Operation Blue Star

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Operation Blue Star
Operation Bluestar Aftermath on Akal Takht.jpg
Akal Takht being repaired by the Indian Government after the attack. It was later pulled down and rebuilt by the Sikh community.[6][7]
Date 1–10 June 1984
Location Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar, Punjab, India


Supported by:
United Kingdom Special Air Service (advisory role)[1][2]
Flagge Khalistans.svg Sikh Militants
Commanders and leaders
Flag of Indian Army.svg Major General Kuldip Singh Brar
Lt Gen Ranjit Singh Dyal[8]
Lt Gen Krishnaswamy Sundarji
Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale 
Bhai Amrik Singh 
Shabeg Singh 
10,000 armed troops. of 9th Division, 175 Parachute Regiment and Artillery units
700 jawans of CRPF 4th Battalion and BSF 7th Battalion
150 Jawans of Punjab Armed Police and officers from Harmandir Police Station.[citation needed]
200 Sikh militants[9]
Casualties and losses
83 dead[10] 150 combatants killed
492[11][12] civilians killed(official).

Operation Blue Star was an Indian military operation which occurred between 1 June and 8 June 1984, ordered by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi[13] in order to establish control[14] over the Harmandir Sahib Complex in Amritsar, Punjab, and remove militant religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his militant armed followers from the complex buildings. Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was invited to the Harmandir Sahib, and later on made it his headquarters in December 1983.[15]

The operation had two components—Operation Metal, confined to the Harmandir Sahib complex, and Operation Shop, which raided the Punjabi countryside to capture any suspects.[16] Following it, Operation Woodrose was launched in the Punjab countryside where Sikhs, specifically those carrying a kirpan and protesting,[17] were now targeted.[15][18][19] The operation was carried out by Indian Army troops.[20][21][22] Casualty figures of Operation Blue Star given by Kuldip Singh Brar put the number of deaths among the Indian army at 83 dead and 249 injured.[23] According to the official estimate presented by the Indian government, 1592 persons were apprehended,[11][12] though numbers put forward by independent human rights organizations are significantly higher. The Sikh Museum states that the Amritsar crematorium has counted 3300 dead civilians in their crematorium. Chand Joshi has stated approx. 5000 victims and eyewitnesses and survivors claimed up to 8000 civilians were killed in the operation. [24]

In addition, there were claims made that blamed the CBI for seizing historical artefacts and manuscripts in the Sikh Reference Library, before burning it down.[25] The military action led to an uproar amongst Sikhs worldwide and the increased tension following the action led to assaults on members of the Sikh community within India. Many Sikh soldiers in the Indian army mutinied, many Sikhs resigned from armed and civil administrative office and several returned awards and honours they had received from the Indian government.[26]

Four months after the operation, on 31 October 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, who were her two Sikh bodyguards, in what is viewed as an act of vengeance.[15] Subsequently, more than 3,000 Sikhs were killed in the ensuing anti-Sikh riots in 1984.[27] Within the Sikh community itself, Operation Blue Star has taken on considerable historical significance and is often compared to what Sikhs call "the great massacre", following the invasion by the Emir of Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Durrani, the Sikh holocaust of 1762.[28]

Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in Harmandir Sahib[edit]

Sri Harmandir Sahib at night

The main political aim for Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and the followers he was associated with during June 1984, was to pass the Anandpur Resolution[29][30][31] and not explicitly or solely for a separate country of Khalistan.[32][33][34][35] Throughout his career Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale remained in contact with Indira Gandhi.[36][37] Bhindranwale had earlier taken residence in Harmandir Sahib and made it his headquarters in December 1983, when he was accused of the assassination of Nirankari Gurbachan Singh.[38] The Nirankari Baba, also known as Gurbachan, had been the target of an attack by Ranjit Singh (a non follower of Bhindranwale). Ranjit Singh was sentenced with 13 years of jail. On 13 April 1978, Nirankari's Chief Gurbachan is alleged to have ridiculed the Guru Granth Sahib and the 10th Guru Gobind Singh in a Nirankari Convention held in Amritsar. This prompted Akhand Kirtani Jatha to lead a protest against the Nirankari sect chief Gurbachan. The peaceful demonstrating Jatha (Akhand Kirtani Jatha) was attacked by the Nirankaris. In the ensuing violence, several people were killed: two of Bhindranwale's followers, eleven members of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha and three Nirankaris.[39]

In 1983, Bhindranwale and approximately 200 armed followers moved into a guest-house called the Guru Nanak Niwas, in the precinct of Harmandir Sahib.[40] From here he met and was interviewed by international television crews.[40]

By December 1983, Harmandir Sahib complex became the quarter of Bhindranwale and his followers.[41] On 23 April 1983, the Punjab Police Deputy Inspector General A. S. Atwal was shot dead as he left the Harmandir Sahib compound. The following day, after the murder, Harchand Singh Longowal (then president of Shiromani Akali Dal) claimed the involvement of Bhindranwale in the murder.[42]

Harmandir Sahib compound and some of the surrounding houses were fortified. The Statesman reported on 4 July that light machine guns and semi-automatic rifles were known to have been brought into the compound.[43] 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".[44]

On 15 December 1983, Bhindranwale was asked to move out of Guru Nanak Niwas house by members of the Babbar Khalsa who acted with Harcharan Singh Longowal's support. Babbar Khalsa had also the support of the Congress party. Longowal by now feared for his own safety.[41]


The Indian Army used seven Vijayanta Tanks during the operation[45]

According to the Indian government, Operation Blue Star was launched to eliminate Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers who had sought cover in the Amritsar Harmandir Sahib Complex. The armed Sikhs within the Harmandir Sahib were led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and former Maj. Gen. Shabeg Singh. Lt. Gen. Kuldip Singh Brar had command of the action, operating under Gen. Sundarji.

Indira Gandhi first asked Lt. Gen. S. K. Sinha, then Vice-Chief of the Indian Army and selected to become the next Army chief, to prepare a position paper for assault on the Golden Temple.[46] Lt. Gen. Sinha advised against any such move, given its sacrilegious nature according to Sikh tradition. He suggested the government adopt an alternative solution. A controversial decision was made to replace him with General Arun Shridhar Vaidya as the Chief of the Indian army. General Vaidya, assisted by Lt. Gen. Sundarji as Vice-Chief, planned and coordinated Operation Blue Star.[46]

The Sikh Museum reports the following days: Tuesday, May 25th 100,000 Indian Army troops are mobilized and deployed throughout Punjab surrounding all important Gurdwaras including the Golden Temple complex.

Friday, June 1st Thousands of pilgrims start to gather at the Golden Temple complex to celebrate the martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjan on June 3rd.

As Sant Jarnail Singh Bindranwale sat on the roof of the Langer hall, police snipers opened fire on him. They missed and Sikh militants fired back. A seven hour skirmish during the night lasting until the morning leaves 11 dead and 25 injured. There were bullet holes in the Langer building, in the marble pavement (parkarma) surrounding the Golden Temple and in the Golden Temple itself.

Sunday June 3rd All communications including phone lines to and from Punjab are cut. Roadblocks prevent anyone from entering or leaving Punjab and all journalists are expelled from Punjab. A total curfew is imposed and as many as 10,000 pilgrims are trapped inside the temple complex.

Milk vendors from the villages who supply milk to the city of Amritsar are shot dead for violating the curfew orders.

Monday June 4th The army starts firing on the temple complex and there is a gun battle lasting 5 hours. Using machine guns and mortars the army fires at dissident positions atop the two 18th century towers called Ramgarhia Bunga's, and the water tank behind Teja Singh Samundri Hall as well as surrounding buildings. At least 100 are killed on both sides.

Tuesday June 5th At 7:00 p.m. Operation Blue Star, the invasion of The Golden Temple begins with tanks of the 16th Cavalry Regiment of the Indian Army moving to enclose the Golden Temple complex. Troops are briefed not to use their guns against the Golden Temple itself or the Akal Takht. Artillery is used to blast off the tops of the Ramgarhia Bungas and the water tank. Scores of buildings in and around the temple complex are blazing. One artillery shell lands more than 5 km away in the crowded city.

In the narrow alley behind the Akal Takht paramilitary commandos try to get into the temple. Some make it to the roof but are turned back due to the heavy gunfire. Meanwhile, tanks move into the square in front of the northern entrance to the Golden Temple known as the clock tower entrance.

At 10:30 pm commandos from the 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment try to run down the steps under the clock tower onto the marble parkarma around the sacred pool. They face heavy gunfire, suffering casualties and are forced to retreat. A second wave of commandos manages to neutralize the machine gun posts on either side of the steps and get down to the parkarma.

The Akal Takht is heavily fortified with sandbags and brick gun emplacements in its windows and arches. From here and the surrounding buildings the dissidents are able to fire at any commandos who make their way in front of the Gurdwara.

Two companies of the 7th Garhwal Rifles enter the temple complex from the opposite side on the southern gate entrance and after a gun battle are able to establish a position on the roof of the Temple library. They are reinforced by two companies of the 15th Kumaons. Repeated unsuccessful attempts are made to storm the Akal Takht.

Wednesday June 6th After midnight tanks are used to break down the steps leading to the parkarma from the hostel side and an 8-wheeled Polish-built armored personnel carrier makes its way towards the Akal Takht. It is destroyed by a Chinese-made rocket propelled grenade launcher.

Six or more Vijayanta tanks enter the temple complex crushing the delicate marble inlays of the parkarma and plow their way towards the Akal Takht. Orders arrive and the tanks start firing their large 105mm cannons equipped with high explosive squash-head shells into the Akal Takht. These shells are designed for hard targets like armour and fortifications. When the shells hit a target, their heads spread or squash on the hard surface. Their fuses are arranged to allow a short delay between the impact and the shells igniting, so that a shock-wave passes through the target and a heavy slab of armour or masonry is forced away from the inside of the target armour or fortification.

The effect on the Sri Akal Takht, the most sacred of the five Takhts, is devastating. Over 80 shells are pumped into the sacred Gurdwara. The entire front of the Takht is destroyed and fires break out in many of the different rooms blackening the marble walls and wrecking the delicate decorations dating back to the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Marble inlays, plaster and mirror work, filigree partitions and priceless old wall paintings are all destroyed.

The gold dome of the Akal Takht is also badly damaged by artillery fire. At one stage a 3.7-inch Howitzer gun is mounted on the roof of a building behind the shrine and fired a number of times at the beautiful dome.

At the other end of the Temple complex on the easternmost side, a battalion of the Kumaon Regiment were invading the hostel complex where many of the innocent pilgrims were in hiding as well as the temple administration staff. There was no water because the water tower had been destroyed and it was very hot.

Thursday, 7 June The army gained effective control of the Harmandir Sahib complex.[47]

Friday, 8 June The Army fought about four Sikhs holed up in basement of a tower. A colonel of the commandos was shot dead by an LMG burst while trying to force his way into the basement. By the afternoon of 10 June, the operation was over.[47]


The Army placed total casualties at:[10]

  • Sikh Militants: 500 dead
  • Military: 83 killed and 236 wounded.

Unofficial casualty figures were much higher;[48] some suggest that civilian casualties numbered 20,000 and military casualties were 5,000.[49]

Mark Tully and Satish Jacob mention the use of tanks by the army at the Sultanwind area over the civilian Sikhs marching towards Amritsar.[50]

According to the independent sources, the number of dead military personnel was at least 700.[51] In one of his speeches, Rajiv Gandhi, the former prime minister of India, has purportedly said that over 700 soldiers died during the operation.[52] CNN-IBN, on the 25th death anniversary of Indira Gandhi, on 31 October 2009, reported to have lost 365 commandos.[53] Apart from this, an unspecified number of soldiers were reported killed during the fighting at 38 other gurdwaras in Punjab. Strong resistance was reported at Muktsar and Moga.[54] On top of this, there was the prospect that more Indian army personnel may have been victims of mutinies by Sikh soldiers at different military locations across India.[54]


At least 5,000[55] Sikh soldiers mutinied at different locations in India in protest, with some reports of large-scale pitched battles being fought to bring mutineers under control.[56]

The operation also led to the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 31 October 1984 by two of her Sikh bodyguards,[57][58] triggering the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. The widespread killing of Sikhs, principally in the national capital Delhi but also in other major cities in North India, led to major divisions between the Sikh community and the Indian Government. The army withdrew from Harmandir Sahib later in 1984 under pressure from Sikh demands.[59] The 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182 is thought to have been a revenge action.

General Arun Shridhar Vaidya, the Chief of Army Staff at the time of Operation Blue Star, was assassinated in 1986 in Pune by two Sikhs, Harjinder Singh Jinda and Sukhdev Singh Sukha. Both were sentenced to death, and hanged on 7 October 1992.

Sikh militants continued to use and occupy the temple compound and on 1 May 1986, Indian paramilitary police entered the temple and arrested 200 militants that had occupied Harmandir Sahib for more than three months.[60] On 2 May 1986 the paramilitary police undertook a 12-hour operation to take control of Harmandir Sahib at Amritsar from several hundred militants, but almost all the major radical leaders managed to escape.[61] In June 1990, the Indian government ordered the area surrounding the temple to be vacated by local residents in order to prevent militants activity around the temple.[62]


The use of artillery in the congested inner city of Amritsar proved deadly to many civilian bystanders living near Harmandir Sahib. The media blackout throughout the Punjab resulted in widespread doubt regarding the official stories and aided the promotion of hearsay and rumour.[63] The operation is criticised on four main grounds: the choice of time of attack by Government, the heavy casualties, the loss of property, and allegations of human rights violations by Army personnel.

In addition, Indira Gandhi has been accused of using the attack for political ends. Dr. Harjinder Singh Dilgeer stated that Indira Gandhi attacked the Harmandir Sahib complex to present herself as a great hero in order to win forthcoming elections.[64]

Last resort[edit]

S. K. Sinha, the GOC of the Indian Army who was sacked just before the attack, had advised the government against the operation.[65] He later criticized the Government's claim that the attack represented a "last resort".[66] He also stated that the operation would have been conducted in an entirely different manner if he had planned it.[67]

He also pointed out that a few days before the operation, the Home Minister had announced that the troops would not be sent to Harmandir Sahib.,[67] but the operation seems to have been in plans much earlier. The General has alleged that the army had been rehearsing the operation in a replica of Harmandir Sahib at a secret location near Chakrata Cantonment in the Doon Valley.[68][69]


The timing of Operation Blue Star was planned on a Sikh religious day—the martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Dev ji, the founder of the Harmandir Sahib. Sikhs from all over the world visit the temple on this day. Many Sikhs view the timing and attack by the Indian Army as an attempt to inflict maximum casualties on Sikhs and demoralise them,[70] and the government is in turn blamed for the inflated number of civilian dead for choosing to attack on this day. The justification given by the Centre was the announcement made by Longowal that a statewide civil disobedience movement would be launched on 3 June 1984, by refusing to pay land revenue, water and electricity bills, and blocking the flow of grain out of Punjab.[71][72]

The Sikh community's anger and suffering was further increased by comments from leading newspaper editors, such as Ramnath Goenka, terming the operation as "A greater victory than the win over Bangladesh, this is the greatest victory of Mrs. Gandhi."[73]

Media blackout[edit]

Before the attack by the army, a media blackout was imposed in Punjab.[74] The Times reporter Michael Hamlyn reported that journalists were picked up from their hotels at 5 a.m. in a military bus, taken to the adjoining border of the state of Haryana and "were abandoned there."[74] The main towns in Punjab were put under curfew, transportation was banned, a news blackout was imposed, and Punjab was "cut off from the outside world."[75] A group of journalists who later tried to drive into Punjab were stopped at the road block at Punjab border and were threatened with being shot if they proceeded.[74] Indian nationals who worked with the foreign media also were banned from the area.[74] The press criticized these actions by government as an "obvious attempt to attack the temple without the eyes of the foreign press on them."[76]

Human rights[edit]

Brahma Chellaney, the Associated Press's South Asia correspondent, was the only foreign reporter who managed to stay on in Amritsar despite the media blackout.[77] His dispatches, filed by telex, provided the first non-governmental news reports on the bloody operation in Amritsar. His first dispatch, front-paged by The New York Times, The Times of London and The Guardian, reported a death toll about twice of what authorities had admitted. According to the dispatch, about 780 militants and civilians and 400 troops had perished in fierce gunbattles. The high casualty rates among security forces were attributed to "the presence of such sophisticated weapons as medium machine guns and rockets" in the militants' arsenal.[78]

Chellaney also reported that several suspected Sikh militants had been shot with their hands tied.[79] The dispatch, after its first paragraph reference to "several" such deaths, specified later that about "eight to 10" men had been shot in that fashion.[80] In that dispatch, Mr. Chellaney interviewed a doctor who said he was picked up by the army and forced to conduct postmortems despite the fact he had never done any postmortem examination before.[79] The number of casualties reported by Mr. Chellaney was far higher than government reports,[81] and the Indian government, which disputed his casualty figures,[82] accused him of inflammatory reporting.[83] The Associated Press stood by the reports and figures, the accuracy of which was also "supported by Indian and other press accounts" and by reports in The Times and the New York Times.[84]

Similar accusations of highhandedness by the Indian Army and allegations of human rights violations by security forces in Operation Blue Star and subsequent military operations in Punjab have been levelled by Justice V. M. Tarkunde,[85] Mary Anne Weaver,[86] human rights lawyer Ram Narayan Kumar,[87] and anthropologists Cynthia Mahmood and Joyce Pettigrew.[88][89][90]

The Indian Army responded to this criticism by stating that they "answered the call of duty as disciplined, loyal and dedicated members of the Armed Forces of India. . . our loyalties are to the nation, the armed forces to which we belong, the uniforms we wear and to the troops we command".[91]:156

It was later pointed out that as the blockade approach taken by KPS Gill five years later in Operation Black Thunder—when Sikh militants had again taken over the temple complex—was highly successful (as they managed to resolve the stand-off peacefully), Operation Blue Star could have been averted by using similar blockade tactics. The army responded by stating that "no comparison is possible between the two situations", as "there was no cult figure like Bhindranwale to idolise, and no professional military general like Shahbeg Singh to provide military leadership" and "the confidence of militants having been shattered by Operation Blue Star."[91] Furthermore, it is pointed out that the separatists in the temple were armed with machine guns, anti tank missiles and rocket launchers, and that they strongly resisted the army's attempts to dislodge them from the shrine, appearing to have planned for a long standoff, having arranged for water to be supplied from wells within the temple compound and had stocked food provisions that could have lasted months.[91]:153–154

Hindustan Times correspondent Chand Joshi alleged that the army units "acted in total anger" and shot down all the suspects rounded up from the temple complex.[92] Mark Tully and Satish Jacob criticized the Army for burning down the Sikh Reference Library in Amritsar: Mrs. Gandhi's Last Battle, stating that this was done to destroy the culture of the Sikhs. In The Sikhs of Punjab, Joyce Pettigrew alleges that the army conducted the operation to "suppress the culture, and political will, of a people."[90]

Honours to the soldiers[edit]

The soldiers and generals involved in the Operation were presented with gallantry awards, honours, decoration strips and promotions by the Indian president Zail Singh, a Sikh, in a ceremony conducted on 10 July 1985. The act was criticized by authors and activists such as Harjinder Singh Dilgeer, who accused the troops of human rights violations during the operation.[64]

British involvement[edit]

The United Kingdom's Thatcher government was reportedly aware of the Indian government's intention to storm the temple, and had provided an SAS officer to advise the Indian authorities.[93] This and other assistance was reportedly intended to safeguard the UK's arms sales to India.[93] Relevant UK government records have been censored.[93]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

  • Harjinder Singh Dilgeer (2012). Sikh History in 10 volumes. Sikh University Press. ISBN 2-930247-47-9. : presents comprehensive details of the invasion of Indian Army (causes and events). Vols 7 to 10 also give precious information.
  • K. S. Brar (1993). Operation Blue Star: the true story. UBS Publishers' Distributors. ISBN 978-81-85944-29-6. : presents the version of the Indian Army general Kuldip Singh Brar, who led the operation.
  • Kirapal Singh and Anurag Singh, ed. (1999). Giani Kirpal Singh's eye-witness account of Operation Blue Star. B. Chattar Singh Jiwan Singh. ISBN 978-81-7601-318-5. : presents the version of Giani Kirpal Singh, the Jathedar of the Akal Takht.
  • Johncy Itty (1985). Operation Bluestar: the political ramifications. 
  • Man Singh Deora (1992). Aftermath of Operation Bluestar. Anmol Publications. ISBN 978-81-7041-645-6. 
  • Kuldip Nayar; Khushwant Singh (1984). Tragedy of Punjab: Operation Bluestar & after. Vision Books. 
  • Satyapal Dang; Ravi M. Bakaya (1 January 2000). Terrorism in Punjab. Gyan Books. ISBN 978-81-212-0659-4. 

External links[edit]