The British Government and Operation Bluestar – The Inconsequentials and The Irreversibles
Not many things in recent history have had as much of the Sikh community talking as when the news initially broke that Britain had been involved in the 1984 Indian attack against the Sikhs.
Initially revealed by Labour MP Tom Watson in January, the documents had Sikhs the world over talking about how they felt upon learning Indian officials had consulted Britain prior to the merciless slaughter that took place in and around Harmandir Sahib (the Golden temple).
Even for those that don’t regularly key in 840 or 847 on their Sky remote control, the news was on BBC, Channel 4, ITV and even in every major newspaper. Unlike recent events involving Bhai Gurbaksh Singh or Professor Bhullar, this was mainstream news.
How Sikhs Felt
The majority of Sikhs felt one of two ways. Some, while not completely surprised to learn Britain would support India in this way, we were still dismayed to learn just how murky the depths of so called democratic politics can be, with a tweet from one Pritpal Singh probably summarising it best.
Thatcher was in bed with every other despot in the world – Pinochet, Pol Pot etc. Surprised this hasn’t come out earlier.
Many others were genuinely shocked that Britain would take such a stance, especially considering the selfless service that Sikhs had provided for Britain in both WW1 and WW2. When Winston Churchill himself stated that “British people are highly indebted to the Sikhs”, no Sikh can be blamed for thinking Britain be against any attack on our holiest shrine. Betrayed is not too strong a word to describe how many felt.
Kanwar Pal Singh, Spokesman for the Dal Khalsa said: “The role of the then UK government amounts to backstabbing.”
A small minority voiced an opinion that the revelation was simply politics, and that being shocked or upset about the findings is needless, as it is merely the workings of a system from which Sikhs living in the UK benefit from. Usually this thought also correlated with the belief the man at the centre of the 1984 attack, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, was a terrorist and should not have been in the GoldenTemple complex at all anyway. Without wanting to digress, I will merely state this is very flawed and a planned attack that needlessly cost so many their lives should never be condoned.
The Government Documents
Last week we were treated to a pompous report from William Hague about the findings of an internal inquiry regarding the whole situation. We were told there were missing files we would never be able to get (probably destroyed). We were told there was advice given to India on how to attack the GoldenTemple but only as a “last resort”. And finally we were told, in what seemed to be an attempt to genuinely wash themselves of any responsibility regarding the attacks, India did not follow the advice of Britain anyway.
A few things are concerning about this. As Jugraj Singh (the man behind the superb Basics of Sikhi youtube videos and classes) stated, the SAS are not the people you approach for advice about mediation, or negotiation. The SAS are trained killers. If Britain were really concerned about what would happen in this planned attack they would have sought to act as mediators in the situation, rather than military advisors. None of the findings so far have shown Britain to have tried to pacify the situation in any way.
Could Britain have refused to help India altogether? With imminent trade deals to be negotiated between the two nations prior to the events of 1984, the following lines from the declassified documents speak volumes;
A positive response would earn a good deal of credit. Mrs Gandhi would find it hard to understand a refusal. In the interests of bilateral relations we should respond positively to the request.
Now where does this leave us, as Sikhs?
We have some irreversible findings that should stay in the thoughts of Sikhs forever, as we continue to grow as a community and deal with governments and politicians.
1) Britain did not value what Sikhs enough to refuse to help India in their 1984 attack. Whether that help was used or not is inconsequential. It was given, and now we know where we stand.
2) The British government will turn a blind eye to potential Human Rights breaches if it suits their dealings with another nation. From Cambodia to Chile, to India to Sri Lanka, it is a case of business comes first.
3) Having been involved from the start, Britain has no reason, other than an allegiance with those responsible for the massacre, to not have done anything to help those that suffered and continue to suffer regarding issues stemming from the 1984 attack. For the past 30 years rallies, meetings and petitions have been used to try and coerce the UK into helping the Sikh plight, and as of yet nothing meaningful has been done.
What is going to be done about this?
It would be a shame if Sikhs are now led into chasing inconsequential findings.
Did the arms trade deals – which ran into the billions – play a part in Britain’s thoughts when deciding to help India in 1984? Only someone ignorant of modern politics could think this would play no part at all in Britain’s decision to help. Yet will we be able to prove this? Nigh on impossible. Does it matter? No.
Should Britain apologise for their involvement in Operation Bluestar? We know they won’t, as an apology admits complicity. We can refer to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre to see how that goes. But it doesn’t matter whether they apologise or not. Even with an apology, we know where we stand when push comes to shove.
Should we push for a full public inquiry into Britain’s involvement in Operation Bluestar? Again, in my opinion, no. As much as it is important to get the truth, I feel that even with an independent public inquiry we would still only be getting someone else’s version of the truth. It would just an allegation fest like the Leveson Inquiry but with less glamour.
Is there anything we can do that will be of real significance?
Yes. We can test the sincerity of the UK government. If they really feel the incidents were tragedies as Dave Cameron said, they can help Sikhs with current issues, all of which stem from the events of 1984.
The UK government should be pressed into making a stance on issues such as the case of Professor Bhullar and a continued search for justice against those MPs that – as Rahul Gandhi recently claimed – played a part in the Sikh genocide that followed Indira Gandhi’s assassination yet now sit in parliament. Whilst I am no expert on what the British government can currently do for Sikhs, I know that organisations such as Sikhs For Justice and Sikh Organisation for Prisoner’s Welfare (SOPW) will have clearer ideas on this.
And what if, after all this, we don’t get a positive outcome from the current government?
Simply, Sikhs should refuse to support the government if we don’t get a response that aids our search for truth and justice regarding 1984. Hit them where it hurts, with our votes and our service.
No more army stalls encouraging Sikhs to join the army in any Gurdwara in the UK and let the Tory government know Sikhs will actively discourage votes for the Conservative Party in the build up to the 2015 general election. Maybe even discourage Sikhs from – in the future at least – taking any civil service roles.
We should not be afraid to react to these findings. Just because this is how politics works, it does not make it right. We have seen the growth of the Aam Aadmi Party in India, with the help of people like Tom Watson, why can’t that happen here in the UK?
Although there is certainly more that we could find should this be looked into further and even taking into consideration that an apology may appease many, it is all inconsequential. The most important thing has already been discovered; Britain did not value the Sikhs enough to oppose the 1984 attacks.
This is an irreversible finding, something which cannot be wiped away in the semantics of a government report. However, what is reversible is the lack of justice Sikhs still have, regarding the needless slaughter of thousands which stems from the 1984 attacks.
Of course, even with animosity for the British government, we cannot forget the ideals of Britain that brought Sikhs here in the first place. Sikhs have always been proud to be an asset to the UK in every way and the principles of this nation that allow us to flourish here should be continued to be upheld. If anything, it is the actions of the government that go against these ideals.
However, the British government now have a chance to show us if they really want Sikhs on their side. If so, helping us attain justice for 1984 is how to go about it. If not, I hope we never again play ball with a regime that values us so little.