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White Paper: Government Justification for the Blue Star Attack

The preamble to the Government White Paper gives two grounds for the attack on the Darbar Sahib. It says that (a) ‘the consequences of this determined assault on society cannot be measured simply in terms of the number of people killed and injured’180 and that (b) ‘the whole thrust of extremist violence was to fragment the people of Punjab and destroy their common culture.’181

We shall examine the rationale or validity of both these grounds separately. It is essential not only to ascertain the validity of these statements but also to find out whether the measures that were adopted and the effects thereof, in any manner, are related to them and justify the results obtained.

The first point to ascertain is whether the Akali agitation was responsible for creating any division among the communities. It is a well-known fact that while the post-Independence history of the rest of India is filled with large scale and repeated communal and other riots involving the loss of thousands of lives and property and police shooting of hundreds of rioters, there has hardly been a single communal riot in Punjab, despite half a dozen Akali agitations. On the other hand, open communal attacks as already indicated took place at Panipat in Haryana,182 Himachal Pradesh and Punjab including the desecration of the replica of the Golden Temple and the photo of Guru Ram Dass at the Railway Station, Amritsar.183 And it has been noted that the persons involved in the desecration at Amritsar were mostly found to be the protégés of the Congressmen and the BJP leaders.184 Hence nothing could be more untrue than the assertion that the agitation was in any manner creating a Hindu-Sikh divide.

The major issues were purely territorial or economic in nature which affected the economic interests of every Punjabi whether Hindu, Sikh, Christian or Muslim. In fact, the assertion was that the Congress was being communal because admittedly Punjabi speaking areas which were Hindu in population were allotted to Haryana. And, even though international experts had forcefully recommended that the use of Punjab river waters in Punjab would be far more productive and beneficial than its wasteful and expensive use in the distant desert areas, the Government allotted over three fourth of available Punjab waters to the non-riparian areas of Rajasthan and Haryana. Actually, it would seem that it was a virtual marvel and creditable for the Akali agitation that it never provoked Hindu-Sikh rift to result in a communal clash. In fact, the repeated charge was the other way, that since the Akali demands were rational, constitutional and logical and the Centre’s policy discriminatory, the Government found no other way to justify its illegal and indefensible stand except by creating the communal rift so as to win the feelings and sympathies of the rest of Hindu India.

The ill-conceived policies of the Government have had a direct bearing on the crisis in Punjab and the resultant tensions and conflicts. A Government which dragged its feet in hammer­ing out a fair and equitable solution to an essentially political problem has much to answer for.

Instead of referring the water and hydel power issue to the Supreme Court, it withdrew the case from there and later attacked the Golden Temple, intensifying the crisis still further. Responsible public leaders had openly stated that an attack on the Golden Temple would be no solution and instead would be ruinous to communal relations. This was what Rajiv Gandhi spoke as late as March 23, 1984, “I think we should not enter the Golden Temple. The police can enter the temples, but it is a question of what is good balance. To-day as we see it, it is not as if Sikhs are against the Hindus, and we should do nothing that separates them.”185 Thus, the Government was not uncons­cious of the fact that an attack on the Golden Temple would create a communal divide. Yet two months later it was not the police but the army that entered the Temple leading to a communal divide of the worst kind. It was not a handful of Sikhs who were affected as claimed by the Government. It was the entire mass of the Sikh community which felt hurt, humiliated and alienated. Participating in the discussion in the Parliament on the White Paper, Inderjit Gupta of the C.P.I. said,

“In respect of all those Sikh masses to-day, I regret to say that there is no use saying here, ‘No, no. Only a handful of people have been affected’. It is not the truth, let us be objective. We are living in India, we are not living in some other country, in a vacuum. We are living in a country, in a society where religion and religious sentiments and religious feelings and prejudices are a most powerful and potent factor. Now I am speaking I say all glory to you all good men of religion as an atheist. I am saying and I will understand. I should not be able to understand, you should be able to understand better that to-day a vast mass of the Sikh community, after what happened in Amritsar, in Golden Temple, has become so bitter, angry and hostile. Is it not a great pity? It will take a long long time to assuage these feelings...To-morrow, if the Army goes into a mosque or mandir, the same kind of reaction would go on among the Hindus and Muslims, you cannot avoid it.”186

The second part of this matter is whether the attack could or did in any way help to maintain cultural or religious amity. That the result of such a step would be disastrous was the repeated warning of Sikh and non-Sikh public men. That, its results have in every manner been horrendous and, destructive are too evident to be denied now. It is true that the Blue Star attack directed against ‘divisive forces’ resulted not in controlling but in aggravating the process of communal polarisation and hard­ening of attitudes on both sides. Unbridgable gap was created bet­ween the two communities. For, after the Blue Star attack, while the whole Sikh community mourned over it, the Hindus welcomed it and rejoiced over it. This was confirmed by the President of India Zail Singh, himself,

“The two communities have wept and smiled together. But the time came when one community wept and the other smiled. This had never transpired before.”187

Who can deny that the assassination of the Prime Minister and the massacres of the Sikhs were the direct result of the attack on the Golden Temple which, the White Paper claims, was made to rectify the cultural division which the Akali agitation had been creating. In this context it was both cruel and callous for the White Paper to state that the Blue Star attack was made to remedy the cultural divide the extremists were creating.

Next we come to the point of violence detailed by the White Paper. Unfortunately, the Paper has irrelevantly clubbed together the alleged violence in the Akali agitation and the clash between the Nirankaris and a group of Sikhs. We have already dealt with the Nirankari issue, which was consi­dered to have been created by the Government as a part of its diversionary tactics so as to hide its denial of justice to Punjab on the economic issues. And, as to the conflict between the Akhand Kirtni Jatha-cum-Bhindranwale group and the Nirankaris on the Baisakhi day at Amritsar when the latter paraded a procession involving derogatory references to Guru Granth Sahib the fact is that two Nirankaris were killed and thirteen of the other group were shot dead. Later when Bhindranwale was arrested in connection with the murder of Lala Jagat Narain, an off shoot of the Nirankari tangle, he was profusely interrogated and found unconcerned with any violence or murder.

Calendar of violence given in the White Paper takes no note of the routine crimes and killings in the State. The State Government at one time circulated among the journalists a document making a comparative study of the crime figures in different states. The document stated that ‘Violence is endemic to UP, Bihar and West Bengal and even such states as Kamatka and Andhara Pradesh, not to speak of north-eastern states where insurgency defies solution, and in comparison Punjab is still one of the most peaceful states of India.’188 The document said that there were 5,422 murders in 1980 and 5,068 in 1981 in UP while in Punjab there were 620 murders, in 1980 and 544 in 1981.189 According to Kuldip Nayar,

“between 20 March, 1981 and 2June, 1984, incidents of violence had taken a toll of 386 lives in Punjab.’190

However the White Paper states that 410 persons were killed in Punjab in the phase of violence from August 4, 1982, when the Akali Morcha was started up to June 3, 1984.191 As to the marshalling of long list of violence in the White Paper, Government figures do not identify separately as to how many Sikhs or Hindus were killed. Finance Minister Parnab Mukerjee’s figures given for the period from 1982 to 1984 are more specific saying that out of nearly 300 persons killed in Punjab, the majority were of the same community (Sikhs).192 Our calculations from the White Paper reveal that 181 Sikhs and 127 Hindus were killed.193 The White Paper takes no note of the acts of state violence. According to Akali Dal sources more than 250 Sikhs had been killed in firing or in fake encounters by police or security forces before the army action.194 Clubbing together every kind of violence under one heading in the White Paper is unfair. The Paper is guilty of misrepresentation as it includes as many as ten incidents of violence that took place in Haryana, Delhi and Rajasthan just to inflate the number of violent incidents without showing how these were linked with the alleged extremist activities. It is well known that in all these acts of engineered violence the victims were Sikhs. The Government justified its attack on the Golden Temple by publicising the figure of 410 persons killed in a period of two years, whereas in the Bombay-Bhiwandi violence of May 1984, more than 300 Muslims were killed within a few days.195 The Government’s ambivalent attitude on the issue is no secret.

The burden of the Government White Paper is to prove that the attack on the Golden Temple was necessary to curb the violence created by the Akalis. We have quoted figures from the White Paper and public statements to find that before the Blue Star attack 127 Hindus were alleged to have been killed by the extremists. It is evident that so as to curb this violence, the Administration killed first 181 Sikhs and later attacked the Golden Temple killing more than 5000 Sikhs during the Blue Star and Wood Rose operations, as stated by Kuldip Nayar.196 These included pilgrims, SGPC employees, including the Ragis and Granthis and peaceful Akali agitators who had collected to court arrest in the Dharam Yudh Morcha. In addition, Sikhs were killed while they were marching to protest against the attack on the Darbar Sahib. A number of Sikhs were killed during the course of attack on other Gurdwaras. The subsequent killings of thousands of Sikhs in different parts of the country in November 1984 violence is also the consequence of the Hindu-Sikh tension and rift that had been created following the ironic statement of the Government White Paper that the attack on the Golden Temple was necessary to remove the cultural divide which the extremist Sikhs were creating in Punjab.197 It appears the Government was conscious that it was using a sledge hammer to kill a fly. That is why it wrote: “The consequences of this determined assault on society cannot be measured simply in terms of the number of people killed or injured.”198 The arithmetic of killings of the Sikhs by the state was far too much weighed against the rationale which has sought to justify it on the basis of violence by the extremist Akalis.

The narration of events of violence in the White Paper high­lights all such incidents in which the victims of violence are Hindus or Nirankaris, whereas it tries to minimise and suppress information regarding violence against the Sikhs. Blatant acts of state repre­ssion and unwarranted police atrocities are justified in the name of restoring law and order. For example at the time of the Sikh gathering at Chowk Mehta when Bhindranwale was arrested (September 20, 1981) eighteen Sikhs were killed by police firing as per newspaper reports.199 But the White Paper gives the number of Sikhs killed in this incident as eleven.200 No official was reported as killed or seriously injured. Similarly, Government’s own narration in the White Paper regarding the peaceful Rasta Roko agitation on April 4, 1983 mentions that the police used lathi charge, tear gas shells and firing with the result that “21 persons died.”201 though the number given by the press was 24.202 On the official side no one died or received grievous injury. In the subsequent attack by Congressmen at Panipat, Jind, Jagadhari, Kamal, Kaithal and elsewhere in February 1984, eleven Sikhs were killed, Gurdwaras desecrated and burnt and women molested. This happened inspite of the forewarning given to the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister by Harkishan Singh Surjeet, a member of the Politburo of the C.P.I. (M) that much trouble would erupt in Haryana towns on February 1984.203 No follow up action was taken by the Government as it was “not interested in restoring peace in the two strife-torn States.”204 In addition scores of Sikh youths were eliminated in the so-called police ‘encounters’ and during the police custody, including thirty four Sikhs in one incident. Reckless killings by the police became a key factor in the creation of crisis in Punjab.

If one goes to the essence of the crisis in Punjab with equanimity and objectivity, one comes to the inevitable conclusion that violence in the State raised its head under grave provocation. The Government failed to realise that ‘when political problems are allowed to fester, government’s monopoly of violence is bound to be challenged by counter-violence.’205 Bullets, cannonballs and rockets are not the answers to the political problems.206 Demands that are politically and judiciously irresistible cannot forever be allowed to be converted into law and order issues. By and large, media maintained a guilty silence over the enormity of injustice done to Punjab. Rather it provided legitimacy to the Government policies, justified repression and demanded even more stringent policy, para-military and military actions.

As to the Dhillwan killings, which was the start of commu­nal angle, Sant Harchand Singh Longowal repeatedly asserted that a judicial enquiry should be held and he would provide documentary evidence to prove the connivance of Congress leaders, including a Centre Minister and a State Minister in these killings and even later incidents of violence.207 And yet the Government never held an enquiry into such a serious affair. The burden of Longowal’s assertion was that Hindu killings were the result of Government policy to malign the Akali agitation for Punjab’s rights as a communal agitation. In fact the real assertion was that Punjab was being discriminated against because it was a Sikh majority area and there was no Hindu-Sikh tension or problem in the State.

There are several misrepresentations and distortions of facts in the calendar of events of violence in the White Paper. The Punjabi Tribune brought to light three concrete cases where contradiction is glaringly obvious and the White Paper is so palpably guilty of misrepresentation.

  1. The Calendar in the White Paper describes an incident on February 23, 1984; “Shri Rameshwar Rishi Dev, his son and a child aged 18 months were murdered in village Khandoli, P.S. Rajpura. One woman was seriously injured.’208 But the Senior Superintendent of Police stated, on February 28, that Sulti Dev Rishi of Purnea (Bihar) was arrested in connection with the crime and had confessed having committed it.209
  2. Another incident of May 13, 1984 is described in the Calender as follows: “Shri Pawan Kumar, a cloth merchant of Adalat Bazar, Patiala, was shot at and injuried.”210 But the Patiala SSP Raid on May 14 that Pawan Kumar's death was caused by some unsharpened weapon and not by a bullet, according to the medical report.’211
  3. The Calender describes another incident of May 29, 1984: “Jeweler worth some lakhs of rupees was looted at pistol point from the shop of Shri Basu Dev, a goldsmith at Patiala.”212 The SSP of Patiala revealed that the alleged theft had occurred at 2 or 3 a.m. and the case was registered with the police by the owner at 10 a.m. After inquiry, the SSP found that the case was a fake one.213

Thus the Government attributed every outrage, explosion, theft, dacoity, robbery or routine criminal acts to the Sikh extremists. The way these incidents began to be projected by the Government and the media fitted well with the Government design to set the stage for the gory drama. The policy of the Govern­ment was to malign the Sikhs and to frustrate their peaceful movement in its efforts to get socio-economic justice for Punjab.

In fact, as the realities are, the White Paper and the subse­quent unfortunate and eventful years to which the Government policies and violence have led, hardly justify the attack on the Golden Temple on any rational or even administratively sensible basis. There is no ground whatsoever why the Government failed to solve the economic and even constitutional demands of the State for two scores of years. That the entire gory exercise was undertaken only to sidetrack the issues by creating a communal opinion in the country that should cloud its vision to see the truth, is evident enough. But, in retrospect, the tragic conse­quences of those tactics and policies have been too destructive to be justified on any plea of the interests of the country or its people.

Later when the kid glove was removed and Mr. Ribeiro was appointed as Director General of Police and Secretary for internal security and was given a “free hand”214 in Punjab to pursue a policy of repression, he was blunt enough to announce that he would follow a policy of ‘bullet for bullet’ and would destroy those whom he considered to be guilty because the courts failed to convict them.215 On May 25, 1987, Ribeiro told a newspaper that there were only 100 armed terrorists left in Punjab. Three weeks later, on June 16, be stated: “In Punjab, the police has killed or captured 3, 318 terrorists in the last 14 months. In one month since President's rule, we have killed or captured 404 terrorists.”216 How 100 terrorists increased to 404 reveals the killing of innocents in fake and contrived police encounters. In a candid interview given to the Times of India in Bombay Ribeiro expressed the view that “fighting terrorists was only a part of fighting terrorism and that in the hurry to root out terrorism the biggest effort to win the hearts and minds of the Sikhs had gone by default.”217 Ribeiro’s unabashed disregard of the law and the courts was worse than medieval in its approach and tactics. He also admitted that he had introduced his men to do spying and killing and justified it on grounds of its being an accepted norm of state policies. And yet, after three years of his unbridled pursuit of state violence and the existence of the TADA which eliminates the right to life, he virtually threw up his hands with the observations that the problem could not be solved by the bullet and repression since the issues were basically politi­cal and could be dealt with as such alone. The reading of the events clearly shows that the real reason was a persistent reluctance to solve the economic and political issues constitutionally, justly or fairly and instead to camouflage them and mislead the public into believing that the problems related to the law and order or the so called violence of a few hot heads. The distinguished policeman K.F. Rustamji also emphasised the same thing when he wrote:

‘Our policy has been based on political imperatives which urge that terrorism is a scourge that must be wiped out at once, with any measures that would speed up the end—and that without dynamic political initiatives. A few innocent persons may suffer in the process. A few cases of injustice may occur. But in the wider interest of the nation that would have to be the price we pay for saving the republic from disintegration. The end, it would appear, justifies the means. We have heard this type of nonsense time and again, and now it seems to have become the accepted policy of a forceful political group like the B.J.P. What it wants is a surge of violence, even if there is no danger at all of disintegration. A fact that they will not accept is that the extremists may try their tactics for 100 years and yet there would be no break-up.”218

The above is the story of state violence used to curb the violence of the Sikh extremists with the result of mounting escala­tion of violence and the political issues becoming increasingly tangled and unresolved. Who can deny that when the Government publicly accused the alleged extremists of a community for killing some Hindus and in reply attacked the holiest shrine of the Sikhs, killing in the process thousands of them there and all over the State and thereafter without a word of regret in Parliament or elsewhere decorated those who had committed the excesses, the mobs of the majority community interpreted this as a clear message to them. No wonder they translated it into revengeful massacres of thousands of Sikhs at the capital and all over the country in the same year at the very first opportunity. And it is not a coincidence that the violence was the greatest from where the message had emanated.