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A crime worse than Modi's

By Saisuresh Sivaswamy
August 12, 2005 14:50 IST
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If a mere description of Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh as 'silly' could incense Congress workers enough to vandalise Mumbai tabloid Mid-Day's office, you can well imagine the anger that must have coursed through their veins when the prime minister and their party's icon was gunned down more than 20 years ago.

So what is so unbelievable about the Justice Nanavati Commission's findings -- the ninth probe initiated into the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 -- about Congressmen's complicity in the violence?

Congress has lost its moral compass

Far-fetched? How, and why? Despite the patina of civilisation that top leaders might put on their political party -- be it the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress, the Shiv Sena or the Communists -- the reality is that at the street level there is little to distinguish the workers in terms of political culture. The common credo for political parties is, Violence is a tool, and will be used.

For those who find Justice Nanavati's finding hard to believe, here's a simple question. Could Delhi have burned the way it did -- estimates put the loss of life in those traumatic days at around 3,000 -- without official connivance? Could the perpetrators and chief instigators of the violence have got away for so long -- it is now 21 years, mind you -- without official patronage? And can all of the victims fool all of us for such a long about who was behind the riots?

Had he been alive, I have no doubt Rajiv Gandhi would have emerged as one of India's finest prime ministers. But it is a reality that in his only term in office, he was an unmitigated disaster on many fronts. But all his sins of omission and commission pale into insignificance against the monstrosity that was the anti-Sikh riots.

The debate is not whether he did or did not make the statement attributed to him -- 'when a giant tree falls, the earth is bound to shake a little'; in popular perception, which is what politics is about, that he spoke those words is part of folklore.

Who said what before Justice Nanavati

The question is also not whether the Congress party, from its president downwards, instigated/encouraged the riots; the question is just what these worthies did to deter the violence.

The answer is zilch.

You can say, very much like what the Narendra Modi government did three years ago. Or what the Congress government did in Maharashtra in the bloody days of 1992-93. Modi and his people can scream themselves hoarse that they did not do anything, but the issue in such cases is not so much what you did as what you did NOT do. The administration's very supineness -- be in Delhi, Maharashtra, or Gujarat -- sends the message out, that it has tacitly connived at the decision to 'teach them a lesson'.

The Modi administration was guilty on this count, as was the Congress government in 1984

Yet, consider the difference in how the two administrations have been treated. Not a single Congressman has paid the price for the 1984 riots. Twenty-one years down the line, we have had nine inquiry commissions going into the violence, and there is a possibility that another probe will now be instituted, yawn, to take up Justice Nanavati's findings. How many of the victims will even be alive 21 years later? How many of them will remember the details? How many will want to remember?

But, as I said, look at the difference. Congressman Jagdish Tytler against whom there was a direct charge of instigation by victims, had to be dragged off the Union Cabinet kicking and screaming. As minister for NRI affairs, he toured overseas, including the Land of the Free that is America, and no one saw it fit to rescind his visa.

He was just one; other Congress leaders at whom there was more than a needle of suspicion pointing, did not suffer any indignity.

On the other hand, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi against whom there is no direct charge in the riots but one of presiding over an inactive administration, is blackballed, denied visa, a hysterical campaign is mounted whenever he tours the country or goes overseas. I hold no brief for Modi or anyone of his ilk, I believe all rioters passive and active should be hanged to death, but I cannot understand this dichotomy in treatment of communal riots.

What, do 3000 Sikh lives matter less to India than do 3000 Muslim lives? Aren't both groups Indians, and hence the perpetrators should face the same treatment? Or is there an invisible class system among victims that eludes me?

The Congress's follies are multi-fold; Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the most decent person we can have hope to have in that post, is the first high official from that party to apologise to the nation for the violence, made all the more poignant since his own family must have acutely felt the trauma that for most of us is just news headlines.

Perhaps it was a tacit atonement on the part of the Congress president Sonia Gandhi when she made Singh the first non-Hindu prime minister of the country. Sure, the Congress leadership must have learnt the bitterest lesson that life throws at us: what you give, especially violence, comes back to you.

But that is the larger picture. Is the victim of 1984, who is part of the smaller picture, to be appeased and satisfied with the apology or the fact that one of his/her own is now the prime minister? Isn't that mere tokenism? Is that what democratic India, which will celebrate its freedom from foreign yoke three days hence, has to offer 58 years after it became free?

Those within the Congress party who think enough has been done by way of redressal for the 1984 violence have no historical perspective. The Sikhs are not just another race, they are the reason why the map of India is what it is today. If they can be made to suffer so much agony, no community that has given its blood and sweat to make India what it is, is safe.

Sure, terrorism in Punjab, which led to the army storming the Golden Temple which led to the assassination of Indira Gandhi which led to the anti-Sikh riots, was a terrible thing. Very often the nation-State has failed to assure the sub-nationalities among us that their interests are safe; we saw that happen in Punjab in the 1980s; we see it happening in Jammu and Kashmir today.

And when the arms of the government allow, or do not prevent, what happened in 1984 across north India, or in Maharashtra and Gujarat later, they will only be boosting the ranks of those who have given up on the country and seek a distinct future.

That gets compounded many times when the redressal machinery breaks down as it has with the victims of 1984. Justice delayed is justice denied; and justice denied is a recruitment notice for separatism.

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Saisuresh Sivaswamy