The British role in the 1984 Operation Blue Star, ordered by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to flush out Sikh militants from the Golden Temple in Amritsar, was "limited" and "purely advisory", UK's foreign secretary William Hague told the UK parliament on Tuesday, adding that the advice of the UK expert was largely ignored in the actual operation.
In a statement on the conclusion of an inquiry into alleged British assistance provided by then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Hague said the UK played no role in the actual operation. "The report concludes that the nature of the UK's assistance was purely advisory, limited and provided to the Indian government at an early stage in their planning," he said in a statement to the House of Commons.
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron launched a probe last month after documents disclosed under the UK's 30-year secrecy rule suggested a British officer helped the Indian authorities with plans to remove Sikh separatists from Harmandir Sahib, more generally known as the Golden Temple.
Hague said an analysis of nearly 200 files and 23,000 documents has confirmed that a "single British military adviser" travelled to India between 8 and 19 February 1984 to advice Indian intelligence services on contingency plans that they were drawing up for operations in the temple complex, including ground reconnaissance of the site.
"The cabinet secretary's report includes an analysis by current military staff of the extent to which the actual operation in June 1984 differed from the approach recommended in February by the UK military adviser. Operation Blue Star was a ground assault, without the element of surprise, and without a helicopter-borne element," Hague said.
"The cabinet secretary's report concludes that the UK military officer's advice had limited impact on Operation Blue Star. This is consistent with the public statement on 15th January this year by the operation commander, Lt Gen Brar, who said that 'no one helped us in our planning or in the execution of the planning'," he said. (See: British role in Golden Temple assault soon to be exposed)
Hague said this conclusion is also consistent with an exchange of letters between Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher on 14 and 29 June 1984, discussing the operation.
While admitting that some military files covering various operations were destroyed in November 2009, as part of a routine process undertaken by the ministry of defence at the 25-year review point, copies of at least some of the documents in the destroyed files were also in other departmental files.
The report by cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood includes the publication of the relevant sections of five extra documents that shed light on this period, but which would not normally have been published, the minister told MPs.
"The adviser had made clear that a military operation should be put into effect only as a last resort when all attempts of negotiation had failed. It recommended the inclusion in any operation an element of surprise and the use of helicopter forces in the interests of reducing casualties and bringing about a swift resolution," Hague said.
"This giving of military advice was not repeated...and the cabinet secretary found no evidence of any other assistance such as equipment or training," he added.
British Prime Minister David Cameron had ordered the inquiry after documents released under the 30-year declassification rule here implied British SAS commanders had advised the Indian government as it drew up plans for Operatio Blue Star in February 1984.
Sikh groups in the UK have criticised the scope of the inquiry and claim it focuses on a very "narrow period".
Britain's only Sikh MP, Paul Uppal, spoke in the Commons on Tuesday to stress that the report makes clear that the UK played no "malicious" role in Operation Blue Star and called on the government to work with Sikh groups and the Indian High Commission in the UK to work towards a "process of truth and reconciliation so that the community can finally begin to feel a sense of justice".
A few months after Operation Blue Star, then Indian Prime Minister Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in an apparent revenge attack.
The row over how much the British knew and helped in the incidents 30 years ago threatens to derail Conservative party attempts to attract Sikh voters, who could play a major role in marginal seats in London and Leicester in any election.