05 June 1984
Operation Blue Star: Invasion of Golden Temple begins
Operation Blue Star, in which the Indian Army invaded the Golden Temple at Amritsar to flush out separatists lodged inside, began at 7:00 PM, 5th June 1984.
- Operation Blue Star was a military operation ordered by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi primarily to take control of the Harmandir Sahib Complex in Amritsar (popularly known as the Golden Temple) where separatists had lodged themselves
- This is one of the holiest shrines of Sikhism and the operation itself is highly controversial.
- Sikh militancy in Punjab was on the rise and a politico-religious head Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale had acquired a good following among the youngsters in Punjab.
- Bhindranwale was leading a separatist Khalistan movement.
- The operation was launched on June 1st 1984 by Indira Gandhi.
- The operation had two components to it – Operation Metal which was the invasion on the temple complex, and Operation Shop which was confined to the countryside of the state.
- By the end of 1983, the Harmandir Sahib complex had become the headquarters of Bhindranwale and his supporters. Among his men were also ex-army men. They had stocked arms and ammunition inside the temple premises.
- Despite some people advising her against the operation, Indira Gandhi decided to move ahead with it.
- My May 25th 1984, about a lakh Indian army troops had been deployed in Punjab.
- June 1st was the martyrdom anniversary of Sikh Guru Arjan Dev and so, thousands of pilgrims were gathering at the holy site.
- The operation started as army and police personnel fired on the structure. There were fire exchanges between both sides.
- On 3rd June, all communication lines were cut off to and from Punjab. There was a total media blackout in the state. Journalists were barred from entering.
- Curfew was imposed on the city of Amritsar.
- On 4th June, the army started firing at the temple complex. Almost a hundred people died from both sides in the day’s shootout.
- On 5th June, the army invaded the Golden Temple at seven in the evening. Tanks of the 16th Cavalry Regiment moved in to enclose the complex.
- The forces had been instructed not to fire at the temple itself or the Akal Takht (one of the five seats of power of the Sikhs).
- Some of the structures surrounding the temple are destroyed in the firing.
- After repeated attempts amidst heavy gunfire, the army managed to get inside the complex. The Akal Takht was destroyed by a grenade launcher on the 6th of June.
- On 7th June, the army takes control of the complex. By 10th of June, the operation was fully over.
- The temple complex was badly destroyed in the process. Many Sikh scriptures and books were damaged and ruined.
- As per the army, about 500 militants and 83 military personnel were killed. 236 army men were injured. Bhindranwale was killed in the operation.
- The unofficial death toll is much higher with some sources placing it at 20000.
- Many civilians were also caught in the crossfire and killed.
- Many people have criticised the operation for its use of heavy artillery in the crowded streets of Amritsar. There have also been allegations of human rights violation by the army with eyewitnesses alleging that captured militants were shot dead.
- The storming of the holiest shrine of Sikhism also drew widespread condemnation and protests by Sikhs across the world. Many Sikhs resigned from the army and government posts in protest.
- Some have accused Indira Gandhi of trying to use the operation for political ends. Whatever were her motives, she paid the price for it with her life. Four months after the operation, Gandhi was assassinated by her own Sikh bodyguards to avenge the operation.
- Indira Gandhi’s assassination was followed by a pogrom of Sikhs in Delhi and some other cities of northern India.
- In 1985, an Air India flight was bombed and crashed presumably in retaliation to the operation.
- The Chief of the Army Staff at the time of the operation, General A S Vaidya was killed in 1986 by militants in revenge for his role as the chief commander of the operation.
Also on this day
1974: The first World Environment Day held.
See previous ‘This Day in History’ here.