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Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale

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Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale
Jarnail Singh Brar[1]

(1947-12-12)December 12, 1947
Rode, Moga, Punjab, British India (present-day Punjab, India)
DiedJune 6, 1984(1984-06-06) (aged 37)
Akal Takht, Amritsar, Punjab, India
Cause of deathKilled in gunfight during Operation Blue Star
MonumentsGurdwara Yaadgar Shaheedan, Amritsar[2]
OccupationSikh preacher, head of Damdami Taksal, advocate of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution
OrganizationDamdami Taksal
MovementKhalistan movement
Spouse(s)Pritam Kaur (m. 1966–1984)

Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale (Punjabi: [dʒəɾnɛːlᵊ sɪ́ŋɡᵊ pɪ̀ɳɖrãːʋaːɭe]; born Jarnail Singh Brar;[4] 12 February 1947[5] – 6 June 1984) was the fourteenth jathedar, or leader, of the prominent orthodox Sikh religious institution Damdami Taksal.[6] He was an advocate of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution.[7][8][9][10] He gained national attention after his involvement in the 1978 Sikh-Nirankari clash.

In the summer of 1982, Bhindranwale and the Akali Dal launched the Dharam Yudh Morcha ("righteous campaign"),[11] with its stated aim being the fulfilment of a list of demands based on the Anandpur Sahib Resolution to create a largely autonomous state within India. Thousands of people joined the movement in the hope of retaining a larger share of irrigation water and the return of Chandigarh to Punjab.[12] There was dissatisfaction in some sections of the Sikh community with prevailing economic, social, and political conditions.[13] Over time Bhindranwale grew to be a leader of Sikh militancy.[14][15]

In 1982 Bhindranwale and his group moved to the Golden Temple complex and made it his headquarters. Bhindranwale would establish what amounted to a "parallel government" in Punjab,[16][17] settling cases and resolving disputes,[16][18][19] while conducting his campaign.[20] In 1983, he along with his militant cadre inhabited and fortified the Sikh shrine Akal Takht.[21] In June 1984 Operation Blue Star was carried out by the Indian Army to remove Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his armed followers from the buildings of the Harmandir Sahib in the Golden Temple Complex,[22] which resulted in an official tally of 493 combined militant and civilian casualties, including that of Bhindranwale.[23]

Bhindranwale has remained a controversial figure in Indian history.[24] While the Sikhs' highest temporal authority Akal Takht describe him a 'martyr',[25] with immense appeal among rural sections of the Sikh population,[17][26] who saw him as a powerful leader[26] who stood up to Indian state dominance and repression,[27][28] to many Indians[26] he symbolized the revivalist and extremist movement in Punjab.[29]

Early life

Bhindranwale was born as Jarnail Singh Brar to a Jat Sikh family in 1947 in the village of Rode,[3] in Moga District located in the region of Malwa.[1] The grandson of Sardar Harnam Singh Brar, his father, Joginder Singh Brar was a farmer and a local Sikh leader, and his mother was Nihal Kaur.[4] Jarnail Singh was the seventh of seven brothers and one sister.[30] He was put into a school in 1953 at the age of 6 but he dropped out of school five years later to work with his father on the farm.[31]

He married Pritam Kaur, the daughter of Sucha Singh of Bilaspur at the age of nineteen.[3][32] The couple had two sons, Ishar Singh and Inderjit Singh, in 1971 and 1975, respectively.[4] After the death of Bhindranwale, Pritam Kaur moved along with her sons to Bilaspur village in Moga district and stayed with her brother.[32] She died of heart ailment at age 60, on 15 September 2007 in Jalandhar.[33]

Damdami Taksal

The Logo of the Damdami Taksal, reads 'the Shabd is forged in the True mint' in Punjabi (Gurmukhi).

In 1965, he was enrolled by his father at the Damdami Taksal also known as Bhindran Taksal, a religious school near Moga, Punjab, named after the village of Bhindran Kalan where its leader Gurbachan Singh Bhindranwale lived.,[4][34] After a one-year course in Sikh studies he returned to farming, and continued studies under Kartar Singh, who was the new head of the Taksal after Gurbachan Singh Khalsa. He quickly became the favourite student of Kartar Singh.[18] Unlike other students he had had familial responsibilities, and he would take time off from the seminary and go back and forth month to month to take care of his wife and two children, balancing his familial and religious responsibilities.[35]

Kartar Singh Khalsa died in a car accident on 16 August 1977. Before his death, Kartar Singh had appointed the then 31-year-old Bhindranwale as his successor.[3] His son, Amrik Singh,[18] would become a close companion of Jarnail Singh.[15]

Bhindranwale was formally elected the 14th jathedar of the Damdami Taksal at a bhog ceremony at Mehta Chowk on 25 August 1977.[1][4] He adopted the name "Bhindranwale" meaning "from [the village of] Bhindran [Kalan]", the location of the Bhindran Taksal branch of the Damdami Taksal,[1][34] and attained the religious title of "Sant".[1] He concluded most of his family responsibilities to dedicate full time to the Taksal, thus following a long tradition of “sants”, an important part of rural Sikh life.[35] Henceforth his family saw him solely in Sikh religious congregations known as satsangs, though his son Ishar Singh would describe his youth as being "well looked after" and "never in need."[1] As a missionary Sant of the Taksal, he would tour the villages to give dramatic public sermons and reading of scripture.[15] He preached the disaffected young Sikhs, encouraging them to return to the path of the Khalsa by giving up consumerism in family life and abstaining from drugs and alcohol,[36] the two main vices afflicting rural society in Punjab,[18] and as a social reformer, denounced practices like the dowry, and encouraged a return to the simple lifestyle following the increased wealth of the state following the Green Revolution; as one observer noted, "The Sant's following grew as he successfully regenerated the good life of purity, dedication and hard work.... These basic values of life...had been the first casualty of commercial capitalism."[18] His focus on fighting for the Sikh cause appealed to many young Sikhs. Bhindranwale never learned English but had good grasp of Punjabi language. His speeches were released in the form of audio cassette tapes and circulated in villages.[37] Later on, he became adept with press and gave radio and television interviews as well.[15] His sermons urged the centrality of religious values to life, calling on the members of congregations to be:

"…one who takes the vows of faith and helps others take it; who reads the scriptures and helps others do the same; who avoids liquor and drugs and helps others do likewise; who urges unity and co-operation; who preaches community, and be attached to your Lord’s throne and home."[36]

From July 1977 to July 1982, he extensively toured cities and villages of Punjab to preach the Sikh faith. He also visited other states and cities in India, mostly in gurdwaras, in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh.[38] His meetings were attended by rapt "throngs of the faithful - and the curious."[38] He advocated against decreasing religious observance, cultural changes occurring in Punjab, rising substance abuse, and use of alcohol and pornography, encouraging religious initiation by taking amrit and fulfilling religious obligations, including wearing the outward religious symbols of the faith, like the turban and beard.[18] He appeared at a time when leaders were not engaged in the community, traveled from city to city instead of being based in an office or gurdwara and delegating, solved domestic disputes and showed no interest in a political career, seeing himself foremost as a man of religion.[37] People soon began to seek his intervention in addressing social grievances, and he began to hold court to settle disputes. This reflected the widespread disenchantment among the masses with expensive, time-consuming bureaucratic procedures that often did not ensure justice. Bhindranwale's verdicts were widely respected and helped to gain him enormous popularity,[18] as well as his "remarkable ability" as a preacher and his ability to quote religious texts and evoke the relevance of historical events in the present time.[39]

Khushwant Singh, a critic of Bhindranwale, allowed that “Bhindranwale's amrit parchar was a resounding success. Adults in their thousands took oaths in public to abjure liquor, tobacco and drugs and were baptized. Videocassettes showing blue films and cinema houses lost out to the village gurdwara. Men not only saved money they had earlier squandered in self-indulgence, but now worked longer hours on their lands and raised better crops. They had much to be grateful for to Jarnail Singh who came to be revered by them."[40]


It is generally believed that in the late 1970s, Indira Gandhi's Congress party attempted to co-opt Bhindranwale in a bid to split Sikh votes and weaken the Akali Dal, its chief rival in Punjab.[12][41][29][20]:174 Congress supported the candidates backed by Bhindranwale in the 1978 SGPC elections. The theory of Congress involvement has been contested on grounds including that Gandhi's imposition of President's rule in 1980 had essentially disbanded all Punjab political powers regardless,[42] with no assistance required to take control, and has been challenged by scholarship.[43][44] According to the New York Times, Sanjay Gandhi had approached Bhindranwale, then the newly appointed head of the Damdami Taksal, after Indira Gandhi lost the 1977 Indian general election, but after Congress resumed power in 1980, would find out that he could not be controlled or directed.[45][41] The Congress CM (and later President) Giani Zail Singh,[46] who allegedly financed the initial meetings of the separatist organisation Dal Khalsa,[12][47] amid attempts to cater to and capitalize on the surge in Sikh religious revivalism in Punjab.[48] The Akali Dal would also attempt to cater to the same electoral trend during the same period following electoral defeats on 1972 and 1980,[49] resulting from a pivot to a secular strategy in the 1960s[50] and the accompanying coalition partnerships necessary to guarantee electoral success, most notably with the Jan Sangh, a party of urban Hindu communalism.[49] This later turned out to be a miscalculation by Congress, as Bhindranwale's regionalist, and eventually separatist political objectives became popular among the agricultural Jat Sikhs in the region,[14] as he would advocate for the state's water rights central to the state's economy, in addition to leading Sikh revivalism.[49]

In 1979, Bhindranwale put up forty candidates against the Akali candidates in the SGPC election for a total of 140 seats, winning four seats.[51] A year later, Bhindranwale used Zail Singh's patronage to put up candidates in three constituencies' during the general elections,[52] winning a significant number of seats from Gurdaspur, Amritsar and Ferozepur districts.[48] Despite this success, he would not personally seek any political office.[53] He had the acumen to play off of both Akali and Congress attempts to capitalize off of him, as association with him garnered Sikh votes while putting other constituencies at risk.[54] According to one analysis,

“Nearly every academic and media source on the rise of Bhindranwale notes his apparent ties to the Congress party, particularly through Giani Zail Singh, the president of India, up through the early 1980s. The intent was allegedly to use Bhindranwale as a pawn against the Akali Dal, Congress’ chief political rival in Punjab. Several of my interlocutors claim an opposite scenario: that is, that the Akali Dal itself started rumors of Bhindranwale’s links to Congress as a way of thwarting his growing popularity among its own constituency. There is evidence for both of these possibilities, and I believe Robin Jeffrey may be most accurate in his assessment when he writes that “the evidence suggests that Bhindranwale exercised a cunning independence, playing the factional antagonisms of Punjab politics with knowledge and skill…. In this independence lay much of Bhindranwale’s appeal. If left him untainted by close association with any of the older political leaders, yet at the same time suggested that he knew how to handle them." Whatever ties Bhindranwale may have had with Congress in the early days, it would be misleading to suggest that Congress "created" the Bhindranwale phenomenon. It was in my opinion, sui generis. Help may have been received from outside [later on during the insurgency], but the dynamic to be understood here is internal. Emphasizing the role of outside agencies, rather, is a way of minimizing the seriousness of the challenge presented by Bhindranwale himself.”[43]

Bhindranwale himself addressed rumors of being such an agent, which were spread by Akali leadership during mid-1983, as his expanding support came at the expense of the Akali Dal amid mass leadership defections,[45] seeing them as attempts to reduce his by-then huge support base in Punjab. He would refute this in April 1984 by comparing his actions to the Akalis, referring to the granting of gun licenses to Akalis by the Congress administration while his had been canceled, and that he did not enter the house of any Congress-aligned faction (including congressites, communists, and socialists), Sikhs associated with him being arrested and their homes confiscated, and police destruction on his property, while Akali politicians would have dinners with figures aligned with Congress, like former chief minister Darbara Singh, who Bhindranwale would accuse of atrocities against Sikhs.[53]

Bhindranwale did not respect conventional SGPC or Akali Dal apparatchiks, believing them to have "become mealy-mouthed, corrupt and deviated from the martial tenets of the faith,"[48] after they had failed to support the Sikhs during the 1978 Sikh-Nirankari clashes due to pressure from their coalition partners. Described as having "unflinching zeal and firm convictions," Bhindranwale did "not succumb to the pressure of big-wigs in the Akali Party nor could he be manipulated by the authorities to serve their ends." According to Gurdarshan Singh, "Those who tried to mend him or bend him to suit their designs underestimated his tremendous will and ultimately lost their own ground. He never became their tool. People who promoted his cause or helped him to rise to prominence were disillusioned, when he refused to play the second fiddle to them and declined to tread the path laid down for him. Paradoxical though it may seem, they became his unwilling tools. Thousands listened to him with rapt attention at the Manji Sahib gatherings. He had tremendous power to mobilise the masses. His charisma and eloquence overshadowed other leaders."[6]

In order to overcome the hegemony of the Akali Dal, rather than being used, Bhindranwale would exploit the Congress and then the Akali Dal itself.[44] The Akali Dal had begun to neglect Sikh needs in favor of maintaining political alliances necessary to keep power, resulting in their electoral loss in 1972, and the resulting Anandpur Sahib Resolution, meant to win back Sikh support, remained neglected while the party focused on reversing the overcentralization of political power that had taken place during the Emergency.[49] Described as "a rational actor with his own goals," his first concern was to rejuvenate Sikhism as a leader of the community.[44]

Further, the Damdami Taksal already had a history of openly opposing and criticizing Congress government policies before, as Kartar Singh Khalsa Bhindranwale, the leader of the institution prior to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, had been a severe critic of the excesses of Indira Gandhi's Emergency rule, even in her presence as far back as 1975.[17][3] Kartar Singh had also gotten a resolution passed by the SGPC on November 18, 1973 condemning the various anti-Sikh activities of the Sant Nirankaris, which were based in Delhi.[55] Both Kartar Singh Bhindranwale and the Damdami Taksal had commanded such a level of respect in Sikh religious life that the Akali ministry had given him a state funeral upon his death on August 20, 1977.[56] Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale would also mention the Sikhs facing the government with 37 major protests against Emergency rule under Congress during this era as fighting against tyranny.[38] Emergency rule had initially been utilized to avert criminal charges on Gandhi, who was linked to misuse of government property during the upcoming election, which would have invalidated her campaign, and endowed the central government with powers including preemptive arrests, as well as the arrest of many political opponents.

On Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale becoming leader of the Damdami Taksal, another of the Taksal students explained, “[Nothing changed] in political terms. It was just the same way. The Indian government thought that maybe although they could not stop Sant Kartar Singh [Bhindranwale], maybe Sant Jarnail Singh [Bhindranwale] would be weaker. That was not the case.”[35]

Clash with Sant Nirankaris

On 13 April 1978, the anniversary of the founding of the Khalsa, a Sant Nirankari convention was organized in Amritsar, with permission from the Akali state government. The practices of the "Sant Nirankaris" subsect of Nirankaris was considered as heretics by the orthodox Sikhism expounded by Bhindranwale,[57] though the conflict between the Sikhs and the Sant Nirankaris preceded Bhindranwale; the Sant Nirankaris had been declared by the priests of the Golden Temple as enemies of the Sikhs in 1973,[58] and the Damdami Taksal had opposed them since the 1960s.[59] They had exemplified both the internal and external threats to Sikhism that Bhindranwale spoke of in speeches, as their scriptures made derogatory references to the Guru Granth Sahib,[59][60] the sect's leader proclaiming himself as a guru in its place,[61] and because of their affiliation with Congress.[58]

From the Golden Temple premises,[62] Bhindranwale delivered a stirring sermon,[58] after which a large contingent of about two hundred Sikhs led by Bhindranwale and Fauja Singh, the head of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, left the Golden Temple and proceeded to the Nirankari Convention.[63] The peaceful protest of the Sikhs was shot at by members of the Nirankaris,[64] who had come with firearms.[61] Fauja Singh allegedly attempted to behead Nirankari chief Gurbachan Singh with his sword but was shot dead by Gurbachan's bodyguard. ,[65][66] In the ensuing violence, several people were killed: two of Bhindranwale's followers, eleven members of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha and three members of the Sant Nirankari sect.[66] Bhindranwale's care of the dead and injured increased his popularity and his supporters proliferated. This event brought Bhindranwale to limelight in the media.[67]

A criminal case was filed against sixty two Nirankaris, by the Akali led government in Punjab.[61] The case was heard in the neighbouring Haryana state, and all the accused were acquitted on grounds of self-defence.[65] The Punjab government Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal decided not to appeal the decision.[68][69] The case of Nirankaris received widespread support in the media and the orthodox Sikhs claimed this to be a conspiracy to defame the Sikh religion.[65] Bhindranwale increased his rhetoric against the enemies of Sikhs. A letter of authority was issued by the Akal Takht ostracizing the Sant Nirankaris.[61] The chief proponents of this attitude were the Babbar Khalsa founded by the widow, Bibi Amarjit Kaur of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, whose husband Fauja Singh had been at the head of the march in Amritsar; the Damdami Taksal led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who had also been in Amritsar on the day of the outrage; the Dal Khalsa, formed after the events; and the All India Sikh Students Federation.[65] His "very public" rhetoric of Indira Gandhi's involvement in the trials was one of the initial reasons the central government became concerned with Bhindranwale, as well as the historic martial identity Sikhs were returning to because of him. Under Bhindranwale, the number of people joining the Khalsa increased. The rhetoric that were based on the "perceived 'assault' on Sikh values from the Hindu community", also increased in this period.[15]

In the subsequent years following this event, several murders took place in Punjab and the surrounding areas, allegedly by Bhindranwale's group, and the new Babbar Khalsa, which opposed Bhindranwale.[65] The Babbar Khalsa activists took up residence in the Golden Temple, where they would retreat to, after committing "acts of punishment" on people against the orthodox Sikh tenets. On 24 April 1980, The Nirankari head, Gurbachan was murdered.[70] Bhindranwale took residence in Golden Temple to allegedly "escape arrest" when he was accused of the assassination of Nirankari Gurbachan Singh.[71] The police retaliated by raiding the houses of suspects, beating up inmates and killing a few in faked 'encounters,' killing twenty-four thusly, which would infuriate Bhindranwale, who termed it as the killing of innocent Sikhs.[72] without any due process. It would turn out that a member of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, Ranjit Singh, surrendered and admitted to the assassination three years later, and was sentenced to serve thirteen years at the Tihar Jail in Delhi.


Bhindranwale's message was enthusiastically received by an emerging underclass of educated rural Sikhs,[73][64] whose suffered from the unequal distribution of benefits from the Green Revolution.[50][74][75] Punjab had enjoyed the second-highest percentage of children in school after Kerala at the time, along with high college enrollment,[74] at the same time with unemployment rates among college graduates far above the national average.[76] Unemployment was caused by distortions caused by the disparity between agricultural growth and a stunted industrial sector;[77][75] marginal and poor peasants could not reap the benefits of the land nor find employment in the industrial sector.[75] By the late 1970s the educations of rural Sikhs, many from the Majha area, did not reap financial benefit, many found the urban college environment alienating, and the Akali Dal was engaged in political activities that bore little relation to the demands of educated but unemployed rural Sikhs youth.[78] Bhindranwale's message increasingly appealed to them,[78] and their support grew with police excesses, and as Bhindranwale expressed concern over the many breaches of civil rights, and those killed during and after 1978 in protests.[64] The class dimension was described by India Today in 1986[79] as follows:

“The backbone of the Taksal and the AISSF are the sons and daughters of Punjab's middle and low-level peasantry and agricultural workers. The challenge to the Akali and SGPC leadership, which is dominated by leaders from the Malwa region [(of Punjab)], comes from what was once its base - the small and middle peasants. The socio-economic roots of the Taksal and the AISSF leaders are totally different from [the Akali leaders] ... Barnala, Badal, Balwant, Ravinder and Amrinder, all of whom come from the landed gentry classes of the state.”[79]

The All-India Sikh Students Federation, or AISSF, founded in 1943[78] to attract educated Sikh youth to the Akali movement,[79] had traditionally followed the direction of the Akali Dal and fought for more political power for the Sikhs, fighting for an independent Sikh state before Partition, and afterwards taking up the Punjabi Suba cause.[78] After the establishment of Punjab state, the AISSF had fallen into disarray by the 1970s, and during this period of increasing economic pressures on the state, student politics were dominated by rural Communist organizations.[80] Amrik Singh was elected president in July 1978,[78] and his organizational skills and Bhindranwale's legitimacy as the head of a respected religious institution restored the Federation as a powerful political force,[81] and the AISSF and Bhindranwale were further united in being anti-Communist.[80] With a well-educated leadership, many with advanced degrees,[79] membership exploded from 10,000 to well over 100,000, and under Amrik Singh, the AISSF's first concern was the Sikh identity.[80]

AISSF secretary-general Harminder Singh Sandhu ascribed the preceding period of youth politics as resulting from the passivity of the Akali leadership in relation to the central government, seen as betraying Sikh interests, which caused resentment among the AISSF.[80] By 1980 they felt ready to redefine Punjab's relationship with the center,[80] and the revival of the AISSF and the presence of Bhindranwale put enormous pressure on the Akali Dal.[79]

In May 1981, the AISSF led a protest against tobacco and other intoxicants in the religious city of Amritsar. The Arya Samaj had also led protests against alcohol and meat in the city, though it would be with Bhindranwale and the Sikhs that the police clashed on 31 May, resulting in a dozen Sikh deaths and adding to tensions.[82]

Incident at Chando Kalan

On 9 September 1981, Lala Jagat Narain, the founder editor of the newspaper Punjab Kesari, was murdered. He was viewed as a supporter of the Nirankari sect and had written several editorials that had condemned Bhindranwale.[70] An Arya Samaji known for his staunch communal tendencies reflected in his daily newspaper in Punjab,[83] Lala had urged Hindus of Punjab to reply to government census that Hindi and not Punjabi was their mother tongue and decried the Anandpur Sahib Resolution. His paper played a significant role in "fanning the flames of communal hatred between Hindus and Sikhs,"[84] and the Hindi press based in Jalandhar consistently vilified the Sikhs,[85] without making any distinction between one Sikh group or another.[82] Narain had been present at the clash between the Nirankaris and the Akhand Kirtani Jatha and had served as a witness in the court case of the incident.[86]

Punjab Police issued a warrant for Bhindranwale's arrest in the editor's murder,[62] as he had often spoken out against the well-known editor. Bhindranwale at that time was present in Chando Kalan, a Haryana village 200 miles from Amritsar. The Punjab Police planned a search operation in an attempt to locate and arrest Bhindranwale on September 14, 1981.[87] Bhindranwale and others Sikh religious leaders alleged that police behaved illegally with the Sikh inhabitants of the village during the search in which the valuables from homes belonging to Sikhs were reported to have been looted and two buses owned by the Damdami Taksal containing a number of Birs (copies) of the Guru Granth Sahib were set on fire.[88]

There was violence in Chando Kalan when the Punjab Police team reached the location, between supporters of Bhindranwale and police.[87] The buses had also contained written records of sermons of Bhindranwale for posterity.[89] The burning of his sermons had angered Bhindranwale, who secured himself in his fortified Gurdwara Gurdarshan Parkash located at Mehta Chowk.[66]

At Mehta Chowk

As his location became common knowledge, the police surrounded the gurdwara at Mehta Chowk. Darbara Singh insisted on Bhindranwale's arrest, though the central government feared the possibility of clashes as large numbers of Sikhs had gathered at the gurdwara in his support.[90] For negotiating Bhindranwale's surrender, the senior officers went inside the gurdwara. Bhindranwale agreed to surrender for arrest at 1:00 p.m. on September 20, 1981 but added a condition that will do so only after addressing the religious congregation. This condition was accepted by the police. At the agreed time he emerged address a large crowd of his followers who armed with spears, swords and several firearms. Several prominent Akali leaders such as Gurcharan Singh Tohra, Harchand Singh Longowal and the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee's Jathedar Santokh Singh were present. Bhindranwale delivered a sermon proclaiming his innocence[91] and against the state government trying to have him arrested,[90] receiving the support of almost every senior Akali leader,[91] also against the perceived injustices done to the Sikhs and himself. He ended his speech asking the mob not to act violent after his arrest. Bhindranwale then surrendered himself to the police for arrest and was being taken to a circuit house (guest house) instead of prison.

According to the villagers, the Punjab police had deliberately set fire to the buses in Bhindranwale's absence from Chando Kalan after the Haryana police had left; according to the government, there had been an "exchange of fire" between the villagers and the police, as well as "incidents of arson."[90] The clashes with police resulted in the death of at least 11 persons.[90][70] On the day of his arrest, three armed men on motorcycle opened fire using machine guns in a market in Jalandhar in retaliation,[92] killing four people and injured twelve.[90] The next day, in another incident at Tarn Taran one Hindu man was killed and thirteen people were injured. On 25 September, in Amritsar a goods train was derailed. On 29 September, an aeroplane of Indian Airlines was hijacked and taken to Lahore. Several bomb blasts were made in Punjab's Amritsar, Faridkot and Gurdaspur districts.[66]

Several violent incidents happened in Punjab during the next 25 days after the arrest. The Akali Dal leadership was in the process of reestablishing its Sikh credentials after its secular administration during its protests against the Emergency,[91] and under Longowal decided to publicly support Bhindranwale, the most popular Sikh religious leader in Punjab at that point.[91] Bhindranwale also got support from the President of the SGPC, Tohra and the Jathedar of the Akal Takht, Gurdial Singh Ajnoha.[70] India's Home Minister, Giani Zail Singh, then announced in the Parliament that there was no evidence against Bhindranwale in his involvement in Lala Jagat Narain's murder. On 15 October 1981 Bhindranwale was released by the Punjab Police.[66] After his release he was able to keep the party on a strongly nationalist course,[91] and released a public statement approving the murders of Gurbachan Singh and Lala Jagat Narain and that the killers deserved to be honoured and awarded their weight in gold, according to KPS Gill.[66] In a statement regarding Narain in early 1982 for the publication India Today, Bhindranwale stated:

"We are no extremists or communalists. Give us one instance when we insulted or hit anyone. But the Government terms us extremists. We are extremists if we protest when our Gurus are painted as lovers of wine and women by the Lala's newspapers. I preach that all Sikhs must observe their tenets and be the Guru's warriors. Let all Hindus wear their sacred thread and put tilak on their foreheads, we shall honour them. I stand for Hindu-Sikh unity. Let the Hindus at least once declare that they stand for Sikh-Hindu unity. Let the prime minister, whose forefathers our Guru Tegh Bahadur saved by sacrificing his life, declare that she is for unity."[38]

Dharam Yudh Morcha

The Akali Dal was initially opposed to Bhindranwale.[12] However, as Bhindranwale became increasingly influential, the party decided to join forces with him. In August 1982, under the leadership of Harcharan Singh Longowal, the Akali Dal launched the Dharam Yudh Morcha ("Group for the Religious fight") in collaboration with Bhindranwale to win more autonomy for Punjab. The movement was hijacked by Bhindranwale who declared that it will continue until all the demands in the Anandpur Sahib Resolution were fulfilled.[93]

Indira Gandhi considered the Anandpur Resolution as a secessionist document and evidence of an attempt to secede from the Union of India. The resolution was made fundamental to Bhindranwale's cause as the demand for autonomy was phrased such a way that would have given more authority to the Sikhs than Hindus in Punjab.[93] Thousands of people joined the movement as they felt that it represented a real solution to their demands, such as a larger share of water for irrigation, and return of Chandigarh to Punjab.[12]

After the launch of the Morcha, Sikh extremists began committing acts of political violence. An assassination attempt was made on Chief Minister of Punjab Darbara Singh and two Indian Airlines flights were hijacked by the terrorists.[94] By early October, more than 25,000 Akali workers courted arrest in Punjab in support of the agitation.[94]

To restart the talks with the Akali leadership, Indira Gandhi ordered the release of all Akali workers in mid October and sent Swaran Singh as her emissary. Bhindranwale who was then regarded as "single most important Akali leader" announced that nothing less than full implementation of the Anandpur resolution was acceptable to them. Other Akali leaders joined the negotiations but a compromised settlement failed to emerge.[94]

In November 1982, Akali leader Longowal announced that the Akali Dal would disrupt the Asian Games that as to be held in Delhi by sending teams of Akali workers to Delhi to protest and court arrest.[94] To prevent the disruptions Haryana government sealed the border between Delhi and Punjab and frisking of travellers was followed.[94][95] The security measures proved effective and Akali Dal could only organize small and scattered protests in Delhi.


Bhindranwale expected misrepresentation from reporters, telling the press, “I know what you are going to print, that you are only working for rupees.”[16] He regarded the media as being puppets for the central government, granting interviews chiefly to reach other Sikhs. Bhindranwale became the focus of press attacks for any violence that took place in Punjab, while police atrocities and torture went unreported.[96] Once Bhindranwale is said to have remarked, “Even if a fly is killed in Punjab, it is blamed on me.”[97] He criticized the coverage by journalists who he had held audience with as distorted, denying that he had ever had anyone killed, and emphasizing that every strident statement he had made had always been in response to provocation by other parties;[98] in an interview with Shekhar Gupta in December 1983:

"Parliament is agitated by what I said last week. The ruling party, the Opposition, they all condemned me. But did anyone take note of the fact that I had only reacted to the threat to the Sikhs in Rajasthan by the Jai Hindu Sangh? I challenge you, examine all my statements. Each one has been in reaction to what someone else said first. Someone else brandishes a lathi, and just because we try to shield ourselves we are held guilty." "That is the game. A Hindu does something and you dismiss him as a petty criminal or communal fanatic. A Sikh does something and you malign the whole community."[98]

He himself addressed what he perceived to be constant distortions by the press in a speech in a college in Karnal, Haryana in early 1982:

“You have learnt from the newspapers, the news, and propaganda by ignorant people, that Bhindranwale is an extremist; that he is a dangerous man, a communalist; that he kills Hindus, There are many Hindus sitting here. You should carefully note how many I injure and how many I kill before leaving. You will be with me. Keep listening attentively. Having listened, do think over who are the communalists: whether they are the turban-wearers or your newspaper owners, the Mahasha (Arya Samaj) Press. Follow your own logic.”[99][note 1]

Authors sympathetic to Congress would also continue to circulate media distortions after his death. While Ramachandran Guha wrote that Bhindranwale preached his followers ‘If the Hindus come in search of you’, ‘smash their heads with television antennas.[62] he distorted the quote; it had in fact been a rhetorical question following the verdict of the Sikh-Nirankari clashes, instigative Arya Samaj-owned media articles, gurdwara desecrations, mob clashes, and police atrocities: “When the Hindus come with their Sten guns, what are you going to do, fight them with your television aerials?”[65] While Khushwant Singh, a resident of Delhi close to Indira Gandhi and congress loyalist,[100] wrote that he "exhorted every Sikh to kill thirty-two Hindus,"[101] this had been no exhortation but in fact part of a response in February 1983 to threats like that of right-wing Hindu nationalist Bal Thackeray, who had said that India had 70 crore Hindus and two crore Sikhs and there were 35 Hindus to every Sikh;[1] The quote had invoked the words of Guru Gobind Singh of a baptized Sikh being able to fight 125,000 oppressors.[1][27] The distorted quote, widely circulated in the press,[1] had not at all been an exhortation, but a response to such statements meant to instill confidence in his congregation in spite of being in such a small minority.[27] It was also addressed in October 1983[102] to warnings from Indira Gandhi of what would happen to Sikhs residing in states outside of Punjab.[103] Bhindranwale's speeches forcefully reminded the Sikhs of their tradition of fighting against superior odds for a just cause,[104][105] including during the Punjabi Suba movement, the length of which, and the need to struggle for basic language and state rights guaranteed elsewhere in India, had created bitterness among Sikhs.[104]

Bhindranwale also referred to what had been considered the double standard if he had made such statements; other double standards he alluded to in the speech were the failure to register cases against prominent Hindu politicians for making threatening statements against Sikhs, including Swami Adityavesh, an Arya Samaji Congress MLA, who demanded that Sikhs be expelled from Haryana to Punjab, Kewal Krishan, a Congress MLA in Punjab, who threatened to destroy all Sikh organizations, and Harbans Lal Khanna, a BJP MLA in Punjab, who stated publicly in Amritsar on 30 May 1981,[106] "Dukki tikki khehan nahin deni, sir te pagri rehan nahin deni; kachh, kara, kirpaan; ehnoon bhejo Pakistan." ('We are not going to let any second or third group exist, we are not going to let a turban remain on any head; the shorts, the iron bangle, the sword, send these to Pakistan’),[107][108] and had a model of the Golden Temple desecrated by a mob,[109] Baldev Prakash, also a BJP MLA, who had posters of such slogans printed.[110] and extremist president of the Hindi Suraksha Samiti in Patiala, Pawan Kumar Sharma, backed by the Arya Samaj press and former Congress member[111] with links to Bhajan Lal, who in a raid had been discovered with large stocks of arms, explosives, and hand grenades.[112] Amrik Singh would also allude to the double standard of the government's soft behavior towards Dhirendra Brahmachari, who had smuggled 500 guns through Jammu from Spain, in contrast with the government's concern with the Sikhs; Amrik Singh would also state that "Delhi likes Sikhs like Zail Singh and Buta Singh who pay court to the Government. All other Sikhs are called extremists. We don't want secession but seek status of first-class citizens."[113]

Bhindranwale was suspicious of Sikh elites, describing them as a class possessing the ability for multiple allegiances, and therefore, could not be relied upon by a mass movement based upon religious foundations which justified protest against discrimination and abuses of power and repression.[27] As such he was often opposed particularly by some Sikh members of the class with business and land interests outside of Punjab, and those occupying high administrative positions.[64] As part of a preaching tradition, he saw the lives of such Sikhs, described as sycophants of Indira Gandhi for power,[27] as a departure threatening the distinct identity of the Sikhs.[7] He saw that path as having to be corrected, along with deviationist and Communist trends, of Sikh officers whose loyalty lay with India over the Sikh panth tradition, emphasizing unification of the community[64] and pushing those officers in government service to work for such unity.[27]

Prominent Congress supporters and loyalists would also criticize Bhindranwale, including KPS Gill, the DGP of the state who along with subordinates was accused of massive human rights violations during the police crackdown of the state,[114][115][116][117] including complaints of torture,[118] who would claim that he "mixed radical fundamentalism with incitement to violence,"[66] and alleged "a fierce movement planned to murder Hindus and all Congress (I) MPs and MLAs in all the villages across Punjab on 5 June.[70] Khushwant Singh, a Congress loyalist[100] residing in Delhi who was close to Indira Gandhi,[100] who characterized Bhindranwale as "not bothered with the subtle points of theology; he had his list of do's and don’ts clearly set out,",[119] and Congress MP Amarjit Kaur, who opposed the formation of the Punjabi Suba and referred to the Akali Dal as "the enemy within," alleged a plot to kill Hindus by "followers" of Bhindranwale.[103]

Before the Operation Blue Star started,[101] 23 people were killed in the final 24 hours before the announcement of the operation,[120] while October 1983, six Hindu bus passengers were singled out and killed by who the government claimed were Sikh militants, and an Emergency rule was imposed on the state.[121] However, the discovery of discarded turbans, pistols, and cartridges found at crime scenes confirmed strong Akali feelings that criminals used turbans as disguises, and the killing of bus passengers was by disguised non-Sikhs.[83] In addition, many such killings that took place between December 1983 and June 1984 were rather the result of personal vendettas,[7] and fundamentalist groups not affiliated, and often opposed, to Bhindranwale,[7] including the Dal Khalsa and Babbar Khalsa, who claimed responsibility for most crimes blamed on Bhindranwale, who denied responsibility for all such acts.[113] Meanwhile, hundreds of individual Sikhs, even many who were not politically involved, had been harassed, beaten and killed in communal mob incidents, and tortured, imprisoned, and killed by police forces for the previous two years during the Dharam Yudh Morcha, amidst lack of government action. A report by S. M. Sathananthan et al. characterized the actions of extremists opposing constitutional Sikh demands as fueled by "one-sided anti-Sikh misinformation from various news agencies." Bhindranwale had commented in 1983:

"Someone killed seven Hindus in a bus. No Sikh has said this was good, everyone deplored it. But because seven Hindus had died, even twenty-four hours didn’t pass. The Ministry was dissolved. President’s Rule was imposed. The region declared as disturbed. However, one hundred and fifty Sikhs died and one man was not charged. Now all of you Sikhs should sit down and figure out as to what the thoughts of this Government of the Hindus are about the turban and the beard."[102]

Press disinformation

Even after Bhindranwale's death, the press continued to work with the government. When some Punjabi newspapers published information concerning the deaths of Sikh young men, most of whom died while in police custody or in fake encounters, the Punjab Government approached the Press Council of India to enlist its cooperation against its own members, the Punjabi newspapers. The council, assuming that the official view of the situation in Punjab was the correct one, ignored the protestations of its members and recommended that the Government set up proper arrangements to provide authentic information to the press.[122] The Government continuously harassed newspapers like the daily Ajit, the Akali Patrika, and Charhdi Kala and regularly fed disinformation to the news media;[122] a Times of India article from 11 August 1991 by Dinesh Kumar[123] stated:

"Often and unwittingly .... journalists fall prey to the government disinformation which suavely manages to plant stories .... The confusion gets compounded when government agencies also resort to feeding disinformation on letterheads of militant organizations since there is no way of confirming or seeking clarifications on press notes supposedly issued by militants who are underground and remain inaccessible most of the time."[123]

The writer went on to report:

"A group of journalists, including myself had called on the former governor to lodge a protest against the registration of a case against the Times of India and the Punjabi daily Ajit, last January. After hastily apologising and promising to withdraw the case "shortly" (that the case was ultimately never withdrawn is a different story), the governor had sought the journalists co-operation in tackling the militants, 'Don’t publish press notes that preach violence against an individual, an organisation, etc. but you are free to publish their press notes that encourage inter-gang rivalry,” he said, adding: "We have drawn up a plan for disinformation to be issued on the militants letterheads. We hope that you will co-operate.""[123]

There would also be significant government interference in information released to the media itself. According to Cynthia Keppley Mahmood, "The clearly distorted account of the event released to the media does not speak well for India's vaunted freedom of press. Stories of prostitutes and drugs at the Akal Takht were printed on front pages one week, that recanted in back pages the next. A story suggesting that Bhindranwale had committed suicide was followed by one describing his body as riddled with bullets from head to toe. There is no doubt that an entire apparatus of fear dissemination worked to convince India that the Sikhs were to be distrusted. And by and large, it succeeded,"[124] adding that "Compromises with press freedom were accompanied by draconian legislation that was a target of criticism from human rights communities around the world."[124]

According to a journalist traveling with Bhindranwale during 1982, the Central intelligence Department, or CID, which had taped every public speech listening for "seditious" remarks, had heard none by April 1982, and Darbara Singh, despite being ready to "act" against Bhindranwale, had found no grounds to do so.[38] A senior officer in Chandigarh in December 1983 confessed, "It's really shocking that we have so little against him while we keep blaming him for all sorts of things. You certainly cannot assault the temple on the basis of just these charges, get hundreds of people killed and get away with it."[113]


Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale had with himself a group of devoted followers armed with firearms who served as his bodyguards and acolytes. Members of his militant group often served as willing and unpaid killers.[62] Bhindranwale urged all Sikhs to buy weapons and motorcycles, which would be helpful to fight, instead of spending on the television sets.[125] He believed that Amritdharis (baptized Sikhs) should also be Shastradharis (weapon bearers).[125]

Bhindranwale was accused by Indian authorities and critics for being responsible for several crimes and acts of terrorism including murdering and inciting hatred toward innocent Hindus, bank robbery, home invasion, organising terrorist training camps, and stockpiling weapons.[126] In its White Paper on Operation Blue Star, the Indian Government published statements made by Bhindranwale in an effort to illustrate his alleged intent to advocate the killing of Hindus in Punjab and to initiate a general exodus from the State for political purposes.[127]

On 12 May 1984, Ramesh Chander, Son of Lala Jagat Narain and editor of Hind Samachar group was also murdered by the militants of Bhindranwale.[41] In addition, seven editors and seven news hawkers and newsagents were also killed in a planned attack on the freedom of media house to cripple it financially. Punjab Police had to provide protection to the entire distribution staff and scenes of armed policemen escorting news hawkers on their morning rounds became common.[128]

A few Sikh leaders raised their voice against Bhindranwale in the Golden Temple and other gurdwaras in Punjab. Among the prominent ones was Giani Partap Singh, an eighty year old spiritual leader and a former Jathedar of the Akal Takht, Partap had openly criticised Bhindranwale for stockpiling firearms and weapons in the Akal Takht. Bhindranwale's occupation of the Akal Takht was termed as an act of sacrilege. Partap was murdered with gunshot at his home in Tahli Chowk. Several other dissenters were also killed. Niranjan Singh who was the Granthi of Gurudwara Toot Sahib, Granthi Jarnail Singh of Valtoha and Granthi Surat Singh of Majauli were among those killed. People criticising Bhindranwale were perceived as his enemies who in turn were branded as enemies of the Sikh faith. The prominent members of the Sikh religion got the message being spread through the ongoing events and were afraid of personal safety.[66]

The violence incidents increased and reached its peak in the months before Operation Bluestar. The sacred Golden Temple was being defiled by the militants. An arsenal had been created within the Akal Takht over a period of several months. Trucks that were engaged for kar seva (religious service) and bringing in supplies needed for the daily langar were used for bringing in guns and ammunition into the Golden Temple. The police failed to check these vehicles, reportedly on instructions from superiors. During a random check, one truck was stopped and many sten guns and large quantity of ammunition was found. After the operation Blue Star, it was found that the militants had even set up a facility to manufacture grenade and to fabricate sten-guns inside the temple complex. At the same time, the number of murders kept increasing in the state and sometimes more than a dozen killings happened in a day.[66]

Bhindranwale gradually took complete control of the Golden Temple from Akali Dal. The Akali Dal along with its militant wing Babbar Khalsa contested with Bhindranwale's group for dominance. By April and May 1984, the two groups clashed reached its peak with intimidations and killings. The two groups blamed each other for several assassinations.[129]


Bhindranwale was not an outspoken supporter of Khalistan, although he often emphasized the separate identity of the Sikhs.[36] Bhindranwale stated his position on Khalistan, a movement which was first introduced in concept during the 1946 independence negotiations.[130] During interviews with domestic and foreign journalists and public speeches through his phrase that "Sikh ik vakhri qaum hai" (or, "Sikhism is a distinct nation"),[65] using the word 'Qaum' (nation, people, or also religion) when referring to the Sikh population of Punjab,[131] though others have argued that "national" is a mistranslation of 'qaum,' as India was a nation of various races and 'qaums.' In a speech given by Bhindranwale on 27 March 1983:

I stayed ten days in Delhi. There I too was asked, just as they ask me here all the time when friends from the newspaper come, [They ask] "Sant Ji, do you want Khalistan?’ I replied; “Brothers, I don’t oppose it nor do I support it. We are silent. However, one thing is definite, if this time the Queen of India does give it to us, we shall certainly take it. We won't reject it. We shall not repeat the mistake of 1947. As yet, we do not ask for it. It is Indira Gandhi's business and not mine, nor Longowal's, nor of any other of our leaders. It is Indira's business, Indira should tell us whether she wants to keep us in Hindustan or not. We like to live together [with the rest of Indians]; we like to live in India.”[132][133][79][108]

While Bhindranwale never explicitly supported Khalistan,[134] in a BBC interview, he stated that if the government agreed to the creation of such a state, he would not refuse and repeat the mistakes made by Sikh leadership during the 1946 independence: “How can a nation which has sacrificed so much for the freedom of the country want it fragmented but I shall definitely say that we are not in favor of Khalistan nor are we against it.”[134][135] adding that the Sikhs would opt for a separate state only if they were discriminated against and were not respected in India, or if their distinct Sikh identity was in any way threatened.[36] In regards to the idea of the Indian government attacking the Darbar Sahib, he stated, "if the Indian Government invaded the Darbar Sahib complex, the foundation for an independent Sikh state will have been laid."[136] During the days before the assault, government representatives, led by Ambassador Daljit Singh Pannun, met with Bhindranwale in a last ditch effort to negotiate a truce, which Bhindranwale had agreed to initiate dialogue toward.[137] Bhindranwale sought a commitment from Pannun that Sikh youths taken in captivity during the protest movement would no longer be tortured by police.[137] He also sought comment from Gandhi stating that all the problems afflicting the state of Punjab would be resolved through mutual discussion; Pannun offered a window of one month to await comment while Bhindranwale offered one week; the parties settled on a window of ten days, during which Bhindranwale and his men would disarm.[137] Bhindranwale warned of a backlash by the Sikh community in the event of an army assault on the Golden Temple, if the plan was sabotaged, and wanted assurance that if any mishap took place, that Gandhi would not blame his men.[137] The documentation of the reports sent to the central government before Operation Blue Star reads, “We ended this meeting in utmost cordiality and understanding and were happy at the outcome. In fact, I found there was nothing that would frighten the government of India, nor anyone else.”[137] Pannun asserted that Bhindranwale had repeatedly told him that he did not want Khalistan,[137] was “grossly misunderstood,”[137] and had Pannun been treated with honesty and consideration (as he had been "kept in the dark about the impending army operation by vested interests,"[137] Operation Blue Star would have never taken place, and "many innocent lives could have been saved."[137] The comment awaited from Gandhi would never come.

In his final interview to Subhash Kirpekar, Bhindranwale stated that "Sikhs can neither live in India nor with India. If treated as equals it may be possible. But frankly speaking I don't think that is possible."[138] Kuldip Brar, who would later head Operation Blue Star, would subsequently put forth that per the Indian intelligence sources in early June 1984, there was a "strong feeling" and "some sort of information" that Bhindranwale was planning to declare Khalistan an independent country any moment with support from Pakistan, that Khalistani currency had allegedly already been distributed, and that this declaration would have increased chances of Punjab Police and security personnel siding with Bhindranwale.[139] The violence and the alleged threat of the civil war in Punjab made the Operation imminent, according to government claims.[103]

Chandan Mitra wrote after observing the insurgency:[140]

Looking back, I am not sure if Bhindranwale was a terrorist by conviction who seriously sought Punjab's separation from India through force or if he painted himself into a corner and became a puppet in the hands of Pakistan's ISI which was looking for a face to project in its war of a thousand cuts against India to avenge East Pakistan's dismemberment. Maybe he was carried away by crowds that thronged his pravachans in rural Punjab in which he railed against decrepit practices creeping into Sikhism and exaggeratedly spoke of the alleged betrayal of his community by New Delhi, particularly the "biba", meaning Indira Gandhi. In that sense, he was the latest in a long line of Sikh leaders who led episodic agitations to distance the faith from Hindu influences, worried that the preponderant assimilative thrust of Hinduism would overwhelm Sikhism the way it had done Jainism and Buddhism.

Relocation to the Akal Takht

In July 1982, the then President of Shiromani Akali Dal, Harchand Singh Longowal invited Bhindranwale to take up residence at the Golden Temple compound. He called Bhindranwale "our stave to beat the government."[141] On 19 July 1982, Bhindranwale anticipating his imminent arrest[66] took shelter with a large group of his armed followers, in the Guru Nanak Niwas (Guest house), in the precincts of the Golden Temple.[93] In the chaos of Punjab, Bhindranwale developed a reputation as a man of principle who could settle people's problems about land, property or any other matter without needless formality or delay. The judgement would be accepted by both parties and carried out. This added to his popularity.[142]

Bhindranwale was reportedly backed by Pakistan's ISI on his radical separatist stand, plans and operations. Bhindranwale had started the efforts for his demand in 1982, and by mid-1983 had managed to gain support for his plan to divide India.[143] ISI reportedly supported and helped him in spreading militancy in the Indian Punjab state. The arms and ammunition used by his group were provided by ISI.[143]

Bhindranwale and his followers moved inside Akal Takht in December 1983

In 1982, Bhindranwale and approximately 200 armed followers moved into a guest-house called the Guru Nanak Niwas, in the precinct of Harmandir Sahib and made Golden Temple complex his headquarters.[93] From inside the temple complex, Bhindranwale led the terrorist campaign in Punjab.[20] Police could not pursue them inside the Golden temple premises for fear of hurting the religious sentiments of the Sikh community.[66] From here he met and was interviewed by international television crews.[93] On 23 April 1983, the Punjab Police Deputy Inspector General A. S. Atwal was shot dead as he left the Harmandir Sahib compound by a gunman from Bhindranwale's group.[144] The following day, after the murder, Longowal claimed the involvement of Bhindranwale in the murder.[145] Reportedly, militants responsible for bombings and murders were taking shelter in some gurdwaras in Punjab.[12] Punjab assembly noted that the murder in the temple premises confirmed the charges that the extremists were being sheltered and given active support in religious places and the Guru Nanak Niwas. While Bhindranwale was openly supporting such elements.[146] However, the Congress-led government declared that it could not enter the gurdwaras for the fear of hurting Sikh sentiments.[12] After the murder of six Hindu bus passengers in October 1983, President's rule was imposed in Punjab.[147]

As the days went by the law and order situation further deteriorated and violence around the complex escalated. While the Akalis pressed on with their two-pronged strategy of negotiations and massive campaigns of civil disobedience directed at the Central Government, others were not so enamoured of nonviolence. Communists known as "Naxalites", armed Sikh groups – the "Babbar Khalsa" and "Dal Khalsa", sometimes worked hand in hand and clashed with the police. A covert government group known as the Third Agency was also engaged in dividing and destabilising the Sikh movement through the use of undercover officers, paid informants and agents provocateurs.[148] Bhindranwale himself always kept a revolver and wore a cartridge belt and encouraged his followers to be armed.[149]

During the debate in the Parliament of India members of both the houses demanded the arrest of Bhindranwale. Sensing a prospect of his arrest from the hostel premises, he convinced the SGPC president Tohra to set up his headquarter in Akal Takht (Shrine representing the temporal power of God) in the Golden temple.[150] While the move was supported by Gurcharan Singh Tohra, then President of the Gurdwara committee (SGPC), it was opposed by Harchand Singh Longowal, leader of the Akali political party. On 15 December 1983, Bhindranwale was asked to move out of Guru Nanak Niwas house by members of the Babbar Khalsa who acted with Longowal's support. Babbar Khalsa had also the support of the Congress party. Longowal by now feared for his own safety.[151] Tohra then convinced the high priest to allow Bhindranwale to reside in Akal Takht as he had nowhere to go.[150] 15 December 1983 Bhindranwale and his supporters moved to the Akal Takhat and began fortifying the complex with sand bags and light weaponry. Longowal attempted to block the move by persuading Giani Kirpal Singh, then Jathedar (head priest) of the Akal Takht, to use his authority and issue a Hukamnama (edict) disallowing Bhindranwale from relocating to the complex.[152] The temple high priest protested this move as a sacrilege since no Guru or leader ever resided in Akal Takht that too on the floor above Granth Sahib but Tohra agreed to Bhindranwale's demand to prevent his arrest.[150] In the end, while Giani Kirpal Singh did protest the move, Bhindranwale's was permitted to relocate.[153] Bhindranwale claimed that he had to move to Akal Takht as Morcha dictator Longowal was negotiating with the government for his arrest.[150] By December 1983, Bhindranwale and his followers had made the Golden Temple complex an armoury and headquarter for extremist activities.[154][151]

Mark Tully and Satish Jacob wrote, "All terrorists were known by name to the shopkeepers and the householders who live in the narrow alleys surrounding the Golden Temple... the Punjab police must have known who they were also, but they made no attempt to arrest them. By this time Bhindranwale and his men were above the law."[155]


The government contemplated military moves to arrest Bhindranwale but this would have caused numerous casualties as collateral damage, the Golden Temple being one of the most visited sites in Punjab. It would have also hurt the religious sentiments of the Sikhs.[70] Other options such as negotiations were opted for instead.

The government sent a team led by Narasimha Rao to try to convince Bhindranwale to back out but he was adamant,[70] and refused all efforts made by the Indira Gandhi administration to negotiate a settlement.[156] The negotiations failed and the law and order situation in Punjab continued to deteriorate.[70] Indira Gandhi tried to persuade the Akalis to support her in the arrest of Bhindranwale peacefully. These talks ended up being futile.[70] On 26 May, Tohra informed the government that he had failed to convince Bhindranwale for a peaceful resolution of the crisis and that Bhindranwale was no longer under anyone's control.[157] Faced with imminent army action and with the foremost Sikh political organisation, Shiromani Akali Dal (headed by Harchand Singh Longowal), abandoning him, Bhindranwale declared "This bird is alone. There are many hunters after it".[157]


In June 1984, after the negotiations failed, Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi ordered Operation Blue Star, an Indian Army operation carried out between 1 and 8 June 1984, to remove Bhindranwale and his armed militants from the buildings of the Harmandir Sahib complex in Amritsar, Punjab.[158] Bhindranwale had made the sacred temple complex an armoury and headquarter.[154] Bhindranwale was killed in the operation.[159][160]

According to Lieutenant General Kuldip Singh Brar, who commanded the operation, the body of Bhindranwale was identified by a number of agencies, including the police, the Intelligence Bureau and militants in the Army's custody.[159] Bhindranwale's brother also identified Bhindranwale's body.[161][31] Pictures of what appear to be Bhindranwale's body have been published in at least two widely circulated books, Tragedy of Punjab: Operation Bluestar and After and Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi's Last Battle. BBC correspondent Mark Tully also reported seeing Bhindranwale's body during his funeral.

In 2016, The Week quoted former members of the confidential Special Group (SG) of India's Research and Analysis Wing as stating that SG had killed Bhindranwale using AK-47 rifles during Operation Blue Star, despite the Para SF claiming responsibility for it.[162]


Cynthia Keppley Mahmood wrote in Fighting for Faith and Nation: Dialogues With Sikh Militants that Bhindranwale never learned English but mastered Punjabi. He was adept at television, radio and press interviews.[163] Keppley further stated that "those who knew him personally uniformly report his general likability and ready humour as well his dedication to Sikhism".[163] The author further states that "Largely responsible for launching Sikh militancy, he is valorized by militants and demonised by enemies and the accounts from the two divergent sources seem to refer to two completely different persons."[163]

Though journalist Khushwant Singh believed himself to be on Bhindranwale's hit list, he allowed that the Sikh preacher-become-activist genuinely made no distinction between higher and lower castes, and that he had restored thousands of drunken or doped Sikh men, inured to pornographic films, to their families,[164] and that Operation Blue Star had given the movement for Khalistan its first martyr in Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.[165] In 2003, at a function arranged by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, at Akal Takhat Amritsar under the vision of president SGPC Prof. Kirpal Singh Badungar and Singh Sahib Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti, former jathedar of the Akal Takht made a formal declaration that Bhindranwale was a "martyr" and awarded his son, Ishar Singh, a robe of honour.[166] Harbans Singh's The Encyclopedia of Sikhism describes Bhindranwale as "a phenomenal figure of modern Sikhism".[167]

In popular culture

A movie named Dharam Yudh Morcha (film) released on 2016 was based on Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale it mostly depicted Sikhs struggle for preserving Punjabi language and Anandpur Sahib resolution. Though the movie was banned to avoid controversy, it is available on online platforms.

See also


  1. ^ A 1983 report on the Punjab situation by Sathananthan et al. attributes most of the communalism of the region to Arya Samaj writings and activity sice its inception. As described by G. S. Dhillon:
    "Another factor that inflamed the position was the active association of the Arya Samaj leaders. Many of them were influential Congressmen, who openly sided with the Nirankaris and indulged in very unfortunate propaganda against the Sikhs. That the Arya Samaj leadership and their influence has been a very major factor in the Hindu-Sikh relations and increasing the gravity of the Punjab situation is also evidenced in the report. 'Hindu-Sikh Conflict In Punjab: Cause and Cure' by S.M. Sathananthan (London). K.T. Lalwani (London), S. Raghunath lyenger (Lagos). Prof. G.P. Manuskhani (Bombay), Asha Bhatnagar (Jaipur) et. al. These persons belonging to different professions came all the way from far off places to personally study the Punjab situation. They moved from place to place in the State and met a cross section of the people and concluded as under:
    'The present Hindu-Sikh conflict is the saddest tragedy of post-partition Indian History. Its genesis lies in a narrow-minded attitude of certain sections of the community, that totally refutes the traditional Hindu virtues of tolerance and understanding. One also wonders, why the Sikhs are always pushed into agitation for their basic constitutional demands, the kind of which were never denied to other States and communities. Why was Punjab the last linguistic State to be formed (10 years late)? Why is Punjab the only state in India whose capital Chandigarh is governed by the Central Government? There are many such unanswered questions which deserve serious probing and full national exposure. Indian news agencies and papers will do well to investigate the reasons for Hindu-Sikh conflict arising from Hindu opposition to Sikh demands, even though their demands were made to the Government (and not to the Hindus of Punjab and Haryana). While most of the Sikh demands are for the welfare of Punjab State, not one demand is anti-Hindu or hurts Hindu sentiments in any way.' [83]
    According to G. P. Mansukhani: 'If you were to trace the background of a reporter or an editor behind a particular anti-Sikh report, you would probably find him to be an Arya-Samajist. Late Lala Jagat Narain's persistent role in anti-Sikh activities (including that of his support to the Nirankaris) and his staunch communal tendencies were clearly reflected in his popular daily newspaper in Punjab.'"[83]


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External links