Sunday 7 June 2009

Rebel turns healer, skips Blue Star

Rebel turns healer, skips Blue Star

Chandigarh, June 6: He was once the most feared man in Punjab after Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Now he practises amateur homoeopathy.

Wassan Singh Zaffarwal, former chief of the Khalistan Commando Force, did not travel to Amritsar today to attend a ceremony that marked the 25th anniversary of Operation Blue Star.

As on June 6 every year, Sikh radicals from the Dal Khalsa and Simranjit Singh Mann’s Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) turned up at the Golden Temple’s Akal Takht. The ceremony was a subdued affair, with a handful of people shouting slogans outside the complex condemning the army action 25 years ago.

Zaffarwal’s words, however, reflected how the times had changed since the night the army had stormed the Golden Temple, the Sikhs’ holiest shrine, and killed hundreds of militants hiding there, including their chief, Bhindranwale.

He didn’t go because “I’m more comfortable at home providing homoeopathy treatment to people and going from village to village to make people understand the evil effects of dowry and female foeticide”.

Yet Zaffarwal had once sworn to avenge Blue Star. His men had assassinated General Arun Vaidya, the army chief under whom the operation took place, within months of his retirement in 1986.

“The army action was painful. I was in the village and could not even get out of the house because of the curfew,” Zaffarwal, now in his mid-fifties, said over the phone from his village Zaffarwal, about 260km from here. “Those were different times. When I asked people to bend, they crawled.”

Today at the Golden Temple, special prayers were held by Akal Takht chief Giani Gurbachan Singh for the victims of Blue Star, who included many women and children sheltering inside the shrine. A few Mann supporters raised slogans demanding a Sikh nation of Khalistan.

Although Zaffarwal stayed away, he says the militancy and Bluestar must never be forgotten.

“Can the Israelis forget the Holocaust? They have used that event in their history to ensure it can never be repeated again. They have become powerful because they have not let their past be forgotten. We must learn from our past and ensure mistakes are not repeated,” he said.

Zaffarwal had fled India in 1986 and was arrested in Amritsar on his return from Switzerland in 2001. Following his release, he tried to enter politics but has given up now. In public, he speaks against violence, and against the dilution of Sikh practices.

He has a new grouse: “See, how more and more youths are getting their hair shorn and are taking to drugs!”

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