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Remembering Operation Blue Star

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Interview with Ramesh Inder Singh

By Arvindar Singh

Ramesh Inder Singh, former Chief Secretary of Punjab, in his recent book “Turmoil in Punjab: Before and After Blue Star – An Insider`s Story” has traced the events of that period which he saw firsthand as Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar. I interviewed him on his book:

What prompted you to write the book on Operation Blue Star and events in Punjab during the era of militancy almost four decades after these tumultuous events?

Since I was on the rolls of the government this was the first occasion which came my way to publish my memories of that period, post my retirement as Chief Secretary and, later, Information Commissioner of Punjab. I have no regrets on the matter as it has allowed issues to crystallize and a cooling of passions. It is a candid account of the happenings based on what I know.

Your book mentions that the army was expecting an operation with little or no resistance (the Divisional Commander General Brar boasted about his commandos). Do you think it was due to lack of intelligence input or false bravado by the commanders or both?

Yes it would be right to say that this occurred due to both the things mentioned by you.  Intelligence failure was there as a huge number of arms had been smuggled into the Golden Temple Complex.  Brar`s  body language was censuring to the civilian officers present and a tendency of over-confidence was apparent even though it was put across that the militants inside were well fortified with men and weaponry.

During the operation, the COAS, General AS Vaidya played a secondary role to the Western Army Commander, Lt General K Sundarji. Do you not think he abdicated his command?

It is true that Vaidya lacked the courage to discipline his Army Commander Sundarji, who secured carte blanche from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to conduct the Operation in the Golden Temple. Sundarji and his Deputy, Lt General Ranjit Dayal, were seen often coming out of the Prime Minister`s office and Vaidya was nowhere near the scene. Lt General VK Nayar, who was in the Military Operations Directorate, has said of Vaidya, “He was the wrong man to lead the Army at this critical juncture.”

The aftermath of Operation Blue Star you state was badly handled. Could it have been handled better?

The Army`s overbearing attitude and harsh language sometimes used by them caused problems as many of them were inducted from far off places without knowledge of local sensibilities. It could certainly have been handled better. 

Punjab has been free from militancy for more than two decades now. Do you think it is now a closed chapter?

Terrorism has been eliminated decisively in Punjab. But the future will depend on many factors, the most important being just and effective governance.

Future governments it is felt must leave policing to the police and use the army very rarely. Do you feel this is a correct assessment?

Yes, I agree that civilian administration should be accountable and the army should be called very rarely only as a fall back of last resort.