After Amritsar, it’s time to call time on the “30 Year Rule”

17th January, 2014 2:00 pm

Margaret Thatcher, Geoffrey Howe and Leon Brittan held Britain’s three great offices of State thirty years ago.

The idea that they could have allowed the SAS to get involved in the Indian government’s attempt to retake the Golden Temple in Amritsar by force would have seemed fanciful just hours ago. But the fact that they did (it’s just the extent of the SAS involvement we’re unaware of at this stage) isn’t just a matter that should concern those of us from a Sikh background. It has implications for everyone.

The correspondence between the private secretaries for the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary of 1984 is shocking in its frankness. One of the letters states:

“An operation by the Indian authorities at the Golden Temple could, in the first instance, exacerbate the communal violence in the Punjab.

“It might also, therefore increase tension in the Indian community here, particularly if knowledge of the SAS involvement were to become public. We have impressed upon the Indians the need for security; and knowledge of the SAS officer’s visit and of his plan has been tightly held both in India and in London. The Foreign Secretary would be grateful if the contents of this letter could be strictly limited to those who need to consider the possible domestic implications.”

I was only thirteen at the time but can recall the tensions and concerns within the Sikh community. Looking back on it now, I wonder if Howe, Brittan and Thatcher were emboldened by the thirty year rule. Would they have made this decision if nearly a million British Sikhs had been aware of it back then?

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But let’s take Amritsar and this particular event out of the equation for a moment. In the modern world, is it really acceptable to hide behind the 30 year rule to keep military operations and who knows what else covert? Politicians need to have a long hard think about this.

Making decisions in the knowledge that you’ll be dead when the world can hold you to account for them, or at least very elderly, is no way for holders of major offices of state to behave.

I hasten to add we need to wait and see the details of this particular case, but the secrecy is damaging enough.

There have been constitutional changes to the 30 year rule on recent years, including FOI act. But none of these changes prevented thirty years from elapsing in the case of one of the holiest shrines in the world, and the deaths of hundreds (some say over a thousand) people.

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  • treborc1

    The thirty year rule is a long standing rule bit like going to a court to get all the evidence about your expenses and any emails which might implicate you in anything.

    Thirty years time the truth may come out about how labour were implicated with Rendition.

    But of course what happened and what did the SAS do, perhaps it was an officer who gave advice and if that advice was taken or not we do not know.

    It could be the SAS stated do not do that, and the Indian army said we are and we all know the results.

    We all know the SAS are all over the world and they have often gone into some serious situation and done well, and some they have messed up but without knowing the facts it hard to say anything.

    And if the SAS went to Indian it had to be invited so maybe the anger should be with the Indian Government not an officer of the SAS.

  • Steve Stubbs

    The actual style of the assault on the shrine was about as far from a SAS operation in execution as it could possibly be. If we were asked for advice by the government of a commonwealth country then I see no reason to not to have given it.

    If the SAS had actually been involved in the assault then that would be another matter.

  • swatnan

    The indian Govt was right to consult Britain on how to deal with the situation since money from the punjabi diaspora was being used to fund terrorism.
    Parmajit is wrong. The 30 yr Rule is right because it means oppositions and I use the term loosely can’t take advantage of kneekerk reactions. Government has to be considered and deliberate; and sometime immense sacrifices have to be made for the good and safety of others as a whole
    He is also wrong in suggesting that the Indian Authorities were wrong to enter the Golden Temple. They were absolutely right. The Temple had become an arsenal and hideout for Kalistan terrorists and therefore it had to be cleansed of them. So it was right to suspend the religious nature of that building and enter. I only wish that such actions would be taken to rid us of islamic terrorists hiding out in Mosques as well.
    The world would then be a safer place.

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