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If a bullet is destined to get me, it will come with my name: Assassination of former army chief who coordinated Operation Blue Star

Gen. Vaidya had received death threats from Sikh militant groups after Operation Bluestar, and he was assassinated on 10 August 1986

Between the 1st and 10th of June 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had launched an operation to flush out terrorists from the Golden Temple. Operation Blue Star was the code name for the Indian military action carried out to remove Khalistan terrorist Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his armed followers from the Harminder Sahib complex in Amritsar.

Operation Blue Star, however, had far-reaching ramifications well after it was over. While the military had neutralised Bhindranwale, the Army Chief, who had coordinated the operation, was brutally assassinated by Khalistani terrorists only 2 years later.

On August 10, 1986, former army chief General A.S. Vaidya was assassinated in Pune by Sikh militants on Khalistan Commando Force. The assassins, Jinda and Sukha were sentenced to death in 1989 and executed on October 9, 1992. General Vaidya played a vital role in Operation Blue Star that eventually led to the end of the Khalistan movement in Punjab. He was army chief during the operation.

A brief history of the life of Gen. Vaidya

General Arunkumar Shridhar Vaidya was born on January 27, 1926, in Bombay to a family of government employees. Gen Vaidya’s family had a fair share of representation in the Indian Army. He started his career in the Indian Armoured Corp in 1944. British Indian Army had called him to fight in Burma in World War II. Due to his dedication and valour, he rose quickly in the ranks. He spent a fair share of his service in Kashmir after independence.

In 1965 he served in the Indian Army as commandant during the India-Pakistan war. In 1971, he was the commander of the Indian armoured division during the India-Pakistan war. Before he became the Indian army chief in 1983, he had already earned two Maha Vir Chakra (One after the battle of Barapind in 1965 and the second after the 1971 Indo-Pak war) and Param Vahisht Sena Medal. When he took over the post of Army Chief, separatism was on the rise in India, especially in the state of Punjab.

Role of Gen Vaidya in Operation Bluestar

The Khalistan terrorist movement under Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was about demanding a separate country Khalistan for Sikhs. The Militants from the organization took up arms and hid inside the Golden Temple, the most sacred shrine of Sikhs. After several attempts to end the Khalistani militancy in Punjab, the government of India under then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered the Indian Army to take charge and free the Golden Temple from the insurgents. The military operation codenamed Operation Bluestar was coordinated under Army Chief Vaidya.

The operation was started on June 1, 1984, and ended on June 10, 1984. Lt. Gen. Sundarji assisted General Vaidya in the planning and coordination of Operation Bluestar. Lt. Gen. Kuldip Singh Brar had the command of the action. On June 7, 1984, the Army had complete control of Harmandir Sahib. However, keeping the size of the premises in mind, the Army took another three days to clear the premises and announced the end of the operation on June 10.

Vaidya inspecting Operation Bluestar. Source SSB Crack

Gen. Vaidya served in the Army for over 40 years retired on January 31, 1986, as one of India’s most decorated officers. By the time he retired, he had earned over 20 medals, including two Maha Vir Chakra. He was posthumously conferred with Padma Vibhushan for his exemplary service in the Indian Army.

The series of events on the day of the assassination

Being a Hindu Army officer, Gen. Vaidya began to receive death threats from Khalistani terrorist groups after Operation Bluestar. As per reports, Khalistani militants had vowed to take revenge for the action of the Indian Army. Gen. Vaidya retired on January 31, 1986, and shifted to Pune, where he had built a three-bedroom bungalow in the Koregaon Park with his 55-year-old wife, Bhanu. His daughter Neera lived in Bhutan, and the other two daughters Parijat and Tarini, were living in Delhi.

At that time, the reporters asked him if he was afraid of the threats. He replied, “After seeing two wars, I can’t run away from danger. If a bullet is destined to get me, it will come with my name written on it.” Former army chief General G.G. Bewoor, who was his neighbour, had said, “I never spoke to him about the threatening letters, but it was obvious he had decided to ignore them and lead a normal life. He was a fine, brave soldier.”

Vaidya had security, but it was not adequate

Vaidya was travelling in his Maruti car with his wife and security guard on the day of his assassination on 10 August 1986. Technically, when he retired from the Army, he became a civilian. However, the Army had informed the Union Home Ministry about the threats on his life and the need for a protective ring around him. The Pune Police was given the task to ensure the security of Gen. Vaidya.

Lt-General P.N. Kathpalia, former Director-General of Military Intelligence (DGMI), had said, “He was certainly concerned. But he was too much of a soldier to bother too much about it.” Then-Pune Police Commissioner B.J. Misar had met Gen Vaidya two days before his death. He said, “Two days before he died, I met him at a party at Divisional Commissioner Kuljit Singh Sidhu’s house. He said he won’t be cowed down by the threats and is prepared to take the risk.”

Vaidya was an easy target on the day of the assassination

There was a lone bodyguard, Havildar Kshirsagar, armed with just a revolver sitting in the cramped back seat of the Maruti car. His presence was not enough to save Gen. Vaidya from professional killers. When the bodyguard was asked what he was doing when shots were fired, he said the General had asked him to sit in the back seat behind the General’s wife. The couple were out to go to the Shivaji Market.

In case of a sudden attack, his position was useless. When the shots were fired, he opened the door and tried to jump out, but his foot was caught in the narrow space between the seats. By the time he got himself free, drew his weapon and chased the killers, they had already vanished.

As per reports, four clean-shaven men pulled up alongside the car on the motorcycle and Vespa. They fired three shots at Vaidya through the window on the driver’s side. The first two bullets penetrated his head and killed him instantly. The third bullet struck him in the shoulder. Another bullet hit his wife’s neck. The bodyguard was also hit by four bullets on his back and thighs. A passing matador van was stopped, and Gen Vaidya was rushed to the Command Hospital, where he was declared brought dead. During the court hearing, Sukha claimed that he did not intend to attack Bhanumati Vaidya but she got injured as one of the bullets he had fired got strayed.

Two witnesses were noted in the reports of the assassination. The first witness who saw the four killers was Digamber Sridhar Gaekwad. Gaekwad told the Police that he saw clean-shaven men in their 20s riding a motorcycle and a cream Vespa scooter. He saw them speeding away towards the Circuit House junction that barely 100 metres away. His cycle was hit by Vaidya’s Maruti that skidded off its path at the time of the attack. Gaekwad did not sustain any injuries.

The second witness who saw the killers was 28-year-old mechanic Sheikh Jabbar Mehmood, who saw them on the bridge leading to Koregaon Park and the Ahmednagar highway. At that time, he was taking a police sub-inspector for a motorcycle test ride. He told Police that the rider was wearing a red T-shirt and shouting at the people on the road to give way.

The aftermath of the assassination

Within 30 minutes of the shooting, all roads leading out of Pune were sealed off by the Police. However, that much time was enough for the killers if they had planned a quick get-away. During the investigation, the Police found empty shells at the murder site. On examination, it was found that the same gun was used on June 13 in an armed robbery at a Union Bank of India branch in Pune.

The Maharashtra Police issued a statewide alert. Special investigating officers were brought from Bombay for assistance in the case. Initially, it was thought to be linked to the 120 army personnel who had deserted in Pune after Operation Bluestar. However, when the Punjab and Maharashtra Police shared intel with the intelligence officials, it was established that the killers were from Punjab. Still, they had been living in Maharashtra for some time.

Initially, no one took responsibility of the attack. However, the next day of the attack, an unsigned note was discovered in which KCF took responsibility of the assassination and threatened to kill other three generals who were involved in the Operation Bluestar.

The first name that popped up during the investigation was Harjinder Singh Jinda. At that time, he was identified as a clean-shaven Sikh terrorist suspected of killings and bank robberies. Punjab Police provided information on Sukhdev Singh Shinda to the Maharashtra counterparts. He had escaped from the court in Jalandhar on April 5 after killing six police officers.

Soon, Maharashtra Police roped in the Central Bureau of Investigation for support. In March 1987, Jinda was arrested from Majnu Ka Tilla, Delhi. While Police was trying to catch him, he was shot in the legs. On September 17, 1987, Sukha was arrested after he met with an accident with a truck in Pune. He was riding the same motorcycle that he had used to assassinate General Vaidya. Both of them admitted to the crime but did not plead guilty. They justified the assassination as he was “guilty of a serious crime, the punishment for which could only be death.”

They were sentenced to death on October 21, 1989, and hanged at Yerwada jail on October 9 1992. When they were being taken to the gallows, they were reportedly chanting pro-Khalistani slogans.

Who were Harjinder Singh Jinda and Sukhdev Singh Sukha?

Infamous as the “Sukha Jinda” duo, both Harjinder Singh Jinda and Sukhdev Singh Sukha were born in farmer families. Jinda hailed from Jandiala, Amritsar, while Sukha was from Ganganagar, Rajasthan. Jinda had joined the separatist Khalistan movement soon after operation Bluestar. Sukha, on the other hand, left his studies to join the Khalistani movement after Operation Bluestar. They were both members of Khalistan Commando Force or KCF.

Apart from the assassination of General Arun Vaidya, Jinda and Sukha had committed several crimes, including robbery and assassinations that had put them on the top list of Sikh militants. On July 31, 1985, Jinda, Sukha and Ranjit Singh Gill alias Kukki gunned down Congress leader and MLA Lalit Maken, uncle of Congress leader Ajay Maken. His wife and another visitor were also killed during the shootout. Notably, his wife did not die on the spot but later succumbed to her injuries.

In September 1985, Congress leader Arjan Dass was killed by Jinda and Sukha for his alleged involvement in 1984 anti-Sikh riots that took place after the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. Several Sikh victims took Dass’s name in their affidavits that they had submitted to the Nanavati Commission appointed by the Supreme Court. He was a close aide of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

On February 13, 1987, the duo, along with other KCF members, looted over Rs.5 crore from Punjab National Bank. They were dressed as policemen and armed with submachine guns and rifles during the robbery. The incident was dubbed as the biggest bank robbery in the history of India.

Jinda Sukha were hailed during farmer protests

In February 2021, a video of actor-turned-leader and Khalistani sympathizer Deep Sandhu went viral on social media platforms in which he was seen appreciating a song being sung by two alleged farmers. The song’s lyrics suggest that the protestors will continue agitation even if they are termed as a rebel or terrorists.

They further stated that if the government tries to get strict against them, a bloodbath will follow. They added that if the government denies to take back the agriculture laws, the duo of Sukha and Jinda will rise again in Punjab. Notably, the song has been hailed by California based pro-Khalistan outfit California Sikh Youth Alliance.

A Punjabi movie based on Jinda Sukha was banned

In 2015, a movie titled “The Mastermind Jinda Sukha” based on the lives of the assassins of General Vaidya was banned by CBFC. The movie was initially cleared by the Central Bureau of Film Certification, but later a ban was imposed on the movie after complaints from several sections of the society were received.

It was alleged that the Home Ministry had asked for the ban on the film, but then-CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani had rebutted the allegations. He said, “Yes, we passed the film. But on receiving complaints from various sections of the society, we decided to review and revoke the certificate.”

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Anurag
B.Sc. Multimedia, a journalist by profession.

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