Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s assertion that the Grand Old Party was not involved in the barbarous assault on the Sikh community after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 flies in the face of truckloads of evidence—placed before several commissions and committees of inquiry that probed the violence. The testimonies of thousands of witnesses not only established instigation of frenzied mobs by Congress politicians but also the unpardonable paralysis of the administration and police in the national capital and many other cities in North India while the mobs were running amok.
The anti-Sikh pogrom began almost immediately after the government announced on the evening of 31 October 1984 that Indira Gandhi had succumbed to the bullets of her assassins. As news of her assassination spread, Congress cadres became belligerent, raised slogans like khoon ka badla khoon se lenge (we will avenge blood with blood) and roamed the national capital and cities in the North torching Sikh places of worship, establishments and property.
Rajiv Gandhi was sworn in as PM immediately after the assassination and, technically speaking, a new government was in place. But there was no government. The state had withered away. In all 2,732 Sikhs were killed in those riots—2,146 in Delhi and 586 in some other towns in northern region. The Sikhs suffered loss of homes and property on an unprecedented scale.
The Justice Nanavati Commission of Inquiry that probed the riots found shocking evidence of the complicity of the police in the riots in Delhi. Although the violence was spread all over the national capital, the police had registered only 587 FIRs against the mobsters and even among these, the police declared over 240 cases as “untraced” and around 250 cases ended in acquittals. Further, 11 FIRs were quashed and in another 11 cases, the accused were discharged.
After weighing the evidence that came before it, the commission came to the following conclusions: “Rumours were circulated which had the effect of inciting people against the Sikhs and prompted them to take revenge … At some places the mobs indulging in violent attacks had come in DTC buses or vehicles.
They either came armed with weapons and inflammable materials like kerosene, petrol ... or were supplied with such materials soon after they were taken to the localities where the Sikhs were to be attacked … Persons who could organise attacks were contacted and given instructions to kill Sikhs ... The attacks were made in a systematic manner and without much fear of the police, almost suggesting they were assured that they would not be harmed while committing those acts and even thereafter. Male members of the Sikh community were taken out of their houses and burnt alive. In some cases, tyres were put round their necks and then they were set on fire by pouring kerosene or petrol on them.”
This is a brief account of the graphic description of the cruelty perpetrated by Congress goons that the Commission took note of. As regards those who instigated the murderous mobs, the commission said: “Large number of affidavits indicate that local Congress(I) leaders and workers had either incited or helped the mobs in attacking the Sikhs. But for the backing and help of influential and resourceful persons, killing of Sikhs so swiftly and in large numbers could not have happened.
In many places the mobs consisted of outsiders ... Bringing them from outside required an organised effort. There is evidence to show that outsiders were shown the houses of the Sikhs.” Further, when Sikhs collected at a gurudwara to defend themselves, the police persuaded them to return to their homes on the assurance they would be protected. But the mobs took over and the police looked the other way, it added.
The Commission said affidavits filed before it state that Congress leaders and workers were behind the riots: “No other person or organisation … is alleged to have taken part in those incidents. The slogans raised during the riots also indicate that some of the persons who constituted the mobs were Congress workers or sympathisers.” Some material was also put before the commission which said Rajiv told one of his officials that “the Sikhs should be taught a lesson”. The Commission did not pursue this because the evidence available was vague. However, it indicted the government for the complicity of the police and administration with the rioters and for the inordinate delay in calling in the Army.
The Indian state was in a state of paralysis after Indira’s assassination and this is explained by the shocking non-response of the then President Giani Zail Singh to pleas for protection from the Sikhs. The noted writer Patwant Singh told the Commission that he was part of a delegation of eminent citizens which called on the president on the morning of November 1.
They told him he had a moral and constitutional obligation to end the violence. The president said he “did not have the power” to intervene. The delegation asked Zail Singh if he was saying he had no power to stop anarchy and bloodshed? “The president remained silent.” But the delegation persisted and urged the president to speak forcefully to the PM. Zail Singh said, “I will do so in three or four days time”! That was the three or four days in which the mass murder of Sikhs took place.
There is sufficient evidence to indict the Congress on two counts—for unleashing brutality of the worst kind on members of a religious minority and for the government’s collaboration with the perpetrators of violence. Rahul is only rubbing salt on the wounds of the Sikhs by now claiming that his party was not involved. He must read the Nanavati Commission reports and the affidavits filed before it.