The stabbing attack on Lieutenant General Kuldeep Singh Brar in the posh Old Québec Street of London by four men has brought rushing back to spotlight the haunting memories of the attack on the Golden Temple on June 4, 1984, which was led by the targeted General, now 78 years old.

Thousands of Sikhs perished in the assault on the holiest of the Sikh shrines when the Brar-led forces resorted to direct tank fire on the Akal Takht during Operation Blue Star to flush out the Sikh activists, who, led by the mercurial Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, had raised the flag of Sikh mutiny demanding Khalistan – an independent Sikh entity, free from the pressures of an ascendant Hindutva-dominated India.

The manner of the Golden Temple assault and the thoughtlessly indiscriminate persecution drive launched by the Punjab Police, led by its infamous Chief KPS Gill, drove such a wedge in the prospects of amiable Hindu-Sikh coexistence that the wounds inflicted on Sikh psyche continue to bleed as late as this day.

Despite the passage of almost three decades, the embers of Sikh anger continue to smoulder and the attempt on Brar’s life in London can be attributed to the unfulfilled urge of retribution nursed by the Sikh community ever since the fateful summer of 84.

Sikhs are a dynamic community enjoying strong bonds of kinship and cultural affinity with the Hindu majority; and regardless of having a presence of only 2-3 percent in the demographic pie of India, they are well represented in the country’s armed forces as well as other in-demand professions.

Despite this apparent bonhomie, India’s political system had ditched the community to a policy of neglect and a volcano-like suppressed discontentment was taking shape. These feelings of alienation reached a critical mass during the premiership of Indira Gandhi and the lava of discontent began to rumble deep under.

Sikh demands included the settlement of territorial and water sharing disputes with the neighbouring states, including total control of Chandigarh, Punjab’s capital city shared with Haryana state. The Sikhs began to strongly protest that the Indian government’s economic and industrial policies were regressing the economic potential of the agriculturally-rich Punjab.

The communal angle too had been suffocating Sikhs and the demand for Khalistan, a separate homeland for Sikhs, was gaining strength. Bhindranwale, a Sikh priest from the Damdami Taksal emerged as the man of the moment and established a morcha in the Golden Temple to wage the struggle for Khalistan.

Instead of finding a political solution to assuage the Sikh anger, Indira Gandhi, the megalomaniac Prime Minister of India, ordered launching of Operation Blue star on June 4 1984, which was led by General Brar. When the assault came to end, the 200-year old Gurdawara, including Akal Takht, the most sacred object of Sikh veneration and devotion, lay devastated.

A treasure of sacred and historic documents and priceless religious heirlooms, treasured for centuries, got lost in dust and smoke. According to the Indian government’s White Paper, 493 Sikh militants were killed inside the shrine. Foreign journalists, who witnessed the attack, believed that the casualties during the assault were not in hundreds, but in thousands.

The assault on Golden Temple triggered a full-blown Sikh insurgency in Punjab and the Indian establishment responded by resorting to no-holds-barred state sponsored terror tactics to tackle it. The number of Sikhs, who were killed by the Punjab Police only in those fateful days, remains a wild guess.

A Sikh response was inevitable and the flashing sword of retribution was brandished fast enough. Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her most trusted bodyguards; Beant Singh and Satwant Singh as she took the walkway from residence to her office, on the morning of October 31, 1984. The shocking manner of Indira’s death let out the long suppressed communal demons of anti-Sikh sentiments harboured by the Hindus.

The days that followed saw a bloody pogrom of Sikhs. Encouraged by tacit approval of Rajiv Gandhi and the Hindu establishment, the Congress Party led berserk mobs commit the worst kind of atrocities all over India, particularly in Delhi, where the police remained a silent spectator to the orgy of murder and arson. It was only after four days of bloodshed that the situation was brought under control by deployment of army; by that time at least 10,000 Sikhs had been indiscriminately killed.

An open season was declared for the elimination of Sikh activists, who fought back as much as they got cornered. A widespread insurgency raged in Punjab, extending to attacks on Indian assets in foreign lands. Air India’s plane was blown up on June 23, 1985, which killed all its crew and 329 passengers. Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, who signed the Rajiv-Longowal Accord on July 29, 1985, was killed just three weeks later, while praying inside a gurdwara. General A.S. Vaidya, who was India’s Army’s Chief of Staff when Operation Blue Star was launched, was gunned down in Pune in August 1985. Chief Minister Beant Singh was blown up along with 12 others by a suicide bomber on July 31, 1995, at Chandigarh for letting down the Sikh cause. The unsuccessful attack on General Brar is manifestly a continuation of the same string to eliminate those ‘traitors’, who moved across the grain of Sikh sensitivities and were condemned as such by the community.

The attack on General Brar is indicative of the simmering Sikh alienation that has refused to die down, despite efforts by the various Indian governments to pursue a course of only lukewarm reconciliation. The reasons for this seemingly unbridgeable rift is that India has undertaken no meaningful actions to bring to justice well known personalities, who led and incited mobs to indulge in pogrom of Sikhs, or started a process to bring to justice the officers of Punjab Police, who indiscriminately killed the Sikhs and then disposed off their bodies through burning in incinerators.

It is instructive to note that in 1996 the Supreme Court of India upheld a finding by the Central Bureau of Investigation that 2,097 bodies had been cremated in three crematoriums on police orders without proper notification or documentation. One can only have a vague estimation of the scale of state sponsored terrorism unleashed against the Sikhs because these figures are but just the tip of a monumental iceberg.

The writer is a freelance columnist.