Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Golden Temple

As we peruse this report on Operation Bluestar by Hartosh Singh Bal we find even more reasons why religion should stay out of South Asian politics (but then as a liberal atheist we are expected to believe that). At the minimum what is required right now are decent politicians who will not exploit heavenly matters for earthly gain.


.....
The dismal story of Bluestar had been set on its tracks by Sanjay Gandhi, but it now appears that its disastrous conclusion was the work of his brother Rajiv, who swept to power with the biggest mandate in Indian history following his mother’s assassination. 

Operation Bluestar was not just Indira Gandhi’s last battle; it was the first, and perhaps the most disastrous, of Rajiv’s blunders.
By the time the smoke cleared over the Darbar Sahib, hundreds of innocent bystanders had died. 

Bhindranwale lay murdered, and the Akal Takht, where he had set up his final defiance of Delhi, stood shattered. The operation was followed by the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, and the organised massacre of thousands of Sikhs by Hindu mobs, led mainly by Congress politicians.
........ ....

Our opinion (as  informed by our relatives who survived in the war zone) is that 1984 was a great crime and happened as part of an action-reaction story (Hartosh does not account for the Hindus who were forced out of buses and summarily shot to death). But as he makes it clear like never before, the desperation of the Royal Family to get back into power in Punjab and how Rajiv Gandhi and his cronies played with fire (which later consumed the family as well). It is clear also that ordinary people matter very little in the scheme of things, with dynasties looking to survive (through a policy of divide and rule) or outstanding egos looking to be fed (by human blood). Justice in its own fashion has been handed out after more than 30 years have gone by. It is too little, too late.

There is one thing also that Hartosh does not tell us about (he is correct in his opinion that the election of the BJP and the destruction of the Congress party is not a good omen for India). If it comes to a full fledged battle, the Sikhs will lose out badly and not just in India. The holy shrines of the Sikhs are spread out all over India and Pakistan. At present there are protests that the shrines are being desecrated in Pakistan. There was a major security  incident whereby Sikh protestors converged on the Pakistan Parliament.

Matters have become so polarized in South Asia that it may come to this that minority communities will not be able to survive outside of ghettos (and even imperfectly inside them). Case in point is Rabwah in Pakistan (Ahmadis) and Juhapura in Gujarat (Muslims). It will require statesmen of extra-ordinary stature to overcome  the politics of polarization (the Aam Admi Party won in Punjab by associating with a Sikh militant group, see below). Politics for short term convenience and reliance on ideological extremists to get rid of moderates is the bane of South Asia. It must stop right now. We must have peace just to survive (Hartosh talks about the drug menace in Punjab threatening to derail another generation of youngsters after a previous generation has been lost to militancy), if not to prosper.
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Following the Punjab insurgency, which extended from the early 1980s to the mid 1990s, the number of pilgrims to the Darbar Sahib has increased rapidly. The queues to enter the shrine now extend beyond the causeway; but the sense of quiet calm remains, though it is at odds with the shrine’s history. Perhaps no place of worship so central to a major religion in India has seen as much violence within its premises.
The sarovar was constructed in 1581 by Ram Das, the fourth Sikh guru. The tank was lined and the shrine completed by the fifth guru, Arjan Dev, in 1601. By that time, the Sikh congregation had grown large enough for the Mughal emperor Jehangir to see Guru Arjan as a threat to his sovereignty. He was arrested in 1606, and tortured to death when he refused to convert to Islam. For his followers, this first martyrdom in their incipient faith would become the paradigm for Sikhism’s relationship with the durbar in Delhi.
The sixth guru, Hargobind, donned two swords to represent a change in the nature of his leadership—he would be not only a spiritual guide to his disciples (piri), but also a preceptor in their temporal lives (miri). The weapons form Sikhism’s central symbol, the khanda—a pair of linked swords. The guru ensured the same symbolism was reflected in the architecture of the Darbar Sahib. Across from the causeway, facing the central shrine, which represents spiritual authority, he constructed the building known as the Akal Takht, the timeless throne, from where he administered justice like any temporal authority.
Once the line of living gurus ended with Guru Gobind Singh in 1708, this authority over the Sikhs came to be vested in the jathedar, or custodian, of the Akal Takht. Through the eighteenth century, as centralised authority broke down in the Punjab, the Sikhs grew in strength. Dispersed, led by various men, groups of Sikh warriors would gather periodically at the Akal Takht to plan and direct their course of action. Those seeking to contain them would target the Harmandir Sahib and the Akal Takht.
Each person who has desecrated the shrine occupies an oversize space in the collective memory of the community. Every Sikh can recount the story of Massa Rangar, who was appointed the kotwal or ruler of Amritsar in 1740 and proceeded to host nautch parties in the Harmandir Sahib, having first removed the holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, from its place. He was beheaded by two Sikhs, Mehtab and Sukha Singh, who claimed to be revenue officers coming to deposit a large sum of money.
Even better known is the story of a defender of the faith, Baba Deep Singh. In 1757, the Afghan emperor Ahmad Shah Abdali, having sacked Delhi for the fourth time, was waylaid by a Sikh contingent near Kurukshetra. Angered, he left his son Taimur Shah behind as the governor of Lahore to take care of this menace. Taimur demolished the Harmandir Sahib, but the seventy-five-year-old Deep Singh led a contingent of five hundred Sikhs to take back the complex. By the time he neared Amritsar, their number had swelled to five thousand. Clashing with a much larger Afghan army, Deep Singh was injured by a blow to the neck, but continued to fight his way to the Darbar Sahib, eventually succumbing to his injuries by the sarovar. On the parikrama, the spot where he is believed to have fallen is marked by a portrait of him carrying his decapitated head in one hand, still holding a sword aloft in the other.
The martyrdom of Baba Deep Singh resonates through Sikh history. Two centuries later, in June 1984, when the Indian Army went into the Darbar Sahib on orders from prime minister Indira Gandhi, it was to disarm and dislodge Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who according to tradition was the fourteenth head of the Damdami Taksaal, an orthodox Sikh seminary once headed, it is said, by Deep Singh. In the mythology of a faith where the stories of Massa Rangar and Deep Singh arouse intense and contrary emotions, Sikhs memorialised both Bhindranwale and Gandhi in accordance with the roles they had assumed—one the defender, the other a desecrator.
The trajectory of those two lives, both of which ended violently thirty years ago, intersected for the first time in 1977, when Bhindranwale assumed charge of the Damdami Taksaal, and Gandhi was swept out of power after the Emergency. Nowhere was Gandhi’s decision to suspend the constitution as strongly contested as in Punjab, and no party resisted it with quite the ferocity of the Akali Dal, which represented Sikh interests in the state. Over the next seven years, Gandhi, Bhindranwale and the Akali Dal would lead three fronts in a battle in which they faced off, realigned with and schemed against each other until the very end.
From the moment an Akali Dal government, in alliance with the Janata Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), took charge of Punjab in 1977, Gandhi’s politics were guided by her desire to cut the Akalis down to size. The execution of her wishes was left to her son, Sanjay Gandhi, and her loyalist, the canny Sikh politician Giani Zail Singh, who chose Bhindranwale as their weapon. Bhindranwale saw no reason to refuse their aid; any support for his brand of Sikh orthodoxy was welcome.
By the time the Congress returned to power in the state in 1980, Bhindranwale was well on his way to becoming a popular icon, accumulating so much power that the Akalis, whom he was supposed to be undermining, ended up turning to him for help. He became the dominant political force in Punjab: by 1983, he was running a parallel state from within the Darbar Sahib complex, handing down death sentences and dispensing rough justice before adoring supplicants. Even the policemen in Punjab tasked with arresting him were reduced to seeking his protection.
Bluestar, the military operation to remove Bhindranwale from the Darbar Sahib, ended this regime—but at the cost of hundreds of lives, and the credibility of the Indian Army, which subsequently had to deal with mutinous troops for the first time in the history of independent India. Although the action has been examined in close detail in the years following the attack, the lack of planning and intelligence, and the hurry to carry it out, have never been properly explained.
In February this year, the declassification of intelligence documents in the UK revealed information about a commando operation inside the Darbar Sahib that was planned but never executed. Given this evidence, I revisited several people who had witnessed the events leading up to Operation Bluestar. In light of these interviews, it is possible to assemble a more coherent picture than ever before of the Gandhi family’s political calculations, which were central to the nature of the final operation. The dismal story of Bluestar had been set on its tracks by Sanjay Gandhi, but it now appears that its disastrous conclusion was the work of his brother Rajiv, who swept to power with the biggest mandate in Indian history following his mother’s assassination. Operation Bluestar was not just Indira Gandhi’s last battle; it was the first, and perhaps the most disastrous, of Rajiv’s blunders.
By the time the smoke cleared over the Darbar Sahib, hundreds of innocent bystanders had died. Bhindranwale lay murdered, and the Akal Takht, where he had set up his final defiance of Delhi, stood shattered. The operation was followed by the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, and the organised massacre of thousands of Sikhs by Hindu mobs, led mainly by Congress politicians. In Punjab, militancy against the Indian state reached levels unprecedented in the years before Bluestar; it took a decade for a semblance of peace to return.
Over the last thirty years, the debate over Bluestar has played out between two extreme points of view: that of radicals in Punjab and abroad, who dwell on the Congress’s role while overlooking Bhindranwale’s complicity, and that of people in the rest of India, who tend to focus on Bhindranwale with little sense of the Congress’s contribution to the tragedy. Many Indians may believe the events of that June can be consigned to the history books, but their memory remains alive in Punjab. Many Sikhs continue to view the operation, and the figure of Bhindranwale, in a markedly different light from the rest of the country. Without understanding how such distinct perspectives came to exist, it may be impossible to come to terms with the history of Bluestar.
- See more at: http://www.caravanmagazine.in/print/4423#sthash.VRumZKHB.dpuf

Following the Punjab insurgency, which extended from the early 1980s to the mid 1990s, the number of pilgrims to the Darbar Sahib has increased rapidly. The queues to enter the shrine now extend beyond the causeway; but the sense of quiet calm remains, though it is at odds with the shrine’s history. Perhaps no place of worship so central to a major religion in India has seen as much violence within its premises.
....
The sarovar was constructed in 1581 by Ram Das, the fourth Sikh guru. The tank was lined and the shrine completed by the fifth guru, Arjan Dev, in 1601. By that time, the Sikh congregation had grown large enough for the Mughal emperor Jehangir to see Guru Arjan as a threat to his sovereignty. He was arrested in 1606, and tortured to death when he refused to convert to Islam. For his followers, this first martyrdom in their incipient faith would become the paradigm for Sikhism’s relationship with the durbar in Delhi.
...
The sixth guru, Hargobind, donned two swords to represent a change in the nature of his leadership—he would be not only a spiritual guide to his disciples (piri), but also a preceptor in their temporal lives (miri). 
...
The weapons form Sikhism’s central symbol, the khanda—a pair of linked swords. The guru ensured the same symbolism was reflected in the architecture of the Darbar Sahib. Across from the causeway, facing the central shrine, which represents spiritual authority, he constructed the building known as the Akal Takht, the timeless throne, from where he administered justice like any temporal authority.
Once the line of living gurus ended with Guru Gobind Singh in 1708, this authority over the Sikhs came to be vested in the jathedar, or custodian, of the Akal Takht. Through the eighteenth century, as centralised authority broke down in the Punjab, the Sikhs grew in strength. Dispersed, led by various men, groups of Sikh warriors would gather periodically at the Akal Takht to plan and direct their course of action. Those seeking to contain them would target the Harmandir Sahib and the Akal Takht.
...
Each person who has desecrated the shrine occupies an oversize space in the collective memory of the community. Every Sikh can recount the story of Massa Rangar, who was appointed the kotwal or ruler of Amritsar in 1740 and proceeded to host nautch parties in the Harmandir Sahib, having first removed the holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, from its place. He was beheaded by two Sikhs, Mehtab and Sukha Singh, who claimed to be revenue officers coming to deposit a large sum of money.
...
Even better known is the story of a defender of the faith, Baba Deep Singh. In 1757, the Afghan emperor Ahmad Shah Abdali, having sacked Delhi for the fourth time, was waylaid by a Sikh contingent near Kurukshetra. Angered, he left his son Taimur Shah behind as the governor of Lahore to take care of this menace. 
...
Taimur demolished the Harmandir Sahib, but the seventy-five-year-old Deep Singh led a contingent of five hundred Sikhs to take back the complex. By the time he neared Amritsar, their number had swelled to five thousand. Clashing with a much larger Afghan army, Deep Singh was injured by a blow to the neck, but continued to fight his way to the Darbar Sahib, eventually succumbing to his injuries by the sarovar. On the parikrama, the spot where he is believed to have fallen is marked by a portrait of him carrying his decapitated head in one hand, still holding a sword aloft in the other.
....
The martyrdom of Baba Deep Singh resonates through Sikh history. Two centuries later, in June 1984, when the Indian Army went into the Darbar Sahib on orders from prime minister Indira Gandhi, it was to disarm and dislodge Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who according to tradition was the fourteenth head of the Damdami Taksaal, an orthodox Sikh seminary once headed, it is said, by Deep Singh. 
...
In the mythology of a faith where the stories of Massa Rangar and Deep Singh arouse intense and contrary emotions, Sikhs memorialised both Bhindranwale and Gandhi in accordance with the roles they had assumed—one the defender, the other a desecrator.
...
The trajectory of those two lives, both of which ended violently thirty years ago, intersected for the first time in 1977, when Bhindranwale assumed charge of the Damdami Taksaal, and Gandhi was swept out of power after the Emergency. Nowhere was Gandhi’s decision to suspend the constitution as strongly contested as in Punjab, and no party resisted it with quite the ferocity of the Akali Dal, which represented Sikh interests in the state. 
...
Over the next seven years, Gandhi, Bhindranwale and the Akali Dal would lead three fronts in a battle in which they faced off, realigned with and schemed against each other until the very end.
....
From the moment an Akali Dal government, in alliance with the Janata Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), took charge of Punjab in 1977, Gandhi’s politics were guided by her desire to cut the Akalis down to size. The execution of her wishes was left to her son, Sanjay Gandhi, and her loyalist, the canny Sikh politician Giani Zail Singh, who chose Bhindranwale as their weapon. Bhindranwale saw no reason to refuse their aid; any support for his brand of Sikh orthodoxy was welcome.
....
By the time the Congress returned to power in the state in 1980, Bhindranwale was well on his way to becoming a popular icon, accumulating so much power that the Akalis, whom he was supposed to be undermining, ended up turning to him for help. He became the dominant political force in Punjab: by 1983, he was running a parallel state from within the Darbar Sahib complex, handing down death sentences and dispensing rough justice before adoring supplicants. Even the policemen in Punjab tasked with arresting him were reduced to seeking his protection.
...
Bluestar, the military operation to remove Bhindranwale from the Darbar Sahib, ended this regime—but at the cost of hundreds of lives, and the credibility of the Indian Army, which subsequently had to deal with mutinous troops for the first time in the history of independent India. Although the action has been examined in close detail in the years following the attack, the lack of planning and intelligence, and the hurry to carry it out, have never been properly explained.
....
In February this year, the declassification of intelligence documents in the UK revealed information about a commando operation inside the Darbar Sahib that was planned but never executed. Given this evidence, I revisited several people who had witnessed the events leading up to Operation Bluestar. In light of these interviews, it is possible to assemble a more coherent picture than ever before of the Gandhi family’s political calculations, which were central to the nature of the final operation. 
....
The dismal story of Bluestar had been set on its tracks by Sanjay Gandhi, but it now appears that its disastrous conclusion was the work of his brother Rajiv, who swept to power with the biggest mandate in Indian history following his mother’s assassination. 
....
Operation Bluestar was not just Indira Gandhi’s last battle; it was the first, and perhaps the most disastrous, of Rajiv’s blunders.
...
By the time the smoke cleared over the Darbar Sahib, hundreds of innocent bystanders had died. 
....
Bhindranwale lay murdered, and the Akal Takht, where he had set up his final defiance of Delhi, stood shattered. The operation was followed by the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, and the organised massacre of thousands of Sikhs by Hindu mobs, led mainly by Congress politicians. In Punjab, militancy against the Indian state reached levels unprecedented in the years before Bluestar; it took a decade for a semblance of peace to return.
....
Over the last thirty years, the debate over Bluestar has played out between two extreme points of view: that of radicals in Punjab and abroad, who dwell on the Congress’s role while overlooking Bhindranwale’s complicity, and that of people in the rest of India, who tend to focus on Bhindranwale with little sense of the Congress’s contribution to the tragedy. 
....
Many Indians may believe the events of that June can be consigned to the history books, but their memory remains alive in Punjab.
Many Sikhs continue to view the operation, and the figure of Bhindranwale, in a markedly different light from the rest of the country. Without understanding how such distinct perspectives came to exist, it may be impossible to come to terms with the history of Bluestar
.......
Link: http://www.caravanmagazine.in/print/4423#sthash.VRumZKHB.dpuf
..............

regards