Pressure builds on UK to make public details of role in Operation Blue Star

Vidya Ram London | Updated on March 07, 2018

Amritsar 01/09/2015:_Devotees taking a dip in the holy pond at the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar. Photo: Akhilesh Kumar_**Picture for Golden Temple supplement**   -  THE HINDU

Efforts for further details of Britain’s involvement in the 1984 Operation Blue Star to be made public gathered pace, as a UK Sikh group launched the formal process for a public inquiry to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Simultaneously the second day of a tribunal pushing for the release of UK Cabinet Office and Prime Minister’s files related to Britain’s involvement in the 1984 operation continued its hearing on Wednesday.

A letter before action sent to the FCO on Monday on behalf of the Sikh Federation UK challenges the refusal of the FCO to hold a public inquiry in 2015, and argues that the Heywood Review, held in 2014 following the disclosure of British SAS involvement in the operation, which came out in files made public under the 30-year-rule, was inadequate.

“If there was direct involvement in the form of advice or assistance then the British public should be made aware of this,” said the counsel on the case, from KRW Law, an Irish law firm.

Details of Britain’s involvement in Operation Blue Star first emerged in 2014 when Phil Miller, an independent journalist researching cabinet office papers published under the UK’s 30-year-rule, came across the mention of UK involvement in the 1984 operation.

Following the revelations, then Prime Minister David Cameron ordered an inquiry which concluded the UK’s role in June 1984 was “purely advisory, limited and provided to the Indian government at an early stage in their planning,” and also had “limited impact.”

This week’s letter to the FCO, sent on Monday and seen by this paper, argued that the initial inquiry viewed military assistance in isolation rather than in the wider context, and highlighted an inquiry unable to address the “public interest in accountability and transparency on this matter.”

The application comes as a separate three-day hearing at the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) in central London continued, as KRW Law, also representing the journalist Miller, sought to appeal the 2015 decision of the UK’s Information Commissioner not to require the files to be disclosed.

“They are embarrassed about security advice that led to obscene human rights violations,” said Miller, speaking outside the tribunal room on Wednesday. He believes the vigour with which the case was being pursued by the government highlighted how much more there was to know about the story.

Miller’s appeal on the Information Commissioner’s ruling focuses on two sets of documents- Prime Ministerial “PREM” files from between July 1983 and May 1985, and Cabinet Office “CAB” files from between 1979 and mid August 1985.

Because of the sensitivity of the issue, the hearing has so far switched between open and closed hearings. Cabinet Office and Information Commissioner witnesses have included senior FCO civil servants Owen Jenkins, the former director for South Asia and Afghanistan, and Philip Barton, director general for consular and security, while Miller and Dabinderjit Singh of the UK Sikh Federation gave evidence for the appellant.

In an open hearing on Wednesday the barrister for the appellant challenged the government position that further disclosures would result in “highly sensitive’ issues being raised that would have consequences for today’s India. She pointed to instances in the material already disclosed that could be deemed sensitive.

Taking the stand on Tuesday, the FCO’s Jenkins, sought to distinguish between information that was “historical” and that which had “real implications” for India today, and pointed to its “long record of resistance to external interference.” Disclosure of the latter kind could have a “detrimental impact” on international relations, he said.

Speaking outside the hearing, the KRW counsel argued against the British government’s distinction and said that by their understanding neither then BJP nor the Congress would object to the disclosure of the details which related to “historic” events. He described the secret nature of sessions of the hearing as “Kafkaesque.”

It is hoped that should the appeal be successful, and the information released, it would feed into the public inquiry being called for. The tribunal’s ruling can be appealed further, including to the Upper Tribunal, the High Court and potentially Supreme Court.

Published on March 07, 2018

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