Operation Blue Star

Operation Blue Star was the codename of an Indian military action carried out between 1 and 8 June 1984 to remove militant religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers from the buildings of the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) complex in Amritsar, Punjab. The decision to launch the attack rested with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.[12] In July 1982, Harchand Singh Longowal, the President of the Sikh political party Akali Dal, had invited Bhindranwale to take up residence in the Golden Temple Complex to evade arrest.[13][14] Bhindranwale later made the sacred temple complex an armoury and headquarters.[15]

Operation Blue Star
Part of the Punjab Insurgency

Akal Takht being repaired by the Indian Government after the attack. It was later pulled down and rebuilt by the Sikh community.[1][2]
Date1–8 June 1984


Khalistani militants

Supported by:

Commanders and leaders
Major General Kuldip Singh Brar
Lt Gen Ranjit Singh Dyal[8]
Lt Gen Krishnaswamy Sundarji
Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale 
Amrik Singh 
Shabeg Singh 
10,000 armed troops of 9th Division
175 Parachute Regiment and Artillery units
700 jawans of CRPF 4th Battalion and BSF 7th Battalion
150 Jawans of Punjab Armed Police
officers from Harmandir Police Station.
Casualties and losses
83 dead[9][10]
493[9] militants and civilian casualties (official), although independent estimates run much higher[11]

Indian intelligence agencies had reported that three prominent heads of the Khalistan movement – Shabeg Singh, Balbier Singh, and Amrik Singh – had made at least six trips each to Pakistan between the years 1981 and 1983.[6] The Intelligence Bureau reported that weapons training was being provided at gurdwaras in Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. The Soviet intelligence agency KGB reportedly tipped off the Indian intelligence agency R&AW about the CIA and ISI working together on a plan for Punjab. From its interrogation of a Pakistani Army officer, R&AW received information that over a thousand trained Special Service Group commandos of the Pakistan Army had been dispatched by Pakistan into the Indian Punjab to assist Bhindranwale in his fight against the government. Many Pakistani agents also followed the smuggling routes in the Kashmir and Kutch region of Gujarat, with plans to commit sabotage.[6]

On 1 June 1984, after negotiations with the militants failed, Indira Gandhi ordered the army to launch Operation Blue Star.[16] A variety of army units and paramilitary forces surrounded the temple complex on 3 June 1984. The army used loudspeakers to encourage the militants to surrender. Requests were also made to the militants to allow trapped pilgrims to come out of the temple premises, before the clash with the army. However, no surrender or release of pilgrims occurred until 7:00 pm on 5 June.[17] The fighting started on 5 June with skirmishes and the battle went on for three days, ending on 8 June. A clean-up operation codenamed Operation Woodrose was also initiated throughout Punjab.[6]

The army had underestimated the firepower possessed by the militants, whose armament included Chinese-made rocket-propelled grenade launchers with armour piercing capabilities. Tanks and heavy artillery were used to attack the militants, who responded with anti-tank and machine-gun fire from the heavily fortified Akal Takht. After a 24-hour firefight, the army gained control of the temple complex. Casualty figures for the Army were 83 dead and 249 injured.[18] According to the official estimates, 1,592 militants were apprehended and there were 493 combined militant and civilian casualties.[9] High civilian casualties were attributed to militants using pilgrims trapped inside the temple as human shields.[19]

The military action in the temple complex was criticized by Sikhs worldwide, who interpreted it as an assault on the Sikh religion.[20] Many Sikh soldiers in the Army deserted their units,[21] several Sikhs resigned from civil administrative office and returned awards received from the Indian government. Five months after the operation, on 31 October 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated in an act of revenge by her two Sikh bodyguards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh.[14] Public outcry over Gandhi's death led to the killings of more than 3,000 Sikhs in the ensuing 1984 anti-Sikh riots.[22]

Golden Temple

The militants were able to claim safe haven in the most sacred place for the Sikhs due to the whole or partial support received by them from key Sikh religious leaders and institutions such as the SGPC, AISSF and Jathedar (head) of the Akal Takht. The support was either voluntary or forced by using violence or threat of violence.[23] Several religious leaders who spoke against the occupation of Akal Takht were murdered by followers of Bhindranwale.[24]

The Golden Temple complex afforded the militants based inside a facade of fighting a "holy war". It also gave them access to new potential recruits from among the visitors. Several multi-storied buildings were located on the Parikrama (walkway) around the reservoir of the temple, providing rooms and offices which were taken over by the militants. The temple complex also offered logistical advantage to the militants with easy access to food, water and communication lines. Further, the sanctity of the Golden temple provided protection from arrests by the security forces, who avoided entering the Temple premises so as not to offend the religious sentiments of the Sikhs.[23]

Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in Harmandir Sahib

On 13 April 1978, the traditional day of celebration of the birth of Khalsa, a peaceful Sant Nirankari convention was organized in Amritsar, with permission from the Akali state government. The practices of the Sant Nirankari sect were considered heretical to the orthodox Sikhism expounded by Bhindranwale.[25] Bhindranwale declared that he would not allow this convention and would "go there and cut them to pieces".[24] A procession of a few hundred Sikhs led by Bhindranwale and Fauja Singh of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha left the Golden Temple, heading towards the Nirankari Convention.[26] Fauja attempted to behead Nirankari chief Gurbachan Singh but was shot dead by his bodyguard, while Bhindranwale escaped.[24] In the ensuing violence, several people were killed: two of Bhindranwale's followers, eleven members of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, and three Nirankaris.[24] Bhindranwale's followers began keeping firearms and fortified the Gurdwara that served as the headquarters of the Damdami Taksal religious center.[27]

On 24 April 1980, Gurbachan Singh was murdered.[28] Bhindranwale took residence in Harmandir Sahib after he was accused of assassinating the Nirankari leader.[29] Police would not pursue him inside the Golden Temple premises for fear of inflaming the religious sentiments of the Sikh community.[24]

On 9 September 1981, Lala Jagat Narain, the founding editor of the newspaper Punjab Kesari, was murdered. He was viewed as a supporter of the Nirankari sect and had written several editorials that had condemned the acts of Bhindranwale.[28] Bhindranwale declared that the killers of Gurbachan and Lala deserved to be rewarded.[24] Police again suspected him in the editor's murder and issued a warrant for his arrest. On 20 September 1981, after absconding for several days, he surrendered to the police.[28] In order to obtain his release his followers initiated a month long campaign of violence. They attacked Hindus, derailed trains, and hijacked an Air India plane.[27][30] Bhindranwale was released on 20 October after the Home Minister of India declared lack of evidence.[31]

Bhindranwale had risen to prominence in Sikh political circles with his policy of getting the Anandpur Resolution passed, failing which he wanted to declare a separate country of Khalistan as a homeland for Sikhs.[32] Indira Gandhi, the leader of the Akali Dal's rival Congress Party, considered the Anandpur Sahib Resolution a secessionist document.[33] The government was of the view that passing of the resolution would have made Khalistan an independent state, allowing India to be divided.[34]

Bhindranwale was reportedly backed by Pakistan's ISI in his radical separatist stand, plans and operations. Bhindranwale had started his campaign for greater autonomy in 1982, and by mid-1983 had managed to gain support for his plan to divide India.[34] ISI reportedly supported and helped him in spreading militancy in the Indian Punjab state. The arms and ammunition used by his group were provided by ISI.[34]

Guru Nanak Niwas

In July 1982, the then President of Shiromani Akali Dal, Harchand Singh Longowal, invited Bhindranwale to take up residence at the Golden Temple complex to escape arrest. He called Bhindranwale "our stave to beat the government."[35] On 19 July 1982, Bhindranwale, anticipating his imminent arrest,[24] took shelter with approximately 200 armed followers in the Guru Nanak Niwas (Guest house), in the precincts of the Golden Temple.[36] Bhindranwale had made Golden Temple complex his headquarters.[36] From there he met and was interviewed by international television crews.[36]

On 23 April 1983, Punjab Police Deputy Inspector General A. S. Atwal was shot dead by a gunman from Bhindranwale's group as he left the Harmandir Sahib compound.[37] The following day, Longowal claimed the involvement of Bhindranwale in the murder.[38] Reportedly, militants responsible for bombings and murders were taking shelter in some gurdwaras in Punjab.[39] The Punjab Assembly noted that the murder in the temple premises confirmed the charges that the extremists were being sheltered and given active support in religious places and the Guru Nanak Niwas, while Bhindranwale was openly supporting such elements.[40] However, the Congress-led government declared that it could not enter the gurdwaras for the fear of hurting Sikh sentiments.[39] After the murder of six Hindu bus passengers in October 1983, President's rule was imposed in Punjab.[41]

Occupation of Akal Takht

During debate in the Parliament of India members of both houses demanded the arrest of Bhindranwale. Sensing a prospect of his arrest from the hostel premises, he convinced SGPC president Tohra to set up his headquarter in Akal Takht (a shrine representing the temporal power of God) in the Golden Temple.[42] The temple high priest protested this move as a sacrilege since no Guru or leader ever resided in Akal Takht or on the floor above Granth Sahib, but Tohra agreed to Bhindranwale's demand to prevent his arrest.[42] On 15 December 1983, Bhindranwale was asked to move out of Guru Nanak Niwas house by members of the Babbar Khalsa who acted with Longowal's support. Babbar Khalsa also had the support of the Congress party. Longowal by now feared for his own safety.[31] Tohra convinced the high priest to allow Bhindranwale to reside on the first floor of Akal Takht, as he had nowhere to go to avoid arrest.[42] Bhindranwale had assumed that the sacredness of the shrine would give him immunity from arrest.[43] He claimed that he had to move to Akal Takht as Morcha director Longowal was negotiating with the government for his arrest.[42] By December 1983, Bhindranwale and his followers had made the Golden Temple complex an armoury and headquarters for extremist activities.[15][31]

Few leaders raised their voice against Bhindranwale in the Golden Temple and other Gurudwaras across the state. Among the prominent ones was Giani Partap Singh, an eighty year old spiritual leader and a former Jathedar of the Akal Takht. Partap had openly criticized Bhindranwale for stocking arms and ammunition in the Akal Takht. Bhindranwale's occupation of the Akal Takht was called an act of sacrilege. Partap was shot dead at his home in Tahli Chowk. Other dissenters were also killed. They included Harbans Singh Manchanda, the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee president,[44] Niranjan Singh, the Granthi of Gurudwara Toot Sahib, Granthi Jarnail Singh of Valtoha and Granthi Surat Singh of Majauli. All those who spoke against Bhindranwale were perceived as his enemies who in turn were branded as enemies of the Sikh faith.[24] Bhindranwale's group were killing the Sikhs who had been speaking against Bhindranwale and the idea of Khalistan.[45] The Sikh religious leadership had heard and understood the message being spread and they had already succumbed to their fear.[24]


In January 1984, India's secret service Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) prepared a covert plan codenamed Operation Sundown involving special forces to abduct Bhindranwale from the Golden Temple complex.[46] A RAW unit was formed to rehearse Operation Sundown in the Sarsawa Air Force Base in Uttar Pradesh, but the operation never materialized due to Indira Gandhi's rejection. It would have caused numerous casualties as collateral damage, the Golden Temple being one of the most visited sites in Punjab. It would have also hurt the religious sentiments of the Sikhs.[28] Other options such as negotiations were chosen instead.

The government sent a team led by Narasimha Rao to try to convince Bhindranwale to back out but he was adamant.[28] The negotiations failed and the law and order situation in Punjab continued to deteriorate.[28] Indira Gandhi tried to persuade the Akalis to support her in the arrest of Bhindranwale peacefully. These talks ended up being futile.[28] In the days before the assault, government representatives met with Bhindranwale in a last ditch effort to negotiate a truce. Bhindranwale warned of a backlash by the Sikh community in the event of an armed assault on the Golden Temple.[47] On 26 May, Tohra informed the government that he had failed to get Bhindranwale to agree to a peaceful resolution of the crisis, and that Bhindranwale was no longer under anyone's control.[48] 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".[48] In his final interview to Subhash Kirpekar, Bhindranwale stated that Sikhs can neither live in India nor with India.[49]

Indira Gandhi then gave her permission to initiate Operation Blue Star on the recommendation of Army Chief Arun Shridhar Vaidya. She was apparently led to believe and had assumed that Operation Blue Star would not involve any civilian casualties.[50] The assumption was that when confronted Bhindranwale would surrender to the Army.[51]


Fortification of Golden Temple

The violence rose to its peak in the months before Operation Blue Star and the Golden Temple was allegedly being defiled with weapons. An arsenal had been created within the Akal Takht over a period of several months. Trucks engaged for kar seva (religious service) and bringing in supplies for the daily langar were smuggling in guns and ammunition. The police never attempted to check these vehicles entering the Golden Temple, reportedly on instructions from superiors. During a random check one such truck was stopped and many sten guns and ammunition were found. After Operation Blue Star it was found that the militants had set up a grenade manufacturing facility, and a workshop for the fabrication of sten-guns inside the Temple Complex.[24]

The Harmandir Sahib compound and some of the surrounding houses were fortified under the guidance of Major General Shabeg Singh, who had joined Bhindranwale's group after dismissal from the Army. During their occupation of Akal Takht, Bhindranwale's group had begun fortifying the building, which had allegedly disfigured the Akal Takht. The Statesman reported that light machine guns and semi-automatic rifles were known to have been brought into the compound,[52] and strategically placed to defend against an armed assault on the complex. The modern weapons later found inside the temple complex indicated that foreign elements were involved. The heavier weapons were found to have Pakistani or Chinese markings on them.[53]

Holes were smashed through the marble walls of Akal takht to create gun positions. Walls were broken to allow entry points from the basements in the Takht and from the rooms around the Parikrama, to the tiled courtyards. Secure machine gun nests were created. All of these positions were protected by sandbags and newly made brick walls. The windows and arches of Akal Takht were blocked with bricks and sandbags. Sandbags were placed on the turrets. The entire Akal Takht had been converted into a large reinforced pillbox with weapons pointing in all directions. Every strategically significant building of the temple complex, apart from the Harmandir Sahib located at its very centre, had been fortified in a similar manner and allegedly defaced. The fortifications also included seventeen private houses in the residential area near the Temple.[24] All the high rise buildings and towers near the temple complex were occupied. The militants manning these vantage points were in wireless contact with Shabeg Singh in Akal Takht.[54] Under the military leadership of the cashiered Major General Singh, ex-Army veterans and deserters had provided weapons training to Bhindranwale's men in the Temple Complex.[24] Young Sikhs were occupying firing positions in the shrine and the buildings on all sides of Akal Takht.[55]

The militants in the complex were anticipating an attack by government troops. The defences in the complex were created with the purpose of holding out long enough to provoke an uprising among Sikhs in the villages and encourage them to march en masse towards the Golden Temple in support of the militants. Sufficient food to last a month was stocked in the complex.[54]

During this period police and security forces stationed around the temple complex were allowed only beyond a sanitised area of more than 200 yards. This was to avoid the 'desecration' of the temple by their presence. The security forces were prevented by the politicians from taking action in enforcing the law. Even self-defence from the militants was made difficult. On 14 February 1984, a police post near the entrance of the Temple was attacked by a group of militants. Six fully armed policemen were captured and taken inside. After twenty four hours the police responded and sent in a senior police officer for negotiation. He asked Bhindranwale in the Akal Takht to release his men and return their weapons. Bhindranwale agreed only to return the corpse of one of the policemen who had been killed. Later the remaining five policemen who were still alive were also released, but their weapons, including three sten guns and a wireless set, were not returned.[24][51]

The fortifications of the temple denied the Army the possibility of commando operations. The buildings were close together and had labyrinthine passages all under the control of the militants. Militants in the temple premises had access to langars, food supplies, and water from the Sarovar (temple pond). Militants were well stocked with weapons and ammunitions. Any siege under these circumstances would have been long and difficult. The option of laying down a long siege was ruled out by the Army due to the risk of emotionally aroused villagers marching to the temple and clashing with the Army. The negotiated settlement had already been rejected by Bhindranwale and the only option left to the government was to raid the temple.[56]

Rise in militant incidents

On 12 May 1984, Ramesh Chander, Son of Lala Jagat Narain and editor of media house Hind Samachar group, was murdered by pro-Bhindranwale militants. In addition, seven editors and seven news hawkers and newsagents were killed in a planned attack on the freedom of media house, to cripple it financially. Punjab Police had to provide protection for the entire distribution staff, and scenes of armed policemen escorting news hawkers on their morning rounds became common.[57]

Bhindranwale used vituperative language in his speeches against Hindus. In order to solve the Hindu-Sikh problem, he exhorted every Sikh to kill thirty-two Hindus.[58] He enjoined young Sikhs to buy motorcycles and weapons to attack enemies of Sikhs, and many young Sikhs followed through. Terror spread throughout the countryside. The numbers of violent incidents were increasing every month. It was nine in September 1983; in October it increased to thirty six, and in May 1984 there were more than fifty violent incidents. These incidents included bank robberies, attacks on police, arson at railway stations, bombings, indiscriminate shootings, and killing of Hindu passengers forcibly taken off of buses.[59] In the twenty two months since the launching of the Akali Dharm Yudh Morcha, until June 1984, Bhindranwale's militants killed 165 Hindus and Nirankaris, per the official figures.[60] Militants also killed 39 Sikhs due to their opposition to Bhindranwale. The total number of deaths was 410 in violent incidents and riots, and 1,180 people were injured.[60]

By April 1984, it appeared as if Bhindranwale would be successful in driving Hindus away from Punjab, to Haryana and other states, due to the terror of violent attacks and riots.[61] There were intelligence reports of intercepted messages from Bhindranwale and Shabeg Singh to their followers in the state asking them to start a movement of mass killings of Hindus on 5 June.[62] According to Amarjit Kaur, Bhindranwale wanted to start a civil war between the Hindus and Sikhs.[45] Meanwhile, the number of killings had been rising all over the state, with sometimes more than a dozen a day.[24] On 2 June in the last 24 hours before the announcement of the operation 23 people were killed.[63]

In June 1984, the Army was called out to help the civil administration in Punjab in response to a request from the Punjab Governor, B. D. Pande, "in view of the escalating violence by terrorists in Punjab".[64] On 2 June Operation Blue Star had been initiated to flush out the militants from the Golden Temple.[65]


Certain radical groups had already started the movement to drive Hindus out of certain areas to make way for Sikhs coming in from other states.[66] Due to the increased incidents of religious violence, exchange of population had already started in Punjab. Sikhs from other states were moving into Punjab and Punjabi Hindus were moving to neighbouring states in increasing numbers. New Khalistani currency was being printed and distributed.[19] By May 1984, the establishment of an independent Khalistan was imminent. Pakistan had been supporting the militants with arms and money, and if Khalistan declared its independence there was the risk of Pakistan recognizing the new country and sending the Pakistani Army into Indian Punjab to guarantee its security.[19]


Operation Blue Star was launched to remove Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers who had sought cover in the Amritsar Harmandir Sahib Complex.

On 3 June, a 36-hour curfew was imposed on the state of Punjab with all methods of communication and public travel suspended.[67] The electricity supply was also interrupted, creating a total blackout and cutting off the state from the rest of the world.[68] Complete media censorship was enforced.[68]

The Army stormed Harmandir Sahib on the night of 5 June under the command of Kuldip Singh Brar. The forces had full control of Harmandir Sahib by the morning of 7 June. There were casualties among the Army, civilians, and militants. Sikh leaders Bhindranwale and Shabeg Singh were killed in the operation.[69]


The armed Sikhs within the Harmandir Sahib were led by Bhindranwale, former Maj. Gen. Shabeg Singh, and Amrik Singh, the President of the All India Sikh Students Federation from Damdami Taksal.

General Arun Shridhar Vaidya was the Chief of the Indian army. General Vaidya, assisted by Lt. Gen. Sundarji as Vice-Chief, planned and coordinated Operation Blue Star.[70] From the Indian Army Lt. Gen. Kuldip Singh Brar had command of the action, operating under General Krishnaswamy Sundarji. Brar was in charge of an infantry division at Meerut. On 31 May he had been summoned from Meerut and asked to lead the operation to remove the militants from the temple. Brar was a Jat Sikh, same caste as Bhindranwale, and his ancestral village was only a few miles from Bhindranwale's. Brar was also acquainted with Shabeg Singh, having been his student at the Indian Military Academy at Dehradun. They had worked together in the Bangladesh operations.[54] Among the six generals leading the operation, four were Sikhs.[71]:175

The Army operation was further subdivided along two subcategories:[72]

  1. Operation Metal : To take out the militants including Bhindranwale from the Golden Temple complex. Brar's 9 Infantry Division was deputed for this.
  2. Operation Shop : To raid extremist hide-outs throughout the Punjab state and to mop up the militants remaining in the countryside.

In addition, the Army carried out Operation Woodrose, in which units were deployed to the border areas, replacing the pickets routinely held by the paramilitary Border Security Force. The border pickets were held in at least company strength.[72]

2 June

The Army had already sealed the international border from Kashmir to Ganga Nagar, Rajasthan. At least seven divisions of troops were deployed in villages of Punjab. The soldiers began taking control of the city of Amritsar from the paramilitary. A young Sikh officer posing as a pilgrim was sent in to reconnoitre the temple. He spent an hour in the complex noting defensive preparations. Plans were made to clear vantage points occupied by militants outside the complex before the main assault. Patrols were also sent to study these locations.[54]

By nightfall media and the press were gagged and rail, road and air services in Punjab were suspended. Foreigners and NRIs were denied entry. General Gauri Shankar was appointed as the Security Advisor to the Governor of Punjab. The water and electricity supply was cut off.[73][74][75]

3 June

In the morning the curfew was relaxed to allow Sikh pilgrims to go inside the temple to celebrate the martyrdom day of Sikhism's fifth guru Arjan, who martyred in the early 17th century. Around 200 young Sikhs were allowed to escape from the temple premises during this period. Most of whom were criminals and left wing extremists (naxalites).[76] In the night the curfew was re-imposed with the Army and para-military patrolling all of Punjab. The Army sealed off all routes of ingress and exit around the temple complex.[76] Army units led by Indian Army Lt. Gen Kuldip Singh Brar, surrounded the temple complex on 3 June 1984. Just before the commencement of the operation, K.S. Brar addressed the soldiers:

The action is not against the Sikhs or the Sikh religion; it is against terrorism. If there is anyone amongst them, who have strong religious sentiments or other reservations, and do not wish to take part in the operation he can opt out, and it will not be held against him.

However, no one opted out and that included many "Sikh officers, junior commissioned officers and other ranks".[77]

4 June

On 4 and 5 June announcements were broadcast over loudspeakers asking pilgrims inside to leave the temple.[54] The Army began bombarding the historic Ramgarhia Bunga, the water tank, and other fortified positions with Ordnance QF 25 pounder artillery. After destroying the outer defences laid by Shabeg Singh, the Army moved tanks and APCs onto the road separating the Guru Nanak Niwas building.[78]

The Army helicopters spotted the massive movements, and General K. Sunderji sent tanks and APCs to meet them.[79]

The artillery and small arms firing stopped for a while, and Gurcharan Singh Tohra, former head of SGPC, was sent to negotiate with Bhindranwale for his surrender. He was, however, unsuccessful and the firing resumed.

5 June

In the morning, shelling started on the building inside the Harmandir Sahib complex.[80] The 9th division launched a frontal attack on the Akal Takht, although it was unable to secure the building. The Golden temple complex had honeycombed tunnel structures. The Army was kept under withering machine gun fire from the manholes of the tunnels. The militants would pop out of the manholes and fire machine guns and then disappear back into the tunnels.[81]

19:00 hrs

The BSF and CRPF attacked Hotel Temple View and Brahm Boota Akhara respectively on the southwest fringes of the complex. By 22:00 hours both the structures were under their control.[82] The Army simultaneously attacked various other gurdwaras. Sources mention either 42 or 74 locations.[78]

22:00–07:30 hrs

Late in the evening, the generals decided to launch a simultaneous attack from three sides. 10 Guards, 1 Para Commandos and Special Frontier Force (SFF) would attack from the main entrance of the complex, and 26 Madras and 9 Kumaon battalions from the hostel complex side entrance from the south. The objective of the 10 Guards was to secure the northern wing of the Temple complex and draw attention away from SFF who were to secure the western wing of the complex and 1 Para Commandos who were to gain a foothold in Akal Takht and in Harmandir Sahab, with the help of divers. 26 Madras was tasked with securing the southern and the eastern complexes, and the 9 Kumaon regiment with SGPC building and Guru Ramdas Serai. 12 Bihar was charged with providing a cordon and fire support to the other regiments by neutralising enemy positions under their observance.[83]

An initial attempt by the commandos to gain a foothold at Darshani Deori failed as they came under devastating fire, after which several further attempts were made with varying degrees of success. Eventually, other teams managed to reach Darshani Deori, a building north of the Nishan Sahib, and started to fire at the Akal Takth and a red building towards its left, so that the SFF troops could get closer to the Darshani Deori and fire gas canisters at Akal Takth. The canisters bounced off the building and affected the troops instead.

Meanwhile, 26 Madras and 9 Garhwal Rifles (reserve troops) had come under heavy fire from the Langar rooftop, Guru Ramdas Serai and the buildings in the vicinity. Moreover, they took a lot of time in forcing open the heavy Southern Gate, which had to be shot open with tank fire. This delay caused a lot of casualties among the Indian troops fighting inside the complex. Three tanks and an APC had entered the complex.

Crawling was impossible as Shabeg Singh had placed light machine guns nine or ten inches above the ground. The attempt caused many casualties among the Indian troops. A third attempt to gain the Pool was made by a squad of 200 commandos. On the southern side, the Madras and Garhwal battalions were not able to make it to the pavement around the pool because they were engaged by positions on the southern side.

Despite the mounting casualties, General Sunderji ordered a fourth assault by the commandos. This time, the Madras battalion was reinforced with two more companies of the 7th Garhwal Rifles under the command of General Kuldip Singh Brar. However, the Madras and Garhwal troops under Brigadier A. K. Dewan once again failed to move towards the parikarma (the pavement around the pool).

Brigadier Dewan reported heavy casualties and requested more reinforcements. General Brar sent two companies of 15 Kumaon Regiment. This resulted in yet more heavy casualties, forcing Brigadier Dewan to request tank support. As one APC inched closer to the Akal Takth it was hit with an anti-tank RPG, which immediately immobilized it. Brar also requested tank support. The tanks received the clearance to fire their main guns (105 mm high-explosive squash head shells) only at around 7:30 a.m.[84]

6 June

Vijayanta tanks shelled the Akal Takht. It suffered some damage but the structure was still standing. The Commanders in charge of the operation were shocked by this discovery that Militants in Akal Takhts had two Chinese made rocket-propelled grenade launchers with armour piercing capabilities.[81] The Special Group, a confidential special forces unit of the R&AW, began it’s planned raid on this day.[86]

7 June

The Army entered the Akal Takht. Dead bodies of Bhindranwale, Shabeg Singh and Amrik Singh were discovered in the building.[81] The Army gained effective control of the Harmandir Sahib complex.

8–10 June

The Army fought about four Sikhs holed up in basement of a tower. A colonel of the commandos was shot dead by an LMG burst while trying to force his way into the basement. By the afternoon of 10 June, the operation was over.


The Indian Army placed total casualties at:[54]

  • Sikh militants and civilians: 493 dead[9]
  • Military: 83 killed (4 officers, 79 soldiers) and 236 wounded.

Unofficial casualty figures were higher. Bhindranwale and large number of his militants were killed. There were high civilian casualties as well, since militants used pilgrims trapped inside the temple as human shields.[19] The pilgrims were not allowed by the militants to escape from the temple premises in spite of relaxation in the curfew hours by the security forces.[87] The militants hoped the presence of thousands of pilgrims inside the temple premises would prevent action by the army.[66]


President Zail Singh visited the temple premises after the operation, while making the round, he was shot at by a sniper from one of the buildings that the Army had not yet cleared. The bullet hit the arm of an Army Colonel accompanying the president.[88] The operation also led to the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 31 October 1984 by two of her Sikh bodyguards as an act of vengeance,[89][90] triggering the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. 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. The Army withdrew from Harmandir Sahib later in 1984 under pressure from Sikh demands.[91] The 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182 is thought to have been a revenge action.

General Arun Shridhar Vaidya, the Chief of Army Staff at the time of Operation Blue Star, was 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.

In March 1986, Sikh militants again occupied and continued to use the temple compound which necessitated another police action known as Operation Black Thunder on 1 May 1986, Indian paramilitary police entered the temple and arrested 200 militants that had occupied Harmandir Sahib for more than three months.[92] On 2 May 1986 the paramilitary police undertook a 12-hour operation to take control of Harmandir Sahib at Amritsar from several hundred militants, but almost all the major radical leaders managed to escape.[93] In June 1990, the Indian government ordered the area surrounding the temple to be vacated by local residents in order to prevent militants activity around the temple.[94]

Mutinies by Sikh soldiers

In the aftermath of the Operation Blue Star, cases of mutinies by Sikh soldiers, mostly raw recruits, were reported from different places. On 7 June, six hundred soldiers of the 9th Battalion of the Sikh Regiment, almost the entire other ranks' strength, mutinied in Sri Ganganagar. While some managed to escape to Pakistan, most were rounded up by men of Rajputana Rifles. The largest mutiny took place in Sikh Regimental Centre at Ramgarh in Bihar where recruits for the Sikh Regiment are trained. There, 1461 soldiers – 1050 of them raw recruits, stormed the armoury, killing one officer and injuring two before they set out for Amritsar. The leaders of the mutiny divided the troops into two groups just outside of Banaras to avoid a rumoured roadblock. One half was engaged by Army artillery at Shakteshgarh railway station; those who managed to escape were rounded up by 21st Mechanised Infantry Regiment. The other half engaged with the artillery and troops of 20th Infantry Brigade, during which 35 soldiers (both sides) were killed.[95][96][97] There were five more smaller mutinies in different parts of India. In total 55 mutineers were killed and 2,606 were captured alive.[98][96]

The captured mutineers were court-martialed, despite efforts by various groups including retired Sikh officers to get them reinstated.[99] In August 1985, 900 of the 2,606 mutineers were rehabilitated by the Central government as part of the Rajiv-Longowal accord.[96]

Long term effects

The long-term results of the operation included:[34]

  1. Defeat of the ISI-backed secessionist Khalistan movement[6][34]
  2. Reduction in militancy in the Indian state of Punjab.[34]
  3. Ensuring that the Golden Temple remains free from violence and weapons stockpiling.[34]


The operation has been criticised on several grounds including: the government's choice of timing for the attack, the heavy casualties, the loss of property, and allegations of human rights violations.


Operation Blue Star was planned on a Sikh religious day – the martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Dev, the founder of the Harmandir Sahib. Sikhs from all over the world visit the temple on this day. Many Sikhs view the timing and attack by the Army as an attempt to inflict maximum casualties on Sikhs and demoralise them,[100] and the government is in turn blamed for the inflated number of civilian casualties by choosing to attack on that day. Additionally, Longowal had announced a statewide civil disobedience movement that would launch on 3 June 1984. Participants planned to block the flow of grain out of Punjab and refuse to pay land revenue, water and electricity bills.[101][102]

The Government justified the timing stating that the mission to arrest Bhindranwale could not be delayed any more as he was going to be more aggressive in his approach towards killings of Hindus. Bhindranwale was about to launch a fierce movement planned to murder Hindus in all the villages across Punjab. Plans included killings of All congress (I) MPs and MLAs on 5 June. According to Amarjit Kaur, Bhindranwale wanted to start a civil war between the Hindus and Sikhs.[45] Before the Operation Blue Star started, there was already a rise in the killings of Hindus[58] and 23 people were killed in the final 24 hours before the announcement of the operation.[63] The spate in killings confirmed the doubts of the government which then decided that the operation had to be initiated soon.[28]

When asked about why the Army entered the temple premises just after Guru Arjan Dev's martyrdom day (when the number of devotees is much higher), General Brar said that it was just a coincidence and Army had only had three to four days to complete the operation. Based on the intelligence sources Bhindranwale was planning to declare Khalistan an independent country any moment with support from Pakistan. Khalistani currency had already been distributed. This declaration would have increased chances of Punjab Police and security personnel siding with Bhindranwale.[103] The Army waited for the surrender of militants on the night of 5 June but the surrender did not happen. The operation had to be completed before dawn. Otherwise, exaggerated messages of Army besieging the temple would have attracted mobs from nearby villages to the temple premises. The Army could not have fired upon these civilians. More importantly, Pakistan would have come in the picture, declaring its support for Khalistan.[17] He described the operation as traumatic and painful, but necessary.[104]

Media censorship

Before the attack by the Army, a media blackout was imposed in Punjab.[105] The Times reporter Michael Hamlyn reported that journalists were picked up from their hotels at 5 a.m. in a military bus, taken to the adjoining border of the state of Haryana and "were abandoned there."[105] The main towns in Punjab were put under curfew, transportation was banned, a news blackout was imposed, and Punjab was "cut off from the outside world."[106] A group of journalists who later tried to drive into Punjab were stopped at the road block at Punjab border and were threatened with being shot if they proceeded.[105] Indian nationals who worked with the foreign media also were banned from the area.[105] The press criticized these actions by government as an "obvious attempt to attack the temple without the eyes of the foreign press on them."[107] The media blackout throughout Punjab resulted in spread of rumours. The only available source of information during the period was All India Radio and the Doordarshan channel.[108]

Human rights

Sikh militants

On 6 June, a group of some 350 people, including Longowal and Tohra surrendered to the Army near the Guru Nanak Niwas. To prevent their surrender to the security forces the militants opened fire and hurled grenades on the group. 70 people were killed in this firing, including 30 women and 5 children. Gurcharan Singh, Secretary of the Akali Dal and a prominent member of the Longowal faction, was also killed.[24]

Two Junior Commissioned Officers of the Army were captured by the militants during the fight and were subjected to torture and then murdered. The militants skinned one of them alive, strapped explosives on to his body, and blew him up while throwing him from the upper floor of the Akal Takht.[24]

On 8 June 1984, an unarmed army doctor who had entered a basement to treat some civilian casualties was abducted by the militants and was hacked to death.[24]

Indian army

Brahma Chellaney, the Associated Press's South Asia correspondent, was the only foreign reporter who managed to stay on in Amritsar despite the media blackout.[109] His dispatches, filed by telex, provided the first non-governmental news reports on the bloody operation in Amritsar. His first dispatch, front-paged by The New York Times, The Times of London and The Guardian, reported a death toll about twice of what authorities had admitted. According to the dispatch, about 780 militants and civilians and 400 troops had perished in fierce gun-battles.[110] Chellaney reported that about "eight to 10" men suspected Sikh militants had been shot with their hands tied. In that dispatch, Mr. Chellaney interviewed a doctor who said he had been picked up by the Army and forced to conduct postmortems despite the fact he had never done any postmortem examination before.[111] In reaction to the dispatch, the Indian government charged Chellaney with violating Punjab press censorship, two counts of fanning sectarian hatred and trouble, and later with sedition,[112] calling his report baseless and disputing his casualty figures.[113] The Supreme Court of India ordered Chellaney to cooperate with Amritsar police, who interrogated him concerning his report and sources. Chellaney declined to reveal his source, citing journalistic ethics and the constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press. In September 1985 charges against Chellaney were dropped.[112] The Associated Press stood by the accuracy of the reports and figures, which were "supported by Indian and other press accounts".[114]

Similar accusations of highhandedness by the Army and allegations of human rights violations by security forces in Operation Blue Star and subsequent military operations in Punjab have been leveled by Justice V. M. Tarkunde,[115] Mary Anne Weaver,[116] human rights lawyer Ram Narayan Kumar,[117] and anthropologists Cynthia Mahmood and Joyce Pettigrew.[118][119][120]

The Indian Army responded to this criticism by stating 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".[121]:156


Five years later, the Army's strategy was criticised by comparing it with the blockade approach taken by KPS Gill in Operation Black Thunder, when Sikh militants had again taken over the temple complex. It was said that Operation Blue Star could have been averted by using similar blockade tactics. 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 no professional military general like Shahbeg Singh to provide military leadership" and "the confidence of militants having been shattered by Operation Blue Star."[121] Furthermore, it was pointed out that the separatists in the temple were armed with machine guns, anti tank missiles and Chinese made armour piercing rocket launchers, and that they strongly resisted the Army's attempts to dislodge them from the shrine, appearing to have planned for a long standoff, having arranged for water to be supplied from wells within the temple compound and had stocked food provisions that could have lasted months.[121]:153–154

Honours to the soldiers

The soldiers and generals involved in the Operation were presented with gallantry awards, honours, decoration strips and promotions by the Indian president Zail Singh, a Sikh, in a ceremony conducted on 10 July 1985. The act was criticized by authors and activists such as Harjinder Singh Dilgeer, who accused the troops of human rights violations during the operation.[122]

Alleged British involvement

The United Kingdom's Thatcher government was reportedly aware of the Indian government's intention to storm the temple, and had provided an SAS officer to advise the Indian authorities.[123] This and other assistance was reportedly intended to safeguard the UK's arms sales to India.[123] Relevant UK government records have been censored.[123]

Published accounts


Operation Blue Star and the assassination of Indira Gandhi (2013) is a TV documentary which premièred on ABP News Channel series, Pradhanmantri. This documentary, directed by Puneet Sharma and narrated by Shekhar Kapur, showed the circumstances preceding the Operation Blue Star and the events that occurred during it including the aftermath.[124][125]

See also


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Further reading

  • Harjinder Singh Dilgeer (2012). Sikh History in 10 volumes. Sikh University Press. ISBN 978-2-930247-47-2.: presents comprehensive details of the invasion of Indian Army (causes and events). Vols 7 to 10 also give precious information.
  • K. S. Brar (1993). Operation Blue Star: the true story. UBS Publishers' Distributors. ISBN 978-81-85944-29-6.: presents the version of the Indian Army general Kuldip Singh Brar, who led the operation.
  • Kirapal Singh and Anurag Singh, ed. (1999). Giani Kirpal Singh's eye-witness account of Operation Blue Star. B. Chattar Singh Jiwan Singh. ISBN 978-81-7601-318-5.: presents the version of Giani Kirpal Singh, the Jathedar of the Akal Takht.
  • Johncy Itty (1985). Operation Bluestar: the political ramifications.
  • Man Singh Deora (1992). Aftermath of Operation Bluestar. Anmol Publications. ISBN 978-81-7041-645-6.
  • Kuldip Nayar; Khushwant Singh (1984). Tragedy of Punjab: Operation Bluestar & after. Vision Books.
  • Satyapal Dang; Ravi M. Bakaya (1 January 2000). Terrorism in Punjab. Gyan Books. ISBN 978-81-212-0659-4.

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