Operation Bluestar's painful memory lingers

Operation Bluestar's painful memory lingers

Across Punjab’s heartland, Khalistan memorabilia, some showcasing its most celebrated ideologue Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale sporting an AK-47, have long been in vogue.

Stickers of Bhindranwale proudly pasted behind vehicles are not hard to spot. The condemnation of and simmering indignation over the military action taken in early June 1984 to flush out militants holed up inside the Golden Temple in Amritsar is evident even three decades later. 

Thirty years down the line, the relevance of the  demand for a separate Sikh homeland might have dissipated by and large, but an undercurrent prevails even to this day that marks Operation Bluestar, which took place on June 6.The radical outfit Dal Khalsa Dal has called for a bandh in the holy city Amritsar on Friday.

Its spokesperson Kanwar Pal Singh said the call is to protest the killings of hundreds of innocent people in the attack on the Golden Temple by the Army. He said the peaceful bandh intended on June 6 is a reminder that the Sikhs will never forget the 1984 attack on the holy shrine. 

Giani Gurbachan Singh, head priest of the Akal Takth, the highest temporal seat of Sikhism, has also urged the Sikh community to observe this day in accordance with Sikh religious traditions without indulging in mudslinging. 

Punjab has come a long way since Operation Bluestar. But whether it was the attack on Army commander Lt Gen Kuldeep Singh Brar on the streets of London in 2012, or the “glorification” of former terrorists, some who have been bestowed with martyr status, the scars of past acrimonies are still alive, perhaps here to stay. The memorial for the ‘martyrs’ of Operation Bluestar brought up in the Golden Temple only underlines the undercurrent.  

The wounds of the 1984 military action have rubbed many the wrong way. The family of a highly decorated hero of the 1965 war with Pakistan, Lt Gen R S Dayal, a Maha Vir Chakra (MVC), who died in January 2012, was refused prayers to mark his first death anniversary by a Sikh shrine in Panchkula in Haryana near here, for his participation in Operation Bluestar.

Politicians on both sides of the divide are united on one issue – that Punjab can ill-afford to take the issue of any possible revival of militancy lightly.

Even then, Punjab’s political landscape has plenty of space for an unpalatable narrative with the ruling Akali Dal-BJP combine routinely accusing the Congress of being anti-Sikh and raising fears of danger to the Panth. 

The Congress misses no opportunity to accuse the Akalis of sympathising with the hardliners, but there have been little attempts to reconcile the narrative. The youth in Punjab, addicted to drugs, want jobs and opportunities. 

The last three Assembly elections in Punjab were fought on the issues of development and none of the main political parties made terrorism or Operation Bluestar a key issue.

The politics in Punjab has graduated to a more politically prudent, perhaps more meaningful issues of cheap atta-dal, free power, airports and air-conditioned bus stands.

The Punjab Police understand well the complexities of the many hardline, radical narratives. Its heightened vigil has shown results. During the last 5 or 6 years of the Akali regime, the Punjab police has arrested 184 militants till over a year ago. In 2010, 58 militants were arrested by the Punjab police. 

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