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OPERATION RAKSHAK

The observance of the State’s 1984 ghullughara (holocaust) of Sikhs in June 1990 saw mammoth crowds visiting functions sponsored by the militant groups. Mann’s ros (protest) march for restoration of democratic processes covering several villages in the borders of Amritsar and Gurdaspur besides his listening to people’s grievances and attending bhog ceremonies of militants killed were provocative to the administration. Nirmal Kumar Mukherjee who was inquisitive about the misdoings of the security forces was soon replaced as Governor by Virendra Verma, a faceless Janta Dal member of Rajya Sabha and still even he was rebuked by Gill on June 23rd 1990 stating “brutalities had increased and that the police had a hand in kidnapping and extortions”.
The government inducted National Security Guards in the border districts in July to supplement the police and paramilitary forces. It had an immediate impact of 200 civilians and more than 150 ‘suspected terrorists’ being killed in July 1990. Police would then disown such killings of civilians and militants as ‘inter-gang rivalries’. “The fall out” in the words of Kanwar Sandhu of India Today “is that the police have once again assumed the preponderant role in the administration”.
A month later the government took “the controversial decision to ask the army to mount exercises in these areas”. This was later termed Operation Rakshak I. A series of new steps including night ambushes were chalked out.
V.P. Singh was disturbed at these events and full of remorse stated “one thing I will regret all my life for which I will not pardon myself, and publicly acknowledge my mistake, in not holding elections (in Punjab) within six months of the Government coming into power”. His government then fell to the incoming Chandra Shekhar administration.
Mann decision to quit Lok Sabha seat on October 12, 1990 was a pointer to the hardening of attitudes. Mann in a press statement said “We have been thrown out of the Constitution. Only the United Nations can restore order democracy in Punjab”.
Meanwhile hardliners were replaced by outright slaughterers as K.P.S. Gill was made Director General of CRPF, Governor Verma was replaced by General O.P. Malhotra and the Chief Secretary was replaced by Tejendra Khanna from the centre.
Meanwhile at ground level 100,000 to 150,000 troops were spreading out in November 1990 on the Punjab borders to carry on the Operation Rakshak I exercise to seal the border shut from the outside world and impose the Centre’s administration and security even in the most remote areas. To add to the deception, Chandra Shekhar offered to talk to anyone on all matters inclusive of Khalistan “to show how impractical it was”. The Akalis fell to the bait and the three Akali Dals of Badal, Tota Singh and Mann united and were headed by Mann when he met Chandra Shekhar on December 28th 1990 and presented a memorandum emphasising the Sikhs right to self-determination granted to them by international law and article 51 of the Constitution. It went on that the “Sikhs have no choice but to safeguard their religious, political and other interests”, recalled that the Sikhs had joined the Union on the basis of the Cabinet Mission Plan which gave the right of provinces to change their constitution after 10 years. “Even if the format of the province has changed, the principle remains”. The memorandum emitted an aura of a suppressed nation rising against tyranny of “Brahminical Government of India”. However the government refused to move ground on even the most basic of requests and was soon back to the old tricks of repression. Seeing the huge massacre of Sikhs, Bhai Kulwant Singh Babbar on behalf of the five militant organisations aligned to the Dr Sohan Singh Panthic committee flouted the credibility of the State by saying “the militants have no doubt that Mr Shekhar is flying on borrowed wings and thus could hardly be worth talking to. A leader on borrowed life could hardly give anything to the Sikhs”.
Mann realised the Centre would go beyond its own constitution and international law by supporting army action and wanted nothing short of total annihilation of the Sikh community and criticised the Governor for “having the whole townships searched, and insulted lawyers and intellectuals, gagged the press and robbed every Sikh of his self-respect… killing of the Sikhs by the security forces in false encounters reached the proportion of a genocide”.
Congress(I) cames back in power in the centre and initiated a multi-pronged policy of suppression of the Sikhs. The police state was reinforced and elections in Punjab were delayed. K.P.S. Gill was brought back as Director General of Police and instantly he brought in young IPS officers and positioned them as SSPs at district level and were given instructions to use any means necessary to break the back of militant support in the wider community.

Militant movement peaked in 1991 in which the Indian Army carried out two high profile military operations against Punjab (Operation Rakshak I and II). Operation Rakshak II was carried out by a minimum of 34 army brigades, which consisted of 150,000 soldiers, 40,000 para-militaries, 53,000 Punjab police personal, 20,000 home guards and 12,000 special forces. These figures were first published in the Tribune newspaper in December 1991 and have been widely publicized since.
The armed-struggle never recovered from such a huge assault and also from the armed conflict losing popular support among the civilian population due to years and years of police harassment and special armed forces act which made Punjab police above the law to carry out anything they wanted on suspected militants and any sympathizers. In reality this translated into Punjab police grossly abusing their powers against ordinary civilians especially in the rural areas...