blue star

Operation Blue Star

Operation Blue Star (ਬਿਲਯੂ ਸਟਾਰ , बिल्यू स्टार ) (June 3 to June 6, 1984) was an Indian military operation ordered by Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, to remove Sikh militants who had established a stronghold in the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The operation was launched in response to a deterioration of law and order in the Punjab. The government's reasons for a seemingly late action, its choice of day to attack and heavy army assault is still highly debated. The operation was carried out by Indian army troops with tanks and armored vehicles. Militarily successful, it is considered to be a political disaster and an un-precedented act in modern Indian history. The impact of the military assault, its aftermath and the increased tensions led to assaults on members of the Sikh community within India and uproar amongst Sikhs worldwide. In India, many Sikhs resigned from armed and civil administrative office and returned their government awards. Revenge for the desecration of the Sikh shrine was pledged by some in the Sikh community, resulting in the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.

The operation

Indira Gandhi first asked Lt. Gen. S.K. Sinha, then Vice-Chief of Indian Army and who was to succeed as the Army chief, to prepare a position paper for assault on the Golden Temple. Lt. Gen. Sinha advised against any such move, given the sacrilegious outlook from pious Sikhs. He suggested the government adopt an alternative solution. A controversial decision was made to replace him with Gen. Arun Vaidya as the Chief of the Indian army. Gen. Arun Vaidya was assisted by Lt. Gen. K. Sunderjee as Vice-Chief. Operation Blue Star was eventually planned and controlled by them.

On June 3, a 36 hour curfew was imposed on the state of Punjab with all methods of communication and public travel suspended. Electricity supplies were also interrupted, creating a total blackout and cutting off the state from the rest of India and the world. Complete censorship was placed on all types of Media.

The Indian Army stormed the Golden Temple on the night of June 5 under the command of Major General Kuldip Singh Brar. The forces had full control of the Golden Temple by the morning of June 7. Bhindranwale, Shahbeg Singh and several other militant leaders were killed in the operation along with a large number of followers and innocent civilians. The armed forces also suffered many casualties.

Operation Blue Star coincided with a Sikh annual festival. Pilgrims, including the elderly and children, were trapped inside the temple when the operation began and many were reported as wounded and killed as a result.

Bhindranwale in the Golden Temple

Throughout his career Bhindranwale remained in contact with Indira Gandhi, who maintained the contact despite allegations. Bhindranwale had earlier taken refuge in the Golden temple in April 1980, when he was named as a suspect in the killing of Nirankari Baba Gurbachan Singh.. The Nirankari Baba, also known as Baba Gurbachan Singh, had been the target of an attack by Sikh extremists outside the Golden Temple. Eighteen people died in the violence. That event was, allegedly, premeditated by the Indian government with the Nirankaris subsequently acquitted of any wrong-doing by the courts, on grounds of self-defence.

In 1982, Bhindranwale and approximately 200 followers moved into a guest-house called the Guru Nanak Niwas, in the precinct of the Golden Temple. From here he met and was interviewed by international television crews whilst violence in the Punjab against Hindus continued.

On 23 April 1983, the Punjab Police Deputy Inspector General (DIG) A. S. Atwal was shot dead as he left the Golden Temple compound. The following day, after the murder, Harchand Singh Longowal (then president of Shiromani Akali Dal) hinted at the involvement of the Chief minister of the Punjab, Darbara Singh, in the murder.

On October 5, 1983 and November 18, 1983, Sikh extemists hijacked two buses, Sikh and Hindu passengers were separated and the Hindus murdered. The selective murders were condemned by Bhindranwale. When Darbara Singh resigned as chief minister of Punjab after the massacre of Hindu travellers on October 6, 1983, Bhindarwale said " Six Hindus are killed and the (State) government has fallen. Two Hundred Sikhs have been gunned down by police and nothing has been done. This shows that to the (Central) government Hindu lives are more important than Sikh lives".

On December 15, 1983, Bhindranwale was forced to move out of Guru Nanak Niwa's house by members of the Babbar Khalsa who acted with Harcharan Singh Longowal's support Longowal by now feared for his own safety. By 1983, the Golden Temple became a shelter for a large number of militants. Mark Tully and Satish Jacob wrote:

"All ... terrorists were known by name to the shopkeepers and the householders who live in the narrow alleys surrounding the Golden Temple...The Punjab police must have known who they were also, but they made no attempt to arrest them. By this time Bhindranwale and his men were above the law."

The Golden Temple compound and some of the surrounding houses were fortified. The Statesman reported on July 4 that light machine-guns and semi-automatic rifles were known to have been brought into the compound. On February 1, 1984, Harcharan Singh Longowal claimed that Bhindranwale had suggested to him that motorcycles and arms should be purchased on a mass scale for killing members of a 'particular community'". Bhindranwale angrily responded to the allegation, saying "...nothing is more farther in my mind than this ".

Faced with imminent army action and with the foremost Sikh political organisation, Shiromani Akali Dal (headed by Harchand Singh Longowal), abandoning him, Bhindranwale declared "This bird is alone. There are many hunters after it ".

Time magazine reported (about Amritsar) that:

"These days it more closely resembles a city of death. Inside the temple compound, fierce Sikh warriors wield submachine guns, guarding against encroachment by government security forces. Outside, the security men keep a nervous vigil, all too aware that the bodies of murdered comrades often turn up in the warren of tiny streets around the shrine."


Operation Blue Star was launched to eliminate the Sikh militants who had taken control of the Amritsar Golden Temple Complex. The Sikh militants within the Harminder Sahib were led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and former Major-General Shabeg Singh MVC,who had resigned from the Indian Army. Maj. Gen. Kuldip Singh Brar had command of the action, operating under Gen. Sunderji.

20 hrs - 22 hrs

The first element was the destruction of Shabeg Singh's outer defenses. Much of this had been completed in the preliminary shelling. Major-General Brar had hoped to force Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale into surrendering, which did not occur. The destroyed defenses included seventeen houses which the police believed Bhindranwale's followers occupied in the alleys surrounding the Golden Temple. Nearby was the Brahmbuta Akhara, a large building housing the headquarters of a Sikh sect. Then there were three main towers which had been fortified to create positions from which Bhindranwale's men could defend. Because the towers rose well above surrounding buildings, they were excellent observation positions for tracking the movement of Indian troops in the narrow alleys surrounding the temple. The tops of these towers were destroyed in the preliminary artillery fire.

22 hrs - 2330 hrs

Between 10:00 PM and 10:30 PM on June 5 commandos from 1st Battalion, the parachute regiment, were ordered to run down the steps under the clock tower on to the parikarma, or pavement, and move quickly around the edge of the sacred pool to the Akal Takht. As the paratroopers entered the main gateway to the Temple they were gunned down by light machine-gun firefrom both sides of the steps. The few commandos who did get down the steps were driven back by a barrage of fire from the building on the south side of the sacred pool. In the control room, a house on the opposite side of the clock-tower, Major-General Brar was waiting with two supporting officers to hear confirmation that the commandos had established positions inside the complex.

The few commandos left regrouped in the square outside and reported back to Major-General Brar. He ordered them to make another attempt. The commandos were then to be followed by the 10th Battalion of the Guards, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Israr Khan. This second commando attack managed to neutralize the machine-gun posts on both sides of the steps and get down on to the parikarma. They were followed by the Guards who came under heavy fire and were not able to make any progress. They radioed for permission to fire back at the buildings on the other side of the tank. That would have meant that the Golden Temple itself, which is in the middle of the pool, would have been in the line of fire. Brar initially refused, but started to receive reports of heavy casualties from the commander of the Guards.

2330 hrs - 01 hrs

Brar again requested tanks after an APC was destroyed by a rocket fired by a Sikh militant. His request was granted and seven tanks rolled into the Golden Temple complex. They cleared the ramparts and later assaulted the main temple in order to neutralize the militants remaining in the structure. The shelling achieved its objective and the primary target of removing militants from the Akal Takht was achieved by 01:00. However, the secondary objective of removing militants from other neighbouring structures went on for a further 24 hours.


As per the affidavit filed by retired Brigadier D.V. Rao in court of Harjit Singh Khalsa, judicial magistrate first class, Amritsar, on March 19, 2007, the Indian Army suffered 83 deaths, which included four officers, four Junior Commissioned Officers and 75 other ranks. As per the affidavit, 13 Indian Army officers, 16 JCOs and 220 other ranks were injured in the operation. Indian army recorded 492 civilian deaths inside Golden Temple with 433 persons segregated as "separatists" amongst 1592 persons apprehended. During June of 1984, brigadier D.V. Rao served as Commander of 350 Infantry Brigade based in Jalandhar, which formed part of Ninth Infantry Division of Indian Army. The unofficial casualty figures from eye-witness accounts (such as Amnesty International) was much higher.

An unspecified number of Sikh soldiers resigned from positions across India in protest, with some reports of large-scale pitched battles being fought to bring mutineers under control. The operation also led to the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. On October 31 of that year, two of her armed Sikh security officers murdered her. Anti-Sikh riots were triggered by Mrs Gandhi's assassination. The widespread killing of Sikhs, principally in the national capital Delhi but also in other major cities in North India, led to major divisions between the Sikh community and the Indian Government.

General A S Vaidya, the Chief of Army Staff at the time of Operation Blue Star, was also assassinated in 1986 in Pune by two Sikhs, Harjinder Singh Jinda and Sukhdev Singh Sukha. Both were sentenced to death, and hanged on 7 October 1992.

The army was removed from the Golden Temple later in 1984 under pressure from Sikh demands. Sikh militants continued to use and occupy the temple compound and on May 1, 1986, Indian paramilitary police entered the temple and arrested 200 militants that had occupied the Golden Temple for more than three months.

On May 2, 1986 the paramilitary police undertook an 12-hour operation to take control of the Golden Temple at Amritsar from several hundred militants, but almost all the major radical leaders managed to escape.

In May 1988, army troops were called in again to remove militants from the . The conflict during May 12-18 resulting in clearing the compound and on May 23, regular worship resumed. On May 29, the government banned both political and military use of the shrines in India. Sikh militants then murdered the head priest on July 26, 1988. In June 1990, the Indian government ordered the area surrounding the temple to be vacated by local residents to try to stop the militant activity around the temple.

Choice of time to attack by Government

The timing of Operation Blue Star has baffled Sikhs. It was a religious day, regarding the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev(the founder of Golden Temple), and Sikhs from all over the world visit the temple on this day. In 1736 the Golden Temple was attacked by the Mughal army, resulting in heavy casualties of civilian Sikhs. Attack of Ahmad Shah Abdali on Golden Temple (Darbar Sahib) also came on Vaisakhi day when Sikhs gather in large numbers in Amritsar. Many Sikhs view the timing and attack by the Indian Army as an attempt to inflict maximum casualties on Sikhs and demoralize them.

The Sikh community's anger and suffering was further increased by comments from leading newspaper editors, such as Ramnath Goenka, terming the operation as " A greater victory than the win over Bangladesh, this is the greatest victory of Mrs. Gandhi".

Criticism of the Operation

The use of artillery in the congested inner city of Amritsar proved deadly and reckless considering many civilians lived near the Golden Temple. The media blackout throughout the Punjab resulted in widespread doubt regarding the official stories and aided the promotion of hearsay and rumour.

The army responded to such criticisms by pointing out that the militants in the temple were armed with machine guns, anti tank missiles and rocket launchers and that they strongly resisted the army's attempts to dislodge them from the shrine, and appeared to have planned for a long stand-off, having arranged for water to be supplied from wells within the temple compound and had stocked food provisions that could have lasted months.

The army simply stated that they "answered the call of duty as disciplined, loyal and dedicated members of the Armed Forces of India....our loyalties are to the nation, the armed forces to which we belong, the uniforms we wear and to the troops we command

The Army placed total casualties at:

  • Military : 83 killed, 248 wounded
  • Militants (including civilians): 492 Killed (30 women and 5 children), 86 wounded (7 women and 4 children).

The figure was placed by independent historians at:

  • Military : 700
  • Militants (including civilians): 5000.

According to some journalists, several Sikh youths were also killed in crossfire from militants.

The wearing out approach taken by Rajiv Gandhi five years later, in Operation Black Thunder when Sikh militants had again taken over the temple complex, was highly successful as they managed to resolve the stand-off peacefully. The army responded by stating that "no comparison is possible between the two situations, as "there was no cult figure like Bhindranwale to idolise, and professional military General like Shahbeg Singh to provide for military leadership" and "confidence of militants having been shattered by Operation Blue Star".


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