When a big tree fell
Manmohan Singh and Congress suffer from selective amnesia as they rake up the 2002 Gujarat violence to malign the BJP. But even if they choose to forget the 1984 pogrom that left more than 4,000 Sikhs dead, the story remains fresh in the minds of many, among them survivors waiting for justice for 25 years
Caught on the wrong foot over the brazen manner in which it tried to absolve Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar of the serious charges that have been levelled against them by survivors of the 1984 pogrom that resulted in the slaughter of 4, 733 Sikhs, the Congress has struck back at its principal political adversary, the BJP, by once again raising the bogey of the 2002 post-Godhra violence in Gujarat.
Addressing a Press conference in Mumbai on Monday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who would like people to believe that he was “not informed, not consulted, over the CBI’s clean chit to Jagdish Tytler” although that is an impossibility, has said, “Nor will I be found wringing my hands in frustration while one of my Chief Ministers condones a pogrom targeted at minorities.”
Ironically, even as the Prime Minister was seeking to resurrect the Gujarat ‘pogrom’ and remind people of the ‘atrocities’ committed against Muslims, the Special Investigation Team set up by the Supreme Court and headed by former CBI director RK Raghavan submitted its report, refuting the allegations that have sustained the myth-making aimed at demonising Mr Narendra Modi and tarring the BJP’s image.
The SIT’s report shows Mr Singh’s description of the Gujarat violence as a “pogrom targeted at minorities” is as fanciful as his denial of any knowledge about the CBI exonerating those who are accused of leading murderous mobs during the 1984 violence, planned and executed by Congress ‘leaders’ to avenge the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi. Noted writer and veteran journalist Khushwant Singh, recalling those terrible days of 1984, told the Nanavati Commission of Inquiry, set up by the BJP-led NDA Government, that the hideous bloodletting left him “feeling like a Jew in Nazi Germany”.
It is possible that Mr Manmohan Singh has no memories of that massacre; selective amnesia is a disease from which too-clever-by-half politicians tend to suffer. It is also possible that he and his patrons in the Congress believe that by pretending nothing of note happened in 1984, those born after Congress mobs ran amok on the streets of Delhi, garlanding Sikhs with burning tyres, can be persuaded to vote for a party which claims to stand against the BJP’s ‘divisive politics’.
Such sanctimonious self-righteousness is best avoided by the Congress, not least because its then president — and India’s Prime Minister — Rajiv Gandhi had no qualms about justifying the carnage. “Some riots took place in the country following the murder of Indiraji,” Rajiv Gandhi said on November 19, 1984, even as thousands of families grieved for their loved ones killed by Congress hoodlums, “We know the people were very angry and for a few days it seemed India had been shaken. But when a mighty tree falls, it is only natural that the earth around it does shake a little.” Some riots? Only natural? Shake a little?
Of course, Mr Singh would claim no knowledge of any of this. Perhaps he would even insist that he was “not informed, not consulted” by Rajiv Gandhi, or, for that matter, the mobs that bayed for blood (and feasted on it) for four days before someone called the Army in.
Twenty-five years is a long time. Public memory is notoriously short and it is unlikely those who have attained the right to vote in these 25 years would know what the protest against the Congress deciding to give party tickets to Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar is all about. It would, therefore, be in order to recall the chain of events lest we be persuaded to believe that nothing of consequence happened by a Prime Minister who spends sleepless nights worrying about a terror suspect held in distant Australia but blithely disowns responsibility for the shocking attempt to whitewash the crimes of his party and its ‘leaders’ committed against thousands at home.
So, here is the story, briefly told, of how more than 4,000 Sikh men, women and children were slaughtered; in Delhi alone, 2,733 Sikhs were burned alive, butchered or beaten to death. Women were raped while their terrified families pleaded for mercy, little or none of which was shown by the Congress goons. In one of the numerous such incidents, a woman was gang-raped in front of her 17-year-old son; before leaving, the marauders torched the boy.
For three days and four nights the killing and pillaging continued without the police, the civil administration and the Union Government, which was then in direct charge of Delhi, lifting a finger in admonishment. The Congress was in power and could have prevented the violence, but the then Prime Minister, his Home Minister, indeed the entire Council of Ministers, twiddled their thumbs.
Even as stray dogs gorged on charred corpses and wailing women, clutching children too frightened to cry, fled mobs armed with iron rods, staves and gallons of kerosene, AIR and Doordarshan kept on broadcasting blood-curdling slogans like ‘Khoon ka badla khoon se lenge’ (We shall avenge blood with blood) raised by Congress workers grieving over their dear departed leader.
In mid-morning on October 31, 1984, Mrs Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two Sikh guards posted at her home. Her death was ‘officially’ confirmed at 6 pm, after due diligence had been exercised to ensure Rajiv Gandhi’s succession. By then, reports of stray incidents of violence against Sikhs, including the stoning of President Zail Singh’s car, had started trickling in at various police stations.
By the morning of November 1, hordes of men were on the rampage in south, east and west Delhi. They were armed with iron rods and carried old tyres and jerry cans filled with kerosene and petrol. Owners of petrol pumps and kerosene stores, beneficiaries of Congress largesse, provided petrol and kerosene free of cost. Some of the men went around on scooters and motorcycles, marking Sikh houses and business establishments with chalk for easy identification. They had been provided with electoral rolls to make their task easier.
By late afternoon that day, hundreds of taxis, trucks and shops owned by Sikhs had been set ablaze. By early evening, the murder, loot and rape began in right earnest. The worst butchery took place in Block 32 of Trilokpuri, a resettlement colony in east Delhi. The police either participated in the violence or merely watched from the sidelines.
Curfew was declared in south and central Delhi at 4 pm, and in east and west Delhi at 6 pm on November 1. But there was no attempt to enforce it. PV Narasimha Rao, the then Home Minister, remained unmoved by cries for help. In his affidavit to the Nanavati Commission of Inquiry, Lt-Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, decorated hero of the 1971 India-Pakistan war, said, “The Home Minister was grossly negligent in his approach, which clearly reflected his connivance with perpetrators of the heinous crimes being committed against the Sikhs.”
The first deployment of the Army took place around 6 pm on November 1 in south and central Delhi, which were comparatively unaffected, but in the absence of navigators, which should have been provided by the police and the civil authorities, the jawans found themselves lost in unfamiliar roads and avenues.
The Army was deployed in east and west Delhi in the afternoon of November 2, more than 24 hours after the killings began. But, here, too, the jawans were at a loss because there were no navigators to show them the way through byzantine lanes.
In any event, there was little the Army could have done: Magistrates were ‘not available’ to give permission to fire on the mobs. This mandatory requirement was kept pending till Mrs Indira Gandhi’s funeral was over. By then, 1,026 Sikhs had been killed in east Delhi. Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar were among Congress ‘leaders’ who, witnesses said, incited and led mobs. Both deny the allegation, but the evidence is overwhelming.
A report on the pogrom, jointly prepared by the PUCL and PUDR and published under the title, Who Are the Guilty? names both of them along with others. The report quotes well-known journalist Sudip Mazumdar: “The Police Commissioner, SC Tandon was briefing the Press (about 10 Indian reporters and five foreign journalists) in his office on November 6, at 5 pm. A reporter asked him to comment on the large number of complaints about local Congress MPs and lightweights trying to pressure the police to get their men released. The Police Commissioner totally denied the allegation… Just as he finished uttering these words, Jagdish Tytler, Congress MP from Sadar constituency, barged into the Police Commissioner’s office along with three other followers and on the top of his voice demanded, ‘What is this Mr Tandon? You still have not done what I asked you to do?’ The reporters were amused, the Police Commissioner embarrassed. Tytler kept on shouting and a reporter asked the Police Commissioner to ask that ‘shouting man’ to wait outside since a Press conference was on. Tytler shouted at the reporter, ‘This is more important.’ The reporter told the Police Commissioner that if Tytler wanted to sit in the office he would be welcome, but a lot of questions regarding his involvement would also be asked and he was welcome to hear them. Tytler was fuming…”
The slaughter was not limited to Delhi, though. Sikhs were killed in Gurgaon, Kanpur, Bokaro, Indore and many other towns and cities in States ruled by the Congress. In a replay of the mayhem in Delhi, 26 Sikh soldiers were pulled out of trains and killed.
After quenching their thirst for blood, the mobs retreated to savour their ‘revenge’. The flames died and the winter air blew away the stench of death. Rajiv Gandhi’s Government issued a statement placing the death toll at 425!
Demands for a judicial inquiry were stonewalled by Rajiv Gandhi. Human rights organisations petitioned the courts; the Government said courts were not empowered to order inquiries. Meanwhile, Rajiv Gandhi dissolved the Lok Sabha and went for an early election, which the Congress swept by using the ‘sympathy card’ and launching a vitriolic hate campaign.
Once in office, Rajiv Gandhi was desperate for a breakthrough in Punjab. He mollycoddled Akali leader Sant Harchand Singh Longowal into agreeing to sign a peace accord with him. Sant Longowal listed a set of pre-conditions; one of them was the setting up of a judicial commission to inquire into the pogrom.
Thus was born the Ranganath Misra Commission of Inquiry, which took on the job of crafting a report that would suggest extra-terrestrials were to be blamed for whatever had happened. Worse, submissions and affidavits were passed on to those accused of leading the mobs; some of these documents were later recovered from the house of Sajjan Kumar. Gag orders were issued, preventing the Press from reporting in-camera proceedings of the Commission.
For full six months, Rajiv Gandhi refused to make public the Ranganath Misra Commission’s report. When it was tabled in Parliament, the report was found to be an amazing travesty of the truth; neither were the guilty men of 1984 named, now was responsibility fixed.
Subsequently, nine commissions and committees were set up to get to the truth, but they were either disbanded midway or not allowed access to documents and evidence. India had to wait for the report of the Nanavati Commission for an approximate version of the real story.
Justice Nanavati’s report said, “The Commission considers it safe to record its finding that there is credible evidence against Jagdish Tytler to the effect that very probably he had a hand in organising attacks on Sikhs.” This is not an indictment, Mr Manmohan Singh and his Government decided, so why bother about it? Four years later they remain unrepentant, their attitude remains unchanged.
Two thousand seven hundred and thirty-three men, women and children killed in Delhi, another 2,000 killed elsewhere, scores of women raped, property worth crores of rupees looted or sacked. Families devastated forever, survivors scarred for the rest of their lives.
But the Congress doesn’t care!