Political opinion and calculations are often difficult to gauge or even comprehend. Take the recent kerfuffle about the alleged involvement of the Special Air Services, a British unit that specializes in anti-terrorism, in Operation Bluestar in India in June 1984. This important anti-insurgency operation was launched at the initiative of Indira Gandhi to flush out Sikh militants, who had made the Golden Temple complex their command headquarters. The operation was successful but the price was heavy in terms of the lives lost; in October 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. It now transpires from documents revealed under the thirty years rule that the government of India had approached the British government, then headed by Margaret Thatcher, for help. And Thatcher had authorized the SAS to help in the planning of Operation Bluestar. These “revelations’’ have shocked some politicians in India and in Britain. The shock is perhaps not unrelated to political considerations. Sikhs in Britain, it is assumed, will be deeply affected to learn that Her Majesty’s Government in 1984 had been involved in the planning of an operation directed at Sikh militants. In India, where wounds of the operation continue to fester, there is dismay that the Indian government of the day sought the assistance of a foreign power to launch an operation on Indian soil against Sikhs. These reactions are difficult to appreciate.
That there should be an enduring sorrow at the lives lost and in recollection of an assault on the most holy of Sikh shrines is not in question. Leaving the question of the avoidability or otherwise of Operation Bluestar at one side, it is necessary to look at the issue of seeking the help of the SAS. It is well known that in any covert anti-insurgency operation — Operation Bluestar was one such — intelligence agencies of a country seek the help of similar agencies of other countries. This can be at the simple level of an exchange of information and can extend to more complex issues concerning planning, resources and even, at times, trained personnel. There is no point in pretending to be innocent about this. This is how States work when faced with militancy and terrorism. If Indira Gandhi did seek and get the assistance of the SAS, she should actually be complimented. She went about it in a manner aimed at maximizing results and was not deterred by the threat that she could lose her life as a result.