Sikhs fleeing Delhi during the 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots
A Delhi Court has awarded death penalty and life imprisonment to two accused in the 1984 Sikh Massacre case. This gives us an opportunity to look back at the legacy of 1984.
1984 is one of the most remembered years in recent history. That year will always be known as amongst the worst for Indian governance. The year started with the Prime Minister’s Office actively conspiring to destabilise the National Conference Government in the sensitive State of Jammu & Kashmir. An alternate Government headed by Shri Gul Mohammad Shah, who was the estranged brother in law of Dr. Farooq Abdullah proved to be disastrous. The manipulative politics of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Congress Party was being experimented in a sensitive State. Needless to say, it proved to be catastrophic for the State.
Operation Blue Star
Anticipating elections towards the end of 1984, the Congress Party Government allowed the militancy in Punjab to go unchecked. It wanted to strike on election eve. The terrorist built up within the Golden Temple went unchecked. Those, whom the Congress had created to counter the Sikh influence of Akali Dal had gone out of control. The Operation Bluestar proved to be a historic blunder. It was poorly planned and terribly executed. There were no intelligence inputs with regard to the number of militants and their ammunition that they had collected within. Many innocents got killed in the process. But the biggest damage was both to the highly revered Sri Harminder Sahib, The Akal Takht and to the Sikh psyche. Bluestar succeeded in hurting the psyche of India’s most patriotic community. A myopic Government did not consider the political cost of this move.
The direct fallout of the disastrous operation in June, 1984 at the Golden Temple was the assassination of the Prime Minister. This was one of the most unfortunate and condemnable acts in Indian history. It also indicated a failure of governance. The fallout of this was not anticipated. It proved to be catastrophic. The Congressmen led groups of mourners and protesters shouting “Khoon Ka Badla Khoon”. This provocative slogan was shown in television on Doordarshan continuously in round-the-clock telecast. Anti-Sikh violence started in several parts of the country. Delhi was the worst affected. Congressmen led violent mobs. The Police colluded with them. It did not fire, lathi charge or even teargas the mobs. The rioters were given a free hand to kill and loot. Places of worship of the Sikh community were damaged. Sikh houses were burnt. Their trade establishments were looted. Thousands of innocents, men, women and children were burnt, were mutilated. The Police did not even register the First Information Reports.
The Congress Government tried to misrepresent facts. Civil Liberty Organisations brought a detailed report on the extent of mob violence and injustice. The Report was banned. The Courts refused to lift the ban. A Judicial Commission headed by Justice Rangnath Mishra gave a clean chit to the Government to the extent that there was no collusion or failure of the Government. Post his retirement from the Supreme Court, the Judge first became the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission and subsequently a Congress Member of the Rajya Sabha. The victims and the community were crying for justice. Those Congressmen who led the mobs were made Members of Parliament and even Ministers. There were no arrests, no prosecutions and no convictions. The Civilised Indians and the Sikh Community developed serious doubts about our capacity to deliver Justice. It was only stray cases in which justice could be secured.
The Role of the Two NDA Governments
The First NDA Government led by Shri Atal Bihar Vajpayee appointed the Justice G.T. Nanavati Commission of Enquiry. The Commission prepared an excellent Report giving details, Police-station wise, where the accused were prima facie guilty of crimes and the status of each case. It recommended action. Some people were prosecuted as a result of these cases. In two to three decades even evidence starts disappearing and evaporating. Many witnesses had died. Some shifted out of the country. It was again Shri Narendra Modi Government which in 2015 appointed a Special Investigative Team (SIT) headed by Justice G.P. Mathur, a retired Judge of the Supreme Court. The SIT detected a large number of cases where the accused were prima facie guilty but even charge sheets have not been filed. The case in which Delhi Court yesterday (November 21) has convicted two people, sentencing one of them to death was prosecuted after decades by this SIT. Subsequently, this SIT got subsumed in another SIT headed by Justice S.N. Dhingra, a retired High Court Judge. The subsequent SIT was appointed by the Supreme Court.
Yesterday justice has been done in one case where two accused have been punished, one with life sentence and the other with death sentence. There are thousands of such cases which required a similar punishment in 1980s itself. The period from 1984 to 1998 was one of cover-up where all cases were buried – as though, the 1984 genocide had not happened. The two NDA Governments led by Shri Vajpayee and Shri Modi in which the Akali Dal led by Shri Prakash Singh Badal has been an important constituent made significant efforts to investigate the cases where evidence was still available. Success has been achieved in one case. The Indian society and particularly the Sikh community wants a closure of the horrible memories of 1984. We owe to the victims that the other cases suggested by the SIT for investigation and prosecution be vigorously pursued. The same is being done. Such convictions in those residual cases will be a small consolation.