A recently released book by Brigadier Goraya throws light on new facets of Operation Bluestar.
Three decades after Operation Bluestar -- the army action against terrorists in the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1984 – a Sikh army officer who was a witness to many events at that time has decided to shed his qualms of writing about his uniformed fraternity, as also his religion and put out “an unbiased account” of that traumatic chapter of Punjab’s history.
In his book, Operation Bluestar and After – An eyewitness account, Brig (retd) Onkar Singh Goraya, then a colonel with the 15 Infantry Division based in Amritsar that was involved in the mopping up operation after the actual battle was over has given among other things, telling insights into the meek conduct of Akali leaders trapped inside as he was incharge of pulling them safely out of the temple complex. The brigadier pits his account against that of the celebrated Lt Gen (retd) KS Brar’s definitive book, Operation Bluestar -- The True Story, saying the General’s account, though factual and accurate “glossed over some aspects because he was under compulsion to justify the plan that he himself evolved and executed”. Whereas “I have no such compulsion and am not obliged to mask the unsavoury acts committed by security forces including the army”, says the Brigadier.
“On the other hand, publications that condemned the operation were written either by associates of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who were enamoured by his vision and views or by members of the Sikh clergy and the Akali Dal, deeply dyed in the colours of Sikhism. I, on the other hand am an atheist and free from the influence of religious faith, which has made it easy for me to provide an even handed account”, he elaborates. So, what exactly has he revealed now that was not known so far?
Perhaps the most significant portion of the book is the description of an incident that took place in the early hours of June 6, 1984 when soldiers collected some 200 men, women and children (mostly pilgrims) in the compound of the Guru Ravi Das Sarai to take down their particulars. Suddenly a grenade was thrown into this crowd from an upper storey and in the ensuing mayhem soldiers opened fire into the crowd. Later, the author quotes Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, an Akali leader trapped inside, as telling him that 20 Sikh youth were rounded up and massacred with a machine gun.
Says he, “In the subsequent days, few cases of similar nature came to my notice. Unarmed Sikh youth were allegedly murdered in cold blood by soldiers as if they were part of an enemy force and not their own countrymen. The government and army tend to dismiss such allegations as cooked up. I believe not all, but some of them are true.”
On the morning of June 6, 1984 Col Goraya was tasked to bring out the top Akali leaders trapped inside the complex and whose lives were in danger from the terrorists. When he reached the Guru Ram Das Sarai, inside the complex he found the dead and dying in different rooms. Some injured pilgrims begging for water and army men oblivious to the cries, as they concentrated on clearing the rooms of militants. Col Goraya found them in room no 8 and when he told Sant Harcharan Singh Longowal, Gurcharan Singh Tohra, Balwant Singh Ramoowalia and others that he had come to escort them to safety, “I heard a collective sigh of relief. They all got up instantly to follow me and there was no denial or hesitation.” Very different from an ‘eyewitness’ account given out by the Shiromani gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) later on, according to which the leaders Sant Longowal apparently asked an army major to shoot them, saying that they had no wish to live when the ‘the army’ had killed so many pilgrims, staff and volunteers.
Till today Sikhs blame the army for setting fire to the huge Sikh Reference Library which had rare hand written religious texts by the Sikh gurus. Brig Goraya’s book says that the library caught fire due to the crossfire, just as other buildings were on fire on the morning of June 6. But he documents that the precious Tosha khana where treasures of historic and material value are stored was in danger of being plundered by army men and he himself secured it with a special guard summoned from 2 Sikh Light Infantry in Amritsar who could appreciate its worth. He found that the front room was blasted by tank fire and the jewel studded Chandoa presented by the Nizam of Hyderabad was burnt. So were four doors of gilded metal presented by Maharaja Ranjit Singh meant to be installed at the four entrances of the temple. Aside from this the treasures in the showcases inside were untouched, he recalls.
He remembers seeing more dead bodies on the morning of June 6 in the Golden Temple complex than in the 32 days of 1965 and 1971 wars put together that he participated in. The next two days were spent in clearing the hundreds of rotting, bleeding bodies and Brig Goraya recalls that sweepers had to be persuaded to pick up the bodies by allowing them to take the valuables on them. “By the evening they had loaded two truckloads of bodies. I saw them drive away with their tail boards open, the contents looking more like firewood than dead human remains.”