NEW DELHI (TIP): Three decades after the Army stormed the Golden Temple, freshly declassified British documents show that the UK gave military advice to India on retaking the temporal seat of Sikhs, kicking off political storms in both London and New Delhi. The British government has ordered an inquiry into the revelations and the BJP has demanded an explanation. Intelligence officials involved in operations against Sikh extremists in Punjab during the period and military commanders who led Operation Blue Star have denied using any British plan. They said as far as they were concerned, the entire operation was planned and executed by the Indian Army. Lt Gen K S Brar, who headed the 1984 military operation, said he was not aware of any such British involvement. “As far as I am concerned, Operation Blue Star was planned and executed by Indian Army commanders.
There was no involvement of anyone from the British government,” he told a TV channel. The bloody and heavily criticized operation led to the assassination of then PM Indira Gandhi in October 1984, which was followed by anti- Sikh riots that saw hundreds being butchered. The revelation is contained in a series of letters declassified recently by the National Archives of UK after the 30-year secrecy rule. In an official communication dated February 23, 1984 titled ‘Sikh Community’, an official with the foreign secretary told the private secretary to the home secretary that “the foreign secretary wishes him to be made aware of some background which could increase the possibility of repercussions among the Sikh communities in this country”. “The Indian authorities recently sought British advice over a plan to remove Sikh extremists from the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
The foreign secretary decided to respond favourably to the Indian request and, with the prime minister’s agreement, a SAD (probably misspelling SAS) officer has visited India and drawn up a plan which has been approved by Mrs Gandhi. The foreign secretary believes that the Indian government may put the plan into operation shortly,” the letter said. The letter went on to say that the visit of the British special forces officer from SAS was kept a secret in both London and New Delhi. It also expressed apprehension that if the British advice were to emerge in public, it could increase tension in the Indian community in Britain. However, there is no evidence in any of the communication if the British plan was finally used for the June 1984 operation.
In London, the UK government said it will investigate its involvement. “These events led to a tragic loss of life and we understand the very legitimate concerns that these papers will raise. The prime minister has asked the cabinet secretary to look into this case urgently and establish the facts,” a UK government spokesperson said in a statement. Labour lawmaker Tom Watson said the documents suggest that “Margaret Thatcher made a decision in secret without telling the British parliament to provide military planning support to the government of India in the buildup to the raid on the Golden Temple”.
‘Thatcher backed Indira after Operation Bluestar’
Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher fully supported Indira Gandhi’s efforts to apply the ‘healing touch’ in the aftermath of Operation Bluestar in 1984 and assured her of steps to deal with pro-Khalistan elements operating in Britain at the time. Gandhi wrote to Thatcher on 9 and 14 June 1984 (Operation Bluestar ended on 10 June). The letters were about Sri Lanka and developments in trouble-torn Punjab. Her 14 June letter to Thatcher was specifically about Punjab.
In her reply, Thatcher wrote on 30 June 1984: “These have been anxious weeks for you, involving difficult decisions. I have followed closely your efforts to restore calm there, and I very much hope that the ‘healing touch’ for which you have called will open the way to a peaceful and prosperous future for that troubled region”. Thatcher’s reply sent by telegram to New Delhi is among several documents de-classified and released by National Archives here.
They include controversial documents of February 1984 that suggest that India sought, and Thatcher agreed to provide, advice from Britain’s special forces to flush out Sikh militants from the Golden Temple. Thatcher’s 30 June letter to Gandhi reflects the close relationship between the two leaders. Gandhi had raised concerns in her letter about pro-Khalistan elements operating from Britain and the effect of their activities on the tense situation in India.