The National Democratic Alliance government lifted the security cover for a key commander involved in Operation Blue Star, the Army’s 1984 campaign to flush out terrorists from the Golden Temple in Amritsar, highly placed government sources have told The Hindu .
Brigadier Israr Rahim Khan, among the most visible public faces of the operation, was asked to vacate a protected residence in 2004, after intelligence services concluded that there was no threat to his safety, the sources said. Then a Lieutenant-Colonel, he commanded the 10 Guards, sealed off the complex and secured the lines of attack to the sanctum sanctorum, the Akal Takht.
Lieutenant-General K.S. Brar, Brigadier Khan’s commander, was knifed by suspected Khalistan operatives in London on Sunday night. The assault renewed the debate on the security for personnel connected to counter-terrorism operations in Punjab.
Brigadier Khan was housed in Delhi’s cantonment until early 2004, several years after his retirement, based on intelligence assessments. But the Defence Ministry asked him to vacate, saying the premises was needed to house serving officers. He then moved the Delhi High Court, arguing that he enjoyed the ‘Z’ category protection. The Home Ministry then withdrew the threat assessment, on which his protection was based.
“I’m a soldier, and I’m not given to panic,” Brigadier Khan told The Hindu , “but, no doubt, what happened in London is a source of concern.”
Home Ministry officials contacted by The Hindu said they were not immediately aware of the circumstances under which security for Brigadier Khan was lifted.
Highly placed military sources said several key figures involved in Operation Blue Star did not receive security, among them the special forces commanders charged with clearing terrorists from the Akal Takht, Colonel K.C. Padha and M.P. Choudhary.
Intelligence officials told The Hindu that the decision to provide security was based on the ongoing threat appraisals. “There were periodic warnings about threats to General Brar,” a senior officer said, “which is why he received protection. The truth facing a potential threat can’t be guarded.”
General Arun Sridhar Vaidya, Chief of the Army Staff at the time of Operation Blue Star, was assassinated in Pune in August 1986. He was shot while driving home from a market by assailants on a motorcycle; a single bodyguard in the car suffered four bullet injuries. His assassins, Harjinder Singh Jinda and Sukhdev Singh Sukha, were hanged in the Pune central jail in 1992. The two have since been controversially hailed as martyrs by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, as well as by some Sikh politicians of the religious right.
Lt. General Krishnaswami Sundarji, who was General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Western Commandduring the operation and went on to become one of India’s best-known soldiers, died of natural causes in 1999. His Chief Staff Officer at the time of the operation, Lt.-General Ranjit Singh Dayal, also died of natural causes earlier this year.