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Indira Gandhi was aware of her life threat: Pranab Mukherjee

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New Delhi: Indira Gandhi knew her life was at risk when she decided to go for militarily storm the Golden Temple, President Pranab Mukherjee reveals in the second part of his memoirs released on Thursday.

“The Turbulent Years, 1980-1996” (Rupa) says that “criminals, smugglers and anti-social elements” had joined the Khalistan movement and recalls that the Golden Temple had become a safe haven for them.

The President writes that talks with the Akali Dal failed due to its rigid stance, and last ditch efforts were made shortly before “Operation Blue Star” – as the military operation was codenamed – was launched.

Even a few days before Operation Blue Star, an attempt was made to find a solution by holding a meeting with the Akali Dal leaders who were brought from jail to the lounge of the Chandigarh airport at midnight.

“PV Narasimha Rao, Cabinet Secretary Krishnaswamy Rao Sahib and I represented the government in that meeting. Unfortunately, the talks remained unsuccessful,” he says in the book released at the Rashtrapati Bhavan by Vice President M Hamid Ansari.

By May 1984, it became increasingly clear that there was no alternative but military action to flush out the terrorists within the Golden Temple, particularly as the negotiations and discussions had not yielded the desired results.

The decision to storm the Golden Temple was taken at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) but no official was present at the meet, Mukherjee writes.

Operation Blue Star was launched at the Golden Temple on June 3, 1984, with the army entering the premises.

Mukherjee then writes how Gandhi told him she was aware of the threat to her life.

“I still vividly recall Mrs Gandhi telling me, ‘Pranab, I know of the consequences.’  She understood the situation well and was clear that there was no other option.” he added.

“Aware that her own life was at risk, she took a conscious decision to go ahead in the best interest of the nation.”

Mukherjee defends the operation, calling the situation in Punjab at that time “abnormal”.

“It is easy to say that the military action could have been avoided. However, nobody really knows if any other option would have worked. Such decisions are always taken based on the conditions prevailing at that time. The situation in Punjab was abnormal.”

He adds that the “biggest tragedy” of the whole event was the “loss of Mrs Gandhi”.

Her last speech in Orissa, two days before her assassination, was prophetic. She said, ‘I am alive today, I may not be there tomorrow… I shall continue to serve until my last breath and when I die, I can say that every drop of my blood will invigorate India and strengthen it’.

Gandhi was assassinated on October 31, 1984, at her Safdarjung Road residence in New Delhi by two of her bodyguards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, in the aftermath of Operation Blue Star.( IANS)(Picture Courtesy: wikipedia)

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‘Concept of equality’ pervades world’s biggest community kitchen

The Golden Temple complex itself gets millions of visitors from across the country and other parts of the world annually

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Bangla Sahib is one of the most famous place of worship of Sikhs in Delhi. Wikimedia Commons
Equality is important for the biggest community. Wikimedia Commons

If there is one big leveller for people, irrespective of their religion, caste, gender, social status or riches, it is the “langar”, or community kitchen, at the Golden Temple complex, where the holiest of Sikh shrines, the Harmandir Sahib, is located, in this city considered holy by Sikhs.

Referred to as the world’s largest community kitchen, the Sri Guru Ram Das Jee Langar Hall of the Golden Temple complex is unique in several aspects. On an average, it feeds over 100,000 people daily — from children to old people — from all religions, castes, regions, countries; and people from varied social, economic and political backgrounds.

“It is a 24×7 operation that carries on day and night all 365 days of the year. This has been going on for centuries, since the concept of langar was introduced by Guru Nanak Dev (the first Guru of the Sikh religion and its founder; born 1469) and propagated by other Gurus,” Wazir Singh, senior in-charge of the langar preparation, told IANS here.

Unlike other government organisations and institutions in India, there are no provisions for reservations based on caste or religion. Wikimedia commons
The Golden Temple complex provides food for many. Wikimedia Commons

At any given point of the day or night, the place is not only swarmed by devotees wanting to partake what is considered as blessed by service but by hundreds of volunteers who are ever-so-ready to be part of the voluntary cooking and serving process. The langar food is even sent thrice daily to the two Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC)-run hospitals in Amritsar, especially to a ward where treatment of mentally-ill patients and drug-addicts is being carried out. The SGPC is tasked with the management all Sikh shrines.

“We have over 500 volunteer employees. The sangat (community) also pitches in with great enthusiasm daily. People come from across Punjab on trucks and tractor-trolleys — even other states, different countries — to help in this massive exercise of making and serving food. Several local residents, including women, have been coming here for years. People take time out of their government and private jobs to serve here, irrespective of their religion or caste. We welcome everyone with love,” Wazir Singh, speaking in Punjabi, pointed out, even as he continued to issue instructions to staffers involved in cooking the langar.

The langar is all vegetarian — comprising mainly of dal (maa-chole ki dal), rice (slightly salted for taste), chapattis, achar (pickle) and a vegetable, along with something sweet (kheer or prasad). In the morning, the “chai langar” comprises of tea and rusk.

The devotees sit down on the matted floor inside the langar hall in rows. To manage the huge rush, the SGPC volunteers allow only a few hundred to enter the hall at one time. The whole operation is carried out in a meticulous manner as a daily routine.

Also Read: ‘Government chalked out 1984 anti-Sikh genocide’

“The whole exercise is quite enormous but it goes on, with the blessings of the almighty, seamlessly. The daily expense is around Rs 15 lakh. We use 100 quintals (100 kg) rice and up to 30 kg (each) of dal and vegetables daily. Over 100 LPG cylinders (domestic size) are used daily for the cooking along with hundreds of kilograms of firewood for the traditional cooking. Nearly 250 kg of ‘desi ghee’ (clarified butter) is used in the cooking. We have over three lakh steel plates. We can serve 10 lakh (one million) people in a day,” Gurpreet Singh, in-charge of the kitchen, told IANS. SGPC functionaries pointed out that 30,000-35,000 people from Amritsar and nearby areas are daily visitors to the shrine and partake langar thrice. Many of these are migrants from other states and poor people who cannot afford meals.

“Our doors are open for everyone without discrimination. We follow the concept of equality here,” said Amrit Pal Singh, a SGPC official at the Information Office. The chapattis, in the thousands, are made on eight chapatti-making machines and even by hand by women and men volunteers. The steel utensils (plates, glasses and spoons), used by devotees, also numbering in lakhs, are washed voluntarily by the devotees themselves or by volunteers.

“The shrine complex has such a spiritual attraction about it. The langar served here leaves you satisfied in many aspects. The whole experience touches your soul,” Ramesh Goyal, a devotee from Bathinda, said.

“I had always heard about this shrine. Today, what I experienced was heavenly. The langar service is unparalleled in any religion. They do it with so much devotion and humility despite such huge crowds. It is unimaginable,” Tariq Ahmed, who had come here with his family from Patna in Bihar, told IANS. Anup Singh, a young Sikh devotee from Amritsar, often accompanies his grandparents and parents to the shrine.

Sikh Community, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh
Children belonging to Sikh Community, Wikimedia Commons 

“I love to serve chapattis to the people having langar. It is a very satisfying and fulfilling experience,” he said. “The whole exercise is carried out selflessly. It is a big task but everything is carried out smoothly. We keep introducing changes depending on the needs of the devotees,” Roop Singh, Chief Secretary of the SGPC, told IANS.

The SGPC, known as the mini-parliament of Sikh religion, manages the Golden Temple complex and gurdwaras across Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. It has an annual budget of over Rs 1,100 crore, mostly from donations at the gurdwaras.

The Golden Temple complex itself gets millions of visitors from across the country and other parts of the world annually. The strong Sikh diaspora in other countries like United States, Britain and Canada actively contributes to the shrine and visits it whenever they can. IANS