The British government had “covered up” its role in a 1984 massacre in India, according to a newly-released report.
The government clandestinely supported a bloody crackdown in India, where thousands of Sikhs and Indian soldiers were killed, shows the report, Sacrificing Sikhs, published by the Sikh Federation UK.
In 2014, then Prime Minister David Cameron ordered a review following the accidental release of secret documents which revealed that a British SAS (The Special Air Service) officer had been drafted in to give advice to the Indian authorities on how to remove armed Sikh militants from the Golden Temple at Amritsar, Sikhism’s holiest shrine.
According to the documents, the plan, known as Operation Blue Star, was conducted with the full knowledge of the Thatcher government.
The new report now shows Cameron’s review, conducted by Sir Jeremy Heywood, was a “whitewash.”
Attempts made to expose the full facts have been thwarted due to government secrecy rules and conflicts of interest, the report claims, noting that more than half of the Foreign Office’s files on India from 1984 have been censored partly or completely.
According to some documents, the Foreign Office knew what was at stake when the Indian authorities approached the UK for help.
A week before the clampdown, Bruce Cleghorn, a diplomat, wrote that “it would be dangerous” for the British government “to be identified” with “any attempt to storm the Golden Temple in Amritsar.”
He was also involved in correspondence about possible SAS assistance to India right after the crackdown.
In 2015, Cleghorn started his job as a Foreign Office “sensitivity reviewer” whose tasks involved censoring documents pertaining to the Amritsar massacre before they were disclosed to the National Archives.
Sir John Ramsden was a member of the Foreign Office’s south Asia department in 1984. He was a member of the Advisory Council on National Records and Archives, which adjudicates on government censorship applications.
He wrote a letter supporting further SAS assistance for India immediately after Operation Blue Star and equipping India’s paramilitary forces.
The role of the SAS officer in the days before the operation has remained secret.
According to the Sikh Federation’s report, the SAS officer conducted his reconnaissance with an Indian special forces unit. Following that, the Sikhs stopped the peace talks because they had seen a commando unit move into the city.
The negotiations, however, were never resumed and finally the Indian army stormed the temple in June 1984.
“The government needs to finally come clean about Thatcher’s role in the Amritsar massacre and India’s crackdown on Sikhs,” said the report’s author, Phil Miller.
“Whitehall censorship of historical files is like an old boys’ club that prevents the public from ever knowing how taxpayers’ money was spent. This culture of secrecy around Britain’s special forces and intelligence agencies is undemocratic and unsustainable,” he added.