Operation Blue Star

Operation Blue Star: Thatcher’s government wanted to ban protests by British Sikhs, show documents

Declassified documents show that Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe wanted Scotland Yard to clamp down on the protests as they could hamper UK’s ties with India.

The government of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made several attempts to ban protests by Sikhs in the country after Operation Blue Star in 1984, according to documents that were recently declassified. The documents were released after a judge in the United Kingdom last month ruled that declassifying the papers would not damage diplomatic ties with India, PTI reported.

Operation Blue Star was an Indian military raid on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, which killed around 1,000 people. The operation was carried out to flush out Khalistani militants led by Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale from the shrine.

British Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, wanted Scotland Yard to ban protests planned by Sikh groups in the country, including the so-called Republic of Khalistan, because “a Sikh march in present circumstances would carry very serious risks, both for Indo-British relations and for law and order in this country”.

Howe’s private secretary Leonard Appleyard wrote a memo to the Home Office, saying the planned protests “will also further intensify the Indian government’s resentment against the UK” and would force India to impose a trade boycott that would amount to £5 billion. The United Kingdom wanted to sell Westland helicopters to India at the time.

“At first sight, it would seem to be possible to justify to Parliament a discretionary power for the Home Secretary in this area on the grounds of the real dangers that marches can, in certain circumstances, pose for British interests abroad, as well as law and order here,” HuffPost reported, quoting from a Foreign Office memo.

The Foreign Office was under pressure from Indian diplomats to “somehow silence” a leading Sikh dissident called Dr Chauhan for unspecified reasons, Vice reported.

Home Secretary Leon Brittan, however, remained staunchly opposed to banning the protests. His private secretary emphasised to the Foreign Office “how much political sensitivity attaches in this country to any curtailment of the right to demonstrate, even though the nature of the demonstration may sometimes be offensive in some quarters”.

Preet Gill, a Labour Party parliamentarian who represents Edgbaston in the House of Commons, told HuffPost she was shocked and angry that Howe used his position to dictate policy on peaceful public protests. “More worryingly it appears this effort to appease India is still an issue,” she added.

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