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Sikh campaigners seek release of UK files on 1984 Golden Temple assault

LONDON: Secret government files said to hold details of British involvement in the assault on the Golden Temple, Sikhism's holiest shrine, in June 1984, that claimed the lives of hundreds of people, should be released to the public, campaigners have urged.

Members of the Sikh Federation believe the documents will show there was a greater level of cooperation between the British and Indian governments over the latter's attempts to clear militants from the Golden Temple in the summer of 1984 than has previously been acknowledged.

According to the London-based newspaper, The Nation, they have launched an appeal to the information tribunal, due to be heard next year, to try to force through the release of the files under freedom of information laws, having been thwarted in their attempts thus far.

"The public has a right to know the truth about what happened 30 years ago. We believe these files are being held back - not for security reasons but for political reasons that would prove embarrassing to the Conservative Party, since it was Margaret Thatcher and her discussions with the Indian regime," said Davinder Singh, of the Sikh Federation.

The federation wants greater transparency over Britain's involvement in the Indian government's effort to drive Sikh militants seeking a separate homeland out of the Golden Temple in Amritsar - the religion's most holy site.

The Indian government has put the death toll from the action, named Operation Blue Star, at about 400 people, whereas Sikh groups say many more were killed - including pilgrims - when the then-prime minister, Indira Gandhi, sent in the troops. More than 100 Indian soldiers died.

Whitehall correspondence released in 2014 said an SAS officer had been asked to plan an operation to remove militants from the temple. That plan was then approved by Gandhi, the letter said. But an inquiry ordered by David Cameron found no evidence of British involvement in the massacre.

Suspected Sikh militants surrendered after the Indian government's 1984 assault on the Golden Temple. "Around four months before the event, at the request of the Indian government, a single UK military officer provided some advice. But, critically, this advice was not followed, and it was a one-off. There is absolutely no evidence of UK government involvement in the operation itself," Cameron said, summarising the findings of Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood.

The campaigners, however, believe the closed files will shed more light on the extent of Britain's involvement. One of the four files relates to "UK/Indian relations: situation in Punjab; activities of Sikh extremists", as well as a visit to the UK by Rajiv Gandhi, who took office after his mother, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards in October 1984 in retaliation for the Amritsar attack.

Another file covers meetings between Margaret Thatcher and an aide to Indira Gandhi, as well as the latter's assassination and Thatcher's visit to India to attend her funeral. The final document is entitled simply: "India: political".

Some of the information has already been released to the National Archives, while other portions have been withheld from the public. A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "The first tier tribunal will consider this case in the New Year and it would be inappropriate to comment any further.

 

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