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UK role in Sikh temple raid stirs anger

Condemnation follows reports that British intelligence official assisted in planning 1984 raid on Golden Temple.

Last updated: 15 Jan 2014 06:13
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The deadly raid on Sikhs' holiest shrine led to the death of hundreds [Al Jazeera]

The Sikh community both in India and abroad has reacted with outrage to news that British intelligence officials helped New Delhi in the 1984 raid on its holiest shrine, the Golden Temple - a controversial action that reverberates to this day.

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which is part of the ruling coalition in the western Indian state of Punjab, charged the Congress government of compromising India’s sovereignty by taking British help in the raid on the Temple, located in the provincial capital Amritsar, reports said on Wednesday.

The SAD, in alliance with the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is an opponent of the ruling Congress which heads the federal government. 

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"The document shows a major conspiracy of the Congress party which compromised India's sovereignty" reports said, quoting SAD spokesman Daljit Cheema.

The controversy erupted after recently declassified documents in the United Kingdom revealed that a Special Air Service (SAS) official flew to India to assist in the planning of the raid on the Golden Temple. 

The New York-based Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) demanded that the British parliament pass a resolution that the collusion with the Indian government to attack the temple was wrong, reports said.

Another organisation, the Dal Khalsa, based in London was reported to have expressed anguish over the news of British complicity in the raid on the temple.

Reacting to the release of the documents,  an Indian foreign ministry official said they would contact their British counterparts to get more information, reports said.

General's denial

However,  trashing the document, retired Lieutenant General K S Brar who led the raid, said the operation was handled by the Indian army alone. 

"I am quite dumbfounded because the operation was planned and executed by military commanders in India. There is no question...we never saw anyone from UK coming in here and telling us how to plan the operation," Brar told a television news channel.

Incidentally, Brar survived a murderous attack by a group of Sikhs during a personal visit to London in 2012.

Former BBC journalist and a long time resident of India, Mark Tully, was quoted as saying he did not think the British government led by the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher had anything to do with the raid on the Sikh temple.

Tully, who authored a book on the raid, was quoted by reports as saying that at the time relations between New Delhi and London were bad as the Indian government felt that the UK was not helping control Sikh separatists operating out of Britain.  

The raid and its aftermath

The raid was conceptualised by the then Congress government headed by prime minister Indira Gandhi and executed by the Indian army to flush out armed separatists hiding in the Temple who wanted to carve a separate Khalistan out of the Indian state of Punjab.

The armed action in the first week of June 1984, codenamed Operation Bluestar, resulted in the deaths of an estimated 83 army personnel and at least 500 civilians caught in the crossfire.  The separatist leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was killed in the raid. 

In October of that year, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in revenge for the armed action. 

The assassination in turn led to anti-Sikh riots centred in Delhi and sporadically across the country leading to the deaths of at least 3000 from the community.  The involvement in the riots of a few Congress leaders at the time has turned into a huge liability for the party which has had to live with the stigma ever since. 

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Al Jazeera and agencies
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