Is India’s first minority PM secular?

Verbal diatribes aside, the nation will evaluate Manmohan Singh as a prime minister who demeaned his office.

Published: 23rd April 2009 01:51 AM  |   Last Updated: 15th May 2012 09:21 PM   |  A+A-

OBVIOUSLY, the soft, gentlemanly veneer was just a façade. As he comes to the end of his term, Manmohan Singh has decided to serve up a daily dose of vitriol in order to convince the people of India that he is not a ‘weak’ prime minister. But not everybody is taken in by his strident denunciations and what many regard as his unrighteous indignation.

But how will history judge him, especially when it evaluates him through the prism of constitutionality and rule of law? Let us seek answers through the stories of four men — Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar, Ottavio Quattrocchi and Navin Chawla — and guess what history would say of him.

The Justice Nanavati Commission of Inquiry, which investigated the anti- Sikh pogrom unleashed by the Congress after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, has provided gory details of the large scale massacre of Sikhs by party goons The report says that 2,732 Sikhs were killed in the riots — 2,146 in Delhi and 586 in some other towns in the northern region. Thousands of others were grievously injured. Congress supporters roamed the streets and torched every known Sikh establishment including factories, businesses, homes and motor vehicles. But, how did the ‘secular’ Congress, which was at that time presided over by the ‘secular’ Rajiv Gandhi, respond in the face of this barbaric assault? The Nanavati Commission says that in Delhi, just 587 First Information Reports (FIR) were filed in police stations on these incidents.

Of them, 241 cases were ‘filed as untraced’ by the police and 253 cases ended in acquittals. The police obtained convictions in just 25 of the 587 cases.

After Nanavati submitted his report in February 2005, Manmohan Singh headed government presented the mandatory ‘Action Taken’ report to Parliament.

In reality, it was a report on inaction and the irony is that it was presented by a government headed by India’s first ‘minority’ prime minister, a Sikh. For example, when the commission says “there is credible evidence against Shri Jagdish Tytler to the effect that very probably he had a hand in organising the attacks on Sikhs”, the government clings to the words ‘very probably’ and says no person can be prosecuted simply on the basis of ‘probability’.

Similarly, on Sajjan Kumar, the commission concluded: “there is credible material” against him and that witnesses had accused him of inciting people to kill Sikhs and loot and destroy their properties. Yet, Manmohan watched silently as his party nominated Sajjan Kumar.

The Congress announced the party’s tickets to Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar on March 22. Manmohan remained a passive spectator and even pretended that he was unaware of the clean chit that the Central Bureau of Investigation had given Tytler. His shocking acquiescence to something so unjust provoked a Sikh journalist to take the law into his hands. Eventually, this journalist’s ‘soleful’ riposte bestirred the soulless Congress and forced it to cut their tickets. Yet Manmohan wants us to believe he is a sensitive man; a ‘secular’ man; and not a weak prime minister.

Let us now turn to Ottavio Quattrocchi, Sonia Gandhi’s Italian friend who got a commission of $ 7.3 million when we bought field guns from Bofors for our army. The money first came to Quattrocchi’s Swiss bank account, and when non-Congress governments began dredging up the truth, it was transferred to bank accounts in London. The National Democratic Alliance government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee moved the UK authorities and ensured that the accounts were frozen. Manmohan quietly unlocked Quattrocchi’s accounts and ensured the Italian knocked off the commission. His government also dragged its feet on Quattrocchi’s extradition after his arrest in Argentina. It even hid information about Quattrocchi’s bail from the Supreme Court. The CBI claimed that it had not been informed by the foreign office. So while in Jagdish Tytler’s case Manmohan claims that the CBI never told him it was giving the man a clean chit, in the Quattrocchi Case, the CBI said it was kept in the dark by the foreign office. However, Singh would like us to believe that he is an honourable man.

The third example is that of Navin Chawla, secretary to the Lt Governor of Delhi during the Emergency in 1975-77. Chawla displayed fascist tendencies when he ordered the superintendent of Tihar Jail to ‘bake’ Indira Gandhi’s political opponents in cells with asbestos roofs. The Shah Commission of Inquiry, which examined the systematic assault on democracy during the Emergency, said Chawla had behaved in an “authoritarian and callous” manner. It indicted him and two other officers and said: “They grossly misused their position and abused their powers in cynical disregard of the welfare of citizens and in the process rendered themselves unfit to hold any public office which demands an attitude of fair play and consideration for others”.

The same man was appointed election commissioner in 2005. Chawla assumed charge as chief election commissioner on April 21.

So, how will history remember Manmohan Singh? As an honourable, ‘secular’ man as his shrill declamations would have us believe, or as a prime minister who lacked the moral fibre to stand up for members of a tiny religious minority (of which he was himself a member)? As a man who enforced the rule of law or as one who ducked responsibility to help the Italian friend of his mentor? Finally, will history remember him as a man who had deep respect for constitutional and democratic values or as one who sacrificed these values at the altar of political survival and admitted an ‘unfit’ person to the sanctum sanctorum of democracy — the Election Commission? Let us leave it to history.

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