NEW DELHI — In the wake of the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on Oct. 31, 1984, a wave of anti-Sikh violence swept through the nation’s capital and neighboring towns.
The next day, under the leadership of the Congress Party, mobs attacked Sikh establishments and homes all over India. Voting lists were used to identify Sikh families, whose distinctive names help set members of the religious minority apart.
Armed with knives, iron rods, clubs and explosives, the attackers unleashed a brutal campaign of terror that included pulling people from trains and buses, gang rapes, and mass murder, all under the eye of the authorities, who took little or no action to stop it. The ensuing carnage resulted in the brutal deaths of approximately 3,000 Sikhs. Many more were injured, often seriously.
Those incidents and the ensuing events, now over two decades old, are coming back to haunt the ruling Congress Party and its leaders.
After numerous political debates and nationwide strikes to force the issue, popular pressure compelled the Indian government ordered an official inquiry about the massacres. It set up a commission under the chairmanship of G.T. Nanavati, a retired Supreme Court justice, who submitted his report Feb. 9.
The government kept the commission’s report in cold storage for six months. Finally, on Aug. 8, Home Minister Shivraj Patil placed the report before Parliament.
The report implicates Jagdish Tytler, until recently a junior minister in the current government, H.K.L. Baghat, a veteran Congress leader, and Sajjan Kumar, a member of parliament, in the unleashing of, or acquiescence to, the massacre. Jagdish Tytler resigned from the cabinet as a face-saving tactic.
The report shows that several others, including top police officers, were involved. In his report, Nanavati says, “There is enough evidence to show that the policemen posted in some areas in Delhi had either remained passive and watched the incidents as mere spectators or they had actively instigated or helped the mobs in attacking Sikhs.” He continues, “Around 300 Sikh officers and soldiers in uniform were done to death in the presence of non-Sikh soldiers who stood in silence.”
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, himself a Sikh, has described the killings as a national tragedy and a “blot on our national conscience.” While acceding to a delay in evaluating the report, he has given assurances to Parliament that the government will take appropriate action against specific individuals without considering their politics. He apologized to the Sikh community for what happened in 1984.
The Hindu Baratiya Janata Party (BJP) is maintaining a discreet silence about the report, no doubt because the same Justice Nanavati is heading a two-member commission investigating the Gujarat riots, where Hindu mobs killed Muslims in 2001.
The report about the 1984 events is to be officially discussed in December. But the Siromani Akali Dal party, a Sikh political party that is allied with the BJP, is on the warpath.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India are demanding immediate action against culprits. In a statement, CPI(M) said, “After 21 years and nine commissions and inquiry committees, it is a dismal state of affairs that justice cannot be rendered to the thousands who suffered in the riots.”
M.K.N. Moorthy is the publisher of a progressive Malayalam language publication in Kerala, India.