London, Jan. 16: British cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood is likely to conclude that although Britain sent an officer from the Special Air Services to India, the planning and execution of Operation Bluestar was exclusively Indian.
David Cameron hinted as much during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons yesterday when he was pressed by two Labour MPs to reveal the full extent of British involvement.
Cameron said that he did not want to “prejudge the outcome” of Heywood’s inquiry but then he indicated what the findings were likely to turn up.
“So far, it has not found any evidence to contradict the insistence by senior Indian army commanders responsible at the time that, on the responsibility for this, it was planned and carried out solely by the Indian Army,” he said.
It is not known who the SAS adviser was nor is his identity likely to be revealed. It is also not known who he met in India and what his recommendations were. But security experts say that it is hard to detect the SAS’s fingerprints in Bluestar which appeared not to have been well planned and resulted in heavy loss of life.
The British have kept a careful record of discussions that took place in London. The Telegraph can reveal, for instance, that a “Mr Jha”, described as a “special emissary of Mrs Gandhi” met Margaret Thatcher at 10 Downing Street from 2.45pm to 3.15pm on Friday, May 18, 1984 — just a fortnight before the start of Bluestar on June 3.
Indians familiar with the 1980s suggest the visitor might have been “L.K. Jha, one time Indira’s principal secretary, in whom she placed a great deal of trust”.
That morning Thatcher met her senior intelligence officials from 9.30am to 1.30pm. After Jha had left, she immediately saw her principal private secretary, Robin Butler.
Anecdotal evidence suggests she was, if anything, staunchly pro-Sikh.
Her biographer Charles Moore has a footnote in his authorised biography of Thatcher in which he recalls a shadow cabinet meeting in 1976 when Lord Carrington, later her foreign secretary, made a slightly disparaging remark about Sikhs. The Commons was, at that time, debating whether Sikhs should be given special dispensation to wear turbans instead of crash helmets on motorbikes.
“Mrs Thatcher said sharply, ‘What did you say?’ Carrington said, ‘It was a joke, Margaret,’ and explained. She replied, ‘Well, it’s not very funny. These people fought for us in the war.’”
According to Moore, “she had a particular regard for the contribution of the Indian subcontinent to the two World Wars”.
As for Cameron, the only serving British Prime Minister to have visited the Golden Temple, he will not want his relationship with British Sikhs undermined by actions of another government 30 years ago.
One of the Labour MPs, Tom Watson, member for West Bromwich, asked yesterday: “Why does the Prime Minister not just ask Lords Geoffrey Howe and Leon Brittan (then foreign secretary and home secretary respectively) what they agreed with Margaret Thatcher and whether it had anything to do with the Westland helicopter deal at the time?”
Cameron ticked off Watson for having “gone a conspiracy theory too fast on this one”.
It was an opportunity for him to emphasise his Sikh credentials: “I remember and will never forget my visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar. It is one of the most beautiful and serene places anywhere on this planet, and what happened at Amritsar 30 years ago led to a tragic loss of life. It remains a source of deep pain to Sikhs everywhere. Prime Minister (Manmohan) Singh, in my view, was absolutely right to apologise for what has happened, and I completely understand the concerns that these papers raise, so let us wait for the outcome of the review by Sir Jeremy Heywood.”