Operation Black Thunder I: 1986 Timeline

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Operation Black Thunder I January and February 1986

Golden Temple and Akal Takhat Restored
Golden Temple and Akal Takhat Restored. Photo © [S Khalsa]

Operation Black Thunder I of 1986 is the first of two little known anti-Sikh initiatives prompted by congress under leadership of Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi, son of former Prime Minister Indira Ghandi. Just two years after the horrific events of Operation Blue Star, with Punjab still reeling from the shockwaves of 1984 Sikh Genocide, Operation Black Thunder I instigated measures designed to be carried out with minimal collateral damage of both human life, and the historic shrines of the Golden Temple. Military suppression tactics carried out to prevent coalition between Sikh freedom fighters and Khalistan Movement supporters, also aimed to keep in check the power of Sikh leaders involved in moderate political parties.

  • January 26, 1986: Various factions of anti-Indian government Sikh military contingents and Khalistan freedom fighters congregate at Akal Takhat to hold a Sarbat Khalsa forum. These include the Panthik Committee an armed underground force, and a sizable alliance following the leadership of Baba Joginder Singh, father of the late Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwali.

Shiroma Gurdwara Parbadhak Committee (SGPC) moderates and the Delhi based Shiroma Akali Dal (SAD) political party under the leadership of Surjit Singh Barnala the Chief Minister of Punjab from September 29, 1985 until May 11, 1987, along with party members Balwant Singh, with Parkash Singh Badal, Gurcharan Singh Tohra act to cooperate with Congress, but reluctant to directly confront Sikh military contingents. Congress continues to press Barnala who is generally accepted as a non-Congress partisan to evict Sikh forces from The Golden Temple.

Seeking to diffuse tensions between Sikhs and Hindus, Barnala appoints a Christian J. F. Rebeiro as Director General Police (DGP) and the head of Punjab security forces.:

  • February 16, 1986: A Sarbat Khalsa forum convenes at Anandpur Sahib under the direction of Balwant Singh.

Pressures mount from both sides prompting Surjit Singh Barnala to agree to action proposed by congress.

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Operation Black Thunder I April to May 1986 Timeline

Akal Takhat and Nishan Sahib
Akal Takhat and Nishan Sahib. Photo © [S Khalsa]


Operation Black Thunder I effectively went into action immediately following the announcement of the "Khalistan Declaration of Independence " for the restoration of a separate sovereign Sikh state.

Operation Black Thunder I April to May 1986 Timeline:

  • April 29, 1986: - A five member delegation of Panthik Committee members makes the Declaration for the Independence of Khalistan  while standing before a congregation 50,000. Though dismissed as an uneventful occurrence by many members of government, Rajiv Ghandhi presses Surjit Singh Barnala, along with Arjun Singh and Arun Singh to immediately leave Delhi and go to meet R.J Reberio in Amritsar. Meanwhile the Panthik Committee vacates the Akal Takhat and Golden Temple complex.
  • April 30, 1986: In a battle of between eight to 14 hours duration, DGP Rebeiro  airlifts five battalion sin to the Golden Temple vicinity.  Approximately 3,000 security personnel are deployed in and around the sacred Sikh worship center of Golden Temple complex. These include two Major Generals of the Indian Army, two Black Cat army battalions, 300 National Security Guards (NSG) and 700 Border Security Force (BSF).
    4:50 pm: During the first two hours, a contingent of 200 Private para-military personnel conducts a search of Golden Temple hostels, the Akal Rest House, Guru Nanak Nivas, and Guru Raam Das Sarai. Some 200 stun grenades are used with damage to two rooms along the main corridor. According to official reports no gun fire is involved. Gurdev Singh the acting Akal Takhat Jethadar is taken into custody along with about 100 other Sikhs.
    10:30 pm: Resistance breaks out with weapons fired.
  • May 1, 1986: Security forces confiscate weapons including four guns, two of which are licensed to Jethadar Gurdev Singh. Also confiscated are 20 cartridges, 15 swords, and 10 spears, along with written publications promoting Khalistan. Security personnel apprehend approximately 300 additional people.

Official Reports: Operation Black Thunder I DGP official reports indicate apprehension of 378 people. Of these 164 are dismissed, and 233 are arrested including 37 non-Sikh citizens of Bangladesh. Charges of sedition are brought against 56, with 174 detained as preventative measures.

Eye Witness Reports: Additional information about victims of Operation Black Thunder I comes to light with eye witness testimony. Rajwinder Kaur claims that at least two women, she and Harinderjit Kaur, along with a boy of eight had been detained. Darbar Sahib manager Ranjit Singh reports the injuries of three SGPC members, Bihari Singh, Harjit Singh, and Nishan Singh. Several deaths reported to have occurred include a boy of 15 shot adjacent to Dukh Bhanaji Beri hostel. Eye witness Harnam Kaur reports four unsubstantiated deaths as well as two injured Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel. Eye witness Bakshish Singh reports seeing two bodies removed from Darshani Deori hostel.

Up Next: Operation Black Thunder II: 1988 Timeline Set Up, Siege, and Surrender

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Khalsa, Sukhmandir. "Operation Black Thunder I: 1986 Timeline." ThoughtCo, Aug. 22, 2016, thoughtco.com/operation-black-thunder-i-timeline-2992752. Khalsa, Sukhmandir. (2016, August 22). Operation Black Thunder I: 1986 Timeline. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/operation-black-thunder-i-timeline-2992752 Khalsa, Sukhmandir. "Operation Black Thunder I: 1986 Timeline." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/operation-black-thunder-i-timeline-2992752 (accessed November 24, 2017).