With a clear case made out for “cleansing” the Golden Temple complex and rumors rife that top militants like Baba Gurbachan Singh Manochahal, General Labh Singh and members of the Panthic Committee had been caught inside the complex, the bells for Government action started ringing.

It is interesting to note that men like Manochahal, Labh Singh and members of the Panthic Committee had taken a tough stand on the substantive political issues under discussion within the ranks of militants ever since Bhai Jasbir Singh’s release on March 4, 1988. This is evident from the article written by Bhai Gurnam Singh Bandala. This was also clear from a series of Press releases issued by the Panthic Committee and individually by General Labh Singh. Evidently, except for Bhai Gurjit Singh and a faction of the Khalistan Liberation Force, none from militant groups swung in favor of Bhai Jasbir Singh’s concept of ‘Puran Azadi’ within or without the Indian Union. The Babbar Khalsa men were watching and waiting, not committing either in favor of or against Bhai Jasbir Singh’s “Puran Azadi”. They were, however, quite sensitive about the way a few militants and others were behaving inside the Golden Temple. The Babbars were not averse to cleansing the Temple complex, a case for which had been made out by Bhai Jasbir Singh. It was thus Bhai Gurjit Singh alone, who came over ina determined manner in favor of Bhai Jasbir Singh.

Gurjit Attacks Panthic Committee Men

Since the differences between Bhai Jasbir Singh’s camp and the militants led by Panthic Committee were growing, the latter’s spokesmen, Giani Jagir Singh and Bhai Niryair Singh, came under heavy fire when Bhai Gurjit Singh said the two men were impersonating themselves as spokesmen of the Panthic Committee. (Indian Express: April 26, 1988). The Panthic Committee hit back at Bhai Gurjit Singh when it not only reiterated through a statement on May 5, 1988, the demand for secession but also owned the two representatives installed inside the complex. The Panthic Committee also asked Bhai Gurjit Singh not to meddle in the affairs of the committee. (Indian Express: May 6, 1988),

The next day, i.e. May 6, General Labh Singh ironically attacked Bhai Jasbir Singh for “hobnobbing” with the Central Government. The General said that at his recent meetings with Bhai Jasbir Singh Rode and Bhai GurjitSingh, he had observed that the two were toeing the “Government in Punjab. Anyone trying to deviate from the set goal, General Labh Singh threatened would be dealt with in accordance with “Sikh tradition.” (Indian Express: May 7, 1988).

Under the circumstances, Bhai Jasbir Singh was left with no option except to leave the temple complex. Only Bhai Gurjit Singh was backing him. Most other groups had turned against him. Delhi based Press reports quoting dispatches from intelligence agencies spoke even of the threats to Bhai Jasbir Singh’s life. The pitch was further queered when the B.B.C. relayed an interview with Jasbir Singh quoting him saying that a solution to the Sikh problem was possible “within the framework of Indian Constitution”. The Takht Chief was embarrassed by the interview. He tried unsuccessfully to wriggle out of his statements. The interview further widened the rift.

Bhai Jasbir Singh vacated on May 8, 1988, his residence within the prikarma of the Golden Temple complex and his Press Secretary complained of shortage of accommodation. The Takht Chief moved to Guru Nanak Niwas. Journalists at Amritsar did not fail to compare and contrast the dramatic shift in residence when they recalled how the late Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale had left Guru Nanak Niwas to move into Akal Takht about four years ago.

“Test Firing” by Security Forces

The security forces surrounding the complex from high positions were waiting for the “fire” order. They had tested their guns on April 29 when a woman devotee. Swarn Kaur suffered a bullet injury. Prior to the test firing on April 26, 27 Santokh Singh Kala along with two jeeploads of armed C.R.P.F. Men had aimed at insiders from Ghanta Ghar entrance side of Darbar Sahib,

The D-Day was fast approaching. The C.R.P.F.D.LG., S.S. Virk inspected fortifications of his force at noon on May 9, 1988. The Press next day reported, obviously on the Police briefing, that Virk was fired upon by militants and he suffered jaw injury. The exchange of fire continued for six hours. At least five civilians were killed, one of them opposite the Akal Takht building, as a result of “cross firing.”

The militants have their own story to tell. An insider, who preferred anonymity, told the P.HR.O team a few days later that the provocation came not from militants but from the C.R.P.P. Virk himself took the risky initiative of pressing with force a newly built wall behind Akal Takht with a view to pull down the structure, There was altercation between Virk and a group of militants trying to see the wall intact. A C.R.P.F. bodyguard of Virk opened fire to injure one Baldev Singh, at his shoulder. This provoked the militants. The men belonging to Sakatar Singh’s group fired back injuring the D.I.G

The report of attack on the D.I.G. spread like wild fire. The Government promulgated curfew in the wake of the incident. JF. Reberio told newsmen at Chandigarh the same afternoon that “the Centre had been informed of the situation.” P. Chidambram told the Rajya Sabha that the Centre was planning “drastic action” against the militants in Golden Temple.

While the situation was reaching a flashpoint, Bhai Jasbir Singh and four priests were that day at Patiala to receive a rare honor from the Vice Chancellor of Punjabi University, Dr. Bhagat Singh.

The curfew continued around the complex on May 10. There was sporadic C.R.P.F. firing throughout the day. The Punjab Director General of Police, KP:S. Gill, told newsmen that security forces had been instructed’ to open fire on militants at the “slightest movement” by them. “The curfew would continue indefinitely giving rise to speculation that this time security forces meant business with 70 to 80 people militants caught inside the temple complex.” (Indian Express: May II, 1988).

Darbar Sahib is Sealed

During the day 800 devotees and employees of the S.G.P.C were evacuated from the complex leaving militants inside with hefty sums of money on their heads. The C.R.P.F. ensured that the complex was completely sealed and no militant should escape as many of them did during the operation “Blue Star” in 1984.

In the evening the security forces’ firing resulted in the death of two militants inside the complex and an unspecified number of them were injured. The militants were entrenched’ on seven points in the complex: three on the Prasad point, one each on two towers. And one each on the Clock Tower entrance and the fortifications above it.

The Press reports said the electricity and water supply had not been cut but the insiders reported later that the Government claim ‘was not true: the power and water supply had been cut. Bhai Surat Singh Khalsa, a Unified Akali Dal (U.A.D,) activist closely connected with Baba Joginder Singh, Stated that the rooms inside had been seen to be lit by candle light when a group was allowed to go in by security forces ostensibly to pick up dead bodies.

The security forces around the complex were equipped with night vision gadgets which the militants evidently did not know with the result that when they ventured out, they were shot or injured,

There was speculation outside the militants trapped inside, there were frequent telephone calls seeking identity of those inside. The Amritsar based journalists tried to know whether Manochahal and Labh Singh were also inside. The speculation was fuelled by reports that top militants had been called by Bhai Jasbir Singh for a “Panthic Unity” session. The police chief when questioned said: “Several of those inside are important persons. I cannot tell you about their names for obvious reasons.” (The Tribune: May 11, 1988).

Are N.S.G. Commandos C.R.P.F. men?

“All strategic C.R.P.F, pickets overlooking the Golden Temple complex were augmented with the elite Black Cat Commandos of the National Security Guards (NSG) who were brought on May 10 even as sporadic exchange of fire between the security forces and terrorists lodged in the complex continued.

“While indefinite curfew clamped in the walled city of Amritsar since 3 p.m. on May 9 continued to be in force without any relaxation, the NSG commandos in the guise of C.R.P.F personnel kept the militants at bay with their specially brought Swedish sophisticated PSG Sniper rifles fitted with telescopic lenses and medium machine guns (MMGs) haying a range of up to 1,800 meters.

“The deployment of Black Cats has been done as a part of the government’s apparent policy to exhaust out the militants trapped inside the temple more effectively. Thus, the deadly sniper rifles known for their precision have been introduced in order to eliminate the militants one by one…” (Indian Express: May 12, 1988).

While the operation was in progress, the Government continued its efforts to bring round insiders through the good offices of Bhai Jasbir Sing. The latter on May 11 sent a team headed by Bhai Gurdey Singh Kaonke, a former Acting Jathedar of Akal Takht, accompanied by a few activists of Damdami Taksal, inside the Golden Temple ostensibly to bring the dead bodies from inside for cremation. The talks between the Government and the head priests centered round the question of surrender by insiders. The Gurdey Singh mission failed. The insiders did not allow the bodies to be removed. Another team which included Bhai Surat Singh Khalsa, Bhai Mohkam Singh, Bhai Nirmal Singh and 10 others was sent on the night of May 11 by Bhai Jasbir Singh. That mission too failed. A team of journalists was also allowed inside the complex on May 11 evidently to assess the militants’ mood.


Freedom Fighters In


Article extracted from this publication >> October 14, 1988