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Britain and Amritsar raid

February 4 2014




What to do about accidental disclosures that Thatcher’s government advised India on Golden Temple raid? Hold an inquiry. Keep it tight.

Letter from Thatcher’s Principal Private Secretary, 6 February 1984

Sikh leaders in the UK have warned that an official review of British involvement in India’s 1984 Golden Temple massacre is inadequate.

Prime Minister David Cameron ordered the review by Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood after I published letters from the National Archives (here), revealing that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had sent an SAS military officer to advise India on a plan to retake the Sikh religion’s holiest site, in Amritsar.

Indian troops raided the Golden Temple complex (Sri Harmandir Sahib) in June 1984 in a six-day assault codenamed Operation Blue Star. Sikhs claimed that thousands of people were killed. Indira Gandhi’s government estimated the death toll at 400.

In Whitehall this past Wednesday Sir Jeremy Heywood met with representatives from twelve Sikh community groups “to clarify the remit and limitations of his inquiry”. His terms of reference remain unpublished.

Heywood, the UK’s most senior civil servant, proposes to limit his investigation to events leading up to the raid. Sikh leaders told him his scope was “too narrow” and urged him also to review later military operations in the Punjab, specifically Operations Woodrose and Black Thunder, to check for any further British complicity in India’s crackdown on Sikhs.

Heywood assured the Sikh deputation that his team had over the past fortnight reviewed 2,500 documents from 200 files across several government departments including the Home Office, Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Cabinet Office.

He has apparently interviewed the former ministers and senior civil servants named in those papers.

He told the meeting that the incendiary letters “came out in error” when they were given to the National Archives among the New Year releases.

Sikh groups remain suspicious that significant papers may already have been destroyed.

Next week, Heywood is due to hand over his findings to the Prime Minister who will decide on what to make public.

The Sikh Federation warned Heywood that they may then ask for a judicial review. The Sikh justice group Kesri Lehar has repeated its call for a full parliamentary inquiry.

Jagdeesh Singh, whose 1984 Genocide Coalition first brought my findings to the attention of MPs, is concerned that this process overlooks the systematic targeting of Sikhs by India. He said:

“There is a very strong risk that this whole burning matter of British Government collusion in the genocide in Panjaab in June 1984, and the pre and post activities related, is going to get obscured by this introverted, narrow and non-transparent enquiry.”

Councillor Gurdial Singh Atwal, from the Sikh Council UK, said:

“We understand the inquiry has considered and examined documents in the period up to the June 1984 attack on Sri Harmander Sahib. The Sikh community would naturally like to see further disclosure of documents and transparency to cover the period after the attack in June 1984. There are events and occurrences in the following months and years that continue to impact on Sikhs here and abroad.”

Operation Woodrose was an Indian army sweep through rural Punjab in the months after the Golden Temple massacre to detain thousands of Sikhs for membership of banned political groups. Allegations of torture during interrogation were rife. Operation Black Thunder refers to two more raids on the Golden Temple conducted by Indian security forces in 1986 and 1988.

Conservative Party strategists, who view the Sikh community as a key electoral constituency, may wish to note Sikh concern about the Coaltion government’s commitment to transparency.

Originally published by Open Democracy 


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