Amritsar: Mrs. Gandhi’s Last Battle by Mark Tully and Satish Jacob

amritFor those of you who are history buffoons, this book presents a very interesting piece of Indian political history and how the turn of events got a prime minister assassinated and threw the whole country into a turmoil. The introduction of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale to Indian psyche is reminiscence of that period when politics were considered a game and power was above everything else, even human lives.

Born into a family of poor farmers, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale was the 7th son of Jat Sikh. He lived his life in relative obscurity until he started following on a path of his religion and became head of Damdami Taksal, religious school for Sikhism. Sant’s activities quickly went past the morality standards and he became involved with Akali Dal, strongest party in Punjab state in India. Their Anandpur Sahib resolution became his and from there on, came his unwavering support – some from the political powers at the center of India (notably the congress government!) and the rest from people. His immediate arrest and unconditional release made him into a cult.

Meanwhile, Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India and Zail Singh, ex home minister and later-on President of India trying to neutralize Akali Dal party by building a rival engaged Sant. Not only was Sant apt at persuading the poor farmers from countryside to join his movement but also the old and educated followed his lead. Notable amongst them were Retd Major General Shahbeg Singh – a war veteran who liberated Bangladesh from the clutch of Pakistan through using Guerilla warfare

Sant became too big for his boots and his demand for an independent Khalistan (country for Sikhs!) started resonating with ordinary Sikhs. All negotiations and diplomacy failed. Congress soon realized that they have been feeding a monster. Only military option was feasible. Punjab came to standstill with army scourging every Gurudwara (Sikh temple) in Punjab to hunt for terrorists. Meanwhile, Sant with his band of followers had taken refuge in the most sacrosanct place of worship for Sikhs – the golden temple. Shahbeg Singh helped him to fortify the temple. Though Army was given strict instructions to not touch the temple and Akal Takht (the holy tower inside golden temple), Akal Takht was left in ruins and sentiment of Sikh followers shattered. This gave rise to extreme fanaticism and start of us (Sikh) vs them (Indian government) attitude the first victim of which was Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who was shot by her own bodyguard (a Sikh). Riots followed in which many died of all religions – mainly Sikhs. This turmoil ended when the new prime minister was sworn in and he worked out a compromise formula.

Book reads like a documentary and becomes interesting at times with a neutral take on every event and Mark Tully/ Satish Jacob have done a remarkable job by lining up evidence for everything that they have mentioned in the book. This book then becomes a reference guide for anyone trying to seek clarification on events leading upto the unfortunate Operation Blue star in which many died (1000 plus on last count) and scarred the Sikh community and changed course of Indian history. I rate it a 4/5. Happy reading !!!

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