Sunday 5 May 2013

1984 was a bad time to be an Indian (Sunday Guardian)

A Sikh protester is arrested by police on Thursday for crossing the barricades in front of Sonia Gandhi’s residence after Sajjan Kumar’s acquittal by a Delhi court in the anti-Sikh riot case. PTI
he day Prime Minister Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi was killed, the Mathrubhumi newspaper (which this columnist edited at the time) carried an unflattering cartoon of her on the front page, drawn — if memory serves right — by the then enfant terrible of the art, Ravi Shankar. That was reason enough for a group of mourning Congress workers to accost the car in which this columnist was travelling to home from office that day, and to seek to send him to the same location where Mrs Gandhi had reached by that time.
Perhaps because of this experience, or hopefully because of conviction, the newspaper took a very insistent stand demanding that members of the Sikh community be protected everywhere, because to hold them responsible for the action of two unhinged constables was wrong. Fortunately, the (admittedly tiny) Sikh community in Kerala suffered not at all during the aftermath of the 31 October 1984 assassination. Nor did they, in almost all parts of India barring Delhi, a city which the Mathrubhumi editor visited a day after the murder, to witness deeds which to this day bring pause and disgust. People being chased and set alight, gangs despatching helpless men to the netherworld by the use of iron rods. Blood lust on faces that till then were creased in smiles at their Sikh neighbours, who were — and remain — among the most dynamic communities in India.
Within a couple of days of arriving in Delhi, it was clear that there was high-level involvement in the mass murder of the Sikh community that the national capital witnessed for four shameful days. Local netas could be seen egging on their murderous men at street corners, while from the Home Ministry, then headed by P.V. Narasimha Rao, there was a silence as profound as that which greeted the destruction of the Babri Masjid eight years later. Would the Union Minister for Home have remained supine without a nod from those whom he knew to be far more influential in the new setup than himself?
Within a couple of days of arriving in Delhi, it was clear that there was high-level involvement in the mass murder of the Sikh community that the national capital witnessed for four shameful days.
Whispers were that a heavyweight Minister of State was behind the apparently organised effort at mayhem on the streets of Delhi, taking advantage of the youthful Prime Minister of just a few days standing's grief and involvement in funeral preparations for his mother. Interestingly, this Minister of State was never investigated for possible involvement in the conspiracy to kill members of a certain community that was hatched and carried out soon after Indira Gandhi was killed. Indeed, no controversy has singed him, not even Bofors, so strong is the invisible coating of Teflon that envelops his imposing countenance. And later on, not surprisingly to those with knowledge of the byzantine alleyways of Delhi Durbar politics, the "lion" Viswanath Pratap Singh turned out to be a mere pussycat in the matter of Bofors, with the investigation going nowhere during his time, and picking up speed only when Prime Minister Deve Gowda tasked CBI director Joginder Singh with finding out the truth.
Was P.V. Narasimha Rao the only individual in positions of responsibility who clearly — in the view of this correspondent — responded to cues from this powerful Minister of State (who was reminiscent of the omnipotent nature MoS for Home Om Mehta in earlier days)? Or were there others, for example Congress MPs from Delhi? Knowing the immense influence of Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar and H.K.L. Bhagat on the streets of Delhi during the time the riots erupted, it is evident that they could have stopped the carnage, even if they had not encouraged it.
This columnist respects the judiciary in India and hence does not wish to give an opinion on the merits of the decision by the CBI court to find Sajjan Kumar blameless in instigating or in carrying out the 1984 riots. However, the politician was certainly at fault for not doing anything at all to call off the hordes of depredators roaming the streets of Delhi, with scarcely a constable in sight. It was a terrible time to be a Sikh in India during those four days. It was a bad time to be an Indian. And it is unfortunate to note that those responsible for masterminding the deaths of so many hundreds of innocent citizens are continuing to avoid the harsh penalties they deserve.

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