|KS Brar. (PTI)
London, Oct. 1: Retired Lt Gen. Kuldip Singh Brar, who led Operation Bluestar to flush out militants from the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1984, survived a murderous knife attack in London last night, Scotland Yard said.
Brar, who is 78, and his wife were returning to their central London hotel after dinner when they were set upon by four men who inflicted injuries described as “serious but not life-threatening” on the former soldier.
The men had “long beards”, police said.
Brar, whose cover was blown when he visited the Golden Temple a day before Operation Bluestar in civvies but was recognised by a former officer who had joined the militants, is in London on a private visit with his wife.
Brar was discharged from hospital today after treatment and is expected to fly back to India tomorrow. He was stabbed in the neck and may have suffered cuts to his face as well.
It is still too soon to be categorical about whether this was an attempt by a pro-Khalistani group to settle scores with Brar over his role in Operation Bluestar.
“That they should bear a grudge after 28 years is unbelievable,” said a senior member of the Sikh community in Britain who asked for his name to be withheld. “People are too scared to speak out. Gen. Brar should have known of the risks.”
However, others said that the attack in Old Quebec Street, just behind Marble Arch at the end of Oxford Street, is in a high-crime area where affluent foreign tourists are routinely targeted by criminal gangs, especially ones from eastern Europe.
“I know of three Indians who have had their expensive watches taken in the past six months,” said a Sikh source. However, he said an email was being circulated among some people who wanted revenge for Operation Bluestar. But Brar’s name was not on the list.
India House did not even know that Brar, whose security threat warrants the Z category, was in London. It is likely he had come to London before without incident. Following last night’s attack, he was accorded security today.
High commissioner Jaimini Bhagwati was “in touch with him”.
The statement issued by Scotland Yard was carefully worded.
“Police are appealing for information in relation to the attempted murder of a man in central London last night, Sunday September 30,” it said. “Police were called at approx 22:40hrs to reports of a man assaulted in Old Quebec Street near the junction with Oxford Street, W1.”
It went on: “The victim, an Indian national who is visiting London, was with his wife when they were approached by four men. He was assaulted with what is believed to be a knife or sharp implement and suffered a wound on his neck. His wife was not injured in the attack.”
The police issued a description of sorts: “The four men are described as wearing dark clothing and long black jackets. They all had long beards. One of the men is described as younger and slimmer than the other three. They all fled in the direction of Oxford Street.”
“Officers and London Ambulance Service attended the scene and discovered a man, aged 78, suffering from an injury believed caused by a knife or sharp implement,” the police added. “He was taken to hospital where he received treatment and was later discharged. Detectives are keen to speak to anyone who was in the area at the time or who may have information about the incident.”
“In particular, they want to speak to those people who assisted the wife and the victim at the scene following the attack,” it added.
Significantly, the statement said that the police “are keeping an open mind regards motivation for the attack. There have been no arrests at this time and inquiries continue”.
If the attack is eventually linked to remnants of any pro-Khalistan group, it will be another instance of the militants lying in wait to exact revenge. Gen. A.S. Vaidya, the then army chief who designed and supervised Operation Bluestar, was shot dead two years later after he had settled down in Pune after retirement.
The biggest fallout of Bluestar was the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi less than five months after the operation.
Brar played a central role in Operation Bluestar, launched to flush out Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and other armed extremists who were demanding Khalistan.
A decorated soldier, Brar was among the first to enter Dhaka to force the Pakistani army to surrender in the 1971 war.
As commander of the Meerut division of the Indian Army, Brar was a major general when he was assigned to the Bluestar mission. Gen. K.S. Sundarji was the army chief then.
Another major general, Shabeg Singh, had quit the army and joined the Khalistan movement. When Brar, who was born into a Sikh family but does not wear a turban, visited the Golden Temple in plainclothes ahead of the operation, Shabeg Singh recognised him.
Military analysts had then said Shabeg Singh probably guessed an operation was imminent and scaled up the defences inside the Golden Temple, large parts of which suffered heavy damage during the attack and counter-assault. Both Bhindranwale and Shabeg Singh were killed in the operation.