But as we are in the business of suppositions, of hypothetical questions, let’s suppose Indira Gandhi had baulked at Bluestar, what then? Indira Gandhi could have delayed taking action against Bhindranwale yet again but she realised voters were beginning to believe she lacked the will to act. In her broadcast to the nation before the operation started, the prime minister said, "an impression has been assiduously created that Punjab is not being dealt with", and that was not an impression she wanted to give with a general election on the horizon. If she had still delayed, it would probably have meant having to take even more drastic action later. I suppose it was just possible that the Akali leaders might have listened to the appeal Indira Gandhi made in that broadcast and called off their morcha. But they would not have been able to pull her chestnuts out of the fire because they had lost all influence over Bhindranwale. Supposing Indira Gandhi had listened to those advisors who recommended laying siege to the Golden Temple to starve Bhindranwale and his men, would she then have avoided arousing the wrath of the more militant members of the Sikh community and putting her life in danger? Almost certainly not. In the supercharged atmosphere created by the Akali morcha, Sikhs would probably have marched on Amritsar, with consequences even graver than the snap military operation Indira Gandhi believed she was being offered. That was certainly the view of the intelligence services and that was why the army was told that Bluestar must be short and sharp.
So even if there had been no Operation Bluestar, it’s difficult to see how Indira Gandhi could have avoided putting her life at risk. But putting her life at risk didn’t necessarily mean she would have been killed. If she had not ignored the advice to remove all Sikhs from her bodyguards or if her assassins’ plot had been foiled, Indira Gandhi would not have died on October 31, 1984. India’s immediate history would then have been very different. The massacre of Sikhs that followed her assassination would not have occurred. But what about the longer term? What about India now, would it be very different? I am not so sure. At the time many prophesied that Bluestar and those massacres would achieve Bhindranwale’s ambition of driving a permanent wedge between Sikhs and Hindus. They have not. There were plenty of Cassandras who prophesied that after Indira no one else would be able to hold India together. They too have proved false prophets.