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Citizenspeak: Who said what before Justice Nanavati

By Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
Last updated on: August 11, 2005 23:39 IST

In the four years that it probed the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, many prominent citizens deposed before the Justice Nanavati Commission. Here's the gist of some of the revelations about the state of affairs in New Delhi following the assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984.

Patwant Singh (eminent writer and environmentalist)
On November 1, 1984, when Patwant Singh along with Lt Gen J S Arora (of Bangladesh liberation fame) contacted President Zail Singh, to stop the violence against Sikhs, he was told by the President, 'I don't have the power to intervene.'

When Patwant Singh insisted he should talk to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi,  Zail Singh said, 'I will do so in three or  four days time.'

Patwant Singh then requested the President to talk to Home Minister P V Narasimha Rao, but was told, 'I am not in contact with the home minister. I suggest you talk to him.'

When Patwant Singh, Gen Arora and I K Gujral went to see Rao, they were surprised to see no activity there. Patwant Singh said Rao looked impassive. He found Rao's approach casual and totally unconcerned.

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Jaya Jaitley (politician, then from the Janta party)
Jaitley said in a written statement that she had visited various riot-affected areas. She was  told by many that 'it was H K L Bhagat who was responsible for what happened in New Delhi.'

Khushwant Singh (writer, journalist)
When Khushwant Singh tried to contact President Zail Singh, the latter's secretary said it was not possible for him to come on the line, and advised the writer to go to the house of a Hindu. Khushwant Singh said he thought the violence was organised and probably the government of the day had a hand in it. He had to leave his house and take refuge elsewhere.

Madan Lal Khurana (BJP leader)
Khurana told the commission that despite recommendations made by the Jain-Agarwal Committee, on the basis of 21 affidavits filed by victims, to file criminal cases against Congress leaders Sajjan Kumar and H K L Bhagat,  no action was taken by the Delhi government.

When he became chief minister of Delhi, the home ministry took over those affidavits to ensure that they remained out of his reach and was not given to him despite repeated requests. Only when he threatened to approach the National Human Rights Commission was he given those papers. It was thanks to his efforts that cases were registered against Bhagat.

Ranjit Singh Narula (retired chief justice of Punjab and Haryana high court)
On November 3, 1984, when he rang up his friend S Manmohan Singh, managing director of Fric India Limited, he was advised not to step out because his Congress friends had informed him that 'this programme' (the attacks on Sikhs) would go on for three days.

Justice Narula also referred to the fact that handwritten notes prepared by top cop Ved Marwah during the inquiry against police officers were destroyed under instructions from higher authorities. Crucial evidence that would have shown who forced the police to indulge in acts of omission and commission, was thus lost.

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Vrinda Grover (researcher)
As part of her research work, Grover has studied judgments rendered in 126 riot cases and found that in most cases, the accused were acquitted because the investigation was casual and there was no serious attempt to collect evidence. Also, eyewitnesses were not produced during trials. The police only wanted to protect influential people and political leaders, she found.

Jaya Srivastava (social worker)
At a peace meeting, one young woman told her husband: 'The idea was only to teach a lesson to the Sikhs, but matters got a little out of hand.'

Brigadier A S Brar (Rajputana Rifles)
Brar, who was posted in New Delhi then, said the riots were organised and it was not due to the assassination of the prime minister. When friends asked him for help, his superiors told him the situation was under control. When he asked two of his colleagues on November 2 as to why the army took a long time to reach Delhi, they told him, 'Don't ask us.'

Ram Jethmalani (lawyer)
When Ram Jethmalani met Home Minister P V Narasimha Rao he found the latter listless and unenthusiastic. He was acutely disappointed with the half-an-hour visit.

Kamini Jaiswal (lawyer)
Kamini said one of the survivors told her they were attacked by a group of people led by Congressmen Bhagat and Tajdar Babbar. When she tried to rescue a Sikh family from a gurudwara, she was almost attacked by Padam Sharma, chief of the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee.

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Vijay Kumar Malhotra (BJP leader)
When Vijay Kumar Malhotra met President Zail Singh, he was told the President was helpless. He found from his own sources that some 2,800 Sikhs had been killed. When then Opposition leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced that figure, the Congress called the BJP anti-national, for the government's claim then was that near about 350 Sikhs had been killed.

The police acted as mute spectators and the mobs were roaming freely in spite of curfew.

I K Gujral (politician)
Gujral had met Zail Singh and returned disappointed by his response. He then met Rao. Gujral said Rao did not know many details about what was happening in New Delhi. He spent much of his time receiving VVIPS who came from abroad for Indira Gandhi's funeral.

George Verghese (former editor of Indian Express)
In his deposition he referred to the statement attributed to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi -- 'When a big tree falls the earth shakes a little.' Verghese said this statement and other circumstances had created an impression among sections of people that public anger would be allowed to run its course for a while.

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Govind Narain (former defence secretary)
Narain, a member of the Citizen's Committee that probed the riots, believes the riots were planned. He said he had a lot of evidence before him that in the Yamuna area, Bhagat had planned and organised the massacre of Sikhs.

He also said there was evidence that Tytler and Sajjan Kumar had instigated the mob.

K R Malkani (BJP leader and journalist)
Malkani told the commission he had heard two rumours, which he believed were spread by the police: a trainload of corpses of Hindus had reached Delhi railway station from Punjab; and that Delhi's water supply was poisoned.

On his arrival in New Delhi on October 31, Rajiv Gandhi had reportedly whispered into the ears of a senior officer that, 'Yes, we must teach them a lesson.' The officer stated this to journalist Shyam Khosla and a former minister K L Maini.

Pratap Singh (retired DIG, Border Security Force)
In 1984, he was a commandant of the BSF's signal regiment and his office was in North Block. Between January and May 1984, during informal talks between them, Mani Shankar Aiyar (now petroleum minister), with whom he would often go to his office, told him that 'he was given an unpleasant job of portraying Sikhs as terrorists.' A few days later, Aiyar again told him that 'against his wishes he has done that job.'

After about three to four weeks, Aiyar again told him, 'We were told to make thousands of video cassettes for screening abroad.'

Major General J S Jamwal (commanding Officer of Delhi area in 1984)

He said that he could contact the Delhi police commissioner on October 31 only at 11.30 pm. The commissioner said the situation was very bad, but under control.

He got the order to march into two areas only on the afternoon of November 1. He said though the army was deployed late in the evening of November 2, it became effective only from November 3 in some areas.

Ved Marwah (former cop)
He was asked to inquire into the role of the Delhi police in the riots. He said before he could examine senior officers, the commissioner ordered him to stop the inquiry.

Kuldip Nayar (senior journalist)
He told the commission that after some days of rioting, he met Lt Gen Jamwal and inquired why the army had not helped the people. Jamwal had told him they were waiting for orders but were purposely not called in.

He also said when he met President Zail Singh he was told the latter was neither informed about the riots nor were any papers sent to him. He got to know of the information from friends. The President's main grievance was that the government of the day did not trust him.

Nayar said the President used to say he did not know how 'posterity would judge him.'

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi