lt. general brar
a practicing sikh, even though he doesn't carry the necessary items of a devout sikh.
Exactly 24 years after the infamous Operation Blue Star, which was aimed at removing Sikh militants from the Golden Temple, NewsX caught up with Lt General (retd) KS Brar, the man who led the operation.
NewsX: In hindsight, do you think Operation Blue Star was necessary?
General Brar: Absolutely! I don't think it could have been avoided. I think Mrs Gandhi tried her best to avoid Operation Blue Star. Till the last moment she was having secret parleys with the leadership of the Akali Dal, the SGPC (Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandhak Committee) - the functionaries of the Golden Temple, but none of them had any authority left. The authority was now totally in the hands of Bhindranwale. Bhindranwale had made up his mind that there should be an independent Sikh state.
He wanted the Sikhs, as he said, to be freed from the shackles of Hindu slavery and from Hindu Raj. Pakistan took advantage of the situation. They trained the youth; they motivated them; they armed them; they provided good financial incentives to them. And they motivated them to fight for their own free land. And said you are second class citizens in your country. So the youth was all up in anger. Bhindranwale had motivated them also.
There was no land and order left in Punjab. There was no law and order left in Punjab. The civil administration had collapsed. The police had lost its authority. There was only one man calling the shots and that was Bhindranwale. In fact on the 26th of January 1984, Bhindranwale hoisted the flag of Khalistan inside the Golden Temple. But no one could do anything about it. He was initially living in Guru Ram Das Sarai and Guru Nanak Niwas but he decided to move into the Akal Takht. No one has ever gone and lived in the Akal Takht. But he did it.
And a stage had come when law and order situation was collapsing so fast that something had to be done. Pakistan was all ready and all set to recognize Khalistan the moment its declared. And there was a possibility of Khalistan being declared in a next few days.
And imagine if Khalistan was declared and Pakistan recognize them, they would repeat a Bangladesh on us, they would cross the borders, they would come to the assistance of this newly formed Khalistan, Punjab police would desert and join in with the Khalistan force, there would be a mass exodus of Hindus from Punjab towards Haryana and Delhi, mass exodus of Sikhs from Delhi and Haryana towards Punjab. There would be a 1947 type of riot situation. I think it was a task beyond the capability of the Army and something had to be done before it became too late.
NewsX: So what was the immediate provocation? Why June 3rd?
General Brar: You see, June 3rd unfortunately Longowal had ordered mass agitation in Punjab. And he had now passed orders that there will be no movement of food grains within Punjab. Emergency situation had been declared. Mrs Gandhi was still trying to make sure that the food grains are able to be moved in Punjab, but nothing was happening.
Therefore, right till, as long as possible, she kept on providing them with various compromises as far as the Anandpur Sahib resolution is concerned. She was prepared to give in to a number of their demands but they wanted everything and nothing short of everything. So, a stage came when she decided that when I have no other alternative left, I have to save the nation, I have to preserve the integrity of the Nation and she ordered Operation Blue Star.
NewsX: Can you give us an insight into the Operation? Was Mrs Indira Gandhi personally involved?
General Brar: Well, she gave her directions that she wanted militants to be removed from the Temple - Bhindranwale and the rest of the militants. She wanted sanctity to be restored inside the Gurudwara. She wanted the operation to be carried out as speedily as possible, so that there would be no repercussions. She wanted to use the minimum force; she didn't want any destruction of property or of religious sentiments. So she gave her instructions. General Vaidya, who was the chief, passed those instructions on down the line, and none of us had any doubts about those instructions.
NewsX: So how tough was the operation?
General Brar: We were told there will be about 500 people inside with a few double barrel guns and antiquated weapons. But what turned out when we went in, there were over 2000 sophisticated weapons inside, there were machine guns, there were rocket launchers, there were bazookas, there were stein guns, there were revolvers, there were automatic rifles, there were grenades; the whole Temple had been barricaded and there was not an opening anywhere inside that complex, which had not been barricaded and blocked.
I mean, it was like going into action with your hands tied behind your back- instructions that you cannot fire on Harmandir Sahib, instructions that you must make sure that all the women and children and innocent civilians are not harmed, yet they were all mixed up together. How do you separate them? We wanted to separate them, we wanted to find some solution by which we go to the battle only with the militants.
That's why we were appealing to the innocent people to come out but they didn't heed our advice. So, it was a damn tough Operation. When bullets were flying at our men from across Harmandir Sahib, from the opposite direction and our men were being killed like mosquitoes once they are sprayed upon, its damn tough to give orders that they will not return that fire.
NewsX: The Operation began on June 3rd and ended on June 6th. What was the sequence of events?
General Brar: No, June 3rd I wouldn't say the operation started. June 3rd we laid a cordon around the Golden Temple. There were just paramilitary forces and a little bit of army around there; there was a reconnaissance going on, there were plans being prepared. The actual Operation started only on the 5th of June- roundabout 10:30 at night when we actually entered the Golden Temple.
Before that ok in the morning, some of their observation towers, which were totally dominating the area, had to be removed because these people were on top of the observation towers and when our troops went in, they came under very heavy fire. So, we had to remove those lookouts with rocket launchers, knock them out, so that the observation that was provided to these people was not available. But the actual Operation started after 10:30 on the 5th of June and it ended before noon on the 6th of June.
NewsX: Ok. And is it true that you actually went inside the Golden Temple just one day before the Operation started, dressed up as a civilian?
General Brar: No, I didn't go inside. I was just outside the Golden Temple, trying to observe the routine of the militants there and trying to get the lay out.
NewsX: And General Shabeg was also there?
General Brar: Shabeg was there. Shabeg Singh was inside. And I knew Shabeg very well. And I knew what we were up against, he being the military commander of Bhindranwale. And I knew we have a tough fight during that night. It was not going to be cakewalk. And that's what it was.
NewsX: And he fought a war alongside you against Bangladesh?
General Brar: Yeah, in 1971. We went into Dhaka together.
NewsX: Why were the tanks brought in?
General Brar: No, no, we had no plans to bring the tanks in. We didn't think the Operation would take so long. We thought it will be all over very fast. But we were getting close to daylight. Akal Takht- our troops could not close in to the Akal Takht because it was so heavily fortified. And there was a very heavy volume of fire coming from Akal Takht. We tried everything possible, we tried lobbying stun grenades. These grenades give you a headache; they make you a little nauseatic and they sort of assist in blinding to some extent.
But there was no way those grenades could go in because the whole place was so barricaded, there were no open spaces where the grenades could go in. They were bouncing back onto the Parikrama and having an effect on my own troops. So that didn't succeed. We wanted the commandos to go in, swim across the sarovar if possible into Harmandir Sahib, but the moment they tried to get into the sarovar, they came under heavy fire. We tried to have commandos going to the Akal Takht in three or four different directions; again they came under heavy fire.
Now the fear was, come the daylight, the news will spread very fast throughout Punjab that the Golden Temple has been attacked and there will be thousands and thousands of Sikh converging onto the Golden Temple, which would be a very difficult situation for the Army, because then you couldn't turn and face those people also. So, it had to be finished fast. And we felt the only way is bring in a tank, use it xenon lamp, it's got a xenon lamp, where the filament of the xenon lamp throws a light on a particular area, which has a blinding effect, and at the same time it lights up that area, which would assist our troops in closing in to the Akal Takht and at the same time blinding them and making it possible not to see us. But these filaments were fusing every one minute.
One minute and a fuse would go off and we had to bring in another tank, the same thing happened. Eventually, we took an APC. The APC tried to move on Parikrama, it came under rocket launcher fire and it was destroyed. We had the casualties, people had to jump off the APC and move on foot. Then we use the second armory on the tank to fire to on to the top of the Akal Takht to frighten those people or to soften the defenses. But that didn't succeed.
As a last measure, when General Sunderji had to get the approval from Delhi, we were permitted to use our main guns. But there also, we tried as far as possible, to just use it just on the top portions of the Akal Takht, so that that would have an effect on the people to surrender and give up the fight. Otherwise, there was no intention of taking the tanks inside.
NewsX: Bhindranwale and his men- you said some 2000 men, were inside. Was their surrender ever an option? Did you try to make them surrender?
General Brar: Yeah! Even when the firing used to die down, when there used to be lull in the battle, on loudspeakers we would going on appealing to them that even now please surrender, we don't want to continue with this fight, we don't want more bloodshed, we have lost a lot of our human beings, you have lost a lot of your human beings, please surrender. But my Gosh, there was no question of their surrendering.
It's only sometime in the morning, when there was a mass exodus, people just started rushing out of the Akal Takht and Harmandir Sahib etc that we realized something had happened, why is this happening.
Then we guessed Bhindranwale must be dead. And once he's dead, the motivation with the rest of the people would have died down and they would have decided the best thing for us is to escape. So, they tried to escape. However, a group of people came out with a white flag and surrendered. So, some did surrender, some tried to escape. This is after Bhindranwale was dead.
NewsX: But then there were some rumors that Bhindranwale didn't die and was given a kind of safe passage to run into Pakistan?
General Brar: Yeah, yeah. There were rumors floated. But you know how rumors start. I was questioned by the Information and Broadcasting Minister HKL Bhagat. He said look, its appearing on Pakistan TV that Bhindranwale is there in Pakistan, he escaped that night. I said he is here, we have handed his body to his relatives. His followers have come and touched his feet, the police have identified him, the intelligence agencies have identified him, he has been cremated, so where's the question of his having escaped to Pakistan. He said, no, the news is he has escaped to Pakistan and he is going to be shown on Pakistan TV on the 30th of June. I said, then all I can say is you please watch the TV on 30th of June, because as far as I am concerned, he is no longer alive.
NewsX: You yourself are a Sikh. Did you have any inhibitions when you were carrying out the Operation?
General Brar: No! The moment you join the Army and you wear your uniform, and you sworn, you have taken the oath of allegiance, you have one duty to perform, i.e. to safeguard the national integrity of your country. Before the operation started that morning of 5th, I went around addressing the troops- all the battalions and I explained to them the reasons why we were going in. I tried to tell them that this was the last alternative we dint want to go in but we have to do so.
Otherwise we will see Khalistan being established and Punjab being severe from India like east India was severed from Pakistan. And I said if there's any one amongst you who doesn't want to go in, who feels so strongly about it, just step aside, and I assure you your commanding officer will take no action against you. The first battalion - no one, second battalion - no one, the third battalion- no one, the fourth battalion- one Sikh gentleman stood up. I said "yes son, you don't need to go in." He said, "Sir you got me wrong, my name is Second Lt. Jasbeer Raina, I want to be the first one to go in. I want to lead the attack. I want to get to that Akal Takht and get Bhindranwale on my own."
I said you are a brave man. I told his commanding officer let his platoon be the first one to go. So that night his platoon was the first one to enter the Golden Temple but they came under very serious, severe fire they had no cover, both his legs were blasted away, he was bleeding a lot, he was still crawling. Commanding Officer tried to stop him to evacuate him.
They told me that he is very badly wounded. I had an ambulance ready for him. He said he is refusing to come out, he's just crawling away. I said now forcibly lift him and bring him. Both his legs were amputated. I got him the Asoka Chakra, the highest award for gallantry. When he went to receive his award in Rashtrapati Bhavan, the President walked down and pins the Ashoka Chakra on his chest.
NewsX: Why you were chosen for the operation? Do you think it was because you are a Sikh?
General Brar: I don't think it would make a very good difference even if we didn't answer to this question you have asked. I wouldn't say that I was selected because I was the most competent fellow, no way! I was just like any other general but it so happened it came my way and that's it.
NewsX: How has your life changed after the Operation Blue Star?
General Brar: Well, life has not been very comfortable. When I was army commander in Calcutta, there were attempts on my life. I got a call last year from someone in America to say there's a website, Khalistan website, go onto it, www whatever it was and see what's there. I went on to that website and there was Indira Gandhi's picture there and mine and they said number one enemy of the Sikhs now is Lt. Gen Kuldip Singh Brar.
And they went on to say that we have eliminated Mrs. Gandhi, we have eliminated General Vaidysaand now we have to eliminate him and there have been seven assassination attempts on his life, they haven't succeeded but the next one will, and those who want to join in, please click here. So, I mean when you see these things, in front of your eyes, it disturbs you.
NewsX: Did you visit the Golden Temple after that?
General Brar: No! No. I don't think they will let me go there because I think it would be something. There will be too many people wanting to make sure I don't come out again.
NewsX: Do you want to go?
General Brar: I do not want to go. No! Why should I go there? I mean I will go to the gurudwara wherever I am on Baisakhi, on other days but why should I particularly want to go to the Golden Temple in Amritsar? I have no attachment to it. This was a task I carried out without any attachment and I don't want to go there and be reminded of those ugly days.
NewsX: David Van Praagh writes "Militarily successful, Operation Blue Star is considered to be a political disaster and an un-precedented act in modern Indian history." Do you think the Operation was successful?
General Brar: Of course it was. Whether it was a political mistake or not, it's a different matter because it's only those people who were in power who would be able to say what were the compulsions. They must have had some compulsions to order the operation. Now the operation was successful. Unfortunately there was loss of life.
NewsX: If we could turn the time back to 1984, would you still do what you did then?
General Brar: Yeah, yeah!
NewsX: Will you?
General Brar: I would try my best to infiltrate people. I would ask for more time and during that time I'd try to send people in as pilgrims and explain to them, what's happening inside was wrong and to give up the extremist and fundamentalist feelings that they have. But if everything else failed, I would have, I would find no other method of doing it. It was, I mean not a question of one man's plan. This plan was debated and General Sunderji must have come on a number of occasions and refined it every stage and found then there was no other alternative but to do it.
NewsX: My last question, what are your feelings about the Operation Blue Star?
General Brar: I am sad that it had to have happened. I wish it had never happened. But for it not to have happened there had to be a compromise between the government and the Akalis, between the government and the SGPC, between the government and the Sikh priests, there had to be a method to bring Bhindranwale onto the right path. Everything failed, as I told you Bada, Tohra, Longowal had no authority left in them.
They couldn't negotiate with the government any longer because the person who called the shots was Bhindranwale. We tried to avoid it as much as possible. It was not easy for me. But my forces, who went in with me, not one desertion - not one, because they saw things themselves. They saw what was happening; they saw what was inside the Golden Temple.
Not one deserted. My own guard, he is a Sikh guard. People say "no, no you can't have a Sikh guard as a defence commander." I say I can't do a thing like that. They come by turns. It's the turn of the Sikhs, they are there. I had Sikh battalions in the same stations as me. Not one of them pointed a weapon at me or ever deserted or ever spoke in a derogatory manner of what happened.