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We had no choice: Indira Gandhi told Margaret Thatcher on Operation Bluestar

Tuesday, 4 February 2014 - 9:17pm IST | Agency: PTI

Former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi wrote a personal letter to her British counterpart Margaret Thatcher soon after the 1984 Operation Bluestar in an attempt to justify her decision to send army to flush out militants from the Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh shrine.

The letter, dated June 14, 1984, was made public for the first time today as part of a British government inquiry into the role played by the UK in the lead up to the Indian Army operation on Golden Temple in Amritsar to remove militants.

"It is never easy to undertake security action involving a place of worship... but this place, so sacred to the people of the Sikh faith, had been converted by terrorists into a base of operations," wrote Gandhi just days after the operation that left more than 1,000 people dead.

"We did know that arms were being collected there. But only after last week's action did we realise how vast and sophisticated these weapons were... For months a reign of terror was unleashed from the temple complex, holding all Punjab to ransom. We had no choice but to send an army unit which exercised the utmost restraint, using a minimum of force," she added.

The former Indian prime minister also shared her regrets over the fallout of the military action with Thatcher, one of her close political allies.

"Many in the Sikh community have been shaken by this traumatic event. The process of healing and conciliation will take time but we shall persevere," she wrote.

The letter is among five additional documents released with the inquiry report by UK Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood which would not normally have been published.

Among them is a note dated February 23, 1984, that sets out how an eight-day visit by a British military expert had helped draw out a "realistic and workable plan" to root out extremists from the Golden Temple as the Indians were fairly unprepared for action and were applying a "sledgehammer to crack a nut" principle to the whole operation.

British Prime Minister David Cameron had ordered the inquiry after documents released under the 30-year declassification rule here implied British SAS commanders had advised the Indian government as it drew up plans for a military operation on Golden Temple in February 1984.

"We have taken this step because the whole investigation has been based on a commitment to the maximum possible transparency," Britain's foreign secretary William Hague told Parliament here today as part of a statement on probe.

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