UK Politics

Sikh groups demand full inquiry on UK links to Golden Temple attack

Sikh protest at Downing Street
Campaigners staged a protest outside Downing Street on Thursday

Campaigners representing UK Sikhs have demanded a full public inquiry into the extent of UK involvement in a deadly 1984 attack on a Sikh temple in India.

An open letter to PM David Cameron, backed by the Sikh Federation UK and the British Sikh Council, argued that there were "too many serious questions that remain unanswered" on the claims.

The Sikh Federation's Dabinderjit Singh said Foreign Secretary William Hague had misled Parliament about the raid.

The UK government stood by its account.

Prime Minister David Cameron commissioned cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood in January to investigate claims of British involvement in the raid on the Golden Temple in the city of Amritsar.

Mr Hague presented its findings to Parliament earlier this month, which confirmed that the Indian government had sought advice from an SAS officer on how best to storm the temple.

The Golden Temple is the holiest shrine for Sikhs
The Golden Temple is one of the holiest shrines for Sikhs

The officer said a raid should only be a last resort and suggested helicopters could be used as part of a strategy to minimise casualties, Sir Jeremy said.

Mr Hague told MPs earlier this month that the Indian government's campaign had "differed from the approach recommended", partly because there had been no "helicopter-borne element".

But Mr Singh said: "Every single book [on the subject] says that actually helicopter gunships were used. They were used on the 4, 5, and 6 June 1984.

"So that starts to put a different level of complicity in terms of what Parliament was told."

Mr Singh added: "So not only was the foreign secretary and the report that has been produced misleading, it was not truthful."

'Damage limitation'

The inquiry was launched last month after declassified documents were said to suggest Margaret Thatcher's government was involved in planning the raid, called Operation Blue Star.

Official figures put the death toll at 575, but Mr Hague said other reports suggested "as many as 3,000 people were killed including pilgrims caught in the crossfire".

UK involvement had had only a "limited impact" on the events at Amritsar, Mr Hague said.

But Mr Singh claimed that tanks used to storm the temple had been manufactured by a British firm, and representatives of Indian special forces had also travelled to England to make inquiries about getting SAS training for their troops.

"India turned it down," he went on. "But the point is, what were the British doing offering that training? Why were they welcoming those special forces, who actually led the operation against the Sikhs?"

The cabinet secretary's report had been "too narrowly focused", Mr Singh argued.

"It was looking at the advice that was given, but not looking at the context in which that advice was given, asking the question why was the British government contemplating providing military assistance of whatever sort."

The Sikh groups' open letter to the government said: "The review has been perceived as a damage limitation exercise and the report produced showed no empathy for the thousands of innocent Sikhs killed."

The British Sikh Council's Gurmukh Singh said the recent revelation about the SAS officer's advice had brought the "more extreme side [of the Sikh community] and the moderate side together with some sort of common understanding".

"Unless there is admission of the truth, and the whole truth is revealed, and then there is reconciliation, you cannot draw a line under 1984," he concluded.

But Mr Hague dismissed a call from Labour MP John McDonnell for a full public inquiry in his Commons statement on 4 February.

"I think the facts have been set out clearly by the cabinet secretary, a respected official and the most senior civil servant in the country, who has served governments of all parties in a non-partisan way," he said.

The foreign secretary told MPs: "This loss of life was an utter tragedy.

"Understandably members of the Sikh community around the world still feel the pain and suffering caused by these events."

Responding to the campaigner's allegations, a government spokesman said: "The [cabinet secretary's] report found that the nature of the UK's assistance was purely advisory, limited and provided to the Indian government at an early stage.

"The then-government did send one military adviser to provide military advice on Indian contingency plans for an operation in the temple complex. However, this military advice was a one-off. It was not sustained.

"There was no other form of UK military assistance, such as training or equipment, to the Indians with Operation Blue Star. The actual operation implemented by the Indian Army differed significantly from the approach suggested by the UK military officer."

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