THE VISIT TO BHATINDA
(Defence Minister R Venkataraman)
It all started with the visit of Defence Minister R Venkataraman to Bhatinda , a city in Punjab a state which was in a phase of turmoil and conflict amongst the state government and the Sikh religious group called the Akalis. The problem was then in its initial stages and hadn’t seen any bloodshed or violence of any sort.
Defence Minister was received by Lieutenant General (Lt Gen) Srinivas Kumar Sinha , PVSM who was then the Western Army Commander , a very able officer of the Indian Army who hailed from Bihar.
(Lt Gen Srinivas Kumar [left])
He didn’t come from an army family as both his grandfather and father were in the top brass of the Imperial Police of the British. A gallant gentleman right from his academy days. He topped his advance military course at the Defence Services Staff College at Wellington and was further sent to the British Joint Services Staff College where again he stood first. He was the one who till the very end fought for the rights of the army and defied orders of his superiors when he was asked to intervene in Punjab in early 80’s.
Coming back to the Defence Minister’s visit to Bhatinda where he was accompanied by Lt Gen SK Sinha. General Sinha desperately wanted to have a brief talk with the Defence Minister regarding the ongoing turmoil in Punjab which was becoming a major task for the state government and the civil authorities to handle. In response to these statements the Defence Minister hushed it up by stating that these were purely “POLITICAL PROBLEMS ” and that generals shouldn’t poke their noses in politics. General Sinha wanted to raise these issues in front of the Defence Minister because he was a part of the Cabinet Committee which was engaged in negotiations with the Akalis , but he repeatedly failed to do so as his requests and suggestions were hushed up and ignored.
GENERAL SINHA’S VIEWS ON THE ONGOING TURMOIL
General Sinha wanted to put up his views and suggestions in front of his superiors, Defence Minister to be specific before taking any orders. He gave three reasons as to why he was concerned about the rising popularity of the Akalis , regardless of the fact that it was termed as a mere “POLITICAL PROBLEM”. The reasons for his concerns were –
1. As the western army commander , Lt Gen Sinha was responsible for the security of Punjab in case of a war with Pakistan and if the current Akali problems remains to fester , then it would pose as a grave threat to the internal security during war and Pakistan could use them as proxies.
2. As a responsible army officer , he was also indirectly involved with the internal security of the state , had police and civil authorities deserted their positions in case of a civil unrest the army would have to be called in and General Sinha wanted to prepare a contingency plan for the same.
3. He stated that he commanded 3,00,000 men out of which more than 26% of the whole composition comprised of Sikh soldiers and any action against them could have dampened their morale.
At last after several attempts made by General Sinha , Defence Minister asked him what he does he want , instant reply to Defence Minister was “Resolve the problem at the earliest , do it as it is beyond my capabilities”. General Sinha told the Defence Minister that the conditions and things demanded by the Akalis can be given to them without any hesitation and doing so wouldn’t cause any harm. But the malicious politician was foreseeing the next election and wanted to score brownie points and gain political mileage over the issue and told General Sinha in a very audacious manner “Its all about politics, you give them an inch and then they’ll demand for a yard “.
I think , had the Defence Minister agreed to the three simple demands of the Akalis the problem would have been solved then and there and wouldn’t have snowballed into an armed movement. The 3 demands of the Akalis were
1. The Akalis wanted a dedicated Golden Temple express train for the Sikh Pilgrims , (which the current NDA government now considering.)
2. They wanted that the sale of cigarettes with 100 yards of the Golden Temple should be banned , (the rule is now enforced and educational institutions are also included in the list)
3. Gurbani of the Golden Temple should be broadcasted on a separate radio station pan India.
WHEN PUNJAB POLICE WANTED A FEW TANKS
All these things happened a few months before the MEHTACHOWK GURUDWARA INCIDENT , another political blunder committed by the Punjab State Government , Punjab Police can also be held partially accountable for this incident.
This goes back when General Sinha was requested by the state government to go and take out Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who was supposedly at the Mehta Chowk Gurudwara , in response to this Gen Sinha thought that army didn’t have the powers to arrest a civilian and declined the request. A couple of days later the Chief Secretary rung up General Sinha and asked the weirdest thing a bureaucratic has ever demanded, he said “Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale has to be arrested , could you please give us a few tanks“.
This is the most insane and informal demand by anyone , not even children ask for a “Few Tanks” for their birthday present or Christmas gifts.
(Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in white robe with his fellow Sikh militants)
General Sinha in a convincing tone told the Chief Minister Darbara Singh who had called him a few moments later that even if i lend you “a few tanks” , how will you operate them ? And let us even go to extremes and consider that police has veterans from the armoured corps and you carry out your mission which is merely to go with 100 armed policemen and arrest the main accused after that , get ready for the repercussions and accusations of Human Right violation. The chief minister was wise to understand the situation and did what General Sinha had advised him to do but the police didn’t carry out the task properly and professionally and in that incident , 15 people were killed and there was a substantial amount of damage to property around. But Bhindranwale was arrested for assassination of Lala Jagat Narayan , the editor of Punjab Kesari. But what was astonishing to see was that Bhindranwale was taken to Ferozpur Police station and with 2 days he was released as the state couldn’t find any substantial evidence against him. Bhindranwale was hailed as a hero and he straight away headed to the Golden Temple and this proved to be the starting point of one of the biggest military and political blunder of all times , The Golden Temple Encounter.
ORDERS OF MARCHING INSIDE THE MEHTA CHOWK GURUDWARA
Few days after General Sinha had refused to arrest Bhindranwale, General Puri ( the Chief Of Army Staff ) now got the orders from Delhi that Bhindranwale who was again supposedly hiding inside the same massacre spot had to be nabbed at any cost and at the earliest.
General Puri passed down the orders to General Sinha of mobilising the troops thinking that General Sinha , his subordinate would act upon it. But General Sinha had some other exceptional plans , and if his plans were followed and adhered to then we might have averted one of the biggest blunders of all time.
General Sinha , when got the orders immediately said , “Stop it , And Cancel The Orders”.
Thinking that someone would listen to him , he in no time rang up the Defence Minister and requested that as an army commander he should be allowed to present his views to the Prime Minister on the matter and after listening to him , the Prime Minister could issue any orders and he would act upon them. After he lodged his protest with the defence minister , astonishingly the prime minister in a miraculous manner canceled the order of pushing in the army into the Mehta Chowk Gurudwara thus saving the face of the army.
GENERAL SINHA’S PROCEDURES THAT WERE NEVER FOLLOWED
For a long time General Sinha had been preparing a Standard Operating Procedure regarding the operations inside a gurudwara as he had foreseen the problem long ago.
(Bhindranwale in blue turban along with Khalistani militants with carbines snatched from Policemen)
He very much knew that one day the army will be called inside the Golden Temple , which is considered to be the Mecca of Sikhs. General Sinha had penned down his whole thesis of procedures which he wanted to show it to the Prime Minster but was never given a chance , his recommendations included –
1. He wanted utmost transparency during the operation. He chalked out a plan which stated that the army would call in a few eminent personalities from Amritsar to witness the whole event so that no fingers could be pointed at the army and no one could circulate manufactured facts and stories regarding the operation.
2. He proposed live Television coverage of the whole incident , so that the whole world especially Indians can witness it live.
3. There will be a cordon set up in the area hours before the actual process started so that no one can come or escape. General Sinha had also a surrender policy drafted for the militants , he would have given them ample amount of time to surrender.
4. Simultaneously, Sikh officers should command any such operations which was to be carried out inside a Sikh sacred site
5. He proposed of setting up a make shift Gurudwara outside the Golden Temple where the militants could surrender their arms. General Sinha wanted to give them an opportunity where the Sikh militants would surrender in front of Guru Granth Sahib.
6. Inspite of all these measures taken , had the militants responded with firing then the army would retaliate in an orderly manner which meant that the soldiers would cover their heads before entering , barefooted and try to use minimum force.
At the end i want to conclude with the what happened after the recommendations of Lt Gen SK Sinha.
In 1982 India’s clandestine units Special Group and the Special Frontier Force were hinted that they could be soon pushed to flush out the terrorists. Both the units soon made a replica in the home bases (Sarsawa and Chakrata respectively) and honed their closed quarters combat skills. But one of the two unite , Special Frontier Force was never put in action as this plan of theirs was leaked to the Sikh militants.
Lt Gen SK Sinha’s father was near to activist and political leader Jayprakash Narayan and his several acts of defiance against the orders of his seniors created obstacles for General Sinha in becoming the army chief , but as the old traditions of the Indian Army , Lt Gen Sinha was to become the Chief but was superseded by Lt Gen AS Vaidya. Subsequently Lt Gen Sinha resigned in 1983.
Lt Gen Sundarji was made the Western Army Commander who was over ambitious and was looking forward for the Field Marshall’s Baton led the Operation inside the Golden Temple along with Major General KS Brar (9 Division) and Lt Gen Ranjit Singh Dyal who was the hero of the Haji Pir Pass incident of ’65 war where commandos of 1 PARA (SF) has to cover a steep incline for two days and capture a Pakistani post The operation later proved to be a sheer disaster and complete blunder. When he found it difficult to control the situation, he got the authority to use tanks inside the shrine.
(Lt Gen Ranjit Singh Dyal (middle))
(Lt Gen Brar (extreme left) and General AS Vaidya (exterme right) )
Gen AS Vaidya was assassinated by Khalistani Militants in Pune after he retired from the post of Army chief and so was Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards.
Lt Gen Brar was attacked in London by 4 Pro Khalistani Extremists.
Lt Gen Sinha after resigning became the Ambassador To Nepal , Governor Of Assam and his professional life finally ended after he became the Governor of Jammu And Kashmir