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Yes, we knew we would be attacked: B.S. Ramoowalia

LiveMint logoLiveMint 01-06-2014 Aman Malik

B.S. Ramoowalia, a Sikh leader, was in the Golden Temple during Operation Blue Star. He has served two terms in the Lok Sabha and in 1996 parted ways with the Akali Dal and joined the Rajya Sabha. He later started the Lok Bhalai Party, which he merged with the Akali Dal. In an interview, Ramoowalia recounts his experience during the operation. Edited excerpts:

Take us through the events of what happened during Operation Blue Star from an eyewitness’s perspective. What was your situation?

There were 300 armed men under (Jarnail Singh) Bhindranwale and about 2,500 peaceful devotees inside the Golden Temple that day. It was the martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Singh, the fifth guru of the Sikhs.

The Golden Temple at that time was divided into two parts. In the first part, the part near Manji Sahib, langarsthan area, up to the entrance of Golden Temple there were peaceful devotees and I can say that Sant Longowal’s command was full in this part. But from where the boundary of Akal Takht starts, adjoining buildings up to Baba Atal Rai area, that was under the full control and command of Bhindranwale. What happened was the army entered from two sides. One from the Akal Takht side, the other from the Guru Nanak Niwas and langar side. Devotees were either arrested or some of them even killed by the army.

But main fight took place beyond the Golden Temple in the Akal Takht area. Some shots hit the Golden Temple also. I fully agree that the army was given directions not to fire at the Golden Temple. I am convinced. But even then firing took place.

Did the people who were inside the Golden Temple know that they would be attacked?

Yes, we knew we would be attacked. We were given indications inside. Even senior journalists like Kuldip Nayar advised us to take care. He told us that Mrs Gandhi wants to isolate you from the rest of the country, that she wanted the isolation of the traditional Akalis. We were convinced that we will be attacked once Patwant Singh and Khushwant Singh visited us and cautiously advised us that please be careful you are a target of isolation in the eyes of the whole country. But 24 hours before the attack, we got the indications because the Punjab police, the home guard, the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) were withdrawn and we saw few people with the green uniform of the army on the high tops. So the attack began at 1 am or 1:30 am on the 4th of June.

The army entered the Golden Temple Sarai -Amardas Sarai, where the devotees and religious pilgrims could stay for one night or two nights and go back. I was there. What happened was that the army was convinced that terrorists were here. They spoke on loudspeakers and said, “We ask everyone to come out, wherever you are, come out.” A lot of people came out. I was anyway there. But the army observed some noises in the rooms and lobbed grenades in the rooms that went boom, boom. I don’t know how many people died but some people came down after that from the first floor. Army’s jawans were standing there, we hundreds of peaceful people were also sitting there. We were told to sit down. Then I saw one or two armymen died. Somebody lobbed something. After that the army became hell-like. Then they started killing everybody. Then they again asked us to sit down. Then somebody waved a handkerchief . About 25-35 people in the first row who were just sitting, the army gunned down. Second was my turn. Incidentally, I thought (to myself) you are sikh, don’t be killed while sleeping. I said Mr Colonel I am a member of Parliament, can I speak? I had a green card. I was an ex-MP at that time but I said I am an MP. He asked me what my name was and I responded “Ramoowalia.” He said stop. He took me there and identified me and said, “How are you here?” I said, “Where should I have been.” He said, “According to our information, you should be with Tohra and Longowal. I said I was with him but Sant Longowal told me go to that side also. So I came here about half-an-hour back.” So I saw this incident. With guns pointed at me, armymen took me outside.

You have also said Pakistan was willing to intervene militarily in Punjab to liberate Khalistan. Could you please elaborate on what exactly happened?

Some young men came and that happened on 2nd or 3rd of June. We were sitting in a room, firing was coming from every direction. Three to four people with a small box, came to us, they put their guns by our sides, and said “Look, you are to declare Khalistan. It is (the box) connected with Zia-Ul-Haq. Immediately after you declare, he will recognize it as an entity.”

I must appreciate Tohra. He said: “Young men, respected Sant Bhindranwale is the commander-in-chief of this fight, which has been imposed upon us by the government of Indira Gandhi. We are neither armed, we are here sitting in the room, you are fighting. So, tell Santji, honestly in the name of the Guru, to declare Khalistan. We will comment after that.”

Then, they never came back. We were 100% convinced that Pakistan will never attack.

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