Harsimran Kaur ON  June 10, 2024, IN Book Review, Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi’s Last Battle

Rating: 4/5

Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi’s Last Battle by Mark Tully & Satish Jacob Book Review

June 5th, 1984 – Innumerable devotees thronged the Golden Temple to pay their obeisance on the martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs. The day also marks a dark blot in the history of India, when army tanks accompanied with artillery and other ammunition manoeuvred inside the scared shrine to capture the Sikh fundamentalist, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. 

‘Punjab’ at that time was no longer the iridescent éclat; it was now darkened by political malfeasance and impolitic adventures.  The case of ‘fundamentalism’ seeped in the state like a snake bite difficult to be antivenomed. Conspiracies weathered the storm for political gains; the impressionistic Akalis in impulsion to strike off Hindu communalism did not see the perpetuity of the gusty winds, and the imprudence of the Congress to make Bhindranwale a fish out of the water made them grime their own juice. Nothing felt ordinary; everything sparked an incendiary issue of political unrest.

Religion, anytime, has a hard time with politics. However, it is often seen that nobody bats an eyelid to mix it together for political aggrandizement. One such episode in the history of India was the ill-disposed ideologue of Mrs. Gandhi—‘The Operation Blue Star’. Punjab was in tatters; politics ran its course of religious insidiousness, Hindus and Sikhs divided. The state of Punjab enervated to create an identity of its own; the ‘Anandpur Sahib Resolution’ emasculated by Mrs Gandhi embittered the Sikhs, and many saw it as a perfidy.

From the ashes rose Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who acted as the saviour of the Sikh community to protect it from Hindu lamprey. A stooge used by the Congress and then tied to the nail with the same thread, he found his cause of being religiously selective, thereby creating a apoplectic storm among the religious and political community. Hiding behind the Akal Takht at ‘Golden Temple Amritsar’ for his profound misadventures, Mrs. Gandhi finally gave a call for ‘Operation Blue Star’ to get the Lion out of the Den.

There are opinions and myriad extrapolations about its action. Though clear in its vastness but still the dubious profligacies stamp the air with ‘if something could have been done to avoid the desideratum’. The flags raised were many; Mrs Gandhi’s indecisiveness, the unrealistic ambitions of the Akalis, the insecurities of the congress party to outstrip the Akalis hold in Punjab or the irrationality of the Sikh extremists and their ignominious sanctuary in the Akal Takht?

The book, ‘Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi’s Last Battle’ rationally discusses these appendages, stewing the irrationality that led Punjab to be an extremist hub. Each perspective has its reasons and adjoining consequences. A war between political extremism and religious extremism!  We get to know the formation of Akali dal; a reigning political power in Punjab at that time and their unscrupulous methods to access power and control. 

Bhindranwale, a preacher and a protector of Sikh beliefs and rituals, takes an incorrigible route to govern these principles; instead, makes a head start to defy Hindus leading to unnecessary killings and mayhem. Mrs Gandhi,  known for her assiduousness and detailing, makes a deplorable mistake of letting the army enter the sanctum sanctorum for which she had to sacrifice her life.

And the common man – the Sikhs and Hindus, who were mere spectators to the gruesome acts and unjustified terrorist activities.

The book gives a glorified perspective and reasons for Bhindranwale to take refuge in the Akal Takht and use his draconian powers to suppress the innocent Hindus and unfaithful Sikhs. Although a true Sikh, he channelized his faith a priori, leading to misalignments between Hindus and Sikhs. His invincibility pompously reflected in his insidious actions of murdering people nonchalantly. His entourage of Amrik Singh and Major General Shahbeg Singh who fortified the Golden Temple to fight the improbable army attack were like the pack of wolves. His impertinence towards Mrs. Gandhi arose for not accepting the resolution put forward by Akalis.

During the Operation Blue Star, the religious leader was shot dead and the aftermath was inconceivable. The Sikhs were outraged as the Akal Takht was blown to smithereens and the shrine concocted in the middle of the Sarovar was patched with bullet marks.

The book dissects the indiscipline of the Akali dal party, the belligerent scorn of Bhindranwale towards the potholes of anti-Sikh domains, the fragile mind of Mrs. Gandhi in handling terrorism in Punjab, the sacrilege attack of army on the Golden Temple, the atrocities on the Hindus and the plight of mortified and vulnerable Sikhs after the unwarranted attack.


Religious extremism is borne out of our own minds and perceptions. No religion teaches to be unfair and unrealistic. Whatever happened on the fateful day of June 05, 1984 still nudges in the heart of Sikhs.

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