“There are moments in politics that reverberate in time like a perpetual bell, and when that happens the significance of the moment often cannot be assessed until long after the bell has begun tolling,’’ wrote the New Yorker on June 25, 1984. That moment came when one of the mightiest armies in the world invaded on June 5-6, 1984 the symbol of Sikh’s distinctness as a religion, the link of their present with their past, their link with their Gurus, their Golden Temple in their Guru Ka Chack, Guru Ram Das Pur, a city they later affectionately began to call Amritsar. That moment was a rude awakening for the Sikhs; it got etched in their psyche. The harder Indira Gandhi and her agents tried to still the voice of the tolling bell in the minds and hearts of Sikhs through all sorts of cover-ups, distortions and state terrorism, the louder it ticked. And Indira Gandhi’s death notwithstanding, the bell still tolls. That moment, the desecration. Of the Golden Temple, under false pretext has changed the future history of Sikhs as well as of India.
The loss of any life particularly through unnatural means is a sad event. Sikhism does not permit or condone acts of terrorism or assassination. The weak and oppressed they protect; but religious persecutors they fight. Sacrilege and desecration of their places of worship, they do not tolerate. Although the circumstances of Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination are not yet established, the ‘Voice of Sikhs’”’ believes that Mrs. Gandhi became a victim of her own excesses. First, she refused to consider the modest and very legitimate demands of the Sikhs for equity and justice for more than two years. She and her Hindu regime would not grant even a separate religious status for Sikhs, let alone negotiate sincerely for the other demands. A distinguished Hindu journalist Kuldip Nayar is on record as saying ‘‘when the agitation began nearly two years ago it was led by reasonable men seeking a reasonable settlement of reasonable demands. And at least three times there were prospects of agreements at the negotiating table. But each time Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sabotaged the agreements which Home Minister P.C. Sethi and Finance Minister Pranab Mukerjee had nearly completed with the Akalis’’ (India Abroad, 6/22/84). Giving actual details of dates and meetings, as late as May 13, 1984 when agreements were reached to be simply scuttled by Mrs. Gandhi, Nayar revealed that “‘little did (the Akalis) know that the Government was preparing to strike, which it did a week later. In fact, the army headquarters were preparing a blueprint of action when Narsimha Rao was telling the group that the government wanted a peaceful solution.”
This was treachery. Rather than come to terms with Sikh demands, her authoritarian government, through its army and police, desecrated the Golden Temple and many other places of Sikh worship, killed thousands of Sikhs including innocent women and children, put Punjab off limits not only to the World Press but also to Sikhs living abroad, promulgated draconian laws of so-called national security and legal defense for Punjab different from the rest of the country (eg. from the notion of innocent until proven guilty to just the reverse, Sikhs were presumed guilty until proven otherwise) and, arbitrarily and hurriedly amended the constitution to extend the President’s rule for another year in Punjab. Many independent voices abroad and a few in India were raised against such wanton misuse of power and usurpation of civil and human rights of Sikhs. The ruling Hindu majority was so busy celebrating the ‘‘defeat’’ of Sikhs, however, that few people listened. For example, Atal Bihari Bajpai, the President of the Bharatiya Janata Party lamented, “Mrs. Gandhi is playing a very dangerous game. The long term objectives of the country are being sacrificed to short term gains. But encouraging Hindu chauvinism is not going to pay‘‘(New York Times, 6/14/84). George Fernandes, the Janata Party General Secretary told reporters in Bangalore at a Press Conference that “Prime Minister Indira Gandhi has come to symbolize national disintegration’”’ (India Abroad, 7/20/84). Mr. Subramanium Swamy, an MP, had earlier warned that if she made a frontal attack on the Golden Temple, India as a concept would cease to exist (Illustrated Weekly of India, 5/13/84). Similarly, the fiercely independent Indian Express warned, “The lights are going out over the country and fascist tendencies, are manifesting themselves. With Governors acting as puppets, the so-called ‘“‘presidential system’’ is here with the insolence of arrogant power’ (India Abroad, 8/24/84).
The Manchester Guardian was blunter: “Indira Gandhi is right when she says terrorism must be rooted out. But who are the terrorists? Those perpetuating organized violence or those that oppose it? It is not generally known outside Punjab that, over the past two years, thousands of Sikh homes in the Punjab villages have been raided by police and paramilitary forces. Young Sikhs have been dragged away for questioning, never to be seen again. The sight of murdered Sikhs floating in rivers and waterways has become a common occurrence. In the last two years thousands of ‘terrorists’ and ‘‘political agitators’ have been shot in Kashmir, Assam and Maharashtra. Now it is the turn of Punjab and the Sikhs. The massacre in Amritsar of perhaps as many as two thousand mostly unarmed and innocent Sikh men, women and children “terrorists” easily outdoes in barbarity and outrage the 1919 shooting at Jallianwala Bagh where 379 people were killed by General Dyer.”
In spite of all these facts, the Government media blitz instead maligned the Sikhs as terrorists, extremists, separatists and the Hindu majority joined in the chorus or simply turned the other cheek. This virtual genocide of Sikhs was openly carried out by the agencies of the Government of India with almost unanimous and gleeful sanction of the Hindu majority.
Sikhs were outraged. They were convinced that through the frontal attack on the Golden Temple, she tried to impose, for parochial political purposes, a military solution to the smoldering Punjab problem. She challenged the religious sentiment of the peaceful and productive Sikhs openly and arrogantly. Sikhs perceived the military attack on the Golden Temple as an armed attack on Sikhism and the Operation Blue Star that followed as an attempt by the state to terrorize them into .submission to disown their Sikh identity. If two of her own body guards, who had protected her long, turned against her as alleged, it simply shows the depth of the Sikh alienation she unleashed. It was therefore her actions which provoked attack on her life. As the Detroit Free Press said in its editorial of November 1, 1984, ‘“‘She mishandled the problem of Sikh unrest in Punjab” and the ‘‘mistake’’ of “sending troops to the Golden Temple without resolving any of the political problems apparently cost her own life.”’ Khuswant Singh, the most prominent Sikh historian and journalist and till recently a very close confidant. of Mrs. Gandhi, echoed the same sentiment. ‘‘There is a feeling among. the: Sikhs that, we have settled our score. She ordered the Golden Temple raid, and now she has paid the price’’ (Chicago Tribune, 11/6/84). Of course, Sikh history itself is a witness to the fact that the same fate had befallen the two earlier Moghul desecraters of the Golden Temple.
As recently as a week before her death, Mr. Pran Chopra, an eminent journalist and a scholar wrote a remarkable article for the Wall Street Journal entitled ‘Empress Indira’ Revitalizes Her Foes.’’ He wrote “Mrs. Gandhi wins. Indie loses’’ has been the score in many recent rounds of the power game Prime Minister Indira Gandhi i: playing. She has called out the army so often form. Functions that is plainly; political that for her call it out wholesale in aid of her throne is not unimaginable.”’ Also in a major article entitled “Father and Daughter: A Remembrance,’ A.M. Rosenthal, Executive Editor of the New York Times, pointed out that Mr. Nehru and Mrs. Gandhi ‘‘would probably have turned out to be political opponents had Jawaharlal lived while Indira Gandhi reigned. For what the father lived by, the daughter tried to destroy” (New York Times, 11/1/84). For the Chicago Tribune, Jonathan Broder insisted that “To rule, Rajiv must repudiate mother’s teaching (11/9/84). She has obviously succeeded in her obsession of perpetrating dynastic rule in India. However, she has destroyed India’s unity in the process: