'I always knew I will always be under threat'
Lieutenant General Kuldip Singh Brar (retired), who has been on the hit-list of Khalistan separatists since 1984, survived an attempt on his life in London last year.
The general tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih what it is to live a life under threat and how he has not let that cow him down.
More than 28-and-a-half years have gone by, but the shadow of Operation Blue Star has not been cast away.
Last week, a general, a recipient of the Mahavir Chakra who participated in the operation -- that took place in June 1984 to flush out Khalistani militants from the Golden Temple in Amritsar -- was denied a religious ceremony at a gurdwara to mark the army officer's first death anniversary.
Last September, Lieutenant General Kuldip Singh Brar (retired), who has been on the hit-list of Khalistani separatists since June 1984, survived an attempt on his life in London. Three accused in the case are in custody and will face trial in a London court in April.
The wound in his neck that could have cost him his life has healed; its scar concealed within the lines of the neck.
The general, who is 78, valiantly fought his attackers like a soldier -- and someone who won a Vir Chakra for bravery in the 1971 war -- would.
"The attack lasted less then two minutes at half past ten at night," General Brar, a second generation soldier, told Rediff.com's Archana Masih.
"They were trying to stab me, but because we were grappling, the first stab was in my back. The next on my cheek. Eventually they got my throat."
The consequence of Blue Star led to the assassinations of then prime minister Indira Gandhi and then army chief General Arun S Vaidya -- who, with two Mahavir Chakras, the second highest award for courage in battle after the Param Vir Chakra, remains the most highly decorated soldier in the Indian Army.
The military action inside Sikhism's holiest shrine to remove Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his supporters led to worldwide condemnation in the Sikh community.
"What the Indian Army did had to be done at that time. Otherwise, like East Pakistan was severed and Bangladesh was created, Punjab would have gone and Khalistan would have been created," says the general.
General Brar, the only surviving member of the four generals who lead the operation, lives under heavy protection, which has been further enhanced after the attack.
28 years after Operation Blue Star, at 78, did you ever think that you could still remain a target.
Punjab has seen peace and in such an improved situation, did you not feel that perhaps the threat could have gone away?
No. I always knew that I will always be under threat and I will continue to be under threat.
They (Khalistani supporters) don't forget easily. We were on the hit list -- General Vaidya, Mrs Gandhi, General Krishnaswamy Sundarji and myself.
General Sundarji died a natural death. Mrs Gandhi and General Vaidya were assassinated and I knew they will get me. I receive letters of threat, on the Internet -- on Facebook or Youtube.
On Google, there are 20 pages of material under K S Brar. Blogs from people saying 'We'll kill you; Where are you going to escape? You think you're safe in that fortress? You're not. It's a matter of time.'
Even when we left London, a friend of ours spoke to us from London and said she was watching a Punjabi or Sikh channel on which a discussion was taking place. One of the Sikh guys said to the other (Kis tarah de bande ho tusi, char bande ek 80 saal umar di bande ni nu maar sake? (Four of you couldn't finish off an 80-year-old guy?)
The other one said 'It's shameful, next time we will send stronger people.' The third one said that must not be necessary, because he is suffering from cancer and has less than six months to live. So according to them I am suffering from cancer.
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Image: General Brar has written his account of Operation Blue Star.
'They will not spare any effort to get me'
General K S Brar's interview continues...
What I am trying to say is that this threat will always be there. Whether the situation in Punjab improves or not or deteriorates.
Those who have sworn revenge and sipped the nectar in front of the Guru Granth Sahib inside the Golden Temple, they will not spare any effort to get me.
There was a Khalistani Web site that I got blocked after I informed the local police and they informed Delhi. It had my picture and it said -- 'The No 1 enemy of the Sikhs, Lt Gen KS Brar'.
The next page had a picture of Indira Gandhi -- (and it said) 'assassinated for her role'; General Vaidya -- 'assassinated for his role' -- and went on to say he (General Brar) was the next to be assassinated.
It said that there have been six attempts on his life which haven't succeeded, but the 7th one will succeed. Whether this was the 7th or the 8th, I don't know. That Web site also said those of you who want to join us in our mission to finish Gen Brar, please click here.
I downloaded this and sent it to the commissioner of police and this site was blocked.
Unfortunately Facebook and Youtube are social Web sites, you can't do much about it. You can't stop people from putting their views or opinions on FB, Twitter, Youtube. It is also being misused. Anything which is criminal in nature should not be allowed.
If you go to some of the suburbs in London or to Vancouver, some of the gurdwaras there have placards saying: 'Khalistan zindabad.' They openly propagate the idea of Khalistan.
Canadian laws and British laws are so liberal. They have freedom of speech, freedom of expression, so if a person says we're going to get Khalistan you can't arrest and take action against him because British/Canadian laws say he has freedom of speech.
It's sad that they openly speak about it and you can do nothing about it. The Indian government has not been able to prevail upon these foreign governments to put a halt to this or to get tough on militants who are carrying out anti-Indian activities from their soil.
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Image: An activist from the Dal Khalsa, a radical Sikh organisation, holds a placard during the 24th anniversary of Operation Blue Star, outside the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
'There is no fun left in having a carefree life. But life still goes on'
How upset are you after hearing about the denial of a religious ceremony to Lieutenant General R S Dyal -- a Mahavir Chakra awardee in the 1965 war and a Blue Star veteran -- by a gurdwara on his death anniversary?
It is very shameful, deplorable and a blow to the morale of the men in uniform that while an actual war hero is denied a religious ceremony in a gurudwara after his death; they are making heroes out of the assassins of (former army chief) General Vaidya and Indira Gandhi.
It is shocking. What is sad that there has been no condemnation from the government or the Indian Army.
There is no point in having this blame game between Punjab and Haryana because the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee controls the gurdwaras of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh; and a majority of SGPC members are from the Akali Dal.
Insulting General Dyal will affect the morale of the army and will support the resurgence of the pro-Khalistan movement.
The Centre needs to order a stricture to the SGPC on this issue.
The Indian Army is a secular force. To protect the integrity of the nation it has to carry out orders given to them.
You are a decorated soldier -- among the first to enter Dhaka in the 1971 war with Pakistan, the commander of Operation Blue Star -- in all these years after Blue Star that have posed a restriction on your movements, your life, how have you coped? Have you ever resented it?
I have never resented it, but it certainly has put few restrictions on my life. But I have tried to live my life the way I want to. I like to go out and meet people. I travel. I lecture.
I love doing all the things that I enjoy. So nothing has really come in my way. Of course, at the back of my mind, I always have the thought that I wish I could do this or that, but certain restrictions are always there.
Earlier, I used to hop off in my Nano and go to the market and buy fish, but now I can't do that with these restrictions.
I have to go out with a police escort now. There is no fun left in having a carefree life. But life still goes on, we are not worried.
Whatever has to happen will happen, it can't put a break on your style of living.
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Image: General K S Brar
Photographs: Jewella C Miranda
'We did not purge the temple, we cleansed it'
Are you satisfied with how the investigation is progressing in UK?
I think it's progressing very well. Scotland Yard has kept me updated. They are keeping me informed and are very professional.
They are still trying to unearth the conspiracy to find out who is behind the attack. The trial will commence on April 2.
(After the attack] they asked me what I did the seven days I was in London. They took my Oyster card and got all details about all the places I had been to.
They have kept my jacket and shoes. Also, my wife's jacket and shoes for DNA tests. I suppose I'll get them back when the case is finally over.
They are so professional that a friend of mine in London came to see us at the hotel with a box of chocolates on hearing of the stabbing incident. He left the chocolates with a note.
Later, a lady told us that the chocolates could not be allowed because they could be containing any poisonous substance. She said the chocolates were with Scotland Yard (smiles).
The first arrest was made within 48 hours or 72 hours of the incident. Those arrested were all in their early 30s.
So 28 years ago during Blue Star, they must have been little kids. But they have been indoctrinated. It is a mindset. The idea of hatred towards people like me.
Therefore, the urge to take revenge and this indoctrination is working.
You are a soldier in every way, but at a human level don't you feel vulnerable, perhaps even scared with this threat?
It affects me. I can't say I enjoy it and I brush it away. I think about it sometimes and say 'Gosh, isn't this ever going to end?'
People ask me 'Don't you feel sorry that you had to do this operation inside the Golden Temple?' I tell them it is unfortunate, but someone had to do it.
I was picked up to carry out this operation, but what the Indian Army did had to be done at that time.
Otherwise, today like East Pakistan was severed and Bangladesh was created, Punjab would have gone and Khalistan would have been created.
There are certain things you have to do and you can't say my religious or emotional feelings don't permit me to do it.
I maintain that we did not purge the temple, we cleansed it.
There was bloodshed taking place, Bhindranwale was living on the first floor of the Akal Takht which is not permissible and the amount of things we found in that temple, I don't even want to talk about it.
Arms, explosives, grenades -- we cleansed that temple and gave it back to the Sikhs rather than handing over a dirty temple to them.
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Image: Devotees at the Golden Temple on the eve of Diwali.
Photographs: Munish Sharma/Reuterts
'Militancy can once again come in'
Have you visited the Golden Temple after Blue Star?
No. If I want to go to a temple or gurdwara I can go to one here.
Even before Blue Star you had not been to the Golden Temple...
I carried out a call of duty to the best of my ability. I have no regrets.
People say the hero of Blue Star, I correct them and say I am not a hero. I didn't do anything heroic, I just carried my task that was given to me and I'm sorry it had to be carried out against my own people.
But those were misguided people who took the wrong path and they were threatening the government and the country. In the bargain I am sorry innocent people died, but what can you do?
It happens in the Northeast, Kashmir... When there is a skirmish between insurgents and the security forces, some innocent persons lose their lives.
The current generation doesn't know what Punjab was at the time of the early 1980s. India has changed so much.
Do you think in a changed Punjab it is not easy for radical Sikh groups to hold sway over people like they did in the 1980s.
We hope so. People don't want trouble in Punjab like the early 1980s. But if we have certain elements who are helped by external agencies and at the same time being sympathetically treated by local politicians, then militancy can once again come in.
Though the people don't want it. Punjab is rich, but unfortunately there is not enough industry and not enough employment, but it is a very solid state and so are its people.
We have to make sure that the infiltration of militancy does not take place.
Do we risk treading down the same path?
Unless we change our ideas, put our political interests behind us and our national interests ahead of us.
When one goes to the Golden Temple, there is such a feeling of peace, that it is difficult to imagine that something like this once happened there.
You are right. It is such a peaceful place. You get such a feeling of peace. But that peaceful place had become an arsenal where criminals were inside and people were being killed outside.
It had become terrible. You can't imagine what the situation was in the early 1980s when we had to go in. I don't want to think about it.
Read the next part of this interview tomorrow!
Image: Devotees throng the fog-covered Golden Temple in Amritsar.
Photographs: Munish Sharma/Reuters