[India Today carried an article titled The Suicidal Missionary by Chandan Mitra in its anniversary number dated December 26, 2011. A very unfair treatment has been meted out to the then political situation of Punjab wherein Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale has been tried to be built up as a foreign agent. The other point of view on the subject by Gurtej Singh, which has been sent to the editor of the magazine and is unlikely to be carried out, is being presented here along with the reproduction of Mitra’s article below.]
2). Most of the writings on the events of the bloody decades have been done by journalists feigning ignorance of the political processes. They chose to have no perspective of history or of the spiritual aspirations of a people as independent as they were entitled to be under the prevalent basic law. The journalists substituted the lack of skills and perspective with an ample measure of newly acquired urban snobbery. They appeared to be supporting the orthodox hegemonic approach of the overwhelming pcm wedded to solving every political problem violently according to its tradition. The resultant academic discourse is vitiated by ample contempt for the supposedly ‘less intelligent --- rural underclass,’ vitriolic language with destructive intent is thrown in for special effect. Many writings that have appeared are from the perspective of the megalomaniac fascist Punjabi Hindu politicians who believe that since the Hindus form an overwhelming majority of the country’s population, they own every inch of India as they own their karyana shops. Their contempt for the rural folk is endless and their hatred for the Sikhs and the Sikh faith knows no bounds.
3). Voluntarily worn blinkers ignore the reality that Indian civilisation has produced a society that is excessively violent right from antiquity. Myriad of the hymns in the Rigveda advertised as ‘mankind’s oldest book’ sum up prayers for destruction of the perceived enemy (read, political rivals). Mahabharta enjoys scriptural status and is all about violence. All the gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon are shown as armed to the teeth in the images that are worshipped in every Hindu household. Nineteen hundred and forty seven was perhaps the bloodiest year in the history of the pcm. The trend has not abated since. Every crisis that has confronted the pcm has been resolved violently. Violence and intolerance have always dictated relationships with other cultures, societies and nations as can well be judged by the fate of Dalits in Brahmanic India.
4). While orthodoxy in the faith of the pcm is characterised by the ubiquitous traits of violence, intolerance of dissent and attempts at acquiring political hegemony over neighbouring cultural and political entities, in the Sikh faith it has an entirely different connotation. It implies assuming responsibility for promoting universal brotherhood and establishing all inclusive institutions (for instance langar). In a word, Sikh orthodoxy stands for acting God in history.
5). On her return to political pre-eminence in 1980 after the notorious suspension of human rights during the Emergency, Indira Gandhi unveiled her ambition and started exhibiting a pronounced propensity to emerge as leader of the chauvinistic section of the pcm. In her new incarnation of goddess Durga, she did not forget the bottomless bowl in which the deity drinks her favourite drink - human blood. She was in her best form during the attack on the Guru’s Darbar which she ordered to commence on the martyrdom day of Guru Arjan. To see that she entrapped the largest number of innocent Sikh pilgrims to quench her newly acquired thirst, the curfew was relaxed for a few hours before the attack so as to kill as many pilgrims as could possibly be killed. A victim of this mindset, she issued the diabolically inhuman orders, “I don’t give a damn if the Golden Temple and the whole of Amritsar is destroyed, I want Bhinderanwale dead.” By obeying these orders, her political supporters throughout the country and the army generals stood recruited as members of the eighteenth century criminal sect that thrived on thugee. Its mode of worship was the cold blooded murder of unsuspecting pilgrims and travellers.
6). In My Truth, Indira Gandhi indicates that she subscribed to the political theory evolved by the pcm after 1947. It affirmed that the pcm has the exclusive right to rule the country. The census figures of three decades that preceded 1984 showed that the Sikh population was increasing at an impressive rate. Hindus of the Punjab, about whom she pretended to be deeply concerned presented the state of species going politically extinct. It appeared that the Khalsa, the true model for Indian resurgence was slowly, but surely asserting itself. She concluded that it was time to take decisive action to check the growth of the Sikh faith and the spread of the Khalsa consciousness. She dreamt of swallowing up the Sikh faith just as the Jain and Buddhist faiths had been eradicated from India. She knew very well that she would be pandering to a popular communal sentiment and some like A. B. Vajpayee were anxiously waiting in the wings to thrust the title of ‘Durga Incarnation’ on her.
7). Being similarly inspired, Nehru, Patel and Munshi, the representatives of the pcm in the Constituent Assembly, had undertaken to play the role of single-minded fascists. They attributed the idea of Khalistan to the Sikhs. The strategy was to prevent them asking for fulfilling the promises, for an autonomous Punjabi speaking territorial unit solemnly made to lure them into the Indian Union in 1947. On popular communal demand Indira Gandhi assumed the mantle of converting the Sikh association with India into a death trap for the entire Sikh nation.
8). Her earliest instinct was to encourage foreign scholars like W. H. McLeod to show her how the edifice so coherently put together by the Guru could be dismantled. Hew McLeod did his worst and was successful in producing a crop of indigenous scholars who would follow a white man like rats following the pied piper. To accommodate his flock, phoney well wishers of the community would soon establish chairs in foreign universities. The other function was naturally to popularise his negative formulations, although their hollowness was exposed on unassailable original evidence available in plenty.
9). In pursuit of dismantling the Khalsa edifice, her father before her had propped up pseudo-religious leaders to establish schismatic sects within the Sikh faith. The game had been earlier tried without success by Aurangzeb and Bahadurshah. Jawaharlal Nehru had relied upon the Radhaswamis, Namdharis and Nanaksarias to perform the executioners’ job. Indira Gandhi depended upon the Nirankaris while continuing to support the Radhaswamis and Nanaksarias for the same purpose. Her evil mind dreamed of bringing back the days when the statues of hydra-headed and elephant-headed gods had polluted the pure spirituality of the Guru’s Darbar dedicated to the Formless One.
10). M. K. Gandhi, the true chief architect of India’s vivisection in 1947, also had charted out a course for these sects and cults. He made it his business to discredit the Sikhs. Invisible fascist hands under his patronage started the killing of Muslims in Delhi. Ostensibly this was their attempt to pay back in the same coin to Mahmud Ghazni, Muhammad Ghauri, Aurangzeb, Nadir and Abdali albeit a few centuries after their demise. Gandhi gladly embraced the role of ascribing the killings to the Sikhs. His ‘prayer meetings’ in Delhi were attracting much attention in those heady days and he made full use of the media attention to cast the Sikhs in the role of devils, although they were the victims of the partition brought about by him and were then destitute and homeless. Such situations are usually exploited by cowardly moral wrecks; Gandhi however, adjusted himself to that role like a fish taking to water.
11). In 1911 Tagore in his article had summed up all that the pcm found undesirable about the Sikhs. At about the same time David Petrie, the Assistant Director of the Central Intelligence had noticed the deep rooted antipathy of the pcm to the administration of pahul by the Guru and to the rahit prescribed by him. Gandhi too identified the same problems as the pcm was having with the Sikhs. M. K. Gandhi gave precision to his “gurudev’s” formulations, It was the separate identity that hurt the pcm the most. Based upon this the strategy of the schismatic sects propped up by the Congress governments at the centre, had been chalked out. Central to them was to throw a challenge to the Tenth Nanak’s decree abolishing a human Guru and of eternally bestowing the gurgaddi on the Guru Granth. Gandhi subscribed to the identical view. He frowned upon the separate identity, the Sikh ceremonial sword, the Punjabi language and the Gurmukhi script. All these became the points of difference that the sponsored sects had with the Khalsa.
12). Indira Gandhi had supported the Nirankaris depending upon them to wean away the Sikhs from their faith. The Punjab administration was instructed to play them up. Sant Kartar Singh, head of the seminary at Mehta Chowk realised this early and correctly understood the purpose of the rulers. He perceived Akalis as playing politics with even this serious religious issue. So the Sant braced himself up to oppose both the Nirankaris and their mentors. He organised some forty mammoth marches to oppose the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi and her interference in the religious affairs of the Sikhs. His successor Sant Jarnail Singh continued to stoutly oppose the nefarious activities. He broadened his concerns further. In 1978, Sant Bhinderanwale supported Bhai Amrik Singh and some Dal Khalsa candidates for elections to the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC). It was an indication that he wanted a change in the religious leadership of the Sikhs. He was able to garner a respectable measure of support. Apart from the Akalis, this sent alarm bells ringing in the central and state governments.
13). Encouragement that the Nirankaris received from the various governments in the Punjab and at the centre convinced them that the time for decisive war had come. They decided to make a beginning at Amritsar where they announced a parallel structure to replace the khalsapanth. Some Sikh volunteers decided to resist the onslaught. The Nirankaris unleashed extreme violence on the peacefully protesting unarmed Sikhs on April 13, 1978, at Amritsar and killed 17 of them excluding two bystanders. This firearm wielding Nirankaris were given police support. No one was arrested on the spot although the Nirankaris remained there for several hours after the massacre. The case was transferred to a court outside the Punjab by the central government. Hard evidence was not presented. False evidence of innocence was cooked up. In the circumstances, the court acquitted the sixty four accused.. No appeal against the acquittal was filed. It soon became obvious to the Sikhs that there was no justice for them under the pcm’s dispensation. Under the perceived ‘Hindu imperialism’ the only way in which justice could be obtained was by extra-judicial execution. This was what the Sikhs did. When the Akali government in the Punjab was dismissed by Indira Gandhi, the Akalis too were obliged to exhibit their sympathy with the Sikhs and the Punjab. They launched a peaceful agitation for redressing of Punjab’s religious and economic grievances.
14). The decision to brutally crush the dharamyudhmorcha launched by the Akalis best suited Indira Gandhi’s design. She targeted amritdhari young Sikhs, the type of whom the Sant was projecting in the leadership role. The first half a dozen Sikhs killed in contrived police encounters were those who like Kulwant Singh Nagoke were reputed to be good Sikhs. So had been the 17 killed by her allies, the Nirankaris on the Baisakhi day of 1978. Wanton violence was quite in keeping with her purpose. On one occasion more than 20 agitating Akalis were mowed down with a machine gun from a helicopter when they were dispersing after stopping traffic on a road from 10 AM to 4:30 PM. Similarly the armed forces fired upon the unarmed persons retiring to their villages after witnessing the arrest of Sant Bhinderanwale on September 20, 1981 and without provocation killed thirteen of them. Later (February 14, 1984) the Hindu Sauraksha Samiti, supported by her minion called for a shut down to match the completely peaceful shut down of the AISSF (of February 8), and killed 25 Sikhs in Karnal alone, where 6 gurdwaras were also burnt down. This is just a small portion of the blood that filled newly incarnated Durga’s bowl. The police and the Hindu crowds killing the Sikhs knew that immunity from the operation of the country’s laws existed for them under her dispensation. The official journal of the Indian army “Baatcheet” of June 1984 instructed those who were to conduct the operations in the Punjab to regard the amritdhari young men as those committed to terrorism.
15). The unlimited fund of intense hatred that is ever available with the permanent cultural majority helped Indira Gandhi in dealing with Bhinderanwale and all those who like him defied the illegal diktats of the authorities and talked of religious freedom, rule of law, true federalism, liberty, justice, inalienable rights, people’s sovereignty and democracy. They were to be projected as patrons of terrorism and separatism. It was done very efficiently by the loyal Press notwithstanding the well known fact that the Sant always kept a copy of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution of the Akali Dal under his pillow to place political limits on his enthusiastic supporters. He never had a political party and no independent political programme. Nevertheless the Darbar was attacked to kill him and in the bargain to destroy Sikh institutions. The only rationale sold to the gullible Indian audience was that all violent activity would end with his elimination and the destruction of the Akal Takhat. It soon became apparent to the neutral observer that pcm had been wrongly briefed. Despite her authoritative propagation of the theory, the violence had escalated a thousand fold after the June 1984 army attack.
16). Role of Sant Jarnail Singh during the Akali dharamyudh morcha was limited at best to aiding the Akalis in concluding an honourable peace with the government. At the worst, he was keen for a complete change in the pliable political leadership of the Sikhs. Giani Zail Singh was the self-proclaimed bought slave of Indira Gandhi, and prided himself on being a ‘sweeper at her door’ even after becoming the president of India. He was in favour of preserving the Akali leadership upon which he eventually relied to betray Sikh interests. Amongst them the Congress and the centre could easily find low minded collaborators in the venture launched by his mistress to destroy other nations and minorities. He was shrewd enough to know that they had tasted political power and were aware of the opportunities for self aggrandisement that any betrayal would afford. The loot of gurdwaras had also catered to the same sentiment. Giani tried to gain credibility with the Sikh masses by pretending to be a good Sikh. This would allow him to manipulate the Akalis. Giani looked upon this task as a service to the Congress party and was duly rewarded for his efforts by being made the Home Minister of India after Indira Gandhi’s return to political power in 1980. As the chief minister of the Punjab his important venture had been to ‘lay’ a metalled road connecting all the places that Guru Gobind Singh had travelled to in his last journey through the Punjab. Most of the metalled road already existed. His contribution was to name it Guru Gobind Singh Marg. He succeeded in his undertaking. The Sikh masses swung in his favour and forced the Akalis to support his candidacy. He gained the sympathetic ear of the Akalis and was also able to get their votes in the presidential elections on July 13, 1982.
17). The Hindu Press made much of the assassination of Lala Jagat Narayan to malign the real Sikh leadership. They attributed it to Sant Baba Bhinderanwale. We were then living in times in which, according to Bhinderanwale himself, slaughter of every chicken and of every goat was likewise nailed to his door. It had become most convenient and most popular to blame the Sant. An attempt was made to make him a conspirator in the murder of Jagat Narayan. Significantly, the alleged conspirator was arrested even before actual culprits were apprehended. Jagat Narayan had a three decade old history of virulent Sikh baiting and had created enemies in every nook and corner of the Punjab. The evidence of his denigrating Sikh values and running down Sikh personalities is available in his own writings in the Punjab Kesri group of newspapers owned and edited by him. He also had been the main defence witness in the Baisakhi Murder Case against the Nirankaris. His son Romesh Chandra was following him in his footsteps. In the central government sponsored situation of lawlessness, in which militants, vigilante groups, underground policemen and anti-social elements were operating freely, the resultant violence in the state was being attributed only to the Sikhs. In the then prevailing circumstances, such assassinations surprised no one. It was an expression of extreme irresponsibility to attribute them to the Sant and was interpreted as an attempt at browbeating those sincerely engaged in serving the people. Such tactics have never been rare in India since 1947.
18). This fishing in the cesspool was aimed at fattening the black goat as a prelude to sacrificing it to the Kali Kalkattewali. The Indian establishment and the Press consciously rendered the honourable and pure minded Sant liable to be brutally murdered in the most cowardly act. A strategy was calculated to endear the prime minister to the communal masses who perceived her as making efficient efforts at eliminating Sikh influence from politics. It was the only route through which the 12% Hindus of the state could effectively rule the Punjab. They all cooperated in placing the Sant’s life in the hands of a terribly insecure woman striving to establish a dynasty in a democracy. Her minions and army generals like Vaidya and Brar readily prostituted themselves for the most unholy act ever undertaken by any army since the Afghan army under Ahmed Shah Abdali (1762). Her attempt at becoming the spirit of Hindu revivalism however failed. She lost it out to the more chauvinistic and openly more fascist Sangh Parivar for whom it was easy to inherit her political mantle even while the dynasty remained in power.
19). Terrorising the Sikhs was necessary for achieving the objective. Bhajan Lal, who in an unheard of expression of extreme unscrupulousness had defected to the Indira Congress along with the entire legislative party the people had voted to power against the Congress, came in handy for the purpose. It will be remembered that subsequently, the same Bhajan Lal had been hoisted to power in Haryana by the Governor (nominee of the central government) although his rival Devi Lal had been elected by a vast majority. He did much to convince the Sikhs that they were second class citizens in India, could be bullied at will and prevented from travelling on a national highway to the capital of the country. He was just trying to please a benefactor who, in the interest of establishing a dynasty was required to raise and then erase the fear of a miniscule 2% minority in the minds of the pcm constituting 80% of India’s population.
20). The great deception was perpetrated with the help of the obliging Media that could never be raped because it was ever willing. Indira Gandhi instilled the fear of an individual into the mind of India’s pcm until it was fully numbed and completely petrified beyond sensitivity of any kind. Bhinderanwale was dubbed a terrorist although he was charged with no terrorist crime. He was demonised in accordance with the cultural traditions of the pcm that remind one of Shambhook, Eklavya, Bali and Ravana the king of Sri Lanka. Armed with hatred of a whole community and exercising absolute control over a slavish army, she gave illegal and inhuman orders to kill one person against whom there was no proof of guilt and who was at all times entitled to a legal trial. In the bargain she was prepared to destroy the five centuries old centre of a cultural tradition dedicated to nurturing a common participative universal culture for the new human of the new dawn. The Sant had the right to self-defence under all civilised law. Only low gladiators and executioners would have taken up the hangman’s job she assigned to her generals. They mortgaged their conscience to a tyrant and accepted the supari to kill an unarmed person lodged in a fixed location. They pitted the might of a modern state against a mere forty-five almost unarmed, untrained, and of course absolutely innocent persons.
21). Initial undertaking turned them into the goons of the Chhota Rajan or Pretender Rani gang. When the killers accepted to carry out the field orders to eliminate him at any cost, they turned themselves into a bunch of thugs who adored the Black goddess. The forces they headed, that instant were transformed into her worshippers. They tried everything in their arsenal. It included armed personnel carrier, cluster bombs, poisonous gases, machine guns, helicopter cannons and all else, yet they were held up for more than 72 hours. In those hours they lost more soldiers than they had lost in an international war. The Battle of Chamkaur fortress which was the inspiration of the cornered Sikhs came alive. David acquitted himself gloriously once again against Goliath. The Sant and his companions fought like every free man should fight to preserve his liberty. In a daring bid to guard the “ashes of their fathers --- the temples of their gods’, despite being hopelessly outnumbered, they mocked at defeat and despair and gladly embraced death.
22). Like the hordes of Abdali before them, Indira Gandhi’s cohorts looted all that they could. The living quarters of lay priests and journalist adjoining the complex were ransacked and plundered. Pilgrims were raped. “Prisoners of war,” ranging from four to sixteen years of age and including women and Bangladesh citizens staying overnight in the rest houses attached to the shrine, were taken. Peaceful volunteers who had come to offer arrest in the ongoing agitation were murdered. Bodies of several children with hands tied at the back and with a single bullet-hole in the head were brought in for post-mortem. Forces burnt down the Sikh Reference Library, destroyed the Akal Takhat, killed hymn singers (for instance, the blind Bhai Amrik Singh) inside the Darbar, violated and trampled under military boots every inch of the sacred soil hallowed by the blood of martyrs. These martyrs were those who had beaten back the invader Abdali and had rescued thousands of Hindu women and men saving them the usual fate atop the Hindukush where men were slaughtered and the bazaars of Ghani where women slaves sold real cheap. The martyrs also included those who had re-conquered the whole of modern day Pakistan, Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir from the Afghan empire and had made it a part of India.
Foreign hand canard
23). In addition, Indira Gandhi wanted to project the Sant as an anti-national person. A vital part of her strategy was to insinuate that he was an agent of foreign powers. A thesis of sorts was meticulously built up. Deliberately left undefined foreign powers, allegedly jealous of the progress that India had made, were supposedly prying around for an opportunity to destroy India. Just to be on the safe side, the initiative was left with Russians who set the ball rolling. Russia’s official news agency, TASS reported that the KGB had deciphered the hand of Pakistan’s ISI and the American CIA behind the disturbances in the Punjab. On the date on which this was alleged (December 30, 1981) nothing much really sinister was happening in the Punjab. The Akali Dal had just about defined the problems that the Punjab and the Sikhs were facing at the hands of the central government. Strategy to redress the grievances was being prepared. Four months later on April 22, 1982, the home minister of India, alleged in the Rajya Sabha that the communal clashes in Amritsar were inspired by foreign powers with a view to causing disintegration of the country. This nebulous concept served her purpose for long.
24). Attempts at popularising the proposition continued to be made. India’s external affairs minister (P. V. Narasimha Rao) vended the imported Russian theory in a big way while speaking in the meeting of the consultative committee on June 27, 1984. He did not identify any particular foreign power either.
25). Then the astute Indira Gandhi took it up herself. She had done her worst at Amritsar and now wanted to milk the maximum amount of sympathy for the dynasty. The paranoid woman projected herself as living dangerously. While speaking in the Rajya Sabha on July 24, 1984, she said, “I am – butt of attack of – some most powerful forces in the world.” Darbara Singh, who was always more loyal than the king, identified the foreign powers for the first time in a responsible forum. He talked of CIA and Zia-ul-Haq as operating through Dr. Jagjit Singh Chauhan to destabilise India. This was too specific. It could have at least caused a diplomatic storm particularly as the allegation was baseless. So Indira Gandhi intervened to contradict him. She said there was no specific information and that what she knew she would not share with the public “in national interest.” This is also the position reflected in the White Paper on Punjab Agitation adopted by the government of India on July10, 1984.
26). The task of laying specific blame appears to have been assigned to Lev Rovnin, the foreign minister of the Russian Federation who picked up the strings while speaking at a function in the Indian Embassy at Moscow. According to the Press Trust of India’s report of August 12, 1984, he claimed that it was “irrefutably proved” that the CIA and the “aggressive imperialist circles of Washington” were behind the Sikh militancy.
27). Benazir Bhutto and Zia-ul-Haq were the two persons whose governments are supposed to have helped the militants in the Punjab. Fortunately we have the authoritative versions of both of them. Bhandara was a lone Parsi Member of Pakistan’s Parliament. He was advisor to Zia on minority affairs from 1982 to 1985. He was privy to Zia plan on the ‘Sikh separatists.’ Talking to The Tribune on May 8, 2003, after crossing over to India at Wagha he said “General Zia was opposed to the Sikh movement because the map of Khalistan included territories of Pakistan as well. He had stated that it was true that the general would give all moral and other support to Sikh hardliners but it was his standing order to all concerned to keep them under strict surveillance. Hence they were kept under virtual house arrest for a long time. The general had also issued directions that they should not be allowed to wage their movement from the soil of Pakistan. This revelation came as shock to radical Sikhs. Bhandara had admitted that he on and off met the hijackers of the Indian Airlines plane in Kot Lakhpat and other jails as a part of his official assignment.” (The Tribune, July 20, 2008, 4)
28). Pakistan under the other dispensation also vociferously denied that it had helped the Sikhs. On the contrary it affirmed that it had helped India. In an interview to the British Broadcasting Corporation, Benazir Bhutto said that she had assisted the Indian government. ‘India was facing a very difficult situation in Punjab, and had Pakistan not extended cooperation, New Delhi’s position would have been different.’ The (former) prime minister said, “when Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister, India was facing a big problem --- it was on the verge of separation. Had Pakistan not helped them (India), God knows where they would have been now. But we helped them because it is our principle not to interfere in others’ affairs.” (The Tribune, February 15, 1994, p.1)
29). She had again said the same in another interview with the BBC before coming to Pakistan to contest the last elections of her life. Her statement was disputed by a retired Indian civil servant. She was clarifying her position a day before her assassination and according to some thinkers (for instance a free intellectual brigadier Usman Khalid), it became the cause of her assassination. She elaborated on the kind of help she had rendered. She said that in a one-to-one meeting with Rajiv Gandhi, “where there was not even a fly on the wall,” she had supplied the whereabouts of all the Sikh militants to India. It will be remembered that all the leaders of the major militant outfits were eliminated suddenly within few days. By this confession she had compromised her country’s honour and security. It is a small wonder that she was killed within 24 hours of this public disclosure.
30). The next scion of the dynasty and sole owner of the “inherited democracy” (Washington Times of June 9, 1987, as quoted by the UNI report circulated to the Indian Press, the next day) continued to rave against the Sant and the Sikhs. But he was a crude and boorish man known more for his clownish approach to politics. The BBC in its Urdu service of June 9, 1987, saw him as “dada” and a “school bully” in the region. Sri Lanka’s president Jayewardene at one time implored him to abjure violence and to give up “bullying” with a view to stoking war, while affirming that his country would never fight its “great neighbour.” (The Indian Express, June 10, 1987, 1.) The same paper (in a front page article by the editor) called him a “liar” and hinted that it was his permanent “trait” while referring to his oft repeated “nonsense about destabilisation.” It further observed that under Rajiv even a solemn promise of the Parliament meant nothing. Rajiv humiliated the chief minister of Assam (The Indian Express, June 8, and June 9, 1987). The paper editorially observed that Rajiv was inclined to be perfidious “opposition and others have learnt, in one-to-one meeting they open themselves to the risk of being misrepresented --.” N.T. Rama Rao the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, knew him to be ‘uncultured and ignorant’ to meet whom was to “waste time and money.” (The Tribune, June 17, 1987, 9). He was at his lowest ebb when he called the elderly lawyer Jethmalani, a “dog.” Doggedly determined Jethmalani returned the compliment by insinuating that the prime minister was a ‘thief’ and a ‘liar.’
31). In a highly sarcastic article in The Indian Express of June 13, 1987, one of our most respected columnists, S. Mulgaokar poured downright contempt on Rajiv Gandhi calling him a “liar,” a “coward,” a “promise breaker” and an “uncivilised person.” Sanjeeva Reddy, the former President of India, according to Surya Prakash, found him “in a state of confused mind.” (See, “Politics of abuse,” The Indian Express, June 18, 1987, 6) Rajiv Gandhi ‘condemned those as anti-national traitors’ who had misgivings about his assurances.’ Referring to it the author says, “Mr. Gandhi’s responses sounded harsh and uncharitable then. They appear hollow now.”
32). The Sikhs and the Sant could expect no better from the person for whom the entire opposition was subversive, anti-national and inspired by foreign enemies because it did not find the Anandpur Sahib Resolution a subversive document. V. P. Singh who came as a prime minister after him, was ‘Raja Jaichand’ (who betrayed India in the tenth century and whose name is byword for treachery) to him. He invented the possibilities of Zail Singh dismissing him and of Pakistan attacking India in January 1987. Farooq Abdullah’s government was dismissed on charges of communalism and support to anti-national forces, soon Rajiv’s Congress was ruling in coalition with Farooq. In the last analysis, one purpose of inventing the ‘foreign hand’ theory was to wean away the leftist parties from the Akali agitation. This is why the Russian services were used.
33). For these reasons it may not be fruitful to analyse Rajiv’s pronouncements about the Sant and the Sikhs or the canard of the ‘foreign hand’ theory. On resuming the discussion, the well researched observation of the Surya magazine becomes relevant. It says that India imported the arms with the help of the ISI of Pakistan and it sent them into the Darbar complex to implicate the Sikhs. The same is also true of the arms that were dropped over Purulia at the time when P. V. Narasimha Rao was the prime minister. The truth that emerges from the scrutiny is that Indira Gandhi, her son, her cohorts and minions were not only supporting a blatant lie but were also themselves conspiring with foreign powers to malign and harm their own countrymen. They gave no explanation for their shameful behaviour but one was invented for them by another foreigner attached to the British Broadcasting Corporation. Mark Tully in his Amritsar, (Rupa and Co. 1985, p. 208), is of the opinion that Pakistan at that time was helping the United States in combating Soviet presence in Afghanistan. The fear of jeopardising relations with the United States prevented India from naming Pakistan. This is clearly an inadequate ground as Indira Gandhi never exhibited a pro-American sentiment and had no love lost for Ronald Regan. India under her remained a satellite of the Soviet Union. This tribe of liars and calumniators has not ended with the immediate minions of Indira Gandhi but has had an extension in lease of life through those (likes of Chandan Mitra) who thrive on yellow journalism. They have no hesitation in maligning their most honourable contemporary who has been voted the greatest person of the 20th century with all the Sikhs, the world over participating.
34). Bhinderanwale exposed the worst in the culture of India’s pcm. Its innate disposition which is brutal, fascist and bloody was shown to have been built around deep-rooted intolerance. Being violence prone at the slightest provocation the pcm had been ever willing to destroy other nation’s holiest shrines on any or no pretext. It supports a culture that has abiding hatred of ‘the other’ as its driving force and hallmark. This much had been known for centuries. The Bhinderanwale episode served to highlight it. Unbridled violence against a political opponent or a dissenter has been the normal course when the opponent is weak. The same army however, recently demonstrated reluctance to tackle the Maoists equipped by China. The political leadership is keen not to be left behind in pleasing the rebels. Shibu Sorain the chief minister of Jharkhand publicly embraced the Naxalites as “brothers and sisters.” See-saw game between the two sentiments is currently going on. Fear triumphs over hatred for a while then hatred takes over again. Raw fear is not enough to contain age old hatred and the bloodstained, brutally maimed bodies of killed Naxalites continue to defile the pages of publications. It appears that, the juggernaut will stop rolling only when the ‘might is right’ rule (lashtikaniaye of Chanakya) is fully established or when “brothers and sisters” take over the reins.
35). The crafty Indira Gandhi thought she could hide her motives by shedding a few crocodile tears, pretended to rebuild the Takhat on the heavily veiled pretext of making amends. Perhaps she thought her ‘victory’ was not complete until she had forced the Takhat built by her down the throats of the Sikhs. Had she cared for Sikh traditions, she would have known that the building erected by the National Building Corporation, in the garb of Nihangs owing allegiance to her home minister Buta Singh, was most unlikely to survive for long. It had come to symbolise her arrogance. It was legitimately pulled down by the Sikhs at the first opportunity. The 26 kilograms of polluted gold reportedly put on the purest of domes, by ruthless, remorseless invader of the shrine, was contemptuously thrown where it belonged – into the dust (bin of history). A martyr’s spirit had triumphed over the diktat of a tyrant.
36). An expression of the same defiant spirit was the killing of the collaborating, self-styled Sant. Longowal was shot dead for betraying the voluntary forces that were still locked in a grim struggle. Abandoning all shame and propriety, giving in to cowardice and in extra-ordinary exhibition of poverty of understanding, he had blackened his face in history by signing the document of abject surrender otherwise known as the Longowal-Rajiv Accord of 1986.
37). Again and again India miserably failed to correctly assess the situation. It had to learn again that the endurance, the emotional strength and the innate fighting capability of its opponents surpassed all human limits. The battle that the Sant gave will be remembered for thousands of years. On re-assessing, the red-faced journalists then called it the ‘Third Sikh War.’ Though the assessment is marred by the disproportionate numbers in the field of battle, the idea is well mooted. After 1984 they had their stooges draw clumsy maps of Khalistan and make tall claims. These are then attributed to the Sant who never subscribed to the idea and always supported the Anandpur Sahib Resolution adopted by the Akali Dal. As a non-member he supported the political party struggling for legitimate democratic rights. He never subscribed to any formal political set up. The deep desire of enthusiastic journalists promoting jingoism is to conjure up all the ghosts that disturb their sleep, attribute them posthumously to the Sant and pretend that they have all been taken care of with his assassination. If one reads their minds well then a disturbing image of the country emerges. A country that has not seen even a century of independent existence, has yet gathered the arrogance of an empire of a millennium, notwithstanding two military defeats. The one in 1962 was the greatest disaster to have happened to an army ever since mankind started walking on two feet. The other was no less. It in addition it immortalised the Sant who died undefeated and a proud sovereign man, a worthy Sikh of the Guru. There is need to pay heed to Bhagat Kabir who says, “do not be condescending, do not mock a (temporarily) disadvantaged people. The boat is still on the high seas. Who knows what may still happen?”
38). To make their ‘triumph’ appear complete the criminal state, the deceiving Media and central governments agencies created false inheritors of Sant Baba Jarnail Singh Khalsa’s mantle. Some of them have been dumped into oblivion, others have been killed in an act of unparalleled perfidy, some others still remain masquerading abroad and in India as pushers of mere radical slogans. It is a burlesque that we have witnessed and are witnessing even today. It is much like the modern day ramlila complete with an actor burning down Ravana’s gigantic paper image with great fanfare and in the presence of enthusiastically cheering crowds in every city and town of the country. The same crowd invariably has previously contributed to erecting the image. A nation of corrupt pigmies, engrossed in looting its own people is not best qualified to map the powerful currents of history. Beant Singh, the murderer of thousands of innocent persons including women and toddlers, was one day projecting himself as an equal of Ram and Nanak. Within three weeks of that hilarious proclamation, his body was literally in a thousand pieces. Walls and the ground around had to be scrapped to recover hundreds of them. Like all tyrants, tyrannous nations too have a lifespan. Retribution pulls them down in an imperceptible operation (Black Ignominy!) which none can see coming but which is advancing all the time. The truism of history is: ‘a tyrant dies and his reign ends. A martyr dies and his reign begins.’
39). Power-drunk slaves like Gill organised sessions at Amritsar (as the depraved Nirankaris had done in 1978) to signify that all human decencies, all moral values and spiritual valour that the city stands for and Sant Bhinderanwale had upheld, had been trampled under foot. They pretended that they had scored a great victory over an unarmed population supporting a potent idea. It was beyond their comprehension that womanisers, looters of defenceless people’s property, cruel tormentors of innocent people in custody, hired corrupt pimps of a rotting culture propped up by the state power never determine the course of history. Those who believed that the temporary violent repression was a permanent visitation saw their thoughts evaporate in 1999. In that year Sant Jarnail Singh Bhinderanwale was voted the twentieth century’s greatest person by the Sikhs all over the world. These included important Sikh institutions including the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee the honourable citizens like the most celebrated poet – the author of several immortal works, educationists, lawyers, generals, saints, scholars, Media personalities and human rights activists. His images adorn almost every Sikh household all over the world and his legacy lives on. When another one of his kind will arise to move the masses to holier paths of spiritual self-assertion, it cannot be said definitely but only a fool or a cringing slave (in or out of uniform) will rule out that possibility.
40). The whole world knows of cultures that were defeated once and did not let out even a loud groan for seven to nine centuries at a stretch. At least three times before in history, and once in our lifetime, tyrants have pronounced the Sikh people dead. Despite predictions of doom by inebriated collaborators, the Sikhs have always sprung back to life. One who has a lifetime ahead of him may securely place a wager on that happening.
41). The other army operation that followed the one in June 1984, was for the purpose of humiliating and terrorising the Sikhs in the name of wiping out remnants of militancy. Its undeclared aim was to show who the masters were in India. In response to the orgy of organised violence let lose by the armed forces, despite the depraved brutality of Gills and Ribeiros, their underground police, the regular police and their allies, the Sikh young men met the might of the modern state without an iota of fear in their eyes or trace of hesitation on their brow.
42). The concept of Khalistan that he had never supported while alive, instantly became a loud slogan to venerate his memory. India stood in the immediate danger of dismemberment. If history has a lesson it is this, that the sceptre of such highly significant moments is destined to reappear again and again until the goal is achieved or until the wronged spirit is appeased by paying a befitting tribute. Super-human struggles to preserve the sovereignty of the worthiest people under the sun do not just whither away.
43). What is significant in the post 1984 period is not that phoney protagonists of Khalistan were propped up and then defeated according to the script, but that the Sikh determination to live honourably came through the dark clouds of severe repression. In any civilised country rogue generals and politicians would have faced trial on charges of genocide. Several such trials have been recently witnessed. Even today Hosne Mubarak is answering for ordering the killing of his own people. Slovodan Milosevic found the easier way out. More than one hundred of those who held high offices have been convicted of war crimes. Since that was not possible in the circumstances of this unfortunate land, the senior most general was shot like a rat that he was. So also was the person who gave the supari, since this was the only way to bring her to justice.
44). It is the experience of Muslims before 1947 and that of the Sikhs after that year that the most poisonous of all is not a viper in the grass but a journalist wedded to serving the interest of the pcm. When the pendulum starts swinging in favour of the Sant and all he stood for, it will receive a great impetus from the activity of modern day shallow journalists and their vituperative writings designed to spew venom all around. It was consistent Sikh hating and Sikh baiting of four decades that had given rise to the Sant Bhineranwale phenomena. It persists and will surely cause another such to rise from the dusty village roads and from amongst the worthy sons of the Punjab who still hold honour, truth, dignity and justice as dearer than life itself. This time the one to come will not be as innocent as the Sant was. His struggle will be far more effective and far more successful. Those who created Pakistan are still around with the same pen and ink. If anything, their tribe is increasing. This time they have turned their attention to Khalistan. All augurs well; the future appears to be bright.
45). Every Sikh remembers the bloody dawn when they abandoned their ancestral lands losing their relatives to communal frenzy and trekked to the land they then considered their own. The First Patiala recalls the day they pushed back the Razakars to once again reclaim Srinagar and the rest of Kashmir for India. Pakistani generals in their memoirs rue the memorable night when they had hoped to have ridden to Delhi for breakfast. But their mounts, the Patton tanks, were reduced to rabble and consigned to the graveyard of Asal Uttar in Khemkaran by the vigilant Sikhs exhibiting extreme bravery. Pictures of general Niazi surrendering along with ninety thousand soldiers to general Jagjit Singh Aurora are still printable although stained by the blood of Shabeg Singh the other general who made that picture possible. Every Sikh farmer knows the contempt with which he snatched the begging bowl from the hands of Bharat and threw it away for good as a prelude to assuming responsibility for feeding its teeming millions who have by now grown to over a billion. One wonders whether any of these performances will be repeated, should a similar situation arise again?
The Suicidal Missionary
by Chandan Mitra
Few individuals, at least in Indian history, have had so much blood spilt in their name as Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. If India lost its innocence and turned into an intolerant and more violent nation in the course of the turbulent 1980s, it was largely on account of a chain of events set in motion by a rustic preacher of orthodox Sikh tenets to his community’s rural underclass. A mesmerising speaker who could rouse phenomenal passion among his listeners, Bhindranwale was an impressively built man, tall and sharp-featured with a deep set of piercing eyes that sized up his interlocutors and instantly put them on the defensive through a steely gaze. His meteoric rise from a small-time priest from the Damdami Taksal seminary, at Chowk Mehta near Batala in Punjab’s relatively impoverished Majha region, to a cult figure of terror defined the first half of the 1980s. And the year 1984 was almost entirely shaped by him, first on account of Operation Bluestar which led to his death in June, followed by the revenge killing of Indira Gandhi less than five months later.
Bhindranwale’s rise and fall was symptomatic of leaders of such diabolic cults. He was promoted by Giani Zail Singh when he was chief minister of Punjab in a bid to contain Akali influence over the powerful Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the well-heeled body that controlled Sikh shrines in Punjab including its Vatican, the Darbar Sahib in Amritsar. Of the Giani’s subsequent fall in the eyes of his community, despite his elevation to the post of President of India, I recall a verse quoted evocatively by Khushwant Singh: Maazi ke dosh par gaye thay woh chadne/ Maazi ne patka sau-sau baar (He tried to mount on the shoulders of the past/The past felled him to the ground a hundred times).
Trying to cater to the revivalist surge in Punjab, Zail Singh built a highway named after the last Sikh Guru and most ludicrously walked behind a steed said to have descended from Guru Gobind Singh’s favourite horse, picking up its droppings as it galloped to Anandpur Sahib. No doubt that ignited the fervour of religiosity, eventually helping the rise of fundamentalism in Punjab.
Bhindranwale cunningly used the Giani’s patronage and, in collusion with the Congress put up candidates for the SGPC polls, winning a significant number of seats from Gurdaspur Amritsar and Ferozepur districts. He had no time for conventional SGPC or Akali Dal apparatchiks. He believed they had become mealy-mouthed, corrupt and deviated from the martial tenets of the faith. Although he never said this explicitly, he always implied that ‘wily’ Hindus had influenced the Sikh clergy into wheeling-dealing and they no longer inspired the youth. Deviant practices such as shaving of beards, cutting off hair, abandoning the turban, apart from indulgence in abhorrent addictions like drinking and smoking were on the rise among young Sikhs.
Looking back, I am not sure if Bhindranwale was a terrorist by conviction who seriously sought Punjab’s separation from India through force or if' he painted himself into a corner and became a puppet in the hands of Pakistan’s ISI which was looking for a face to project in its war of a thousand cuts against India to avenge East Pakistan’s dismemberment. Maybe he was carried away by crowds that thronged his pravachans in rural Punjab in which he railed against decrepit practices creeping into Sikhism and exaggeratedly spoke of the alleged betrayal of his community by New Delhi, particularly the ‘biba’ meaning Indira Gandhi. In that sense, he was the latest in a long line of Sikh leaders who led episodic agitations to distance the faith from Hindu influences, worried that the preponderant assimilative thrust of Hinduism would overwhelm Sikhism the way it had done Jainism and Buddhism.
Historians have often traced the roots of this assertiveness to the Jaito satyagraha of 1921, which Mahatma Gandhi had described as “the first battle for Independence”, sparked by the Jallianwala Bagh outrage of 1919. The Jaito movement was principally aimed at removing corpulent mahants who had taken control of most affluent gurdwaras and, to attract large donations from Hindu traders, installed images of Hindu deities inside shrines of a religion that specifically prohibited idolatry.
Later at the time of Partition, some Sikh leaders such as Master Tara Singh did raise the demand for Khalistan, but the riots in erstwhile West Punjab that targeted Sikhs and Hindus equally reinforced the bond between the two communities, which were jointly forced to flee to India.
But the separatist strand resurfaced in Sikh politics from time to time on account of real or imagined grievances. In the late 1970s, Delhi’s walls were painted with slogans such as “Sikhs in Army 33% to 12%. Why?” and “Nankana azad te Panth azad”, referring to the Sikh holy shrine of Nankana Sahib now in Pakistan. Mainstream Sikh leaders also periodically targeted deviant sub-sects, particularly the Nirankaris and to some extent Namdharis, for challenging Khalsa founder Gobind Singh’s decree that none would be anointed guru after him.
Bhindranwale, too, first hit the headlines by unleashing violence on the Nirankaris. In a sectarian dash in 1979, 17 people died. This was avenged by the murder of the Nirankari Baba, worshipped by his followers almost as a guru, inside his fortified headquarters in Nirankari Colony near north Delhi’s Model Town. The killing was cearly masterminded by Bhindranwale and that catapulted him into a hero in much of rural Punjab where Sikhs had been brought up to believe that Nirankaris were a bunch of despicable heretics.
The subsequent targeted killing of the venerable owner-editor of the Punjab Kesari group, Lala Jagat Narain, followed by that of his son Ramesh Chandra, to silence the newspaper group’s strident campaign against separatist militancy sent a chill down Punjab’s Hindus, sizeable minority of 37 per cent in the state. Arguably, then Haryana chief minister Bhajan Lal’s overzealous security drill for Sikh travellers to Delhi during the 1982 Asian Games did much to add to the community’s sense of grievance. In fact, that was the turning point as far as Bhindranwale’s acceptability to Punjab’s upwardly mobile and outwardly modern middle class was concerned.
Punjab became a byword for spiralling violence after Operation Woodrose was launched to mop up terrorists after the deaths of Bhindranwale and Indira Gandhi. In fact, rudderless terrorist groups let loose an orgy of violence in Punjab only in the aftermath of Operation Bluestar, It was the only time that a unit of the army revolted: the Sikh Regiment based in Ramgarh, near Ranchi, shot its commander dead on news of the destruction of the Akal Takht.
I recall visiting the temple in September 1984 and was horrified by what was left of the Akal Takht, then under reconstruction by an opium-eating Nihang, Baba Santa Singh, protégé of Union minister Buta Singh, a Mazhabi (Dalit) unacceptable to the dominant Jat Sikhs of the state. A few years later, I was also present when Bhindranwale’s successor as Damdami Taksal, one Baba Thakar Singh, ceremonially commenced the demolition of the Akal Takht, because it had been rebuilt by Tankhaiya Sikhs like Santa and Buta and hence impure. That in the process, sword-wielding militants stripped the building’s dome of 26 kg gold sanctioned by Indira Gandhi for its renewal, and possibly sold it to buy arms, is another matter. In death, Bhindranwale was, thus, a more potent figure than in life. The call for Khalistan, muted in his lifetime, acquired a shrill overtone as the years passed. Till the arrival of hard line counter-terrorist KPS Gill as DGP and the brilliantly choreographed Operation Black Thunder in 1988, Punjab teetered on the brink of secession, despite the Rajiv-Longowal Accord of 1986, a peace deal that cost the peaceable Sant his life.
Punjab today is the antithesis of all that Bhindranwale sought to propagate. When Gill, de facto ruler of the state through the late 1980s, successfully organised a Shilpa Shetty Night and danced with her on stage in Amritsar in 1991, it spelled the lifting of the pall of terror, Two years later, Sukhdev Singh Babbar, head of the puritanical Babbar Khalsa, a Bhindranwale-worshipping outfit, was shot dead in Ambala. His house in Patiala, which I was the first journalist to visit, revealed his opulent lifestyle as well as indulgence with two wives who shared the home complete with latest electronic gadgets including a satellite dish, the first I saw in India. Support for separatist terror evaporated in the aftermath of the discovery. Gill proclaimed he had worked himself out of a job. He had.
I believe the movement spawned by Bhindranwale began its downhill journey when motley obscurantists issued a firman prohibiting consumption of alcohol and meat. Can you quite imagine a jolly good sardarji who abjures his nightly whisky and generous portions of tandoori kukkad? I recall my repeated visits to Amritsar during those blood-soaked years, when in company of journalist Rahul Bedi on his Bullet, we sneaked into by-lanes and tapped the closed shutters of booze shops twice to convey we wanted a full bottle, the premium be damned!
I am told Bhindranwale, probably India’s first media-savvy terrorist, would allow journalists various liberties whenever they carne to interview him in Akal Takht. His less intelligent, rustic followers were not only more intolerant but also daydreamed about founding a Sikh Empire stretching to Delhi which in their fanciful notions they renamed Dashmesh Nagar in maps of the imaginary Khalistan that were published with alarming regularity in the final years of the doomed movement.
Bhindranwale brought out the worst in us. He was gone by the mid-1980s, but his legacy lived long enough to damage the fabric of India’s evolving nationhood. Terrorist killings don’t startle us anymore. We have become sufficiently blasé to say that unless it’s in double-digits, such mass murders don’t merit Page 1 treatment in newspapers. Bhindranwale shook India out of its comfortable somnolence that had been merely jolted a few years earlier by the Emergency. No doubt we are more mature as a nation than before. But we are perhaps more insensitive too. Maybe this had to happen some day. But what I remember of it, life was so much more languid before a humungous amount of blood was spilt around a purported Sant’s diabolic persona. May it never happen again.
(India Today 26 December, 2011)]