Sunday, 11 October, 2009

‘We Were Clubbed With The Terrorists’

‘We Were Clubbed With The Terrorists’
A young major commanding a squadron of tanks recollects his memories of Operation Bluestar...
Chander Suta Dogra Interviews Gurinder Singh Ghuman

Memories. Proud, bitter, sad, painful. If only...what if?...why me? Whenever Lt Col Gurinder Singh Ghuman (Retd) relives the momentous days of Operation Bluestar, these memories strike at his inner self like a hundred shards, leaving him bruised afresh. As a young major commanding a squadron of tanks in the 46 Armoured Regiment posted at Amritsar, the summer of 1984 was a turning point in his life. Not because he saw the operation at close quarters, or because he was charged with supervising the cremation of scores of dead bodies, including that of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Doing all that was duty. The real cause of his anguish is that he was mistrusted by colleagues and betrayed, as he sees it, by the very organisation he had sworn to serve faithfully. Ghuman took premature retirement from the army in 1997 and is now an advocate at the Punjab & Haryana High Court. Excerpts from an interview to Chander Suta Dogra:
Revisiting Operation Bluestar 25 years later, what is the first thought that comes to your mind?
Though I was a young officer at that time, intent only on executing the orders given to me and had no idea of the planning that went into the operation, with the perspective of hindsight, the overriding thought is that it all got marred due to faulty planning and poor intelligence inputs.
In what way has Operation Bluestar affected you?
It has left a permanent mark on my psyche. I am not normal any more, I suffer from insomnia. I was never a very religious person to begin with, because in the army, we are trained to be secular and keep religion within the four walls of our homes. But now I go to the gurudwara every day. My career in the army was affected because I was a Sikh officer and my seniors suspected me of being sympathetic to the Khalistan cause. Despite above-average reports and a brilliant record, I was passed up for promotion.
Could you elaborate?

‘At an inquiry, I was asked if I touched the dead Bhindranwale’s feet in obeisance.’

I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was a time when Sikh troops in some other units were revolting and there was a question mark on the conduct of Sikh officers too. This hurt more than anything else. On the night of June 6, I was tasked with cremating the dead bodies from the Golden Temple and I supervised the cremation of some 70 bodies in the cremation ground next to Gurudwara Shaheedan. Just then, some police personnel brought the bodies of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, Bhai Amrik Singh and Bhai Thada Singh. I noticed Bhindranwale’s left leg was dangling and on lifting it to see why, I realised his shin was broken due to three bullet wounds. It was idle curiosity. But later on, there was an inquiry against me at which I was asked if I had touched his feet in obeisance. There were questions also on why I folded my hands when the granthi was reciting the antim ardas (a prayer for the dead).
A couple of days earlier, I had been given the task of dispersing a crowd of angry Sikhs who had presumably gathered to attack some Hindus at Chiwinda Devi village on the outskirts of Amritsar. As soon as we took up position, the crowd dispersed. But the inquiry officer wanted to know why I did not open fire on the crowd. All this when I had also been tasked with the job of stopping the possible advance of a mutinous armoured squadron of Sikh troops coming from Jalandhar on June 9. Being a Sikh officer, I was the only squadron commander of my unit who was operationally deployed at that time!
Do you think if you were not a Sikh officer, your career would have taken a different turn?
Certainly. All Sikh personnel in the army were looked upon with suspicion at that time. We were clubbed with the terrorists and almost overnight the very organisation that nurtured us professionally turned adversarial. As if battling with our own countrymen in the operation was not enough! For me, personally, I could never think of questioning an order. Which is why facing the subsequent inquiry ordered against me was distressing.
What about the idea of Khalistan? Was it a very emotional issue with Sikhs at that time?
The Sikh masses were never in favour of Khalistan. Contrary to popular perception, Bhindranwale did not really have a great following. The whole situation was mishandled and allowed to get out of hand.

No comments:

Post a Comment