If Congress isn’t responsible for 1984 killing of Sikhs, who is?

It’s futile to expect an apology from Rahul Gandhi for the massacre of Sikhs in 1984 when the Congress was in power at the Centre, because the Congress president has denied his party’s involvement in the incident. Senior Congress leaders have questioned the demand for an apology, saying that he was only a school student when the killings happened and that he cannot be held responsible for them.

Manmohan Singh had apologised in Parliament in 2005: “On behalf of our Government… I bow my head in shame that such a thing took place.” His words were directed at the Sikh community and the nation as a whole. Was Manmohan Singh involved in the anti-Sikh violence? This Sunday, Pope Francis, on a visit to Ireland, apologised for the multiple abuse sandals that had rocked the Irish Church. He “begged for god’s forgiveness” and sought “firm and decisive” steps to find “truth and justice”. Was the Pope responsible for the sexual abuse cases?

Only four years ago, Rahul Gandhi had admitted in a television interview that some Congress leaders were “probably involved” in the violence against Sikhs in 1984 in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguards. Was he lying then or is he lying now, when he says in London that the Congress had no hand in the incident? Either way, his credibility has taken a hard knock. Besides, he has yet again scratched at wounds that have not been healed.

There are facts neither he nor his spin-masters can alter. More than 3,000 Sikhs were massacred in Delhi alone in a space of few days after then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The Rajiv Gandhi Government failed to contain the violence. Many Congress leaders, prominent among being HKL Bhagat, Jagdish Tytler, Sajjan Kumar and Kamal Nath were alleged to have incited the crowds to violence. Rajiv Gandhi said that when a big tree falls, the earth shakes. This was taken as justification and encouragement for the mayhem to continue. No concrete action was taken against the Congress leaders who had come under a cloud — many, such as Bhagat and Kamal Nath — were to even become Ministers in Congress regimes. Even the then President of India, Gyani Zail Singh, was not spared; his car was attacked by a mob and its window panes were shattered, and not even a FIR was filed with the police.

Subsequent to the killings, a shoddy investigation was conducted, which spared the alleged culprits. Various Congress or Congress-supported regimes thereafter did little to proceed with the process of justice. Many Sikh families remained without proper compensation. That Manmohan Singh should have had to apologise is an irony, given that he is a Sikh. Rajiv Gandhi never did. How does this square with Rahul Gandhi’s claim that the Congress stands for love and forgiveness. The incumbent Congress chief says he felt as bad seeing terrorist V Prabhakaran lying dead as he did on his father Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination by the Prabhakaran-led Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. And that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra wants her father’s killers, now convicted and jailed, to be pardoned and released. Is it then Rahul Gandhi’s case that he has forgiven the killers of the Sikhs too? In any case, who would he be to forgive?

What happened in 1984 could not have happened without the backing of the ruling party. In his book, 1984: The Anti-Sikh Violence and After, author Sanjay Suri has recounted several instances and interviews of people on the ground to reconstruct the terrible tragedy. It seeks to answer the question: Why have so few people (and that too the bottom-rung ones) been punished for the genocide? While his account primarily focuses on the failures of the law and enforcement machinery, it is obvious from his narrative that the police could not have acted in the callous way it did without the support — or coercion — of the political rulers. And he does mention instances where eye-witnesses saw senior Congress leaders behaving dubiously.

Lawyer HS Phoolka and journalist Manoj Mitta, in the book they co-authored, When a Tree Shook Delhi, have been scathing in their criticism of the then regime and the police machinery which seemed to be serving the cause of the culprits rather than justice. The book pointed out that at the time of writing, barely a dozen persons had been punished in connection with half a dozen murder cases, when as many roughly 3,000 Sikhs had been killed. The book reminded us that 5,000 Army personnel were present in Delhi during the carnage, and they could have been summoned on duty immediately after the outbreak of violence — but were not. The Ranganath Misra Commission, which had been constituted to inquire into the incident, conceded that at least 2,000 lives could have been saved had the Rajiv Gandhi Government deployed the Army.

Despite all this, we are supposed to believe that the Congress was not responsible.


  1. “….What happened in 1984 could not have happened without the backing of the ruling party…”.
    It would be more accurate to state:
    “….What happened in 1984 could not have happened without the backing of the indian state…”
    The police that stood by or participated weren’t the ruling party but the state. The subversion of democracy that brought the “ruling” party to power was the state.
    The same “ruling” party was then rewarded with electoral landslide wins.


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