image caption: Gurmukh Singh

The Blame Game in Indian Democracy

  • In his memoirs, In the Service of Free India, late B D Pande blamed Indira Gandhi for Operation Bluestar

  • Indian President, Giani Zail Singh wrote in his memoirs: On 5 June 1984. The Government launched Operation Blue Star in the complex of the Golden Temple. Amritsar, for which I was not given even an inkling beforehand. (Memoirs of Giani Zail Singh page 178)

Late B D Pande was the Governor of Punjab from October 10, 1983, to June 27, 1984, when the state was under Presidential Rule. So, during the events leading up to Operation Blue Star, Giani Zail Singh was the President of India and B D Pande was the Governor. Both carried responsibility to uphold the Constitution.

We look at memoirs of those who have held high office of state with some principles in mind. An important management principle is that responsibility goes hand in hand with authority. That applies to government positions also. If a person with constitutional responsibility and authority stands by and allows unconstitutional acts to take place, then that person carries the ultimate responsibility for those acts and crimes.

The other well-known legal maxim is that officials cannot plead superior orders for doing what is wrong or illegal. Not even during war time. For example, a soldier will be charged with murder if his senior officer orders him to shoot an innocent person.

In his memoirs, B D Pande is not the only one who claims that a false narrative (ਝੂਠੀ ਕਹਾਣੀ ) was built up to justify Operation Bluestar. He claims that the Centre was adamant on harsh measures. By that he means that PM Indira Gandhi was determined to teach the Sikhs a lesson and intentionally used false evidence to order the invasion of Darbar Sahib and nearly 40 other historic Gurdwaras. In effect, it was an invasion of the Indian State of Punjab, by own Indian Army. The President of India at the time, Giani Zail Singh, claims in his memoirs that he was not informed of Operation Blue Star.

Otherwise Pande praises the Sikhs is critical of central leadership, meaning that Indira Gandhi was a ruthless person who would crush opposition by any means that the Hindu press and the national press wrote against the Sikhs and contributed to the false narrative that the Sikhs were unable to defend themselves that before resigning three weeks after Bluestar, Pande had offered to resign three times because of his differences with Prime Minister and so on. It seems in Indian affairs it is always someone else to blame when Indian central government or states act outside the Constitution. For example, Haryana State blocked the national highway to discriminate against the Sikhs during the Asian Games, thus antagonising the whole Sikh community.

Giani Zail Singh was an astute and mature politician. Indira Gandhi should have listened to his advice and that of B D Pande. However, both claimed in their memoirs that they were not listened to or informed of drastic government actions during Presidential Rule in Punjab at a critical time in the history of independent India. Both did not actually resign when not heeded by Indira Gandhi.

The consequences in terms of loss of lives and the loss of trust of a whole community, continue to be far reaching.

Gurmukh Singh OBE

Principal Civil Servant Ret&rsquod