In May 1984, Sikh extremists occupied the Golden Temple in Amritsar, converting it into a haven for terrorists. Gandhi responded in early June when she launched Operation Bluestar, which killed and wounded hundreds of soldiers, insurgents, and civilians (see Insurgent Movements and External Subversion, ch. 10). Guarding against further challenges to her power, she removed the chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir and Andhra Pradesh just months before her assassination by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984...
The insurgency in the state of Punjab originated in the late 1970s. The roots of this insurgency are complex. The Green Revolution, a package of agricultural inputs, transformed the socioeconomic landscape of Punjab (see The Green Revolution, ch. 7). Amidst this new-found prosperity, large numbers of Sikhs started to shed some of the trappings of their faith. This propensity rekindled an age-old fear in the Sikh community--that of being absorbed into the Hindu fold. In turn, many Punjabi Sikhs, who were dispossessed of their land as a consequence of agricultural transformation, found solace in various revivalistic practices. One of the leaders of this revivalistic movement was Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a politically ambitious itinerant Sikh preacher. The second factor contributing to the insurgency was the attempt by Indira Gandhi (India's prime minister, 1966-77 and 1980-84), the Congress, and from 1978 Congress (I) to use Bhindranwale to undermine the position of the Akali Dal (Eternal Party), a regional party (see Political Parties, ch. 8). Bhindranwale and his followers were encouraged to verbally intimidate Akali Dal politicians. Although this strategy met with some success, Bhindranwale and his followers became a source of mayhem and disruption in Punjab. Eventually, in June 1984, Gandhi had to order units of the Indian army to flush out Bhindranwale and his followers, who had taken refuge in the Golden Temple complex, Sikhism's most holy shrine, in Amritsar, Punjab (see Sikhism, ch. 3).
This exercise, Operation Bluestar, was, at best, a mixed success. After all efforts at negotiation failed, Indira Gandhi ordered the army to storm the temple. A variety of army units, along with substantial numbers of paramilitary forces, surrounded the temple complex on June 3, 1984. After the demands to surrender peacefully were met with volleys of gunfire from within the confines of the temple, the army was given the order to take the temple by force. Indian intelligence authorities had underestimated the firepower possessed by the militants, however, and the army brought in tanks and heavy artillery to suppress the antitank and machine-gun fire. After a twenty-four-hour firefight, the army successfully took control of the temple. According to Indian government sources, eighty-three army personnel were killed and 249 injured. Insurgent casualties were 493 killed and eighty-six injured. Indian observers assert that the number of Sikh casualties was probably higher.
The attack on the Golden Temple had the effect of inflaming significant segments of the Sikh community.