Review by Hardev Singh Virk | Book Review |
Title of Book: The Khalistan Conspiracy: A Former RAW Officer Unravels the Path to 1984
Authored by: G.B. S. Sidhu, New Delhi
Published by: Harper Collins Publishers, India, 2020 (Paperback First Edition, Pages: 268; Price: Rs. 499, US:$20)
Before moving to Vancouver on 21st February, I learned about publication of this wonderful account by Mr. GBS Sidhu from a review written by Jaspal Singh Sidhu of Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh. How this book reached me, is also interesting? Safir Rammah of Academy of the Punjab in North America (APNA) sends me all new titles for free download online and Sidhu’s book was a gift from Janab Rammah. Its dedication reveals that the author is son-in-law of Swaran Singh, the Minister with longest track record during the Congress rule in India.
The book has 14 Chapters followed by exhaustive Notes, two Annexures and Photos relevant to the text. In the Preface, author introduces himself in a brilliant way as the key-figure in the merger of Sikkim with India with reference to his book: “Sikkim: Dawn of Democracy, The Truth Behind the Merger with India (Penguin Random House, India, 2018)”. This success story brought the author in the good books of PM, Indira Gandhi and External Affairs Ministry. He was posted as first secretary in the Indian High Commission in Ottawa, Canada for 3 years (1976-79). He reports candidly about the situation in Canada: “Other than the normal jostling for the management of gurudwaras in the two major cities of Vancouver and Toronto, for an average Sikh the concept of Khalistan was a non-issue – if not a bit of a joke – not worthy of attention”.
The author’s analysis of Khalistan agenda puts the blame squarely on the role of Giani Zail Singh and the coterie in the PM’s house, identified as #1, Akbar road group, working to destabilize Punjab: “The genesis of the falsehoods can be traced to 1978 , when former Chief Minister of Punjab Giani Zail Singh advised Indira Gandhi’s younger son, Sanjay Gandhi, that the Akali Dal-Janata Party coalition government in Punjab could be destabilized if the moderate policies followed by the senior Akali Dal leadership, comprising Harchand Singh Longowal, Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) chairman, G.S. Tohra, and Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, could come under constant attack by a suitable Sikh Sant”.
The author succinctly narrates his story under Op-1 (1978-80) and Op-2 (1980-84). The actors of Op-1 are identified as Giani Zail Singh and Sanjay Gandhi, and those of Op-2 were Kamal Nath, ML Fotedar, Arun Nehru and Arun Singh, scion of Kapurthala family. Under Op-1, Giani Jee helped to discover the Sant from Punjab, who could dance to their tunes. The author leaves no doubt that both these operations had the sanction of PM, Indira Gandhi: “With Indira Gandhi’s approval sought and Sanjay’s ally Kamal Nath on board, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale of Gurudwara Darshan Prakash at Chowk Mehta was chosen as the Sant who would do their bidding in Punjab”.
Chapter 1, Introduction, starts with an assessment of Indira Gandhi in the eyes of future historians: “Indira Gandhi will be remembered for two of her most controversial decisions – promulgation of National Emergency (26 June 1975 to 21 January 1977) and Operation Blue Star (4 to 8 June 1984)”. The author narrates the events leading to dismissal of Indira Gandhi’s election as Member of Parliament by Allahabad High Court and her game plan to recover her lost position by hook or by crook. This book reads like an insider’s story who had full information to the planning and shenanigans of both these operations: “The purpose of this book is to unravel the truth behind the developments leading to Operation Blue Star and its aftermath”.
In Chapter 2, author tries to identify two pro-Khalistanis in Toronto area; Professor Uday Singh and Kuldip Singh Sodhi. But the most important Khalistan leader, Jagjit Singh Chauhan’s history is given in full detail by the author: “Jagjit Singh Chauhan, a medical doctor by profession,…..he served as finance minister in Lachman Singh Gill’s cabinet. In 1971 he shifted to the United Kingdom. On 13 October 1971, he placed a full-page advertisement in the New York Times proclaiming the creation of an independent Sikh state named Khalistan. ….. In reaction to Operation Blue Star, Chauhan announced a government of Khalistan in exile in London on 13 June 1984. Remarkably, the Rajiv Gandhi government allowed Chauhan to enter India in 1989, hoist the Khalistan flag at Anandpur Sahib, and return to the UK….In 2001, he was allowed to return to India and he died in 2007″. Uday Singh was a Prof. of Mathematics and a deeply religious Sikh who came out openly in support of Khalistan after Operation Blue Star and the 1984 pogrom and wrote a book, “The Waning and Waxing of Khalistan“. Till 1979, Khalistan was not an issue among the Sikh diaspora in Canada.
Chapter 3 is devoted to a recount of Sikh-Nirankari clash of 1978 in Amritsar, Giani Zail Singh’s role in creation of Dal Khalsa and his collaboration with Sanjay Gandhi in Op-1, emergence of Bhindranwale on Punjab political scene, and his becoming a pawn in the hands of Congress-led government in Delhi. The author laments: “Unfortunately, Punjab was not to remain a ‘haven of prosperity and peace’ for long. Political opportunism and short-term electoral gains overtook considerations of national interest and the need to maintain religious harmony, peace, prosperity and stability”.
Chapter 4 gives a vivid description of rise of Bhindranwale as a religious-cum-political leader and beginning of Op-2 under the planned strategy of #1, Akbar road group. The author reveals the game plan of this group:”It was decided that the Congress would deploy him (Bhindranwale) and the issue of Khalistan – which had by then stuck to him because of his refusal or inability to rebut it – in order to win the eighth Lok Sabha elections that were due before January 1985. It was necessary to keep the pot boiling in Punjab and to allow Bhindranwale to operate unhindered till the situation was ripe for final action”.
This Chapter is significant on other counts also. The murders of Nirankari Chief, Gurbachan Singh and Lala Jagat Narain in broad day light, Bhindranwale’s surrender at Chowk Mehta, statement of Giani Zail Singh in Parliament exonerating Bhindranwale, and his release are part of this Chapter. The dubious role of Giani Zail Singh in Op-1 has been a topic of debate but a reference by the author may connect the link between the two main actors: “Zail Singh and Rajiv Gandhi attended Santokh Singh’s memorial service. A photograph from the event shows Zail Singh with Bhindranwale”. Compared with 1979, the scenario had changed in Canada in 1981 as reported by author after his visit. His friends were curious to know why Bhindranwale is being patronized by senior Congress leaders and they had no sympathy for him: “The activities of Bhindranwale, who appeared to be enjoying political patronage, needed to be curbed and controlled”.
Chapter 5 dilates upon the negotiations of moderate Akali leaders with Congress leaders, including PM Indira Gandhi. The Akali Dal was represented by Harchand Singh Longowal, Parkash Singh Badal, Gurcharan Singh Tohra, Surjit Singh Barnala and Balwant Singh. Indira Gandhi was assisted by Cabinet Secretary, C.R. Krishnaswamy Rao Sahib, her Principal Secretary, P.C. Alexander and Home Secretary, T.N. Chaturvedi. Indira Gandhi played a very cunning role but blamed Akalis for failure of the talks. But in reality the prolonged exercise was a charade; a total of twenty-six rounds of negotiations ended without producing any results. The Akalis reduced their demands from 45 in 1981 to just 15 and wanted to wriggle out of this ‘Dharam Yudh Morcha’ by some face saving device. According to author: “It was a Catch-22 situation for the moderate Akali leadership. On the one hand, the # 1 Akbar Road group was gradually eroding the hold of the moderate Akali Dal leaders over their peaceful agitation by encouraging and overlooking Bhindranwale’s extremism and violence. On the other hand, they were telling the Akali moderates to regain their hold over the agitation before their demands were accepted.”
The author refers to the role of Cabinet Minister, Swaran Singh, who was approached by the Akalis to act as an intermediary. Swaran Singh took Indira Gandhi into confidence who gave her consent to go ahead. Singh was finally able to bring down Bhindranwale to one small demand, which was the unconditional release of Amrik Singh and Thara Singh. Bhindranwale also agreed to move back to his Mehta Chowk gurudwara once a final settlement was reached and his men were released. After bringing Akalis, Bhindranwale and Congress leaders to some common minimum programme, Swaran Singh was very hopeful of success of his mission when it was sabotaged by #1 Akbar road group. Author is of the view that Giani Zail Singh played a dubious role in this whole episode and Indira Gandhi changed her mind, forcing the Akalis to withdraw from negotiations.
In Chapter 7, author gives a detailed description of Bhindranwale’s killer squad and unabated violence carried out by his men in Punjab, rasta-roko agitation of moderate Akali Dal to reassert itself, and remote control of Bhindranwale by the central agencies. The author clearly states that Akbar road group was stage managing the activities of Bhindranwale by planting ‘moles’ in his camp and Harminder Singh Sandhu, General Secretary of All India Sikh Students Federation (AISSF), was suspected to be one such person. He escaped alive during Operation Blue Star but was murdered later due to his suspicious role in this episode. Author gives vivid details of murder of AS Atwal, DIG of Jallandhar range, on 25 April 1983 after his exit from Golden Temple, Bhindranwale’s ‘hit list’, communal discord in Punjab and killing of Hindus in a bus, entry of Babbar Khalsa in Golden Temple Complex, and daily sermons of Bhindranwale from the roof of langar hall, which were mostly anti-Hindu in content.
In the next two Chapters, author refers to changing scenario in Canada and USA where the diaspora Sikhs were disappointed and turning to be sympathisers with the Bhindranwale. The author gives details of “Operation Sundown” which was planned in April 1984 as a heliborne operation to abduct Bhindranwale from the Golden Temple complex. At the last moment, it was dropped on the intervention of PM, Indira Gandhi, to avoid civil casualties which were thousand times more during Operation Blue Star carried out in June 1984.
PC Alexander, Principal Secretary to PM, played a crucial role in the ongoing negotiations between the two sides. In his book, “Through the Corridors of Power: An Inside Story“, he writes: “Indira Gandhi ‘sincerely believed till the last moment that a solution could be found through talks’. In fact, there was no need to stretch the negotiations till ‘the last moment’ in the first place as she could have settled the matter back in 1982 by sticking with her initial acceptance of the Swaran Singh formula”.
Chapter 11 is focussed on Operation Blue Star and it opens with author’s critical remarks: “OPERATION BHINDRANWALE-Khalistan-2 (Op-2) had a predetermined goal, a fixed time frame and an operational plan”. “Senior Akali Dal leaders, troubled by the PM’s dilatory tactics, were feeling helpless and suffocated within the Golden Temple complex because of Bhindranwale’s presence and his extremist activities. Clandestine smuggling of arms and ammunition and fortification of the Akal Takht by Maj. Gen. Shahbeg Singh had started by March 1984, and were being conveniently overlooked by the security apparatus concerned”. According to author: “The justification for such an action was provided by Harchand Singh Longowal on 23 May 1984, when he announced that starting 3 June, no food grains would be allowed to move out of Punjab, and that Sikhs would not pay taxes and dues. With the Punjab police and paramilitary forces incapable of clearing the by-now heavily armed Akal Takht complex, army’s involvement became inevitable”.
Chapter 12 deals with Indira Gandhi’s assassination and the anti-Sikh pogrom. Author himself was an eye witness to happenings of loot, arson and mayhem in Delhi. He had to hide his family in a Hindu friend’s home before he could seek protection from his department. He had access to the police network over his radio and was horrified to learn about the connivance of Delhi police in the Sikh pogrom. He compares the scenario in Delhi with the Sikh persecution during the regime of Zakaria Khan, governor of Lahore (1726–45). This pogrom leading to Sikh genocide has become part of the Sikh memory. Author is highly critical of Justice Ranganath Misra and other commissions set up to probe Sikh genocide just as an eyewash: “Unfortunately, other than a number of commissions and committees that followed, nothing happened to the known goons and murderers, who continued to roam freely without any fear of law or justice”.
Chapter 13 describes the events leading to ‘aftermath‘ of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The author squarely puts the blame of creating the “Ghost of Khalistan” on leaders of Op-2: “The outcome of Op-2 launched by the #1 Akbar Road group in the early 1980s ended in the events of 1984. It also gave birth to a hitherto non-existent issue – Khalistan – thereby providing an opportunity to certain countries, particularly Pakistan, to use that as a handle to further their respective agendas vis-a-vis India”. This Chapter also gives details of fake encounters carried out by the police in Punjab and UP, the infamous Pilibhit encounter.
Chapter 14 sums up the purpose of Operation Blue Star in one sentence: “It was conceived in 1978 by Sanjay Gandhi with the blessings of Indira Gandhi, with the sole purpose of winning elections due by January 1985 for the Congress”. The author ridicules its bad planning and execution: “The religious divide of gigantic proportions created over a period finally led to an ill-conceived, badly planned and horribly executed Operation Blue Star, and to a carefully planned and surgically executed pogrom against Sikhs that followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi in Delhi and some other cities of India”.
The author has added two Annexures to the book, and in number II, a brief description of Commissions, Committees and SITs set up Government of India to probe 1984 pogrom of Sikhs is given. It shows the inadequacy and unwillingness of these commissions to mete out justice to the Sikhs.
In my estimation, this book “Khalistan Conspiracy” by GBS Sidhu is a monumental work based on factual data and ‘inside the ring’ view as author himself, as a member of RAW, was involved as an active player to record the events leading to Operation Blue Star and its aftermath. I have no doubt about the integrity and modus operandi of the author. I appreciate his calling a spade a spade. In crystal clear terms, I find indictment of all key players, namely, Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister, Giani Zail Singh as Home Minister and then President of India, Bhindranwale as persona non grata in Golden Temple complex, and the moderate Akali Dal leaders for allowing the use of complex premises for un-sanctimonious purposes by Bhindranwale and his killing squad.
There are a few howlers in the text, for example, hijacking is written as highjacking repeatedly. Swaran Singh served as a Lecturer in Khalsa College, Layallpur in 1946 but author writes Layallpur Khalsa College, Jallandhar which started only after partition in 1947. I recommend this book as a ‘must read‘ for general public for removing cobwebs from their minds, and future historians of Sikhs for an impeccable and unbiased account of the Blue Star Operation and its aftermath.
Scholar and scientist Hardev Singh Virk retired from Amritsar-based Guru Nanak Dev University in 2002 after serving as Founder Head Physics Department and Dean Academics. Ex-Professor of Eminence, Punjabi University, Patiala. He is the present Visiting Professor at SGGS World University, Fatehgarh Sahib (Punjab), India.
Failure of Sikhs to gain an Independent State during Partition of India (Asia Samachar, 10 Sept 2020)
Betrayal of the Sikh Community (Asia Samachar, 11 May 2019)
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