The Government faces a Sikh voting backlash after it was confirmed that Britain’s armed forces gave tactical advice to Indian officials before the assault on the Golden Temple of Amritsar 30 years ago.
An investigation into the involvement of a UK military adviser – first revealed in documents accidentally released under the 30-year-rule by the National Archives – revealed he recommended the use of helicopters in a stealth attack to minimise deaths during the 1984 operation against militants holed up in Sikhs’ holiest site.
Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government agreed to send the adviser to India four months before the assault in response to a request for help from the Indian government. The move was considered good for the “bilateral relationship” at a time of potential defence-related sales, according to the report released by Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood.
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered the attack – which left at least 575 dead, with some reports putting the toll as high as 3,000 – after a six-month stand-off with militants who occupied the temple as part of an independence campaign.
William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, told the Commons that the British advice was not followed and had limited impact on the bloody military operation. But the confirmation of British intervention before the attack sparked accusations of betrayal among Britain’s 430,000 Sikhs – who could play key roles in marginal seats at the next election.
“The community has a significant pull in a number of key marginal constituencies,” said Prof Gurhapal Singh of the School of Oriental and African Studies. “The historic importance of this event was lost on the government of the time. “Labour is likely to drive the Tories into the ground about this.”
In a video message to the Sikh community, Mr Cameron said: “I hope the manner in which we have investigated these dreadful events will provide some reassurance to the Sikh community, here in Britain and elsewhere.”