What was Operation Blue Star and why was it carried out?

Operation Blue Star
Opeartion Blue Star

Operation Blue Star was an Indian military operation which occurred between 1st June and 8th June 1984, ordered by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in order to establish control over the Harmandir Sahib Complex (GOLDEN TEMPLE)in Amritsar, Punjab, and remove militant religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his militant armed followers from the complex buildings. Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was a Leader of the Sikh organization Damdami Taksal (& a notable supporter of Anandpur Resolution. He advocated against the consumption of Liquor, drugs & laxness in religious practices, such as the cutting of Kesh by Sikh youth)was invited to the Harmandir Sahib and later on made it his headquarters in December 1983.

The Root Cause of Operation Blue Star:

After decades of peaceful agitation after 1947 for some basic rights (such as a linguistic province, water rights, devolution of powers to the states/Punjab, amending the Indian constitution that mis-categorized Sikhs as Hindus etc.), the resolution once again came into the limelight in the 1980s. The Akali Dal and Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale joined hands to launch the Dharam Yudh Morcha (a peaceful civil disobedience movement in which thousands of Sikhs courted arrest like they had done during the Indira Dictatorship) in 1982 in order to implement the Anandpur Sahib Resolution. Thousands of people joined the movement, feeling that it represented a real solution to demands such as a larger share of water for irrigation and the return of Chandigarh and Punjabi speaking areas to Punjab.

Indira Gandhi, the leader of the Akali Dal’s rival Congress, viewed (or projected) the Anandpur Sahib Resolution as a secessionist document.

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The Akali Dal officially stated that the Anandpur Sahib Resolution did not envisage the autonomous Sikh State of Khalistan but a proper federal separation of powers between the Punjab and India’s central government. Before the Operation Bluestar, even Bhindranwale is never reported to have placed any demand for complete independence on record and had only led his agitation for the Anandpur Sahib Resolution. Throughout his career, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale remained in contact with Indira Gandhi.

Headquarter in Harmandir Sahib:

Bhindranwale had earlier taken residence in Harmandir Sahib and made it his headquarters. In 1983, Bhindranwale and approximately 200 armed followers moved into a guest-house called the Guru Nanak Niwas, in the precinct of Harmandir Sahib. From here he met and was interviewed by international television crews.

By December 1983, Harmandir Sahib complex became the quarter of Bhindranwale and his followers. On 23 April 1983, the Punjab Police Deputy Inspector General A. S. Atwal was shot dead as he left the Harmandir Sahib compound. The following day, after the murder, Harchand Singh Longowal (then president of Shiromani Akali Dal) claimed the involvement of Bhindranwale in the murder. Harmandir Sahib compound and some of the surrounding houses were fortified. Bhindranwale declared “This bird is alone. There are many hunters after it“.

On 15 December 1983, Bhindranwale was asked to move out of Guru Nanak Niwas house by members of the Babbar Khalsa who acted with Harcharan Singh Longowal’s support. Babbar Khalsa had also the support of the Congress party. Longowal by now feared for his own safety.

Blue Star Operation Begins:

According to the Indian government, Operation Blue Star was launched to eliminate Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers who had sought cover in the Amritsar Harmandir Sahib Complex. The armed Sikhs within the Harmandir Sahib were led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and former Maj. Gen. Shabeg Singh. Lt. Gen. Kuldip Singh Brar had command of the action, operating under Gen. Sundarji. Indira Gandhi first asked Lt. Gen. S. K. Sinha, then Vice-Chief of the Indian Army and selected to become the next Army chief, to prepare a position paper for assault on the Golden Temple. Lt. Gen. Sinha advised against any such move, given its sacrilegious nature according to Sikh tradition. He suggested the government adopt an alternative solution. A controversial decision was made to replace him with General Arun Shridhar Vaidya as the Chief of the Indian army. General Vaidya, assisted by Lt. Gen. Sundarji as Vice-Chief, planned and coordinated Operation Blue Star.

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The Sikh Museum reports the following days: Tuesday, May 25th 100,000 Indian Army troops are mobilized and deployed throughout Punjab surrounding all important Gurdwaras including the Golden Temple complex.

Friday, June 1st Thousands of pilgrims start to gather at the Golden Temple complex to celebrate the martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjan on June 3rd.

As Bindranwale sat on the roof of the Langer hall, police snipers opened fire on him. They missed and Sikh militants fired back. A seven-hour skirmish during the night lasting until the morning leaves 11 dead and 25 injured. There were bullet holes in the Langer building, in the marble pavement (parkarma) surrounding the Golden Temple and in the Golden Temple itself.

Sunday, June 3rd All communications including phone lines to and from Punjab are cut. Roadblocks prevent anyone from entering or leaving Punjab and all journalists are expelled from Punjab. A total curfew is imposed and as many as 10,000 pilgrims are trapped inside the temple complex.

Milk vendors from the villages who supply milk to the city of Amritsar are shot dead for violating the curfew orders.

Monday, June 4th The army starts firing on the temple complex and there is a gun battle lasting 5 hours. Using machine guns and mortars the army fires at dissident positions atop the two 18th century towers called Ramgarhia Bunga’s, and the water tank behind Teja Singh Samundri Hall as well as surrounding buildings. At least 100 are killed on both sides.

Tuesday, June 5th At 7:00 p.m. Operation Blue Star, the invasion of The Golden Temple begins with tanks of the 16th Cavalry Regiment of the Indian Army moving to enclose the Golden Temple complex. Troops are briefed not to use their guns against the Golden Temple itself or the Akal Takht. Artillery is used to blast off the tops of the Ramgarhia Bungas and the water tank. Scores of buildings in and around the temple complex are blazing. One artillery shell lands more than 5 km away in the crowded city.
At 10:30 pm commandos from the 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment try to run down the steps under the clock tower onto the marble parkarma around the sacred pool. Two companies of the 7th Garhwal Rifles enter the temple complex from the opposite side on the southern gate entrance and after a gun battle is able to establish a position on the roof of the Temple library. They are reinforced by two companies of the 15th Kumaon. Repeated unsuccessful attempts are made to storm the Akal Takht.

Wednesday, June 6th After midnight tanks are used to break down the steps leading to the parkarma from the hostel side and an 8-wheeled Polish-built armored personnel carrier makes its way towards the Akal Takht. It is destroyed by a Chinese-made rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

Six or more Vijayanta tanks enter the temple complex crushing the delicate marble inlays of the parkarma and plow their way towards the Akal Takht. Orders arrive and the tanks start firing their large 105mm cannons equipped with high explosive squash-head shells into the Akal Takht. These shells are designed for hard targets like armour and fortifications. When the shells hit a target, their heads spread or squash on the hard surface. Their fuses are arranged to allow a short delay between the impact and the shells igniting so that a shock-wave passes through the target and a heavy slab of armour or masonry is forced away from the inside of the target armour or fortification.

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The effect on the Sri Akal Takht, the most sacred of the five Takhts, is devastating. Over 80 shells are pumped into the sacred Gurdwara. The entire front of the Takht is destroyed and fires break out in many of the different rooms blackening the marble walls and wrecking the delicate decorations dating back to the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Marble inlays, plaster and mirror work, filigree partitions and priceless old wall paintings are all destroyed.

The gold dome of the Akal Takht is also badly damaged by artillery fire. At one stage a 3.7-inch Howitzer gun is mounted on the roof of a building behind the shrine and fired a number of times at the beautiful dome.

At the other end of the Temple complex on the easternmost side, a battalion of the Kumaon Regiment was invading the hostel complex where many of the innocent pilgrims were in hiding as well as the temple administration staff. There was no water because the water tower had been destroyed and it was very hot.

Thursday,7 June The army gained effective control of the Harmandir Sahib complex.

Friday,8 June The Army fought about four Sikhs holed up in the basement of a tower. A colonel of the commandos was shot dead by an LMG burst while trying to force his way into the basement. By the afternoon of 10 June, the operation was over.

Casualties in Operation Blue star:

According to the independent sources, the number of dead military personnel was at least 700. Apart from this, an unspecified number of soldiers were reported killed during the fighting at 38 other gurdwaras in Punjab. Strong resistance was reported at Muktsar and Moga. On top of this, there was the prospect that more Indian army personnel may have been victims of mutinies by Sikh soldiers at different military locations across India.

The Army placed total casualties at:

• Sikh Militants: 500 dead
• Military: 83 killed and 236 wounded.

Unofficial casualty figures were much higher; some suggest that civilian casualties numbered 20,000.


At least 5,000 Sikh soldiers mutinied at different locations in India in protest, with some reports of large-scale pitched battles being fought to bring mutineers under control.

The operation also led to the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 31 October 1984 by two of her Sikh bodyguards, triggering the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. The widespread killing of Sikhs, principally in the national capital Delhi but also in other major cities in North India, led to major divisions between the Sikh community and the Indian Government. The army withdrew from Harmandir Sahib later in 1984 under pressure from Sikh demands. The 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182 is thought to have been a revenge action.

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General Arun Shridhar Vaidya, the Chief of Army Staff at the time of Operation Blue Star, was assassinated in 1986 in Pune by two Sikhs, Harjinder Singh Jinda, and Sukhdev Singh Sukha. Both were sentenced to death, and hanged on 7 October 1992.

Sikh militants continued to use and occupy the temple compound and on 1 May 1986, Indian paramilitary police entered the temple and arrested 200 militants that had occupied Harmandir Sahib for more than three months. On 2 May 1986, the paramilitary police undertook a 12-hour operation to take control of Harmandir Sahib at Amritsar from several hundred militants, but almost all the major radical leaders managed to escape. In June 1990, the Indian government ordered the area surrounding the temple to be vacated by local residents in order to prevent militants activity around the temple.

The use of artillery in the congested inner city of Amritsar proved deadly to many civilian bystanders living near Harmandir Sahib. The media blackout throughout the Punjab resulted in widespread doubt regarding the official stories and aided the promotion of hearsay and rumor. The operation is criticized on four main grounds: the choice of time of attack by Government, the heavy casualties, the loss of property, and allegations of human rights violations by Army personnel.

In addition, Indira Gandhi has been accused of using the attack for political ends.

British Involvement:

The United Kingdom’s Thatcher government was reportedly aware of the Indian government’s intention to storm the temple, and had provided a SAS officer to advise the Indian authorities. This and other assistance was reportedly intended to safeguard the UK’s arms sales to India. Relevant UK government records have been censored.

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Though it’s been 34 years for the deadly operation in the most sacred place of Sikh, till now the resemblance of the violations of humanity & Faith. Also,Congress government for its own political benefits still remains in the mind of people & Indian democracy.


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