There is much being written about Operation Bluestar on its 30th anniversary and after the UK government claimed that British advice was sought by Indira Gandhi before the military assault was launched. Most comments are related to details pertaining to the army action. This is like missing the woods for the trees. The most fundamental truth about Operation Bluestar is either deliberately or otherwise being ignored.
The truth is that Operation Bluestar was unnecessary because Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale had categorically agreed to a settlement acceptable to the Indian government as well as to Harcharan Singh Longowal exactly one month before the military operation. He gave his consent to the terms of agreement to this writer who had intervened after the personal request made to him by Rajiv Gandhi. This is not a new disclosure. I have written about this before and for some curious reason these facts were never questioned but merely ignored. Briefly, this is what transpired.
Jatindra Tuli, a former journalist and colleague, approached me with a request from Rajiv Gandhi for help to achieve a settlement with Bhindrnwle. We met Rajiv Gandhi in the residence of Romi Chopra and discussed the matter. I consented to help Gandhi. I approached my brother General Prikshat Puri who was Engineer-in-Chief in the Indian army for assistance. Bhindrnwale’s elder brother, Captain Harcharan Singh Rode, decorated for valour in the 1965 war, served under him. The Captain’s cooperation was sought and obtained. He personally escorted me from Jalandhar where he was posted to the Golden Temple to meet Bhindranwale.
I bluntly asked Bhindranwale if he wanted Khalistan. He said he had never demanded Khalistan but if it was offered to him on a plate he would not reject it.
The ideologue behind the Khalistan demand was Jagjit Singh Chouhan with whom I had also interacted closely. He also could have been easily handled, but that is a different story.
After an hour long discussion I persuaded Bhindranwale to agree to a settlement the terms of which might be negotiated by Harcharan Singh Longowal also housed in the Golden Temple at that time. I persuaded Bhindranwale to confine himself to spiritual and religious matters pertaining to the Sikh faith. He agreed. Bhindranwale knew after his brother had assured him that I was in a sense speaking for the government. Thereafter I met Longowal and reached agreement on the terms of settlement that were unexceptionable and acceptable to the government. These meetings took place exactly one month before Operation Bluestar.
I returned to Delhi and informed Romi Chopra that I had accomplished the needful and to inform Rajiv Gandhi accordingly. He informed Rajiv Gandhi. But the latter never got back to me. My repeated attempts to contact him were of no avail. Rajiv Gandhi’s conduct left me with a lasting impression that was very poor. Subsequently Operation Bluestar occurred and the tragedy unfolded. I was given to understand that former MP from Amritsar, RL Bhatia had also obtained some kind of assurance from Bhindrnwale. But I could never verify this.
I wrote a detailed version of my experience in the Tribune dated November 2, 2003, and in the Statesman’s Durga Puja Annual Issue of 2003. I never met Captain Harcharan Singh Rode or Romi Chopra since that time. I met Jatindra Tuli a few times. Reporters can approach all three individuals to verify the truth of my version. They can also read the previous newspaper articles for more detailed understanding of what had transpired.
It is futile to delve into the details of the military action in Operation Bluestar. All the arguments about why Operation Bluestar became necessary need to be nailed.
The assumption that Bhindranwale was insisting on Khalistan and rigidly denied any compromise is the biggest lie. What needs investigation is why Indira Gandhi despite having obtained an agreement with Bhindranwale that rendered Operation Bluestar redundant nevertheless launched the military action that led to her own death and to the tragic aftermath. What was her compulsion? Who was advising her?