On 1st November, 1984, the nation had come to a halt as Indira Gandhi’s body was laid down for darshan in Teen Murti Bhavan close to the Rakab Ganj Gurudwara. The only words that echoed and which were turned into action were “khoon ka badla khoon” (blood for blood). This was the beginning of another mass violence that went down into history as one of the darkest times the nation witnessed – 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
According to official reports, nearly three thousand Sikhs were killed, plenty of which have gone unrecorded. The state machinery and police did not function truthfully to their duties. From deliberate attempt to not make formal records to dismissing statements of the witnesses, the intended passive harm was just as much as the active killings triggered in the capital of the nation. However, the then ruling party, Congress, even after 34 years has not claimed its ownership to this Sikh targeted genocide.
Eye witnesses materialised this with their statements according to which the state did play an implicit role in supplying weapons to the mobs who were out and about on the streets to seek vengeance. A Special Investigation Team (SIT) was set up to re-probe 186 cases of 1984 anti-Sikh riots. According to H S Phoolka, the Supreme Court advocate for these cases during a press conference in his statement said, 2,733 people were killed in 1984 anti-Sikh riots in which 541 cases were registered. “However, till now, conviction has been announced in only 13 killings. In most cases, one FIR was registered for multiple killings.”
Commissioner Subhash Tandan and Additional Commissioner Gautam Kaul had confirmed Nath’s presence at the Gurudwara.
Sajjan Kumar who was a Member of Parliament at that time has been sentenced to imprisonment on Monday. According to the verdict, he was involved in killing of a family of five in Delhi. In the light of Sajjan Kumar being convicted and sentenced to jail, another chapter from the past should be visited – Kamal Nath. Kamal Nath who has been selected by Congress Party as the designated Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh has led to the ignition of criticism. In very simple words, how can a party that claims to have upheld humane virtues, be ignorant about the same?
Sanjay Suri, who was a reporter at that time for The Indian Express in his book 1984: The Anti-Sikh Violence and After, talks about his keen observations. In Suri’s affidavit which was presented before the Misra Commission, Kamal Nath was seen “directing the crowd”. He was also spotted near the area of attacks for about two hours, where a man was burnt alive, car was set on fire all of which happened in front of the quiet and disciplined Central Reserve Police Force.
Apart from Suri, then Commissioner Subhash Tandan and Additional Commissioner Gautam Kaul had confirmed Nath’s presence at the Gurudwara. Two years ago Congress faced a backlash from the Sikh community for appointing Nath as the party general secretary in-charge of Punjab and had to withdraw him from the post.
Nath however has denied any role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and the Nanavati Commission gave him the ‘benefit of doubt’ under lack of evidence. The Nanavati Commission was set up in 2000 by the NDA government to inspect and inquire the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. In a statement made by Nath, he said, “When I took the oath earlier, nobody said anything. This issue is being racked up despite no case, FIR or a charge sheet against me.”
The ignorance of the Congress Party to address the 1984 anti-Sikh riots is evident with its decision to appoint Kamal Nath as the Chief Minister.
The ignorance of the Congress Party to address the 1984 anti-Sikh riots is evident with its decision to appoint Kamal Nath as the Chief Minister while they did have other options like Jyotiraditya Scindia. In a country like India which takes pride in calling itself the largest democracy in the world and where human rights are the rights of the nation, this decision is a step backwards. Following the 2002 riots, where the state controlled riots did take place, 1984 riots even after 34 years are only faced with silence.
The lack of moral ground of Congress Party can be encapsulated in Dr. Shashi Tharoor’s words, who said, “Kamal Nath should get same benefit of doubt as Modi” while defending the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. This is envisaged with reference to the possible involvement of Narendra Modi in 2002 Godara riots. According to Tharoor without any proven allegations, Nath cannot be convicted.
In 2005, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made an apology to the Sikh community for what happened in 1984. His apology was seen as a testimony of ‘political courage’, however, the recent course of events goes on to show how little was the apology meant. It almost seems like the Congress Party is trying to reward Kamal Nath for his allegiance towards the party during 1984 riots. In reference to Sajjan Kumar’s verdict, H S Phoolka said, “With strong evidence against him, we are now hopeful Kamal Nath will be caught.”
Following the imprisonment of Kumar for the remainder of his life, which restored a little faith in substantial justice 34 years later. Only time can tell now if the long hands of justice will be able reach another closed chapter.
1. The Wire
2. The Hindu
3. The Indian Express
4. Hindustan Times
5. BBC News
6. The Scroll (What was Congress leader Kamal Nath doing with mobs during the 1984 anti-Sikh riot?)
7. The Scroll (History revisited: Why was Kamal Nath with a mob that burnt two Sikhs alive at a Gurudwara in 1984?)