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Sikhs accuse Britain of sacrilege over massacre of Amritsar

Wednesday, 5 February 2014 - 9:13am IST | Place: Brussels/London | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Sikh leaders accused Britain yesterday (Tuesday) of being party to "sacrilege" after it was confirmed that a British military adviser had urged India use a helicopter operation and special forces to break the separatist occupation of Amritsar's Golden Temple 30 years ago.

Sikh leaders accused Britain yesterday (Tuesday) of being party to "sacrilege" after it was confirmed that a British military adviser had urged India use a helicopter operation and special forces to break the separatist occupation of Amritsar's Golden Temple 30 years ago.

A Government investigation into British involvement in the 1984 crisis found the adviser had travelled to India and suggested a surprise attack using helicopter-borne forces.

But the investigation concluded the British advice had largely been ignored and had had "limited impact" on the later storming of the temple complex in which hundreds of people were killed.

The inquiry, led by Sir Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, was begun after documents released under the 30-year-rule last month revealed that an SAS officer had been drafted in to help Indian plans to remove heavily armed Sikh nationalists from the Golden Temple at Amritsar, Sikhism's holiest shrine.

William Hague, the foreign secretary, told Parliament that the investigation had confirmed a military adviser had travelled to India in February 1984 after an urgent appeal for help from the government of Indira Gandhi, the then prime minister.

He advised that military action should only be taken "as a last resort, when all attempts at negotiation had failed".

He also advised that any military option should involve a surprise attack using helicopter-borne troops "in the interests of reducing casualties and bringing about a swift resolution".

Mr Hague said the investigation found "the nature of the UK's assistance was purely advisory, limited and provided to the Indian government at an early stage". He added: "It had limited impact on the tragic events that unfolded at the temple three months later; that there was no link between the provision of this advice and defence sales and there is no record of the [British] government receiving advance notice of the operation."

The adviser's suggestion was eventually ignored when in June 1984 the Indian army launched Operation Blue Star, which left 492 civilians dead and led to some of the worst communal violence in the history of modern India.

Mrs Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards months later in an act of revenge, which in turn led to the massacre of 8,000 Sikhs in riots throughout northern India.

In India, bitterness at the events of 30 years ago still endures. The disclosure of the detailed advice offered by the British was condemned by the Shiromai Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, the ruling body of the temple.

S Dalmegh Singh, the committee secretary, said: "The attack on the Golden Temple was a sacrilege and all those who were a party to it have hurt the religious sentiments of millions of Sikhs. We condemn the role of British government, which helped the Indian government to conspire and attack the temple.

"The British government cheated the Sikhs by advising the Indian government to raid the temple with helicopters. They shouldn't have advised or helped the government of India."

Kanwarpal Singh, of the Dal Khalsa separatist group, said the disclosures meant Britain must share the blame for the final operation and apologise for "conniving with the invaders".

Letters between senior home and foreign office officials were "inadvertently" released under the 30-year rule last month. They confirmed that Margaret Thatcher, then prime minister, had approved an Indian government request for advice on how to end the occupation by the dissidents.

David Cameron, the prime minister, subsequently said the disclosures had raised "very real concerns" and ordered the inquiry by the cabinet secretary to establish the facts.

The military adviser had visited Amritsar in February 1984 and urged the Indian government to drop special forces by helicopter and coordinate night operations by special forces and paramilitaries to maximise "surprise and momentum".

The Indian government was then planning an "orthodox paramilitary-style" frontal assault, but the British military adviser said it should instead identify "sufficient helicopters, and the capability to insert troops by helicopter, as critical requirements". No practical assistance, training or equipment, was offered, Mr Heywood reported, and the adviser had stressed that his proposal was intended only as a "last resort".




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