A controversy may yet break out as a result of a declassified document from nearly 30 years ago that suggests that Britain advised Indira Gandhi on how to deal with Sikh extremists holed up in the Golden Temple and even sent a couple of intelligence/Special Air Services types to do a reconnaissance inside the temple. Now an enquiry has been ordered into it. The timing is most interesting. If the probe comes up with something that embarrasses the Congress before the elections, then it could become a talking point. It is of course possible for the good sardar to use his influence on the Brits so they make public the enquiry findings after the voting is done, but let us look for a reasonable explanation meanwhile.
It is preposterous that foreign intelligence personnel should be deployed for a reconnaissance activity that we, logically, should have been perfectly capable of executing. It is worrying that the expression used is that India requested assistance. It defies logic that a couple of British intelligence/air force officers in a single visit to the temple complex, which is huge, sprawling, with basement spaces and many buildings, come up with a winning military plan. It would be more logical to suggest that there may have been an attempt by the UK to get a pulse on what was going on in the Golden Temple and since it was up in the air for a long time that something could happen there, there was an attempt to get a first-hand impression and make an assessment of the blowback in the UK, if there was action inside the Golden Temple. This is normal. When the US was contemplating action on Afghanistan, they sent out emissaries to sensitise the countries in the region, including us, and at the same time to get a sense of the repercussions from our point of view, if the US bombed Afghanistan back to the Old Stone Age.
In India, back in those days, it was in the air that something would happen, but when it finally happened it took everyone by surprise. Especially Giani Zail Singh, the President and the supreme commander of the armed forces. If you go by his version, Mrs Gandhi told him casually towards the end of May that year, that she might have to resort to police action. The next thing that Gianiji knew was the army had been sent in with tanks and heavy weaponry to get Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale under control. Among other things, even the timing was unfortunate: Operation Blue Star coincided with the martyrdom of the fifth guru, Guru Arjan Dev. Naturally, the crowds must have been heavy.
From all accounts, the army went in with a lot of confidence. Whether they had a plan or not is open to interpretation. A retired brigadier (Israr Rahim Khan) who led from the front was seen saying on television that the army had “scant intelligence” and that a middle-level soldier had entered the Golden Temple as a pilgrim the day before the operation to do the recce. It must have been a hastily put together operation. It turned out to be bigger than they thought and messy. Three days later, when Zail Singh visited, the stench of human bodies that had rotted in the June heat was still unbearable. Zail Singh had one question to ask Mrs Gandhi: What was she doing when Bhindranwale was piling up arms? Not surprisingly, the political stench refuses to go away.