New Delhi: As the long wait for justice over the 1984 anti-Sikh riots continues, Congress leader Sandeep Dikshit feels that the government failed in maintaining law and order situation during the violence, in which thousands of people were killed.
The Congress has for long been blamed for the riots, which flared up in the wake of then prime minister Indira Gandhi being assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards.
However, in what appeared to be an admittance, Dikshit, son of former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit and former Lok Sabha MP, said on Wednesday that it was possibly the first time in independent India that the government failed in its duty to protect people.
“It was perhaps the first time that the pride of a state, the regality of a state, was sacrificed. The government is supposed to be the protector of the people… Possibly first time in independent India, the government did not play that role,” he said here at a function to launch a book on the riots.
The book “Untold Agony of 1984” written by former journalist Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay was launched on Wednesday evening where civil society members, writers and political leaders were also present.
“It is the people’s responsibility to keep the struggle for justice alive,” Urvashi Bhutalia, a veteran columnist and author said.
“It is never too late to seek justice. It is the people’s core responsibility to keep the memories alive by writing about it and carry on to next generation,” she added.
Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Sudhanshu Mittal also spoke on the event and said: “Apart from the professional failure of the armed forces and the state, the people in the city also shamed us.”
“People were being encouraged and endorsed for the acts of violence,” he said.
He also questioned the then Congress government for not citing an Special Investigation Team (SIT) immediately after the riots.
“Why wasn’t the SIT cited like it was done post-2002 Godhra riots,” he asked.
He said the criminal evidence cannot be used after 31 years of the riots.
New Delhi: Indira Gandhi knew her life was at risk when she decided to go for militarily storm the Golden Temple, President Pranab Mukherjee reveals in the second part of his memoirs released on Thursday.
“The Turbulent Years, 1980-1996” (Rupa) says that “criminals, smugglers and anti-social elements” had joined the Khalistan movement and recalls that the Golden Temple had become a safe haven for them.
The President writes that talks with the Akali Dal failed due to its rigid stance, and last ditch efforts were made shortly before “Operation Blue Star” – as the military operation was codenamed – was launched.
Even a few days before Operation Blue Star, an attempt was made to find a solution by holding a meeting with the Akali Dal leaders who were brought from jail to the lounge of the Chandigarh airport at midnight.
“PV Narasimha Rao, Cabinet Secretary Krishnaswamy Rao Sahib and I represented the government in that meeting. Unfortunately, the talks remained unsuccessful,” he says in the book released at the Rashtrapati Bhavan by Vice President M Hamid Ansari.
By May 1984, it became increasingly clear that there was no alternative but military action to flush out the terrorists within the Golden Temple, particularly as the negotiations and discussions had not yielded the desired results.
The decision to storm the Golden Temple was taken at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) but no official was present at the meet, Mukherjee writes.
Operation Blue Star was launched at the Golden Temple on June 3, 1984, with the army entering the premises.
Mukherjee then writes how Gandhi told him she was aware of the threat to her life.
“I still vividly recall Mrs Gandhi telling me, ‘Pranab, I know of the consequences.’ She understood the situation well and was clear that there was no other option.” he added.
“Aware that her own life was at risk, she took a conscious decision to go ahead in the best interest of the nation.”
Mukherjee defends the operation, calling the situation in Punjab at that time “abnormal”.
“It is easy to say that the military action could have been avoided. However, nobody really knows if any other option would have worked. Such decisions are always taken based on the conditions prevailing at that time. The situation in Punjab was abnormal.”
He adds that the “biggest tragedy” of the whole event was the “loss of Mrs Gandhi”.
Her last speech in Orissa, two days before her assassination, was prophetic. She said, ‘I am alive today, I may not be there tomorrow… I shall continue to serve until my last breath and when I die, I can say that every drop of my blood will invigorate India and strengthen it’.
Gandhi was assassinated on October 31, 1984, at her Safdarjung Road residence in New Delhi by two of her bodyguards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, in the aftermath of Operation Blue Star.( IANS)(Picture Courtesy: wikipedia)
President Zail Singh could not get through to then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi when he needed most to, when thousands upon thousands of Sikhs needed him to, urgently. It was after all a matter of life and death for them.
“We tried all day,” Tarlochan Singh, press secretary to the president through those deathly days of 1984, and later chairman of the Nation Commission for Minorities, said at an event last week at the launch of the book ‘1984 – the Anti-Sikh Violence and After’ that I have written. I was then eyewitness to much of the violence as a crime reporter with The Indian Express newspaper.
But all day and late into the night the president could not get a word in, Tarlochan Singh said in his startling revelation. That kind of stonewalling between the head of state and head of government was unprecedented. Rajiv Gandhi had been sworn in prime minister on the evening of October 31; his mother, prime minister Indira Gandhi, had been assassinated by two Sikh police bodyguards earlier in the day.
Zail Singh had learnt almost before anyone else, just how direly threatened Sikhs were then in Delhi. “The President was the first Sikh to be attacked,” senior lawyer H.S. Phoolka, who has been campaigning for justice over the 1984 killings, told the gathering. The president’s car was stopped and attacked early in the evening of October 31 while he was on his way to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences where Indira Gandhi had been taken.
The president could hardly have been expecting the new prime minister to display some of the hostility he had encountered on the street the evening before. Because hostility this evidently was; Rajiv Gandhi then undoubtedly was a son grieving over the shocking murder of his mother, but he was also prime minister. Surely, his personal grief was not such that he couldn’t set it aside a minute for the sake of the president.
Rajiv Gandhi’s silence spoke unmistakably; he knew that Sikhs were being attacked all over Delhi the next day but demonstrated that he really did not want to know. Tarlochan Singh believed the president wanted to express concern over the safety and security of Sikhs. But if all he wished to do was to reach out to Rajiv Gandhi over his personal loss, it would still appear hostile to refuse to take that call.
Tarlochan Singh’s intervention at the meeting added a new dimension to a chapter on Rajiv Gandhi in the book, where I present facts to show that the killing of those thousands of Sikhs was backed – at the least I argue – by “passive aggression” coming personally and directly from Rajiv Gandhi.
Yet more inputs arose at the meeting pointing the same way, by way of a glimpse of the personal responses of the Lt. Governor of Delhi, P.G.Gavai. “He wept and wept because he said he had failed,” Capt. J.S.Gill, an associate of Gavai, told the meeting.
Why did Gavai think he had failed? The book records a telling documented fact, that Rajiv Gandhi called Gavai for a meeting at 5.30 pm on November 2 and instructed him that all violence must end within 15 minutes. This was the first firmly decisive step Rajiv Gandhi took. But by then 3,000 Sikhs had already been killed. Did Rajiv Gandhi not know before then that Sikhs were being massacred? What was Rajiv Gandhi ordering Gavai to end, now suddenly within 15 minutes.
The killing, and the loot and arson were in evidence all over Delhi, and Rajiv Gandhi was hardly ignorant of these. He most certainly would want the violence to end on the evening of Nov 2 because among other considerations, world leaders had begun to arrive in the city for Indira Gandhi’s funeral to take place the following day. Perhaps he had a more humane intention, eventually, than preparing a presentable city before foreign dignitaries. But before that meeting with Gavai, no such decisive move came from the new prime minister to end the violence.
Rajiv Gandhi had no doubt delivered a speech calling for peace and harmony. But to share here a thought in the book: “The Sikhs of Delhi did not need to hear speeches on the right thing to do; they needed the right thing done.” This, clearly and tragically, was not.
Gavai too had seen that, how could he not? He was agonized because he found himself powerless to do any earlier what he knew it would take. What as that? And who or what restrained him? Another question answers that question.
In the course of an interview with former police commissioner Ved Marwah, the question arose who had stopped his inquiry from completion at the last minute. Marwah would not answer the question, but he did offer an answer by way of raising the question: “Who else?”