Industani: When AP journalist scuttled Golden Temple Granthi’s call for revenge

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By Manish Anand

New Delhi, December 24: Several accounts have noted that Operation Bluestar between June 1-10 was an unmitigated disaster. Journalists who were in the thick of actions carry vivid memories of the disastrous trails in the aftermath of the Operation Bluestar and the subsequent dance of death on the streets of Delhi.

Shiv Kumar Verma, son of a serving Indian army officer, was working for the Associated Press (AP) during the eventful days when Punjab was on boil. He has come out with a memoir ‘Life of an Industani – Six degrees of separation’. He was a journalist. But his accounts suggest that his heart was more with the Indian army. He had several acquaintances in the Indian army, and the line many a times blurred between his call of duty to journalism and commitment to India’s national interests.

On October 31, 1984 evening, the news of the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by then had spread like a wildfire. The call of revenge was heard loud on the streets of Delhi. Verma was stunned at the turn of events. He rode a scooter and reached the Rashtrapati Bhavan unchecked. The police check points had disappeared. None checked him at the high security Rashtrapati Bhavan where soon he was standing in from of the then President Giani Zail Singh.

“…The President did not respond. He just seemed to look at me with a blank, bewildered look,” Verma described his encounter of late Singh on the fateful evening.

“I looked again at Giani Zail Singh …his face and eyes were blank. It was almost as if he was seeing nothing, hearing nothing,” wrote Verma in the book. Later, Verma was told that “Gian Zail Singh was almost in a state of shock and that he was being sedated”. Within hours of the assassination of late Indira Gandhi, Delhi had become a field of butchers, who came to the national capital with kerosene and other means of savagery.

Verma lamented his confrontations with senior military officials who sought to duck responsibility for a flag march of the military on the Delhi streets even while “35 Infantry Brigade was in Delhi and 9 Infantry Division was in Meerut”.

AP sent Verma to a special assignment to interview the chief Granthi of the Golden Temple Sahib Singh. The interview was just two minutes long. The Granthi had wanted to use AP to send out a message to the global Sikh community. Verma was stunned, but he recollected his composure for a chain of actions, which in a few hours would leave with a bloodied face and a tooth spat out.

“Before I could ask him any question as such he decided to address the entire Sikh community through the good office of AP. He spoke crisply, without any show of emotion, but his words were chilling. In effect, he was telling Sikhs across the globe that reports were coming in of the horrific things that had happened to the Sikh community in Delhi, and it was the sworn duty of every man to avenge that had happened,” Verma wrote.

Verma seized the moment that AP was being used by the Granthi, and soon he was dialing the GOC 14 Division (Indian Army). The message of the Granthi never reached the audience.

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