Beant Singh and Satwant Singh were Sikh bodyguards of then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, and on 31 October 1984 they assassinated her in her garden, putting thirty three bullets in her chest and abdomen. Kehar Singh, an Assistant in the Directorate General of Supply and Disposal, New Delhi, was tried and executed for conspiracy in the plot of the Indira Gandhi assassination, carried out by Satwant Singh and Beant Singh. He was hanged in Tihar Jail on January 6, 1989. Beant Singh was the nephew of Kehar Singh. The assassination was motivated by Operation Blue Star, by which Indian Armed Force personnel assaulted the Golden Temple Complex at Amritsar. It was carried out starting on 3 June 1984.
The military action against the Sikh "Golden Temple" in Amritsar
Operation Blue Star was launched by the Indian Army, to eliminate Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers who had sought cover in the Amritsar Golden Temple Complex. The operation was launched in response to a deterioration of law and order in Punjab.The roots of Operation Blue Star can be traced from the Khalistan Movement. The Khalistan Movement is a political Sikh anti-nationalist movement, that wants to create an independent state for Sikh people, inside the current North-Western Republic of India. The Sikh militants within the Harminder Sahib were led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and former Maj. Gen.Shabeg Singh. Maj. Gen. Kuldip Singh Brar had command of the action, operating under General Krishnaswamy Sundarji, of the Indian army.
The Golden Temple compound and some of the surrounding houses were fortified. The Statesman reported on 4 July that light machine-guns and semi-automatic rifles were known to have been brought into the compound, by the militants. 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".
Time magazine reported (about Amritsar) that:
"These days it more closely resembles a city of death. Inside the temple compound, violent Sikh fanatics wield submachine guns, resisting arrest by government security forces. Outside, the security men keep a nervous vigil, all too aware that the bodies of murdered comrades often turn up in the warren of tiny streets around the shrine."
These violent events which led to the desecration of the holy shrine Golden Temple / Harminder Sahib caused outrage amongst the Sikh community, who claimed that the attacks were pre-planned and that anti-Sikh violence which followed was government orchestrated.
Beant Singh was killed by gunfire at the scene of the assassination. Satwant Singh was arrested and Kehar Singh was later arrested for conspiracy in the assassination. Both were sentenced to death and hanged in Tihar jail in Delhi.
The evidence of Bimla Khalsa wife of Beant Singh indicates that on October 17, 1984, Beant Singh and Kehar Singh were combined and conspiring together. Satwant Singh later joining them for meals lends credence to this conclusion. She had revealed what she was told and what she had witnessed on October 17, 1984 in her own house.
In the first week of September, 1984, when a falcon(baaz) happened to sit on a tree near the main reception of PM's house, at about 1.30 P.M. Balbir Singh spotted the falcon, and called Beant Singh there and pointed out to the falcon. Both of them agreed that it had brought the message of the Tenth Guru of the Sikhs and that they should do something by way of revenge of the 'Bluestar Operation'. Both of the above accused performed ardas then and there. The visit of Kehar Singh and Beant Singh along with their family members to Amritsar on October 20. 1984 assumes importance and it is significant, to show how the appearance of the falcon motivated them to commit the heinous crime. Since the 'Bluestar Operation', Balbir Singh was planning to commit the murder of Smt. Indira Gandhi and discussed his plans with Beant Singh, who had similar plans to commit the offence. Balbir Singh also shared his intention and prompted Satwant Singh to commit the murder of Smt. Indira Gandhi and finally discussed this matter with him on 30 October 1984. However Balbir Singh, was acquitted on appeal to the Supreme Court in August. The main conspiracy, which was that of making Khalistan, as alleged by the officially commissioned report on the killing, raises questions about the prosecution's case.
Appeals and Judgements
A special mention here is to the 650-page, written judgment in this 1984 assassination of Indira Gandhi, in which the Delhi High Court panel said, "No excuse or circumstance can . . . mitigate such a treacherous and cowardly act where a defenseless woman was cruelly slaughtered by the 'guardians' of her safety."
The judgment condemned "the most inhuman mode of killing" and said, "Two persons crowding in before an elderly woman and mercilessly pumping into her not one or two but as many as 30 bullets is the ghastly scene to be conjured in the mind's eye."
Similarly in the Supreme court of India judgement, "In the instant case, the crime charged was not simply the murdering of the human being, but it was the crime of assassination of the duly elected Prime Minister of the country. The motive for the crime was not personal, but the consequences of the action taken by the Government in the exercise of constitutional powers and duties. In a democratic republic, no person who is duly constituted shall be eliminated by privy conspiracies. The 'Operation Blue Star' was not directed to cause damage to Akal Takht. Nor it was intended to hurt the religious feelings of Sikhs. The decision was taken by the responsible and responsive Government in the national interest. The late Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi was, however, made the target for the consequences of the decision. The security guards who were duty-bound to protect the Prime Minister at the cost of their lives, themselves became the assassins. All values and all ideals in life; all norms and obligations were thrown to the winds. It was a betrayal of the worst order. It was the most foul and senseless assassination. The preparations for and the execution of this egregious crime deserved the dread sentence of the law."
Ram Jethmalanis, last futile battle to save Kehar Singh was fought in the Supreme Court. The apex court that heard two petitions during the working hours and a hurried last minute plea found no merit. "I am arguing under the shadow of two hangmen", pleaded Jethmalani. For two hours, Jethmalani and Shanti Bhushan tried to impress that the President had not applied his mind on the mercy petition. Their plea was that the evidence on which he was to be hanged was circumstantial. The five judge bench headed by the Chief Justice refused to intervene. These were the last words of Jethmalani: "If this court cant intervene then it is not just my client who will hang tomorrow. Something much more vital will die. It will not be Kehar Singh who will be hanged; it will be decency and justice". Shanti Bhushan, who is father of Prashant Bhushan, said, "In fact, the court must decide whether a man should ever be sentenced to death on the basis of circumstantial evidence alone. Circumstantial evidence can never remove that last lingering speck of doubt about a mans guilt."
In the adjoining court, R. S. Sodhi, counsel for Satwant Singh, argued that with his hanging, a vital piece of evidence would be lost for ever. Two Indo-Tibet Border Police commandos had opened fire killing Beant Singh on the spot and injuring Satwant Singh immediately after the attack on Indira Gandhi. He only wanted the execution to be stayed till his evidence against the commandos was recorded. The court refused to grant relief. It was around 4.00 pm that a lawyer ran into the court of the Chief Justice, huffing and panting. He wanted to file petition on behalf of Satwant's parents to prove that the entire case stood vitiated. The petition was dismissed within a minute after the lawyer stopped arguing.
At another level, the International Commission of Jurists pleaded with R. Venkataraman, to grant clemency to Kehar Singh. Commission Secretary General Niall MacDermot, British Labour Party politician, said he was profoundly disturbed by the rejection of pleas for mercy. Here goes the text of the appeal:
"The International Commission of Jurists is profoundly disturbed by the rejection of pleas for mercy which have caused deep concern among the jurists throughout the world. As appears from the judgment, the only substantial evidence on which his conviction was based was that he had talks with Beant Singh on various occasions but there was no evidence as to the contents of those talks. We beseech you to exercise your right and power to have regard to the merits of the case in order to prevent what might be a terrible error of justice."
However, in obscure Mustafabad, the native village of Kehar Singh about 10 km from Bassi Pathana on the Chandigarh-Sirhind road, his relatives were calm on the day of hanging. The relatives had heard the news broadcast by Radio Pakistan in the 9.00 AM bulletin.
Kehar Singh, was convicted and hanged to death on a wet and chilly morning of 6 January 1989, for conspiracy in the plot of the Indira Gandhi assassination, carried out by Satwant Singh and Beant Singh. Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh last words were, "Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal" , and they were in high spirits. Their ashes were not handed over to their families. The structures erected for their cremation in the Tihar jail were also demolished immediately.
Operation Black Thunder
Operation Blue Star had two components to it. The first one was Operation Metal, which was confined to the Harmandir Sahib (the Golden Temple) complex. Operation Metal was followed by Operation Shop. It raided the Punjab countryside, in order to capture any suspects. India saw a repeat of Operation Blue Star a few years later. Operation Black Thunder was the name given to two operations that took place in India in the late 1980s, to flush out remaining Sikh activists from the Golden Temple. 'Black Cat' commandos of the National Security Guards were used in this operation. Similar to Operation Blue Star, these attacks were towards Khalistani militants who were using the Golden Temple in as a base. The first Operation Black Thunder took place on April 30, 1986. The second Operation Black Thunder began on May 9, 1988. The operation was headed by Kanwar Pal Singh Gill, who was the DGP of Punjab Police.
Sikh Militancy in Punjab
Again, On January 6, 2008 the highest Sikh temporal seat (Akal Takhat, Amritsar) declared Kehar Singh and other assassins of former prime minister, Indira Gandhi; as martyrs of Sikhism. SGPC also paid homage to both Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh and called them "martyrs of Sikh nation". Shiromani Akali Dal observed their death anniversary as 'martyrdom' on October 31, 2008
As of 2015 the British Sikh community has warned political parties going into general elections in May this year that failure to initiate an independent public inquiry into whether the Margaret Thatcher-led British government provided military assistance to India in planning Operation Blue star 30 years ago, will cost them the all-important Asian vote.
The Sikh Federation (UK) said on Thursday that it will be releasing the Sikh Manifesto 2015-2020 and naming a prioritised list of 50 target seats where the 700,000 strong Sikh community can determine who is elected in May 2015.
The Federation is also sending letters to the leaders of each of the main political parties to clarify their positions by March 31, with regards to demands set out "in the Sikh Manifesto so the British Sikh community can be advised on the merits of each of the political parties".
- Kuldip Nayar and Khushwant Singh, Tragedy of Punjab, Vision Books, New Delhi, 1984, page 79
- Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale - Life, Mission, and Martydrom by Ranbir S. Sandhu, May 1997
- http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,949867,00.html Time, 7 November 1983.
- Joshi, Chand (1984). Bhindranwale: Myth and Reality. Vikas. p. 161. ISBN 0706926943.