When Indira Gandhi decided to storm the Golden Temple

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Bhairab Datt Pande, known to his generation as BD, served in the Indian civil service from 1939 to 1977. His memoir, largely handwritten, in 1986, two years after leaving his last government assignment, contained his instructions that they should not be released until January 1, 2001 or five years after his death, whichever is later. BD Pande passed away in 2009. His daughter Ratna Sudarshan painstakingly edited and published the memoirs in 2021. The reader and the present and future generations are to be grateful to him for making an insightful account available in the covers of a book. economic and political developments. in India during its first four decades after independence. By an extraordinary coincidence, BD was in the midst of the maelstrom of the difficult years of the Emergency and the period leading up to the taking of the Golden Temple.

A shy boy who felt lonely in his early years at school in Almora was taken for study in Allahabad by his father who resigned his government post in the postal service to be with his son. BD’s brief commentary later, “his sacrifices for my well-being cannot be summed up in a few words,” sums up the bond between father and son. After a good school and university record, BD was sent by his father to study in Cambridge to sit for the entrance examination for the Indian civil service. In 1939, BD Pande signed the alliance inducting him into the ICS and received Bihar as a cadre.

Pande’s 20 years in Bihar have seen him hold several administrative positions in the districts and Patna, often dealing with food scarcity and development issues. Exposure to the tribes of Jharkhand left a deep impression on the cleanliness and honesty of the people. He notes the resentment against exploitation by foreigners and comments, “This underlying current of hostility remains to this day and is at the root of the uprisings in the northeastern part of India.” He witnesses the communal riots in Bihar of 1946 in Hindu retaliation for the great massacres in Calcutta of 1945 and the riots in Noakhali which “practically made Pakistan a certainty”. Recalling in this context the attacks on Sikhs in northern India in the 1980s, he was dismayed to see how minorities were attacked and felt threatened. “I never understood why 85% of the population of India, namely Hindus, should feel threatened by several communities which themselves constitute less than 15% of the population… ..the size of the Hinduism and the reason for its survival is its catholicity. , his big heart in religious matters, his recognition of all faiths and the unity of humanity and of the Divinity ”.

IN THE SERVICE OF FREE INDIA: Brief of an official; By BD Pande; TALKING TIGER BOOKS; 320 pages; Rs 699 (Source: Amazon.in)

In Delhi, BD was responsible for several departments, and his tongue-in-cheek narrative gives outsiders a glimpse into the fanciful nature of government assignments and transfers. A cabinet secretary tells him that he is not classified as a “great pilot” like others but “a senior officer, above the average, solid, unperturbed but with little brilliance”.

With these qualities, and although not the oldest, BD Pande was appointed Secretary to the Cabinet in October 1972 due to concerns over inflation and worsening industrial unrest. But perhaps the most important problem was the decline in political correctness and resentment against the growing influence of Sanjay Gandhi. As the author points out, “…. Democratic standards were thrown overboard. The resistance met with a series of criminal charges. Officers at all levels were appointed from above. Corruption and unethical practices were on the rise ”.
Even as disaffection grew and political opposition rallied under the leadership of Jai Prakash Narayan, the Allahabad High Court judgment of June 11, 1975, disqualifying Indira Gandhi from Parliament, precipitated matters. BD was present when an internal emergency was declared early on June 26, the Cabinet notifying until after Presidential consent. In the months that followed, “the actions were not taken through official mechanisms or official channels,” and were unknown to the Cabinet Secretariat or even the PMO as the orders were issued directly by Sanjay Gandhi. Ironically, after Congress was defeated in the March 1977 election, BD Pande also attended the Emergency Withdrawal Cabinet meeting and secured the signature of Acting President BD Jatti in the early hours of the morning. In the author’s opinion, ordering the elections “was the biggest decision she made that contributed to the strengthening of the Indian Constitution and the emerging democracy of India”.

BD Pande was recalled from his retirement to assume the post of governor of West Bengal in September 1982, only to be transferred to the Punjab when presidential rule was declared there in October 1983.

The history of the Punjab, the history of the Sikhs, Hindu-Sikh relations, and the events leading up to and including Operation Bluestar at the Golden Temple on June 5 and 6, 1984, occupy a third of the volume. The author’s scholarship is evident, as are his meticulous accounts of the series of events and meetings that led to the Indian army’s assault on the Golden Temple to flush out terrorists. He may not have participated in the decisions made by the coterie around the Prime Minister and his advice has been systematically ignored, but as governor he had a vision of the foreground. BD Pande tells us step by step, date by date, that the center is thwarting all efforts to find a political solution to the problems facing the Punjab. It is a sad story of pursuing the interests of the party with total disregard of the national and, in the author’s judgment, Indira Gandhi was unwilling to reach a political solution that could be to the detriment of Congress. Perhaps her decision was already taken because she stressed to the newly appointed governor “her determination to eradicate these terrorists … The author’s reminder of the events of that time confirms the description in” The Khalistan Conspiracy “by GBS Sidhu recently published and would be invaluable to current and future historians.

If Indira Gandhi paid a heavy price for her error in judgment, the nation, the Sikhs in particular, paid a heavy price. Sadly, the recklessness that characterized the political leaders of the day is still evident, as we see in the references to farmers agitating against farm laws as Khalistanis and terrorists and to attempts to drive a wedge between them. Hindu and Sikh farmers.
It must be agreed with the editor that these briefs “highlight some of the challenges that public servants faced, and the commitment with which they were resolved, in the years following independence.”

Deb Mukharji is a former Indian Ambassador to Nepal

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Kehoe Young

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