The Blog

SAS and Golden Temple. Has the FCO moved on from Pre War Britain yet?

The Prime Minister has promised an inquiry. Given other inquiries (Iraq, Hillsborough etc) there isn't much expectation by the Sikh community. Many expect dilution of facts or the matter put out to the long grass. This won't placate the sense of betrayal.

Thirty years later the attack on the Golden Temple, called Operation Blue Star (1984) still remains a fresh wound within the worldwide Sikh community. This is why the revelations of the British SAS advising the Indian Army has angered the British Sikh community, leaving a bitter taste of betrayal. It calls for a change in the way Foreign Policy is pursued. In twenty first century Britain, Foreign Policy cannot ignore the multi ethnic character of British society. It cannot simply be sensitive to the majority while bartering the sentiments and rights of minority communities.

The Sunday Times reported in June 1984 that the SAS was not only involved in mere advice but even trained Indian commandos to launch the attack. Now we have confirmation.

The Sikhs feel betrayed particularly as many an old British soldier will remember the passion with which Sikh soldiers fought in the two world wars for Britain. Yet, to many Sikhs it appears this country's establishment has no sense of gratitude. The correspondence released reveals a Government which knew quite well that an attack on the Golden Temple would cause considerable reactions and any knowledge of British involvement would cause deep resentment. So why did Britain do it?

The Prime Minister has promised an inquiry. Given other inquiries (Iraq, Hillsborough etc) there isn't much expectation by the Sikh community. Many expect dilution of facts or the matter put out to the long grass. This won't placate the sense of betrayal.

What is needed is for the Government to redeem itself in this obnoxious episode. The Golden Temple precinct houses two of the most important institutions of worldwide Sikh community. The Harimandar Sahib, which is the Gold domed building and Sri Akal Takht Sahib, the temporal seat of worldwide Sikhdom.

The Harimandir Sahib reflects the principle values and teachings of Sikhi. Its four doors symbolise an open house for people from all four corners of the world regardless of their background, creed or descent. There are no speeches in it. Only kirtan, the Sikh recitation of the Guru Granth Sahib (the textual guide) in raags (classical music).

The Akal Takht is the building that was mostly and symbolically destroyed in 1984 and subsequently rebuilt by Sikhs. It translates as 'throne of the Eternal'. It is the temporal seat of Sikh affairs, consensus decision making, interpretations of teachings and engagement with the wider world. Its edicts and consensus decisions are revered by the majority worldwide Sikh community.

The Akal Takht has a long history of being attacked by rulers and Governments to subdue the Sikhs. But each time the Sikhs have fought back and restored its sovereign status. Today it again enjoys a de-facto sovereignty. The Sikhs are campaigning for internationally recognised sovereignty of Akal Takht.

The attack on Sri Akal Takht Sahib by the Indian State in 1984 was seen as an attack on the Sikh community and an attempt to subject the community to the will of Indian State. The attack on the rest of the precinct was seen as an act of desecration.

Why, knowing all this, did the British Government still get involved with the Indians? Crass immoral opportunism is the only word that comes to the mind of most Sikhs.

There is wider question. Does the Foreign Office realise that Britain is no longer a State full of white citizens? Are the only sacrosanct regions, the Anglo Saxon dominated North America, Australia and New Zealand, and Christian institutions such as the Vatican? Are the deeply revered spiritual institutions of minority groups in UK still fair game?

Has the FCO not caught up with the reality of a multi-ethnic, multi racial Britain. Can it continue to ignore the sentiments of well settled ethnic minorities whose spiritual institutions are abroad. Can it barter their human rights for political and financial gains?

The accusations cannot just be made against the Conservatives. Labour sold out the right of free speech and action of two Khalistani groups in UK and proscribed then under pressure from the Indian Government in 2002.

This episode now calls for a wider inquiry on the nature of Foreign Policy and the need for the Foreign Office to face up to the reality of modern Britain. The FCO needs to represent modern Britain and not a prewar Britain.

The British Government's guilt in this episode also calls for an act of support for an international inquiry into the attack. For one thing this correspondence is further evidence (previously by Vice Chief of Indian Army, Gen Sinha) that contrary to the Indian State assertion, the attack was not a spontaneous response to alleged deteriorating circumstances, but a well planned action developed long before the actual date of the attack. It was to stop a peaceful protest to withhold wheat according to the General who led the attack, Gen Brar. But wheat is in the farms.

So why did the Indian State attack in the first place. The released letters can begin the trail to that answer. Why did FCO get involved to stop a peaceful protest?