24 September, 2023


‘Operation Blue Star’ & July 1983

By Rajeewa Jayaweera

Rajeewa Jayaweera

The annual commemoration of the June 1984 attack on the Holy Sikh site of Harmandir Shahib (The abode of God) complex in Amritsar, also known as the Golden Temple, took place in London last Sunday. Sikhs from all over UK attended the protest march from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square. 

‘Operation Blue Star’ was the code name of the military operation conducted by the Indian army, to neutralize Sikh separatists who had turned the complex into a virtual fortress.

Back Ground

Akali Dal was formed on Dec 14, 1920 as a task force of the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee, the Sikh religious body. Akali Dal considers itself the principal representative of Sikhs. In 1973, it adopted the Anandpur Sahib Resolution. The document was kept in abeyance till early 1980s.

The Akali Dal was initially opposed to religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, and even accused him of being a Congress agent. However, as Bhindranwale became increasingly influential, the party decided to join hands with him. In August 1982, Akali Dal under the leadership of Harcharan Singh Longowal formed an alliance with Bhindranwale and his followers to launch the Dharam Yudh Morcha in order to implement the Anandpur Sahib Resolution. The major motivation behind the resolution was to safeguard the Sikh identity by securing a state structure that was decentralized, with non-interference from the central government. A majority of Akali Dal leaders pursued the idea of a more empowered Sikh-majority state within India. However, some Sikh leaders such as Longowal and Bhindranwale pursued the idea of a sovereign Sikh state of Khalistan.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi considered the Anandpur Resolution as a secessionist document. She classified Akali Dal as a separatist party with the objective of seceding from India.  In 1982, Government of India (GoI) decided to deal with Sikh militancy with a heavy hand. Over a hundred people were killed in police firings. The security forces arrested over thirty thousand Sikhs in two and half months. To appease the Sikh community in July 1982, the government appointed Giani Zail Singh, then Home Minister as the President of India. It was known, militants responsible for bombings and murders were taking shelter in Sikh Gurdwaras (houses of worship). Prime Minister Gandhi was kept informed of arms shipments received in Gurdwaras. However, GoI not wishing to hurt Sikh sentiments did not intervene. In October 1983, six Hindu bus passengers were murdered resulting in emergency being imposed in Punjab.

The Akali Dal began another agitation in February 1984 protesting against clause (2)(b) of Article 25 of the Indian constitution. It ambiguously states “the reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion”, though it also implicitly recognizes Sikhism as a separate religion with the words “the wearing and carrying of kirpans shall be deemed to be included in the profession of the Sikh religion.” This clause is deemed offensive by many minority religions in India, even today because of the failure to recognize these religions under the constitution separately.

Akali Dal members demanded amendments to the Constitution in order to remove the ambiguity of using the word Hindu when referring to a Sikh. One such amendment demanded was to permit those marrying under Sikh religion to register under Sikhism specific laws rather than under Special Marriage Act 1954 or Hindu Marriage Act. 

Operation Blue Star

It was eventually decided to disarm and evict Bhindranwala and his followers from their stronghold, the Golden Temple. Bhindranwala was assisted by former Maj. Gen. Shabeg Singh.

Vice-Chief of Indian Army Lt. Gen. S. K. Sinha, when requested to prepare a plan to storm the Golden Temple advised against the move, suggested an alternate solution and was dismissed.  The new Vice-Chief Lt. Gen. Krishnaswamy Sunderji planned and coordinated Operation Blue Star.

It involved 700 Jawans from Border Security Force (BFS) and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), 150 Jawans from the Punjab armed Police and 10,000 armed troops from the Indian Army. Tanks, artillery, helicopters, armored vehicles and tear gas were used in the operation to flush out 250 – 300 Sikh militants from the Golden Temple.

The operation commenced at 12.40 pm on June 01 1984 with BSF and CRPF opening fire. The army attacked utilizing artillery and tanks. On 3 June, a 36-hour curfew was imposed on the state of Punjab with all methods of communication and public travel suspended. The electricity supply was also interrupted, creating a total blackout and cutting off the state from the rest of the world. Complete media censorship was enforced. The militants put up stiff resistance for five days. The operation ended at 10.00 pm on June 06 and the forces had full control of Harmandir Sahib complex by the morning of June 7. Sikh leader Bhindranwale and Maj. Gen. Shabeg Singh were killed in the operation.

According to GoI, Indian army losses amounted to 83 dead and 249 wounded besides 493 dead militants and civilians. However, unofficial sources placed army causalities at 700 dead and 5,000 wounded, besides 20,000 civilian casualties. 

The military action led to an uproar amongst Sikhs worldwide and increased tension following the action. Many Sikh soldiers in the Indian army mutinied. Many Sikhs resigned from armed and civil administrative office. Several returned awards and honors received from GoI.

The British Special Air Service (SAS) played an advisory role in the operation.

Indira Gandhi was criticized for the timing of the operation as being politically motivated, in view of impending parliamentary elections.


On June 23, 1985, Air India Flight 182, a Boeing 747-237 operating from Vancouver to Delhi via London was destroyed by a bomb. It crashed into the Atlantic Ocean killing a total of 329 passengers which included 268 Canadians, 27 British and 24 Indians. The attack is thought to have been a retaliation against India for Operation Blue Star.

There are certain similarities in the events which unfolded in Sri Lanka in July 1983 Tamil pogroms, after 13 soldiers were ambushed and killed by LTTE in Tinneveli, Jaffna and in India in November 1984 in the Sikh pogroms after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, by two of her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984.

It was alleged, Indian Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) seized historical artefacts and manuscripts in the Sikh Reference Library, before burning it down similar to the alleged burning down of the Jaffna Public Library by a group of Policemen. 

In what is believed to be a revenge attack, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was shot at 9.20 am at her residence in Delhi on October 31, 1984.  passed away at 10.50 am. She was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguardsSatwant Singh and Beant Singh. After committing the crime, Beant Singh supposedly stated “I have done what I had to do. You do what you want to do.” He was killed by other guards within minutes. Satwant Singh was hanged in 1989.

By late afternoon, a crowd that gathered around the All India Institute of Medical Sciences where Indira Gandhi’s body had been brought, began screaming for vengeance shouting “Blood for blood!” They turned unruly and stoned President Singh’s vehicle which arrived at 5.20 pm. The mob began assaulting Sikhs by stopping cars and buses to pull Sikhs out of them and burn them, similar to what took place in Borella immediately after the funeral of the 13 dead soldiers.  

Congress Party leaders, similar to some UNP leaders in Sri Lanka in July 1983, were supportive of rioters, looters and murderers. Congress party MP Sajjan Kumar and Trade Union leader Lalit Maken handed out 100 rupee notes and bottles of liquor to assailants.  Mobs were allegedly told “attack Sikhs, kill them, and loot and burn their properties” besides “Kill the Sardars” and “Indira Gandhi is our mother and these people have killed her”. Sikh households and businesses to be attacked by mobs were identified and marked using voter lists provided by Congress party officials, similar to what took place in Colombo.  

Delhi erupted in riots with a vengeance on November 01 morning with armed mobs occupying the streets, as in Colombo on July 24. No intervention by authorities was forthcoming till the next day, November 02 when curfew was declared but ignored. Even though the army was deployed, they were not allowed to open fire without concurrence from a senior police officer and magistrate. The Police did not cooperate. It was only on November 03, late evening that some order was restored.

The Indian government estimated the death toll, mostly Sikhs, at 2,800. However, independent sources placed the death toll around 20,000.

It was revealed in the 2011 WikiLeaks cable leaks,  the United States was convinced of the complicity of the Congress party in the riots.

To India’s credit, it appointed three different commissions of inquiry were appointed to investigate different aspects of the tragedy, including lapses of the Police. Unlike India, Sri Lanka is yet to investigate events which took place in Sri Lanka from July 23, 1983 for several days.

442 rioters were convicted. 49 were sentenced to life imprisonment and another three imprisoned for 10 years. 6 Delhi Police officers were punished for lapses during the riots. In April 2013, the Delhi District court acquitted Congress leader Sajjan Kumar, who was seen handing 100 rupee notes and bottles of liquor to assailants.

Indira Gandhi’s son Rajiv Gandhi was sworn in as Prime Minister on October 31, 1984, the same day of the assassination. He subsequently dismissed the Sikh pogroms stating “When a big tree falls, the ground shakes.” 

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Latest comments

  • 6

    There is no justification of violence !! Against any community !! There are violence against Tamils since independence !! All are state !! Government’s !! Authorities !! Armed forces !! Sponsored !! Till to this date no one charged !! No arrest !! No justice !!

    • 3

      In as much as “there is no justification of violence against any community” which you claim has been the case against Tamil community since independence, there is no justification in caste based discrimination and violence which has been in practice in both communities for thousands of years.

      • 2

        Dear Rajeewa, you say that there is no justification in caste based discrimination. If you sincerely believed in that, you should have supported Prabaharan, during whose time caste system was virtually non existent in Tamil areas. By bringing this caste problem, you are trying to draw parallel between it and the crime of violence that had been committed on Tamils by Sinhalese. Do you not agree that the fact of not bringing any perpetrators to justice and not paying compensation to victims, proves that Sinhalese have justified their action of violence let loose on Tamils. You do not seem to understand that violence is still being committed on Tamils by security forces and their accomplices.

        • 1

          “you should have supported Prabaharan, during whose time caste system was virtually non existent in Tamil areas.” You expected us to support Prabhakaran because of his stance on Caste system ignoring the fact Prabhakaran was butchering Sinhala babies, children, women, men, monks. Caste system did not disappear, it was temporarily shelved by Wellala politicians because they wanted the Low Caste Prabhakaran and Dalit LTTE cadres to achieve their objective; Separate State. Prabhakaran gone, the caste issue is back. Caste based schools are increasing in Jaffna. Tamils killing Tamils on caste basis is acceptable. Sinhalese killing Tamils on racial basis is not acceptable!

  • 5

    ——————————-“To India’s credit, it appointed three different commissions of inquiry were appointed to investigate different aspects of the tragedy, including lapses of the Police. Unlike India, Sri Lanka is yet to investigate events which took place in Sri Lanka “——————————————————————-Well you could hardly expect the SL government to investigate itself. That would be like masturbation. Highly indecent if done in public, dear boy!

  • 2

    Rajeewa Jayaweera is trying to draw a parallel between Indian “Operation Blue Star” and the Lankan “July 1983”. The lines are skewed and in different planes Rajeewa. Indian armed and police services were not segregated on language or race before and after – Indira refused removal of Sikh bodyguards. Lankan armed services had become mono-lingual in 1983 and police nearly so. Khalistan was to keep the wealth to themselves. Lankan minorities were peacefully pointing out the steady erosion of human rights from 1948 till 1983. To cut a long story short Rajeewa, “Are you trying to absolve Lanka of war crimes?”. You had this article elsewhere too – perhaps meant for that crowd.

  • 1

    Are you in dementia before 1983? what you are trying to say is that if your next door neighbour raped his wifes sister it is right for you to rape your wifes sister. For a civilised person both are the same. It is rape. But for a uncivilsed it is the same. Do you understand where you are?

    • 2

      Come on Ajith, he is not justifying the brutall massacre of innocents in any of the two events , he is just drawing some parallels between the two. —–Soma

  • 0

    “To India’s credit, it appointed three different commissions of inquiry were appointed to investigate different aspects of the tragedy, including lapses of the Police. Unlike India, Sri Lanka is yet to investigate events which took place in Sri Lanka from July 23, 1983 for several days.”—- Rather than a mention in the passing half the article should have been devoted to this. This really is the crux of the matter. Any study on the 1983 brutal event should primarily deal with this aspect. —–Soma

  • 1

    i think the biggest mistake indira ever made in her life was to sanction the attack on the sikh temple.she should have read history where the sikhs and rajputs were the traditional protectors of hindus by fighting fiercely against the muslims.

    she should have just waited patiently by not letting anything into the sikh temple and wearing the militants out.Also she should have adopted a more conciliatory approach to the Akali dal instead of a hardline policy,thereby removing any legitimate grieviences that the sikhs had.

  • 1

    I really do not see the rationale behind this article written by a author of repute,the history of the sikhs have never been the same as tamils before or after 1984.A politician and a small group of followers were the master mindbehind this preorchestrated tragedy,Mr. Author do you really think is it the same with the srilankan tamils ??? I am not surprised by your article which goes to show how deep this problem has penetrated our society.

  • 1

    “The mob began assaulting Sikhs by stopping cars and buses to pull Sikhs out of them and burn them, similar to what took place in Borella immediately after the funeral of the 13 dead soldiers.”

    They did the same to Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. What it shows is a remarkable similarity between poor people (bottom of the barrel socioeconomic strata) anywhere. A real class struggle that manifests itself in the form of obscene violence when the opportunity arises.

    • 0


      Surely if its class strugglrethe poor should be attacking the waelthy who exploit them, rather than attacking the minorities. Also what about the working class within the minorities. They got attacked too. What kind of class struggle is that??

      Also if anything its the more powerful/priviledged groups that have attacked the weakest. Lol next are you going to say that the on average priviledged Boers of South Africa were oppressing the Africans due to class struggle too.

      • 0


        Have you seen rich people rioting in their Armani suits with the BMW’s carefully parked? I have not. The fact that only poor people seem to engage in this kind of behaviour suggests a high degree of economic repression. That is why riots consist mostly of looting. It is a transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor.

  • 0

    I do not think any SL government not having investigated 83 riots as a wrong thing. I think the government was not in a position. After 1983 we were engulfed in a brutal war and of course with JVP terrorism. So SL or SL gov did not have any space or opportunity to do a proper investigation until the end of the war.

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