi to Punjab in a bid to save their families from the wrath of the henchmen of Congress.
The environment also plays an important role when such vicious machinations are played out. The ambience just before Operation Blue Star was marked by the effort of Mrs. Gandhi to consolidate the Hindu vote bank, a sort of ‘revivalism’ if one may specify it. This was a unique thought in the wake of the fact that Congress had always harped on the minority support mainly the Muslims and the Dalits post independence. That the circumstances thereafter didn’t ascribe to Mrs. G’s aspirations unfolded in one of its crude forms.
Before one becomes acquainted with other characters of the story it is important to understand the basic tenets of Sikhism. The word Sikh means ‘disciple’ with the religion being firmly rooted in the teachings of its ten gurus, the first among them being Guru Nanak. Sikhism has a lot to do with Mysticism and is in fact a cautious combination of the good from Islam as it rests its belief on Monotheism; at the same it draws inspiration from Hinduism in espousing the belief of reincarnation and karma. For instance the very idea of Guru ka langar is an attempt to do away with the caste system prevalent in the community of Hindus. Perhaps it was with such conviction that the foundation of this religion was laid that even after forty years of Nanak’s death his followers continued to emerge as a group with a distinct identity. It was during the reins of Akbar that the Golden Temple came up in the city of Amritsar; Akbar was well-known for religious tolerance and giving space to each sect on that front. Trouble began when Jahangir locked horns with the fifth guru, Arjun Singh. The Akal Takht or the Eternal Throne inside the Golden Temple owes its origin to the efforts of Hargobind, the youngest son of Arjun Singh. Hargobind gifted the Sikhs with the tool of 5-Ks (kes, kangha, kada,kach and kirpan) that has helped this group of brave-hearts retain their individuality ever since.
That was 1699 when spat with Jahangir had happened and after that it was in 1984 when the Sikhs truly sensed an encroachment into their regime of faith and belief. Sikhs also look up to the contribution made by Maharaja Ranjit Singh who not only led an impressive army but also helped in setting up Amritsar as the center of trade, not to forget his crucial monetary contribution to the Golden Temple. The terrain was soon to be dominated with the fervor of the Gurudwara Movement (1920-1925) which in the backdrop of the Jallianwala massacre gained ground with enormous speed. This agitation also aimed to get rid of the malpractices and the corrupt mahants that ruled the roost in gurudwara in those days. The outcome was the induction of two prominent institutes that represent the contention of the Sikhs even today – the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee and the Akali Dal.
Even the Punjabi Suba Movement led by Master Tara Singh from 1947 till 1964 could not yield substantive results for some of the extreme Akali elements. Indira Gandhi once again succumbed to her way of dealing with the senior members of the rebellious Congress left behind by her father. Those conniving notions of Politics yielded to the Punjab Settlement and the emergence of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. Did the problems of the Akalis come to an end with this chapter? Not really!
Riding high on the populist notions of its people is the dream of any regional party and the Akali Dal was missing out terribly on this. It was this desperateness to cash on an issue which saw the Akali Dal Working Committee coming forth with the Anandpur Sahib Resolution in 1973. Few were far-sighted enough to realize that the insertion of stubborn demands into this resolution would be put to good use by the second lead, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.
As Bhindranwale took charge of the Damdami Taksal (missionary school for Sikhs), his soon-to-be bête noire Indira was looking for means to deal with the 1977 electoral defeat. It was on the suggestion of Zail Singh, a Congress patriot that Sanjay Gandhi’s attention befell on Bhindranwale who had the ability to create fissures in the Akali Dal. Jarnail Singh’s outrageous call in 1978 to act as an impediment to the Nirankari Convention in Amritsar was the first example of the unbelievable audacity of this religious guru. Another ploy unfolded soon in the form of floating of the Dal Khalsa party on behalf of the Congress to aid Bhindranwale however the man himself denied claims of any association with the party.
It was a series of murders that made the situation more chaotic – the first one was that of Baba Gurbachan Singh (24, April 1980) of the Nirankari sect; the second victim of bullet shots was Lala Jagat Narain (9, Sep 1981) proprietor of ‘Punjab Kesari’ a broadsheet which was seemingly acerbic about Bhindranwale and his staunch viewpoint. As the wave of grave dissent began to blanket the atmosphere Bhindranwale was arrested on 20th September only to be released soon afterwards due to lack of evidence. In the time that elapsed until 1983 all the labors on part of the Center to resolve the conflict went in vain, only the worse could have ensued with the voice of Akali Dal’s leader Longowal being replaced with the thunderous discourses of Bhindranwale who had started challenging Mrs. Gandhi openly by proclaiming. President’s rule in Punjab in 1983 was followed by the initiation of Operation Blue Star on 5th June, 1984. Men in uniform once again made their way into the holy shrine and in the confrontation that lasted for 48-hours even the Akal Takht with shells of the Vijayanta tank inducted into it, became an evidence of the friction between the radical ideas of one man and the State.
In an interview to the BBC during his lifetime, Bhindranwale talks about freedom of the Sikhs from the shackles of slavery. If indeed this was the noble idea behind kick starting am armed struggle against one’s own country then what was ‘that’ which came our way on August 15, 1947? As for Mrs. Gandhi she simply endured the wrath of flame that she believed shall emblazon her empire for another decade or so. Religion and Politics are inseparable in India however what disappoints the modernist is the implementation of ideas of the old school of thought even today. Rajaona and the related debate seem to be the manifestation of this archaic and shrewd center of power.