Operation Blue Star: Thatcher-Indira Gandhi Confabulation

Mr. William Hague,  Foreign Secretary of the U.K. has informed the House of Commons on 4 February, 2014 that the British military’s role in the 1984 operation blue star was “limited” and “purely advisory”. He has also given partial details of the letters written by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the British Prime Minister Thatcher on June 14 & 29, 1984 on the operation blue star. What the Indian PM wrote is largely public but no details of the British PM’s letter have been revealed. Operation blue star took place from June 3 through 8, 1984. This information has created quite a stir in the political establishment in the country. The question being asked is: where was the need for Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to seek advice or help from her British counterpart on a purely internal affair? Another question being raised is: How was Britain interested in an internal affair of India? It is not so important to consider whether the British military’s role was advisory, limited or strategic with military machinery also. What should be of importance for India is the interest of the foreign countries in internal affairs of India, including the setting up of government of their choice and ousting a government which is not of their liking. This aspect has not yet been given due consideration. For the moment the discussion in the press and political circles is limited to whether the government of India accepted the advice and help of the British government in planning and executing the operation blue star or the entire operation was planned and executed by the cabinet and the military in India on its own. The point that needs to be emphasised here is that it could not have been a single issue discussed by the two prime ministers all of a sudden. No prime minister, much less Indira Gandhi, would indulge in such a casual affair with a foreign prime minister on such a sensitive subject without some kind of a mutual cooperation programme pursued by the two iron ladies for long, bypassing the established official and diplomatic channels!

History is just and fair for everyone. If the details of some kind of a clandestine private understanding  and negotiations between the two prime ministers has surfaced after 30 years, the answers to the two questions raised above shall also surface in due course. For answers, we may have to consider the entire period since 1947 and also go back to 13 April , 1919 when the British Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer ordered the massacre of the pilgrims gathered to celebrate the festival of Baisakhi. His army fired on the crowd of pilgrims for ten minutes from the few open gates through which the victims could have escaped. How many were killed and how many were injured? Between 375 to 1000 innocent people were massacred most brutally. In the period from 1919 to 1947, history of the United Kingdom changed, the Empire was lost, the sun finally set on the British Empire, WW-II had changed the world, cold war had started, revenues started falling precariously, communist influence was weaning away the former colonies, nationalism was on the rise and British trade interests appeared to be under threat. The British understood their colonies much better than the political class in these countries, with a few exceptions like Mahatma Gandhi, and how to manage them. The colonies were lost in terms of geographical territories but continued to remain “markets” for their goods, services, technology, capital and expertise. If the domestic production facilities, like the indigenous textile industry,were consciously destroyed to get the market vacated for the British industrial products, the challenges posed by nationalism were sought to be met with industrial, technological and economic power. Such objectives necessitated a  close watch on the new governments and their leaders as also exercising adequate  influence  wherever possible. Rather than getting involved in administering the colonies, it appeared better to exrcise distant control. The British interest in the internal affairs of India, whether elections or government formation, economic or foreign policy, the 1971 Bangladesh war or operation blue star continued to remain deep. Rather it grew, as more developed countries explored their economic interests in developing countries like India, which threw up extensive possibilities. Institutions like the UNO, World Bank, IMF, Commonwealth were set up ostensibly in the name of peace, prosperity and cooperation but in reality to protect the interests of the western world. Economic interests were the central point of the various exercises. These institutions gave legitimacy to the influence on policy and governance in poor or developing countries. Post WW-II period witnessed so many changes occuring simultaneously in the member nations.

It would be very interesting to see that most successful governments in India have been those under anglicised or anglophile prime ministers. Jawahar Lal Nehru, his daughter Indira Gandhi, her son Rajiv Gandhi, his wife Sonia Gandhi controlling the government through the Congress party mechanism – all qualify for that elite categorization. Their socialist pretensions apart, they have been very helpful in strengthening the bi-lateral relations between the UK & India. The other prime ministers- Lal Bahadur Shashtri, PVN Rao, AB Vajpayee (and others ambitious of becoming prime minister of India) raised the hackles of the developed western countries, especially UK, by talking too much against corruption, patriotism, nationalism,self-reliance or swadeshi. The India these people belonged to was neither anglicised nor anglophile. If that India comes to power, it will turn India in to a genuine superpower. Who suffers if that happens? To check this India in its tracks, stratagems were put into silent action to make the political leaders fight each other bitterly on caste, community, religion or regional basis. Was it not the case when the East India company was drawn into the internecine wars among local princesruling smallterritories?These princes  sought small favours like the services of a small platoon of 10 uniformed British soldiers for their army to show off their prowess to their enemy. The price? Ten yearts revenue of that small state. But the rulers failed to comply and lost their kingdoms to the British slowly. The British policy and intelligent moves made them the emperor of India in due course. But the nationalism of some leaders like Mahatma Gandhi brought an end to such a successfully built up empire one day. The British found in the Mahatma more than a challenger to them, but knew that several others were just men of straw, who will not be able to hold India together for long. The interest, advice and aid to Indian government is to a purpose, which is close and dear to the wise British, but about which the Indian political class is either oblivious or compromised. Corruption is the lever to control these men of straw (women also included, who had not mattered till then in the thought processes of the male dominated British political class).A corrupt government is always propped up, promoted and liberally supported by such powers. For the frailty of ones own nobody can legitimately blame others, howsoever strongly they might be advocating the  transparency principles. LB Shashtri  became the prime minister in 1964 after the death of JL Nehru. He became very popular  after he led the country to victory in the 1965 Indo-Pak war. He was a great nationalist, a Gandhian, honest to the marrow, a simple person with hardly any movable or immovable assets, a strong advocate of self reliance and swadeshi. But he died in mysterious circumstances in Tashkand (USSR) in 1966! He was succeeded by Indira Gandhi. She buried the Congress, symbolised by the pair of the bullocks carrying a plough representing the essentially agricultural economy of India,and renamed the Congress Party after her own name, taking the election symbol of a cow and calf. She was considered to be an amenable person until the 1971 Indo-Pak war, when she and her colleagues challenged the Americans, who had threatened action against India and in favour of Pakistan. Though India won the war, Indira Gandhi was being undermined.

After the 1971 war prices started rising, shortages were experienced and investment was stalled. What was to become the notorious licence-quota-permit raj, came to be established. Corruption prospered in such a climate and grew by leaps & bounds, creating terrible situations of confrontation between the civil society and the government. An agitation was started by students in Gujarat under the banner of the Gujarat Nav Nirman Sangharsh Samiti in 1974. It got further impetus from the legendry leader Jaya Prakash Narayan.  In June 1975 Indira Gandhi’s election was invalidated by the Allahabad High Court and she retaliated by imposing Emergency. It is yet to become clear who advised her to impose emergency. Now that the letters exchanged between Indira Gandhi & Thatcher have become public, doubts are likely to arise if the British tendered any advice to Indira Gandhi to impose emergency, because the agitators were all out of the frame of anglicized or anglophiles. Indira Gandhi ruled, like the other iron lady the British Prime Minister Thatcher during the emergency. Once again, Mahatma Gandhi emerged stronger over Indira Gandhi when she was forced to lift the emergency and call for general elections. As was feared, the Gandhians (the non-anglicized/anglophile types) defeated Indira Gandhi and formed the government under Morarji Desai, a man tough on corruption and as honest as Lal Bahadur Shashtri. It was a kind of a coalition government. The government was running well but efforts were underway to dislodge it. The ambitions of the men of straw were fanned skillfully to pull down the government. Their efforts succeeded. Morarji’s government was pulled down and Charan Singh succeeded him under an arrangement that has always looked unconstitutional. The internal bickerings it led to, discredited the coalition, improving the chances of the Congress Party of Indira Gandhi. Operation rehabilitation of Indira Gandhi was successful. She formed the government in 1980.

This time the government chose mediocres for ministers and bureaucrats. Corruption got another life. Losses of the period the party was out of power had to be recouped fast. All kinds of advisors  came to occupy important positions. The quality of Home Ministers hereafter came down considerably. Quality of intelligence, internal security and external intelligence got greatly compromised. The rearing of Bhinderawala was a direct consequence of these developments and operation blue star their tragic end. What kind of leadership would even think  of such flawed decisions. The role of the British Government, its military might be “limited” or “purely advisory”, but it was neither required nor desirable nor friendly. Are they suggesting that the British military did not directly open fire in the Golden temple as they had done in the Jallianwala Bagh in 1919, but only tendered “advice” on how to open fire? Was the indian civil and military bureaucracy “incapable” of thinking of a solution to the problems in Punjab, which was being created by Pakistan and other foreign countries who stood to benefit by a weak and unstable India? The advice of the British government and its military and others whose information might surface in due course of time, sadly harmed both the Sikhs and India as a nation. In the operation blue Star, the perception might be to see the two as two different entities but they are one only. It is only myopia that leads to such distortion of vision. If nobody acts like a true friend of India, how can they be the true friend to the Sikhs, who are like any other Indian? India united is a superpower; India dismembered is territory only comprising several hundred small principalities. The small princes governing these small territories begged of the British, on their knees, for titles of the ruler. But when they appeared before their people, they dawned all kinds of funny robes and crowns and made their courtiers raise slogans in their praise. Our men of straw do the same even today. When governments in democracies become weak or dependent on external support, crucial decision making gets outsourced, though it might be couched in the politest possible language like advice. The Sikh scholars have to review the developments leading to the operation blue star in the new context. Was the shrewd policy of divide & rule being put to effective use once again? Any well wisher would have advised the government of India to desist such action and explore other means to instill respect for law in the minds of the people in conflict with the law.

Rajiv Gandhi started on the course of liberalisation and technology acquisition. He also openly criticized corruption. He banned the services of the middlemen in defence purchases, something of paramount interest to the western world. He gave enough leeway to Italian companies and others under the liberalisation policy, but the ban on defence purchases proved costly for him. First he was promoted over seniors like Pranab Mukherji etc. when he was sworn as the prime minister after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, but later his own minister was used to oust him. His successor could not continue for more than 11 months as he failed to hijack the congress party. PV Narsimha Rao, who managed skillfully to remain in office for full term of 5 years was another nationalist and a popular figure.  A few others in between came and went without leaving a permanent mark. AB Vajpayee was another nationalist leader, who served his whole term and left a mark. Precisely for this success, his return to power was effectively impeded. After him came the weakest prime minister India has ever seen.

For the past 10 years the nation has been suffering a prime minister by proxy- a complete undermining of the constitution of India. India has never been so weak on all fronts as now, not even in the decades of the 1960s. This has caused so much frustration that the people are determined to install a person who can uplift the country’s morale. It was looking as if the efforts made by Narendra Modi to provide that kind of leadership will fructify, when suddenly the forces of anarchy have become active to frustrate the emergence of a strong nationalist leadership. Efforts are focused on stalling, blocking, hampering, checking, barring the emergence of any such leadership in India. In fact, efforts are on to ensure that the Indian society never integrates but remains fragmented. There is no dearth of issues to divide this nation of men & women of straw. Whenever they gravitate towards a strong leader,operation separate them, divide them, fragment them begins. Use bribery, religion, ideology-whatever, but keep them perpetually divided seems to be the motto of these invisible forces. These forces encourage the masses to enjoy their diversity, but never allow them to experience integration. The day this nation becomes an integrated one under a strong nationalist prime minister, it will rise to be a superpower and an economic power. Any such leadership will face challenges from the anglicized and the anglophile elements and forces which operate from different locations globally. They have the benefit of the advice of the friendly countries to whom they are beholden for protecting their financial interests. Indian leadership has to watch against advice driving the government in to calamities of the Operation Blue Star Kind!

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