Lessons from the army assault on the Golden Temple
It was a terrorist act by the State aimed at humiliating the people of Sikh faith
Official propaganda presents it as an anti-terror operation
State terrorism and religious persecution continue to plague us today
Victims continue to be blamed – Truth continues to be turned on its head
6th June 2020 marks the 36th anniversary of one of the most heinous acts of the Indian state. On this day in 1984, the Indian Army launched the “final assault” on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, in the name of “flushing out Sikh terrorists”.
It is essential for the present generation to learn the truth about what really took place and why it took place. It is essential because we continue to be confronted with the menace of state terrorism and communal violence till today. Victims of religious persecution continue to be presented as villains, as in the latest case of communal violence in north-east Delhi this February.
Operation Bluestar began on June 1, 1984. On June 2, Punjab was brought under Army rule. At least 7 divisions of the Army — over a lakh soldiers — were deployed in Punjab. June 3 was the martyrdom day of Guru Arjun Dev. Thousands of pilgrims had gathered inside the temple complex for this sacred occasion, including large number of women, girls, and children. For a whole 6 days, the armed forces kept firing at the Complex. Finally, tanks and armoured vehicles were used to bombard the sacred Akal Takth, and the armed forces entered the temple complex to “liberate” the Golden Temple from so called “terrorists”.
The Indian ruling class knew that the people would rise up in revolt against this monstrous crime. As thousands of peasants marched from their villages near Amritsar to defend their holy shrine, they were attacked by the armed forces. This was followed by attacks on gurudwaras throughout Punjab.
The attack on the Golden Temple was a terrorist act by the Indian state aimed at humiliating the people of the Sikh faith.
It was a time when the Indian state and the monopoly controlled media constantly dinned into people’s heads that Sikhs were “terrorists”, “fundamentalists”, “separatists”, “enemies of national unity and territorial integrity”, “agents of Pakistan”, etc. Any and every crime of the Indian state against people of the Sikh faith was thus justified. The Indian state deliberately gave a communal angle to the revolt of the people against Operation Bluestar and the state terror that had been unleashed. In this way, it aimed to smash the unity of the people and set them against each other on the basis of religion.
The armed assault on the Golden Temple was a communal act, an act of blatant interference of the State in a religious congregation. The State, whose core duty is supposed to include protecting people’s lives and their right to any form of religious worship, sent its army to attack a place of worship, killing a large number people assembled there.
The then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi claimed that her government had “no choice” because it had allegedly received secret information that terrorists gathered inside the Golden Temple were planning to organise the massacre of Hindus all over the country. This official justification has been exposed by now to be a pack of lies. No proof has been offered in the past 36 years about any such conspiracy.
On the other hand, convincing evidence has been found showing that crack commando units of the Indian Army had been training for this operation with a model of the Golden Temple for target since several months prior to June 1984 at the Chakrata Army Camp. Evidence has also emerged that the Indian government had requested and received assistance from the Margaret Thatcher government in Britain at an early stage of planning the attack on the Golden Temple.
It has by now been confirmed that many of the terrorist groups operating in Punjab in the 1980s were secretly sponsored and financed by the central intelligence agencies. Senior officials in charge of the Punjab Police have admitted that special “counter-terrorism” units were used to periodically organize killings of Hindus in buses and market places and blame it on Sikh terrorists. Using such terrorist acts to inflame passions, the ruling circles carried out massive propaganda to brand the struggles in Punjab as being driven by “Sikh fundamentalism”. This served to attack, divide and divert the Punjabi people and people in struggle all over India.
It was a time when there was widespread discontent within the country. Workers employed in essential public services were fighting for their right to strike. Farmers’ demands for stable and remunerative prices for their produce were gaining ground in many parts of the country. Demands were being raised for fulfilling the national rights of the people of Punjab, Assam and other nations.
The capitalist monopoly houses wanted to consolidate their control over state power and put down all possible resistance to their global empire building aims. Creating the spectre of “Sikh terrorism” to justify widespread state terrorism became the preferred method to achieve this aim. Portraying Sikhs as enemies of India and unleashing violence against them served to divide and divert the struggle of workers and peasants for their rights. It also served to put down the struggle of regional propertied interests, such as that of the big landlords of Punjab for control over water and other resources.
It was a time when the monopoly capitalists ruling the USA and Britain were openly pushing for privatization and dismantling of public services in all countries. The Soviet Union was in deep crisis and heading towards disintegration. Indian capitalist monopoly houses wanted to prepare suitable conditions for dismantling the old arrangements and policy framework of the so-called “socialistic pattern of society”. They decided it was time to embrace the new policy prescriptions of globalization, privatization and liberalization, so as to pursue their own imperialist aims. The army attack on the Golden Temple and the unleashing of state terror, including state organised communal violence in Punjab and India, served this agenda.
The growing frequency of state-organised communal massacres and attacks on religious places over the past 36 years shows that this has become the preferred method for the capitalist monopoly houses to impose their dictate. The communal crimes they have committed include the genocide of Sikhs in November 1984, the attack on Hazratbal mosque, the destruction of the Babri Masjid and the communal violence that followed, the Gujarat genocide of Muslims, attacks on churches in Odisha, the attack on Muslims in Muzaffarnagar and the most recent episode of communal violence in Delhi.
An important lesson to be drawn from the experience of the past 36 years is that the source of communalism and communal violence does not lie in the religious beliefs of any section of the people. The source of the problem lies in the growing concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a super-rich minority of monopoly capitalists. Communalism, communal violence and state terrorism serve to maintain the dictate of this minority by keeping the people divided and diverted from their real enemies, and by providing a justification for using brute force to suppress all dissent.
Another important lesson is that the threat to the unity of the Indian people does not come from those who are fighting for their national rights, whether it is in Punjab, Assam, Kashmir, Manipur or elsewhere. It comes from the communal and colonial style policy of the Indian Union. It comes from the policy of treating political movements as a law and order problem.
Last but not the least, people must firmly reject and oppose the notion that the Indian State is secular while some religious fundamentalists are the problem. In the 1980s, some within the communist movement conciliated with the official propaganda that “Sikh fundamentalism” is the problem. That was a serious mistake. It weakened the struggle to build political unity against state terrorism and the dictate of the capitalist monopoly houses. Today, the official propaganda presents “Islamic fundamentalism” as the main problem. It will be a serious mistake for communists to combat this propaganda with the notion that “Hindu fundamentalism” is the problem, while creating illusions about the “secular foundations” of the Indian state. The struggle of the working class and communist movement has to be directed against the State and the dictate of the monopoly capitalists. Only then can we advance towards solving the problems that plague our society.
We must lead the working class to fight in defence of the right to conscience, as an inviolable right that belongs to every human being. The right to conscience applies not only to religious beliefs but also to political opinions. We cannot and must not accept that the State can deprive some persons of their right to conscience because they express an opinion which is not to the liking of those in power.
We must oppose every act of the State which violates anyone’s right to conscience. An attack on one is an attack on all! This is an indispensable guide to action.
We must wage the struggle with the perspective of replacing the existing communal and terroristic State with a new voluntary Indian Union which is committed to guarantee the human rights and democratic rights of all, without exception.