PUNJAB 1984: P C ALEXANDER & OTHERS REMINISCING [Culled from published materials]

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P.C. Alexander who was principal secretary to Indira Gandhi disclosed a lot of details about the inner political dynamics before sending in the Army to the Golden Temple in 1984. He recalled that “When she returned to power in 1980, she held a series of meetings with Akali leaders like Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, Parkash Singh Badal and Surjit Singh Barnala to find a solution to the Punjab problem — But the Punjab situation was taking a dangerous turn — Bhindranwale was pursuing a policy of creating a rift between Sikhs and Hindus. He was organizing an unofficial Army and was spewing venom against the Hindu community. Money was flowing in from Britain, Canada — Finally, when he occupied the Akal Takth and Harmandir Sahib, Mrs Gandhi realised that even if all their demands were granted, they will then also insist on a separate state.”

Alexander vividly recalls that “Indira Gandhi had called a meeting [on 25 May, 1984] to discuss the Punjab situation. Army chief, General A.S. Vaidya, RAW chief R.N. Kao, minister of state for defence K.P.Singh Deo, and I were present at that meeting — She was assured by Gen. Vaidya that force will not be used inside the Golden Temple. She made it clear to Vaidya that the holy book will not be touched and not a single brick will be damaged and made Vaidya repeat these assurances many a time. Finally she gave the go-ahead, subject to these conditions.” Vaidya again met her on May 29, 1984 and said it was not possible to launch the operation as planned as Bhindranwale and his men were heavily armed. “Mrs Gandhi listened to him. But in the end she agreed — I trust my general,” Alexander recalled her telling Vaidya.

In retrospect, Alexander said Gandhi was anguished by all that had happened but her decision emanated from her belief that she had the superior knowledge to decide what was good for the country. He stressed that Gandhi’s efforts all along were to find a political settlement and that “What happened was not planned. Things happened in the Golden Temple much against what had been approved by her and what had been indicated to her by the Army chief — tanks had to be used as there were a large number of people armed with sophisticated weapons who were well-entrenched inside the temple — Mrs Gandhi did not find fault with the Army. She never said she was let down by the Army. She was very proud of the Indian Army and of Sikh heritage. Ironically, she was killed by Sikh soldiers in uniform.”

Alexander feels that her image as an ‘Iron Lady’ was really an invention of people who never knew her. “She was very safe and gentle. When a journalist famously described her she was the only man in the cabinet, she was outrageously angry as she thought the comment was very patronizing. ”

Jagpal Singh Tiwana wrote on GLZ that according to Khushwant Singh “On five occasions terms of settlement were almost finalized and it was not the Akalis but Mrs. Gandhi who resiled from her commitments.” He also said that in an interview Jathedar Gurcharan Singh Tohra had told him that “We three – Badal, Barnala and I – were taken to Delhi on May 26,1984 on a special plane from Chandigarh. We had a thorough discussion on the Punjab situation with three cabinet ministers, Pranab Mukherji, Venkatraman, and Shiv Shankar on May 27. The cabinet secretaries, P.C. Alexander and Krishna Rao were also present there. We assured them that if the Government accepted the following five demands, we would guarantee peace in Punjab.

1. Chandigarh should be made capital of Punjab.
2. Anandpur resolution should be referred to a Commission.
3. The Rivers water dispute should be referred to the SupremeCourt.
4. A linguistic commission should be set up to determine the Punjabi speaking areas in Haryana and those should then be handed over to Punjab.
5. Punjabi should be declared as a second official language in the neighboring states.

Then the central ministers asked if Sant Bhindranwale would approve of this settlement. We assured them that we would be able to persuade him.

After this the three ministers went to see the Prime Minister, When they came back they said, “Sorry gentlemen. Madam does not agree”. Here the final negotiations broke down.”

PC Alexander was present in the May 27 meeting. So may be his loyalty has caused selective memory lapses.

Another news item on GLZ of the same date as above quoted R K Dhawan saying that “She (Gandhi) was told that it (Operation Blue Star) will be a simple operation. No damage will be done to the structure and there would be no loss of human lives. She was also told that terrorists would be flushed out of the temple in no time.” Dhawan admitted that the decision to conduct Operation Bluestar was undoubtedly unfortunate, which was regretted by Gandhi also.

According to Fotedar, ” Gandhi did not want to hurt any community or religion. This was the only option left to her to protect the country from outside forces — Operation Blue Star was her compulsion. There was no alternative left to stop terrorist and other disruptive activities”.

[1] From an IANS report titled ‘Operation Bluestar did not go as planned: PC Alexander’ updated on October 29, 2009.

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