Some Congressmen were probably involved... Some Congressmen have been punished for it.” That was Congress leader Rahul Gandhi four years ago responding to a searching question in the course of a TV interview about his take on the horrific 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom in Delhi in the run up to the general elections. Cut to 2018 with the party trying to package Rahul 2.0 abroad as the shadow prime minister ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Pushed to respond to an incisive question on the anti-Sikh riots, he disagreed that the Congress was involved in it, sparking an uproar back home. Around 3,000 Sikhs were killed in the genocide following the assassination of Rahul’s grandmother and then PM Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.
To be fair, Rahul did say he was 100 per cent in favour of punishing anyone who was involved in the violence by following due legal process. He also recalled former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s apology in Parliament in 2005 for the mass murder, saying “he spoke for all of us”. But refusing to acknowledge the criminal culpability of Congress leaders—some of whom like H K L Bhagat have been convicted—who personally directed the mobs to wreak vengeance is appalling. In fact, he has actually elevated one of them to the position of a state unit president. Also remember Rahul’s dad Rajiv Gandhi had rather flippantly justified the action of the murderous mobs, saying, “whenever a big tree falls, the earth shakes”. In Delhi, instead of doing damage limitation, his spin doctors sought to blame the journalist who buttonholed Rahul on the issue, claiming it was “a planted and hostile question”.
In Germany, Rahul had framed the slow pace of job creation as the single biggest economic problem in India. He added that it could be addressed if the ruling establishment were to first acknowledge the gravity of the problem. Surely this critique of living in denial cuts both ways. Rahul ought to apply the same yardstick to 1984 as well if he hopes to win the hearts and minds of India.