1984

I think what Gen Jamwal is saying could have some grain of truth. I know of other senior officers who were not happy at the mission – though none of them was involved in the chain of command viz Division, Corps, Army Commander [Sunderji], General Staffs at Army HQ and Vaidya , the COAS.

I am not sure if other than flooding the troops with propaganda literature against Amritdhari Sikhs [all dubbed terrorists] any attempt was made to gauge the feelings of the rank and file in being used to desecrate such venerated holy sites.

Sunderji and Vaidya were very different characters. The former could be harsh, brash and ruthless even though he was a very well read person. On the other hand Vaidya was milder and had almost given up on the chance of becoming COAS. Vaidya could have been deliberative but Sunderji could have loved the chance for strong, controversial, use of excessive, decisive force. This has been my assessment of the two men from my limited personal contacts with them.

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I was in India till mid March 1988. It was a very well planned and well-executed project at painting of the entire community as suspect and militants. That it had the desired effect is clear from what transpired in Jun and Nov ‘84. The public opinion was totally as if benumbed. Even at person-to-person level there would not be many stories of non-Sikhs commiserating with Sikhs regarding the trauma that the entire play was putting the average Sikh through. Alienation of the community was complete.

I do not want to confuse the helpful acts of those who tried to save Sikhs in Nov 84 as pro Sikh or that they did not believe the potential victim to be a terrorist or militant or sympathizer. They did it I believe mostly because they were good human beings who came forth to help the needy even if at personal risk. Any generalized conclusion beyond that to stratify the public opinion as pro or anti maligning of Sikhs or pogrom against them may be difficult to sustain on close scrutiny.

My sense also is that there was no perceptible change post Nov ‘84 in the media continuing to paint Sikhs in negative terms or letting that impression prevail by not commenting to contain or correct it – with a few rare exceptions. The public discourse did not change – if at all it became more insidious and threatening.

The picture of the ethnic media in the Diaspora is almost a mirror image with a lag in phase. It seems to me that the discourse changed with the coming of BJP to power at the Center – not possibly because of their empathy for Sikhs but because they did not have the political necessity to defend the actions of Congressites. This interregnum also certainly took the pressure off the Indian Sikhs [possibly because of its unfortunate shift to the Muslims].

A great variety of shades of opinion have been expressed on this and related issues. I think it would be naive and may be even fallacious to think that the unfortunate experience of 80/90’s will not be a part of historical memory of the future generations and thus potentially not be a trigger for negative responses, as do so many other layers of transmitted historical memory. The trauma is not going to go away only if Sikhs accept their errors where all they may have been wrong – only an open, shared expression of regret by all the leading actors, their successor leadership, for errors made on all sides, by all agencies, interest groups may help to some extent.

Any durable effect will possibly accrue only if the underlying causes that led to the ugly situation to develop over decades get addressed. I am not sure if there is as yet enough clarity or courage in any quarter to realistically face up to those issues in a pragmatic and sincere give and take.

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Jagpal ji is right about the reporting by the Indian media about these issues in the more recent past. We may not however confuse it with the media reporting in the run upto the November ‘84 events fed by semi official PTI releases and plenty of fairly one sided commentaries by Inder Malhotra and others – not to mention the biased reporting by the AIR and the TV.

Indian media has grown more independent since the onset of 24×7 TV news channels in recent years and seems to have acquired courage to raise their voice at State sponsored violence against minorities especially since Godhra. This could have been also the outcome of electoral politics between Congress and BJP. Whatever the reason, Sikh press reporting has had the collateral benefit of becoming more empathetic.

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Mandeep Bajwa is right about several among us being in denial about the senseless violence unleashed by our own even if it was to be seen as a last resort response to prolonged sense of being aggrieved and negative portrayal of the entire community.

The first comment about significant Muslim involvement in Sikh killing seems rather motivated to imply that it was not only Hindu lumpen elements who committed the atrocities. That would be true because the mafia like control of the Congress leaders to collect and use such elements for political rallies is well recognized. Why then name only Muslims and not say that Christians were also involved and so were Ambedkar Buddhists and others? The important thing here is to look at the identity and motivation of the leaders; the anti Sikh hysteria created through the media and that does not lead to Muslims.  I was also there and have talked to several others who should know and have never been told that Muslims as a community harbored anti Sikh feelings at that time. Several of my colleagues at the Administrative Staff College of India at Hyderabad, at the time, were Muslims. My consulting work took me to all parts of the country and I came across and talked to people of all persuasions. Muslims did not condone what was done to the Sikhs – they could not garner the courage to speak up against it.

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Surain ji said ‘Sometimes I wonder if we are going astray in finding scape goats for the operation Blue Star instead of looking inwards for understanding the causes of the calamity visited on the Sikhs in that tragic event!’

This certainly could be an interesting study but the observer will have to position his vision above the melee where it seems that all are guilty – all except the innocent, on all sides.

The world we are living in is not a sanctuary for peace. It is a place for righteous endeavor because good and evil abide together. Significantly this mix of good and evil pervades the created and is part of the hukam. The divine force itself attaches us to moh and maya as it inspires us to rise above ourselves.

The Babar Vani interpretation of the operation blue star will be evil forces trying to punish the immoral and depraved leaders. The leaders had no plan to protect their people. The punishing forces killed the innocent. All the people had been attached to their pet position [moh of maya] by God. Yet the cries of the suffering went unanswered.

Guru Nanak also seeing something like this asks – where should one go? And goes on to sing the praises of the divine for he alone what he is doing. The moral lesson that I sense is that Man cannot be worthy of – manas ko prabh daiyee vadiayee – and – aur joni teri panihari – till man learns to solve the societal problems on their own.

At another plane the Babar Vani position may be very clear – je sakta saktai ko marai —. If massive force is used where innocents are not separated, then their master has to answer. This not only applies to Indira Gandhi and her military advisors but also those who perpetrated or incited killings in various other similar settings.

The Gurus did give us a model for bringing harmony. We have to start within [halemi raj] and cleanse ourselves. Then help exemplars to act as catalysts to help transform others. Sangats were laboratories for this change. The process has to be continuous for such change is not self-sustaining. My own limited understanding seems to be that Gurus only considered one victory worth celebrating – that was over the self. All temporal successes or victories – and Guru Gobind Singh has mentioned these in Bachitar Natak – were over immediate cause of dissonance or distress. They were not abiding or transformative of the society. That is a continuing challenge that all generations will have to face.

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Thank you for sharing the text of Phoolka ji’s letter. This is a very unfortunate development. I do pray and hope that the matter gets handled with sensitivity to the critical need for the community to get some sense of justice. The media has been lately reporting that the case is going well leading to rising expectations that at long last the judicial system might deliver some justice. It would be a pity if this episode succeeds in causing the pursuit of cases to suffer at this juncture. Besides, in public perception, the failure will be blamed on us as a community, divided against itself.

My plea would be to all who can use their good offices to help reduce tensions so that the cases get pursued with diligence they deserve. Constructive involvement of more from within the community may help and also provide the breather necessary to separate this paramount need from the vexing underlying intra community political dynamics clearly at play.

Let us avoid putting our religious institutions under continuously divisive pressures and remember that Guru Panth and its institutions draw their strength from our collective support and acceptance of their legitimacy and authority.

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