1984 was a terrible year in Indian history. It saw Operation Blue Star, followed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination, which ultimately led to anti-Sikh riots. But what triggered these events that tore apart the secular and democratic fabric of this country?
In 1978, a new leader rose to prominence after clashes between two Sikh sects. This was Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a fiery leader of the orthodox Damdami Taksal sect.
Bhindranwale was angry with the Indian government and the Hindu community after the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) government in Punjab was dismissed by Indira Gandhi. This was seen by a section of Sikhs as discriminatory.
To galvanise the Sikh vote, the SAD had been demanding a united Punjab state, which would include Chandigarh and other Punjabi-speaking regions of neighbouring Haryana. It was also demanding autonomy, and identified Sikhs as a separate nation.
To keep the Sikh vote divided, Indira’s son Sanjay Gandhi began covertly supporting Bhindranwale. The move backfired as it led to more radicalisation and encouraged secessionism. Bhindranwale soon declared an armed insurgency against the Indian state.
In 1980, at a meeting in the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar, the All India Sikh Students Federation proclaimed the formation of Khalistan, a separate Sikh state. They even elected London-based separatist leader Jagjit Singh Chauhan as their President.
Bhindranwale stepped up terrorist activities, first gunning down rivals and a senior Sikh police officer. In April 1983, he moved into the Akal Takht, the temporal seat of Sikhism, within the Golden Temple complex.
Communal violence began to spin out of control. Hindus were dragged out of buses and trains and killed in Punjab, while Sikhs were killed in Haryana. The Khalistani movement was supported by Pakistan, and the Golden Temple complex became a terrorist fortress.
Indira Gandhi believed there was no option but to have the Indian Army storm the Golden Temple, to flush out the militants. It was called Operation Blue Star and it began on 1st June 1984.
Bhindranwale was killed in a gun battle on 6th June and his body recovered from the Akal Takht. Operation Blue Star had cleared terrorists from the Golden Temple complex but it enraged Sikhs worldwide.
It set the stage for other cataclysmic events, such as the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, triggering anti-Sikh riots in Delhi and other cities in India.
Cover Image: The Statesman
If you enjoyed this article, you will love LHI Circle - your Digital Gateway to the Best of India's history and heritage. You can enjoy our virtual tours to the must-see sites across India, meet leading historians and best-selling authors, and enjoy tours of the top museums across the world. Join LHI Circle here