Operation Bluestar: About 16K artefacts of Golden Temple not coming back

Amritsar: Thirty-five years have gone, still there is no whereabouts of over 16,000 artefacts relating to the Sikh religion and history after they were allegedly taken over by the Army following Operation Bluestar from the Golden Temple complex.

The Shriomani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) says 15,000 rare books, 16,000 artefacts related to Sikh religion and history and handwritten ‘birs’ (copies) of Guru Granth Sahib were among the items that had gone missing.

Akali Dal President Sukhbir Singh Badal last week called on Union Home Minister Amit Shah and sought his intervention so that the they are located and returned to community with due honour.

In a written submission Badal said the Sikhs are eagerly waiting for the precious treasure that includes important holy scriptures, artefacts, thousands of historical books and collection part of the Sikh Reference Library and relics belonging to Sri Guru Sahib and other Sikh personalities.

Officials of the SGPC, considered a mini Parliament of Sikh religious affairs, say they have approached several Prime Ministers but there was no substantial action on returning the articles seized from the library during and after the Army action.

It had written to Prime Ministers Chandra Shekhar, V.P. Singh, I.K. Gujral and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

“We were told that either the library where they were kept was burnt to ashes or they was returned to the SGPC. But where are they now and to whom the possession was given,” a senior SGPC functionary told IANS, requesting anonymity.

Then Defence Minister George Fernandes, in one of the communications to the SGPC, had said historical books and collection part of the Sikh Reference Library were handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation by the Army.

“He had advised us to contact the Ministry to which the CBI is accountable to and get the historical books and other collection back, but nothing happened,” he said, adding “in fact, the central government ministries are deliberately lying since the issue is sensitive”.

The SGPC, which has control over Sikh religious affairs, manages gurdwaras (Sikh temples) in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, including the holiest of Sikh shrines Harmandir Sahib, popularly known as Golden Temple, in Amritsar.

More than 4,000 documents, several books besides gold and silver ornaments, precious stones, currency and coins were recovered by the security agencies during Operation Bluestar, a reply to a Right to Information (RTI) application of Gurvinder Singh Chadha said last year.

In the reply, the Ministry of Home Affairs said the articles and documents recovered were handed over either to the SGPC or the Punjab government.

But there was no detail about the items returned and to who they were handed over.

The police in its reply said when Operation Bluestar was carried out at that point in time the state was under military rule.

In another RTI reply to Patiala MP Dharamvira Gandhi on July 7, 2017, the Defence Minister said the Army “does not possess any manuscripts and other historical documents reportedly missing from the Golden Temple”.

It said the manuscripts and other items were handed over to the state government and other agencies; but it did not mention any date of handing over.

Earlier, in reply to an RTI plea by Patiala MP Dharamvira Gandhi on July 7, the ministry said the manuscripts “were handed over to Mohan Singh, curator, museum, Punjab government”.

“Other items were handed over to functionaries of SGPC; government treasurer, Amritsar; and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI),” it added.

Interestingly, a former sub-inspector associated with the CBI surfaced and claimed that the seized material was shifted to an undisclosed location by the Army and CBI officials after the Operation Bluestar.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on Wednesday issued a statement in Chandigarh accusing the Akali Dal of misleading the Sikhs.

It said the missing historic documents had been reportedly handed over to the SGPC by the Army in a phased manner, as per the records available, but were allegedly missing from the reference library since then.

It questioned the Badals as to why they were running away from a high-level probe into the missing documents amid allegations by their own party’s senior leaders of selling them in crores.

The AAP demanded a CBI probe under the supervision of the Punjab and Haryana High Court and also asked the Union government to issue a white paper about the missing documents.

Operation Bluestar was a military action ordered by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to flush out militants led by Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale holed up in the Golden Temple complex.

The operation was carried out between June 1 and 8, 1984, and claimed several lives and left the shrine and complex damaged.