The retired Indian general whose throat was slashed in an attack in London has been the target of eight assassination attempts by Sikh militants in revenge for his leadership of the 1984 assault on the Golden Temple of Amritsar, he told The Independent in an interview.
Lt Gen Kuldip Singh Brar, 78, said last year’s attack was part of a wider increase in global Sikh militancy centred around Canada and Britain, reaching levels not seen since the 1980s when extremists killed the Indian prime minister and bombed a transatlantic jet killing more than 300 people.
One of his attackers told police that he was proud to have been involved in the attack and claimed that he would be considered a hero in India for what he had done.
Speaking from his protected home in a compound in southern Mumbai, Lt Gen Brar – now recovered from his injuries - said he learned only of plots against him from a website promoting an independent Sikh homeland, Khalistan, in northern India.
“It said I am their number one enemy and there have been seven attempts on my life which I have escaped but I will not escape the eighth one. I am not sure if this was supposed to be the one in London,” he said. “The website said those who want to join with us just click here and become part of our team to eliminate this enemy of the Sikhs.”
Three men and a woman are due to be sentenced in September after being found guilty on Wednesday of the attack on the retired general, slashing his throat and face, after trailing him and his wife during a three-day operation while he was on holiday in London.
He was able to return to India after treatment. “They didn’t say anything at all. There was no talk, no speech, they just pounced and got down to business,” he said. “We had a fight then they stabbed me and threw me on the ground. All four of them just ran away.”
Following intense criticism of the Indian government, security has now been increased and the retired officer only leaves his home in a bullet-proof car trailed by Jeeps full of Indian commandoes. He has to give the government a week’s notice if he is to leave the city and a fortnight if he is to go abroad to ensure security measures in place. He has cancelled his annual visits to London.
Lt Gen Brar, the fourth generation of army officers in his family and whose father was educated at Sandhurst, said his wife, the daughter of a brigadier, had spent her married life living under the onerous security measures. “It has been quite traumatic. Living in a shell with protection around you all the time is not great fun, your liberties are curtailed and you can’t live your life the way you would like to, but I don’t think there’s much of a choice in the matter.”
The measures highlight the continued anger at the Operation Bluestar which left more than 500 people dead during the attack on militants holed up in the holiest of Sikh shrines in 1984. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered the attack backed by tanks and artillery which resulted in her own death when her Sikh bodyguards turned their guns on her. Thousands also died during anti-Sikh riots following the murder.
Lt Gen Brar, who is himself a Sikh, was brought in from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh to carry out the operation on the temple where the charismatic leader of the separatists was holed up.
“I lifted the curfew every day for many hours to allow those inside to come out. But the militants wouldn’t let them because they felt if they held them as hostages the army wouldn’t come in.
“We were calling on them to surrender; we didn’t want bloodshed… if you don’t want to get out and want to take us on then, okay, take us on, but don’t keep those people as hostages.
“The Sikhs may blame us, blame the army, but I feel a lot of them were wearing blinkers on their eyes, they weren’t seeing reality. The blame should go on militants and terrorists who turned this holiest of holy shrines into a fortified place with weapons, ammunition, explosives and everything that their religion should not have permitted.
“I feel very bad about what happened to the Sikhs after Mrs Gandhi’s assassination. It shouldn’t have happened. There was obviously a failure whether it was the police or the government or whatever.
“At the same time it’s very sad that Mrs Gandhi should have been assassinated by one of her loyal bodyguards. These are things that will go down in history and people will ponder on this when I am no longer around.”
Lt Gen Brar said he was aware of only one of the assassination attempts against him when he was based in Calcutta in 1991. Militants attempted to blow him up as he drove to his office, but they were spotted as they laid the explosives and fled on motorbikes.
They were later arrested and found to have his telephone number, home address and plans to kill him. He has no knowledge of the other six purported attempts on his life. The government has since had the militants’ website calling for his murder taken down. He said there was a spike in threats after he featured in a 2009 documentary to mark the 25 anniversary of the operation.
“I don’t know how I will eventually pass away, if I will die a natural death or I’m assassinated,” he said. “President Kennedy and Mrs Gandhi had lots of security and they were still assassinated so there is no fool-proof guarantee that they will not get you.
“But God is there on top. There’s someone who obviously protected me these last seven times or eight times, let’s hope he continues to do it.”