I was born in October 1984, and those who know a little about Punjab and about India will know that it was the month when Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, was murdered by two of her guards – Sikh guards – apparently to avenge the infamous Operation Blue Star. I have grown up in the Punjab of those times when for the first few years of my life, the state was under President’s Rule. There were several incidents that I’ve heard from family and friends who were either taken off buses to be harassed or had taken to wearing turbans to avoid trouble.
Mark Tully and Satish Jacob, in their masterpiece – Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi’s Last Battle – have given a very objective view on the background of this Punjab where my contemporaries and I grew up. Being BBC correspondents themselves that time, both Tully and Jacob had witnessed the Punjab story unfold in person. This book is an intriguing take on the events (if you may call them so) that took place in Punjab right after Indira Gandhi was ousted by the JP movement right up till the Army attack on the revered Golden Temple/Akal Takht complex in the infamous Operation Blue Star.
The book starts with building a context around the Sikhs and their grievances with the Government of India, which were later to become the major point of contention in the entire conflict. The book then dwells into the now-public theories of the creation, support and rise of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale facilitated tacitly by none other than Sanjay Gandhi and Giani Zail Singh. For the first time, I was able to understand the political compulsions of the Akali trio of Harchand Singh Longowal, Gurcharan Singh Tohra and Prakash Singh Badal in this disastrous turn of events, and how they tried to manipulate, only to fail, the increasing alignment of Punjab’s Sikhs to Sant Bhindranwale. But more than everything else, the book provides immense clarity and objectivity to the whole decade that I regard as the lost decade for Punjab – once regarded as the most prosperous state in India.
This book, written in 1985, provides a full account of most of the incidents, events and circumstances of those times, leading up to the Operation Blue Star and subsequently Mrs Gandhi’s assassination. I would have liked a little more coverage on two of the key characters in this story – Indira Gandhi and Prakash Singh Badal. While the book mentions a lot about Gandhi, it doesn’t explain the reasons why she kept rejecting the negotiated agreements between Centre Government and the Akalis, that could easily have prevented the progress of terrorism in Punjab. The authors also haven’t talked much about Badal in the book, which I know from my elders, had very clear political ambitions and was the primary reason why Zail Singh created THE Sant Bhindranwale in the first place.
I will summarise this review by saying that this book is an interesting and intriguing take on what conspired in Punjab about three decades back that changed Punjab forever. I will strongly recommend this book to the Punjabis of my generation in particular to understand where all the parties falter and how Punjab found itself caught in the situation that left permanent scars in its illustrious history.
P.S.: The pictures have been borrowed from internet with thanks to the owner of this picture.