Jathedar Gurcharan Singh Tohra on Operation Bluestar - an interview [OP-ED.]

The President  of Shrimani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), S. Gurcharan Singh Tohra, was inside Sri Darbar Sahib Complex when the army action took place. Sant Harchand Singh Longowal was captured along with about 1700 Singhs. Many of his opponents were propagating that he was responsible for the army action. The propaganda was also made that Sant Harchand Singh Longowal and S. Gurcharan Singh Tohra had ‘raised their hands and surrendered.’

            It may be noted that along with other leaders, he had torn the Article 25 of the Constitution and was sent to jail on 27 February, 1984 and he remained in Chandigarh jail along with S. Randhir Singh Cheema, S. Surjit Singh Barnala, and S. Balwant Singh Ramuwalia upto 13 May. After his release, I held  an interview with him for about 45 minutes, which is reproduced below:

Q-        Many of your political opponents including S. Randhir Singh Cheema are accusing you that you had secret meetings with the government and wanted to become the Chief Minister of Punjab with a colition involving the Congress. It is said that you assured them that you would seek the approval of Sant Harchand Singh Longowal and Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to any agreement arrived at between you. When both the Sants refused the proposal, you met the Governor of Punjab, Shri B.D. Pandey, to express your helplessness and called for the army action. What is the truth?

_          This allegation is absolutely wrong; it is like anyone saying during the day that the sun has not arisen. Whatever ‘secret’ meetings took place were all in our jail from 27 February to 12 May. S. Randhir Singh Cheema was himself involved in all of them. The last ‘secret meeting’ took place on 26 May, in which S. Parkash Singh Badal and S. Surjit Singh Barnala were also present. From the government side, Shri Pranab Mukerji, Shri P.V. Narsimha Rao, both ministers, and Shri Shiv Shanker were there. There was no officer. There was no discussion on sending army to Sri Darbar Sahib in this meeting. We discussed only those issues which were taken up in earlier meetings.   

Q-        Did these meetings take place, at Chandigarh or Delhi ?

_          All these meetings took place at Delhi .

Q-        What was discussed in these meetings?

_          We insisted on acceptance of our demands. As before, we put the same demand in this meeting that the government should refer Sri Anandpur Sahib resolution to Sarkaria Commission through a notification, the dispute over river waters should be referred to Supreme Court, Chandigarh should be immediately transferred to Punjab delinking it from the issue of Fazilka-Abohar, a Linguistic Commission of experts should be set up to identify Punjabi-speaking areas to be included in Punjab, the ban on All India Sikh Students Febderation shoul be lifted, all those Sikhs detained in false cases should be released, and an All India Gurdwara Act be enacted.

Q-        Was there no discussion on amendments in the Article 25 of the Constitution?

_          The government had already conceded this demand.  

Q-        What was the stand of the Government in the last meeting?

_          The first round of this meeting began in the forenoon and continued upto about one. The three ministers met the Prime Minister in the afternoon and came back at about 3:30 p.m. They said, “Very sorry, it is very difficult as you say.  The Prime Minister is not willing.” We replied, “It is very difficult for us otherwise.”

            In any of the ‘secret’ meetings, none of the Akali leaders or I myself made any request to the government. What can we expect of a government which is constantly trying to keep us ‘down’. When I was in jail, the government virtually started a movement to defeat me. I am being held responsible for the army operation;  it is sheer madness. Had I done anything of the sort in writing or verbally, the government must have published it in its ‘white paper’. Such allegations are the imagination of a sick mind.

Q-        Did you report to Sant Ji about this meeting?    

_          Yes, I gave all the report to Sant Longowal on 28 May. I also met Sant Bhindranwale and apprised him of everything. Two of his associates had cases in Ropar; as such, he sent me to this side. I came to Anandpur Sahib on 29 May and fell ill on the same day. The fever continued upto 31 May and the doctors treated me there. After hearing about the firing by CRPF and BSF on Sri Darbar Sahib on 1 June, I came to Amritsar on 2 June. Sant Longowal told me that CRP had fired without any provocation. Sant Bhindranwale also said the same thing. In fact, it was a kind of rehearsal; the firing was made to make the army take over. I have the information that the firing was made at the behest of the concerned army experts so that they could know from which side the firing was made from the complex and what kind of weapons were held by them. Whatever retaliation was made from inside, it was made by licensed weapons. The firing was not made by MMG; if they had this gun, they would have used it.

Q-        Did you ever suspect that the army could attack the Complex?

_          I met him at 11:00 p.m. on 2 June. He did not know anything; neither did he say anything about it. S. Prem Singh Lalpura met him at 5:00 p.m. on 3 June; he did not tell him anything either.

Q-        There was indiscriminate firing on Sri Darbar Sahib for seven hours on June 1; did any meeting of Akali Dal was called to consider this issue?     

_          Sant Longowal called a meeting of the High Command on June 2 evening but none other than I could reach there. (It was perhaps due to the curfew.) Then he called a meeting on June 4 morning. Mr. Lalpura had left Amritsar for Tarn Taran on June 3. He said that he would come next morning but the army suddenly attacked the complex in the morning. 

Q-        Was there any communication with Sant Bhindranwale after the complex was surrounded by the army?

_          No. I woke up suddently at 1:30 a.m. on June 4. I went to the holy tank at Sri Darbar Sahib and had a dip. I came back to my room and began reading the scripture. I went to bed at about 3:00 a.m. At about 4:30 a.m. , intense firing broke out, which made one wake up. This firing was more intense than that of Indo-Pak war in 1965 when I was here. We had gone to the border to observe this firing during war, but the firing at the complex was so intense that nobody could move out. Whosoever was stuck in any part of the complex remained there itself. 

Q-        Did the army give any warning on the loudspeaker or asked people to come out?

_          I did not hear anything; neither did anyone else hear any warning. It is quite dark at that hour; the loudspeaker could be heard.

Q-        Did you meet Sant Longowal after the attack?

_          I went to him. Samundri Hall was also being hit with bullets. A number of bullets had hit even the room of Sant Ji. I told him that the worst had happened; we couldn’t say what the end of this action would be. The firing increased during the day. On June 5, Sant Ji came to my room. The bullets were being fired on that side too but my room was covered on two sides with rooms in between and there was some protection. Had the army officers given any notice on the loudspeaker, we would have saved those Singhs who had come to court arrest in connection with the struggle (Morcha); we could have taken out women and children at least. The army did not give any chance to anybody to move out.

            The army brought in the tanks at 10 o’clock on June 5. A tank was brought on in Bagh Wali Street on the backside of Samundri Hall. Thus the cannon fire was started. At about 11, the sounds of tanks could be heard in the periphery of Sri Darbar Sahib. 

Q-        Did you not learn about the entry of tanks in Sri Darbar Sahib Complex earlier? 

_          We did not know about it at all. We even did not know that they had captured areas on our side (Akal Rest House, Sri Guru Ram Dass Nivas, Samundri Hall, and Guru Nanak Nivas). We also did not know that the army had arrested the leaders of All India Sikh Students Federation. 

Q-        I thought that the leaders of the Federation were arrested after you. What do you say?

_          No, they were captured earlier. We did not came to know about the killings of Akali workers of District Sangrur and other Singhs in the Sarai. They arrested us at about 4 in the morning. There was no bolt on the outer gate of my room. Besides Sant Ji, there were Bibi Amarjit Kaur, S. Nachhatter Singh Pehlwan, S. Darshan Singh Isapur, and S. Jagir Singh Poohla in my room. An army Major and about 10-12 armed soldiers came here. The Major had a big torch. They even fired shots; two or three bullets hit the walls. After arresting us,  they said, “Where is Sant Harchand Singh Longowal?” At this, Darshan Singh Isapur told them that the man they had arrested was Sant Ji himself. They took us to the old rooms of the Executive Members, the one belonging to S. Tara Singh (now an M.L.A.).

Q-        Where was S. Bhan Singh?

_          S. Bhan Singh, S. Abinashi Singh, S. Manjit Singh Tarn Tarni, and Mr. Ramuwalia were all in Samundari Hall. After locking us in the room, about 10-12 soldiers including a Captain were put on guard.

Our window was open. A soldier lit a cigarette. I told him to stop smoking. He said, “What is the matter?” I told him that it was a holy place where smoking was prohibited. He said, “It is no longer a holy place as the blood of many men has been shed here.”  I told him that blood had been shed but nobody had smoken there. Whosoever had dared to smoke there, he was be headeded like Massa Rangar. I told him in Hindi, “I cannot behead you and can even receive a bullet but I will not allow you to smoke as long as I am alive.”  Isapur said that he would talk to him but in the meantime, a Captain came and forbade him to smoke.

On the side of Sarai, the Akali workers from Sangrur and other Singhs were shot at, but we did not come to know of it. The army killed more than 55 Singhs and about 150-200 Bangalis travellers who were staying in the Sarai. We were without water for day and night; Bibi Amarjit Kaur was in a bad shape due to thrist. During the day, two Colonels came there; one was a Hindu and the other was a Sikh. I told the Sikh Colonel to shoot us dead instead of killing us with thirst. After sometime, he made arrangements of water for us.

Q-        Is it true that the leaders of the Federation told you to ask the army officers not to kill them as they were employees if the SGPC?

_          When water was being distributed, Bhai Manjit Singh, Harmandar Singh Sandhu, Amarjit Singh Chawla, Rajinder Singh Mehta, Virsa Singh Valtoha, and some other boys came to me and told me to do something so that they might not kill them. I told the same Colonel that they had arrested many Singhs and later killed them, which was against the army conventions. It is the police that arrests and then kills people, but the army does not do so. I put my hand on the shoulder of Manjit Singh and told him that he was the Assistant Manager of Sri Darbar Sahib and others were also our employees who had come for the night duty. I urged them not to kill anybody whom they had arrested otherwise they should kill us first. The Colonel said, “Whatever had taken place was a compulsion but nothing like that would happen again.”

Q-        When did they take you to the army camp?

_          At about 5:30 p.m. on June 6. Even there,we  were locked in a single room. On June 7 evening, the same Colonel told us to get ready because we were to be taken elsewhere, but they did not take us. We were woken up at about 4 a.m. and told to get ready. At about 5 a.m., a DSP gave us warrants of NSA (National Security Act) and told us that we were to be taken to an outside place. The same two Colonels brought us to the airport at about 6 a.m. An aircraft was standing ready to take us; it brought us to Jodhpur . They told me to alight from the aircraft. I asked the DSP where they were taking Sant Ji. He told me that he was being taken to Udaipur . The Deputy Commissioner and the SSP of Jodhpur had came at the airport. They handed me over to them and flew off. 

Q-        Did the military or the civil officers talk to you on telephone during the army attack by restoring phone lines?

_          No, the telephone lines had been snapped on the evening of June 2 itself. 

Q-        Did you get any information about the martyrdom  of Sant Bhindranwale?

_          We did not know anything on the other side of the Complex (Sri Darbar Sahib). Baba Joginder Singh says that he did not attain martyrdom. As the father, he will be knowing better. 

Q-        Have you met the Prime Minister or any central leader?

_          During the last four years, I have never met the President, the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, or any central government officer all by myself.

Q-        Many of your opponents say that you want to become the Chief Minister of Punjab . What have you to say?

_          Randhir Singh Cheema and Rajinder Singh Bhatia have been making many baseless allegations. Bhatia had even alleged that I had met several central leaders alone and requested them to make me the Chief Minister of Punjab and to give Chandigarh to Punjab in lieu of Fazilka and Abohar to Haryana;  I will myself convince both the Sants about it. I had read the news about these allegations while in Jodhpur jail. I could not give my clarification about it from the jail as nobody was allowed to meet me and I could not send any paper outside.

            My wife was to come to see me; I had learnt about it. There is an institution of Sikh intellectuals at Chandigarh known as ‘Council of Sikh Affairs’. It includes scholars, teachers, doctors, engineers, retired judges, generals, and gazetted officers. S. Ajmer Singh, Advocate, is its Secretary. I wrote an application to them and hid it in the drawstring waiste of my pyjama which my wife took out. It was addressed to S. Ajmer Singh. I requested them that an enquiry should be held into the allegations levelled against me by S. Rajinder Singh Bhatia. I told them that there were ten retired Sikh judges and any one of them could be made the ‘Enquiry Commission’. This enquiry could be completed in three days. He could come to Delhi for a day and find out if I had ever  met the President, the Prime Minister (Shrimati Gandhi who was then alive), Shri Rajiv Gandhi, the Home Minister, Mr. Chaturvedi, Mr. Alexander, Mr. Krishna Rao, etc., even once all by myself during the past four years. Sant Bhindranwale is no longer available but Sant Longowal is there; he can state whether I had ever made a proposal of becoming the Chief Minister or not delinking the issue of Chandigarh and Fazilka-Abohar. Mr. Pandey can be contacted at Chandigarh to state if I had ever met him after the ‘secret meeting’ of 26 May. I had also written to S. Ajmer Singh that I was prepared to accept any punishment from the Commission or Sri Akal Takht Sahib if the allegations were proved.       

            In the same letter, I had proposed a punishment to myself that if Mr. Bhatia’s allegations were proved, I would blacken my face, ride a donkey, and go to each village to beg forgiveness from the people at large.

            After my release from the jail, I asked S. Ajmer Singh why he had not initiated the enquiry. He told me that nobody was ready to conduct this enquiry. I am prepared even today for it.

Q-        What was the stand of the government in these ‘secret meetings’?

_          In fact, they wanted to keep the majority pleased. They did not want to solve the problem. In one of the meetings, I said that they were prolonging the issue for their own vested interests and they were quite successful in it. They had won the municipal elections in Delhi , recorded victory in Jammu region in J & K, and succeeded in winning over the vote bank of Bhartiya Janta Party. By prolonging the issue of Punjab , they were planning to win the next Lok Sabha elections in the country. By creating a scare of the Sikhs, they were misleading the Hindu voters. I frankly told them that they had no other ‘slogan’ and had virtually succeeded in their game plan.

            The ruling party however said that they had no issue as such and had no hidden agenda like that. They further argued that they did not want to please the Hindus by sending army to Sri Darbar Sahib. Sardar Badal and S. Ravinder Singh were also present in this meeting. I had said that if they thought the Hindus would be pleased by sending the army to Sri Darbar Sahib, they would certainly do it. The government spokesman had said that the sun or the moon could stop rising and the earth could stop its motion, but they would never send the police or the army to Sri Darbar Sahib.

Q-        In which meeting was it discussed.        

_          It refers to a meeting long before.

Q-        Despite your clarification, why are your opponents making this propaganda that Sant Ji and you had raised hands and surrendered yourselves?

_          It is the government propaganda. The government wanted to eliminate Sant Bhindranwale physically and decimate other leadership politically. It has been written on the case files of our young boys in Jodhpur jail that 593 persons were killed during the army operation and about 1500 persons were captured. Even otherwise, the term ‘surrender’ is used in the army for those persons who are actually fighting. We were not fighting. As such, the question of surrender does not arise. All this propaganda is for ‘character assessination’. The government wanted to make S. Atma Singh President of the SGPC. If we had any flaw, they could have exposed us to the world. The policy of the government is to decimate Sikh leadership. We were kept in jail outside Punjab and nobody was allowed to meet us, but the government brought S. Atma Singh out of this very jail on the pretext of illness and he was provided with the facilities of telephone and typing. Anybody could meet him any time. During my annual election, S. Trilochan Singh, the Press Secretary to the President, and S. Ravail Singh, Special Representative, kept staying here. Giani Zail Singh, Buta Singh, and Darbara Singh have their own groups each, but they joined hands only to defeat me and tried their level best for it. Propaganda was also made through radio, TV, and other government media. They wanted to remove me from the presidentship of the SGPC and file a suit against me. They felt that the Sikhs would have no sympathy for me. Had all leaders of the Sikh Students Federation been ‘captured’ or they ‘raised hands’ and ‘surrendered’? The government has left no allegation which has not been levelled against me – giving refuge to Sant Bhindranwale and the Federation and helping them to store arms, waging a war on the government, etc. Those who are admiring Sant Bhindranwale now used to oppose him earlier. There could be no better well-wiser than we for them. I was impressed at their contribution to Sikh Panth. They associated younger generation with religious activities. As such, the communists, the communal foces, and the government were all unhappy with them.             

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