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Attack on Operation Blue Star leader in London indicates that the Khalistan movement is far from finished

By Syed Nazakat in New Delhi

“We entered the Golden Temple complex with our heads bowed in respect, and a prayer on our lips,” said Lt Gen. Kuldeep Singh Brar, after he led the Indian Army to flush out Khalistani militants one hot June evening in 1984. The soldiers shot many militants holed up in the complex, including Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his commander the former general Subegh Singh. Several sacred structures suffered heavy damage in the shootout, and pro-Khalistan groups swore revenge.

Within five months, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated right inside her highly protected Safdarjung Road residence in New Delhi. Soon afterwards retired general A.S. Vaidya was gunned down in Pune. Brar was next on the hit list.

Such was the threat to his life that after his retirement, Brar was put up at a heavily guarded cantonment area in Mumbai. All his travel details were kept a secret, even from close relatives and friends. Last year, however, while he was visiting his relatives in London, his travel itinerary leaked and it appeared on a number of Sikh radical web sites. However, the incident was shrugged off and never investigated in detail.

Almost a year later, on September 30, the 78-year-old general and his wife were attacked while returning after dinner to their hotel in the Oxford Circus area of London. As four bearded men in black clothes pounced on them, Brar valiantly fought back. “I put up a strong struggle,” said Brar on his return from London. “He [one of the attackers] knifed me in the back and slashed my neck with the knife. A few passers-by arrived and the attackers got frightened and ran away.”

The London police are treating the attack as an attempted murder. Brar said a mobile phone found at the scene might help the police identify the attackers.

How the assailants got to know of Brar’s travel plans is intriguing. He is under Z-category security, and is entitled to 22 security personnel and an escort car. According to Brar, whenever he travelled out of Mumbai he used to inform the local military station, which in turn kept the higher authorities posted. Whether that protocol was followed when he left for London is not clear yet. The home ministry, however, said that it had not been informed about his travel plans. “We had no clue about his London visit,” said an officer in the ministry.

Brar had commanded an infantry battalion during the 1971 war with Pakistan and was honoured with the Vir Chakra for the battle at Jamalpur. But Operation Blue Star rendered his career controversial in the Sikh community. A shaven Sikh, Brar has always justified the operation saying it was essential to liberate the most sacred Sikh shrine from militants and defeat terrorism in Punjab. As Operation Blue Star caused a number of civilian casualties and the destruction of the Akal Takht in the Golden Temple complex, Sikh religious bodies looked upon Brar as an enemy of the community.

The attack on Brar has reinforced fears that pro-Khalistan militants are still active abroad, and some of them might even be regrouping. While the insurgency in Punjab died down long ago, it is an open secret that the separatist movement continues to draw support as well as funds from abroad.

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