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'Operation Bluestar was most traumatic, most painful'

Last updated on: June 08, 2004 17:29 IST
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Part I: 'Pakistan would have recognised Khalistan and crossed the borders'
Part II: 'There is always a limit to how much any country can take'
Part III: 'You are not acting against any religion but against a section of misguided people'

Lieutenant General (retired) Kuldip Singh Brar commanded Operation Bluestar 20 years ago when the Indian Army entered the Golden Temple to remove the terrorists who had turned the holiest Sikh shrine into a private bunker. It was one of the Indian Army's most difficult operations, and also the most controversial.

In this concluding instalment of a four-part exclusive interview with Deputy Managing Editor Amberish K Diwanji, General Brar talks of how he motivated his soldiers to participate what was undoubtedly the single most traumatic operation by the Indian Army ever.

Soldiers are God fearing. How did you motivate your men to carry out the operation in a holy shrine?

On the day we went in, I decided I must talk to the men personally and tell them what we were doing and why we were doing it. I began at 4 am in the morning [of June 5], spent half an hour with the first unit; then half an hour with the next unit and so on. To every one of them, I explained this was not a mission against any religion or a temple, but a mission against some militants who have defiled the temple; it was no longer a place of sanctity but a defiled place and we were going to clean it out.

Even so, I told my men if any one of them wanted to opt out of this operation, they were welcome. I gave them my word that they would not be hounded nor would their unit commanding officer mark them negatively.

No one put his hand up to back out, not in the first, not in the second, not in the third…

In the fourth battalion, one hand went up. It belonged to a Sikh officer, Second Lieutenant Jasbir Singh Raina, in the unit commanded by [Lieutenant Colonel] Mohammad Israr [Lt Col Israr of the 10 Guards would lead the first unit into the Golden Temple]. I told Raina if he wanted to stay out, he need have no fear in doing so. Raina replied he had a request: he wanted to be the first person to enter the Golden Temple to wipe the militants who had defiled his holiest shrine. I was very happy and told Israr that Raina must be allowed to lead the first charge.

The moment Raina entered, he came under a withering fire and suffered serious injuries to his legs. Yet, he refused to pull out. Israr Israr rang me up saying Raina was refusing to evacuate. I then ordered Israr to get Raina out and into the waiting ambulance. Months later, when he received the Ashoka Chakra [the highest bravery award in peace times], he came to receive the award in a wheelchair. I had tears in my eyes because I remembered this young boy standing up to say he wanted be the first to enter. These are things that not many people know.

As a commander, you have to explain it to your men. I told them I was going in, but if they didn't want to do so, I understood and promised them no harm. Yet, not one person walked away. Not one.

You are still paying a price for your role in Operation Bluestar with all this security at your home.

One knows that. You have to pay a price and one has to be careful. But I look at it this way: if your time is up, it is up. You can die in your sleep, in your car, walking on the road. Nothing can stop that from happening. There have been attempts on my life but so far none have succeeded. I am fortunate to be here, but tomorrow I may not be here.

Of all the internal operations by the Indian Army, this would have been the most difficult one.

It was also the most traumatic, the most painful. I remember briefing the Foreign Correspondents Club [in New Delhi] after the operation and one person asked me how we could do it. I found out he was British, so I asked him if militants take over St Paul's Cathedral, killings start in the cathedral and despite your best efforts, you can't stop that, how would the British army react? He agreed the British army too would enter the cathedral.

Then there was the case in Saudi Arabia, when the Kaaba was taken over by terrorists. Traditionally, no non-Muslim is supposed to go near the Kaaba but, to end the terrorist takeover, the Saudis called in French commandos and killed every terrorist.

As a soldier, this is what I have to do.

Many military officers who are now seeking to avoid using the Indian Army in civil operations. Do you agree?

Very much! The last thing the army wants is to be deployed within India for law and order operations. But places like Nagaland, Mizoram, Kashmir, Punjab… they come under a different category. Here, there are armed insurgents and militants, with sophisticated weapons, financed from abroad, heavily motivated, ready to give up their lives… The police forces with their 303 rifles [of World War II vintage] and their outdated method cannot tackle such militants beyond a level. That is when there is no choice. The army has to step in.

Now the army has been able to prevail upon the government to set up a paramilitary force -- the Rashtriya Rifles -- commanded by army officers but including policemen. Every army chief has told the government that it is not in the interest of the army for it to enter civil situations, because it is at the cost of our morale and our operational ability. I can tell you that the government is strengthening such forces, but till such time as they become self sufficient, the army will always remain as a back up force. How else would you deal with the situation in a place like Kashmir?


Part I: 'Pakistan would have recognised Khalistan and crossed the borders'
Part II: 'There is always a limit to how much any country can take'
Part III: 'You are not acting against any religion but against a section of misguided people'

Photograph: (Then) Major General K S Brar, Lieutenant General K Sundarji and (then) Chief of Army Staff General A S Vaidya soon after Operation Bluestar.

Image: Rajesh Karkera

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