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Mainstream, VOL L No 47, November 10, 2012

A Dark Moment of Our History

Wednesday 21 November 2012, by Vidya Bhushan Rawat


October 31, 1984 witnessed one of the most gruesome incidents of our time. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated at her residence by her own security personnel. The country plunged into darkness as a highly communalised anti-Sikh violence took place threatening the very integrity of the country. India cannot endure the repetition of such incidents and must learn its lessons from the tratedy.
It was in the early morning of October 31 that Indira Gandhi was preparing herself for an interview to a foreign TV channel at her residence at 1 Safdarjang Road and walking towards 1 Akbar Road, her office. As soon as she reached the gates of 1 Akbar Road, the guards at duty, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, fired on her. Mrs Gandhi was rushed to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

The news of the attempt on the Prime Minis-ter’s life spread like wildfire but unfortunately India under strict government information control was just getting information through All India Radio and Doordarshan that Mrs Gandhi was attacked and was being taken to the hospital and doctors at the AIIMS were trying to save her life. There was no information and after some time people started spreading rumours. BBC had declared that she was dead and this information had already been broadcast by all the international radio stations but back home Doordarshan and Akashvani were just playing ‘bhakti sangeet’ and mournful music.

The news was that no senior politician was in the Capital. President Zail Singh was on an official visit to South Korea while Rajiv Gandhi was visiting Bengal. The Vice-President and other senior leaders too were out of Delhi and hence no one was there to guide the government resulting in total chaos that led to rumours in the street resulting in anti-Sikh violence. By the evening, the 6 pm news on the radio and TV officially announced that Mrs Indira Gandhi died in a terrorist attack at her residence around 9 am. By that time, the President and other senior leaders were back in New Delhi.

In late evening, Rajiv Gandhi was sworn in by President Zail Singh as the new Prime Minister of India along with a few other Ministers. The fact is that there was no Congress Parliamentary Party meeting that time but President Zail Singh fulfilled his loyalty to late Indira Gandhi by asking Rajiv to form the government. The anti-Sikh sentiments were running high during that period and slowly the country saw the worst ever governance at the Centre.

While radio and TV were showing Indira Gandhi’s dead body over and over again, there was no constraint on the government not to broadcast the anti-Sikh slogans being chanted by Congress workers. ‘Jab tak suraj chand rahega, Indira tera naam rahega’, ‘khoon ka badla khoon se lenge’ were the slogans renting the air. The local political leaders of the Congress party had already started whipping up passions and Sikh establishments and business institutions were targeted. By the evening the Sikhs became an alien in this country. The country was mourning for Indira Gandhi but the Hindus had decided to teach the Sikhs a lesson for the act of two Sikh security guards. Reasoning was lost in the din of the noise and as governance remained completely paralysed, the people were allowed to die on the streets by the hooligans.

Innocent lives were lost. Children became orphans, women became widows and parents saw their children being burnt in front of them. This was the scene on the streets of India’s Capital. Shamelessly, the government had no time and it seemed as if it was instigating the crowds to act. There was no governance for the next three-four days. Aakashvani and Doordar-shan were dutifully showing the crowds and telecasting the anti-Sikh slogans. This continued till the cremation of Indira Gandhi in which a large number of international leaders too participated. The fact was that there were not many Sikhs in the entire programme except for President Zail Singh and Congress leader Buta Singh. It is ironical how Sikhs were kept out and completely isolated for so many days by the Indian political establishment.
Rajiv spoke to the nation that ‘Indira was not just my mother but the mother of the nation’. He spoke on everything except the violence on the streets. The sarkari news agencies never bothered to inform people about the ongoing violence as it was only habitual of them to convey that ‘the situation is tense but under control’, a trademark statement. It was not just Delhi, the anti-Sikh violence took place every-where with the police and administration just allowing things to happen.
Why should innocent Sikhs be punished by criminal mobs because a Prime Minister was assassinated by people who happen to be Sikhs? There was no sane voice who could tell the nation that the blame for the crime of two indi-viduals cannot be put on the entire community. There was no one in the government who could say that the first task of a new government was to restore law and order. Even when the Army was requi-red, it looked as if it was delayed deliberately. And at the end of three days, India saw a debris of human masses killed by the political people for their political purposes.

And as happens in such cases, the justifica-tions were ready from the criminals. The Sikhs needed to be taught a lesson, they said. They (the Sikhs) were celebrating and distributing sweets, when Mrs Indira Gandhi was shot, said others. ‘If we do not teach them a lesson, they will destroy India,’ said many. And the pattern was similar to what the forces of Hindutva do. The fact is that they too participated in this whole exercise. It needs to be underscored that Indira Gandhi became a ‘Hindu’ leader when she was shot by her Sikh security guards and Rajiv became the aspiration of Hindus who were being threatened by the Sikhs. He was a son, an obedient one, who needed to be supported and it was for that reason that during the subsequent general elections, the country gave a huge mandate to the Congress party. It was an election which was built on a hate campaign against a community and I dare say the result was completely a communally mandated one. The fact was that the Congress had comprehended the popular sentiments and communalised the atmosphere in the nation and they thought it was the right time for them to strengthen those further and hence they promoted the anti-Sikh feeling and violence in different parts of the country.

The victims of the communal violence instigated by the political goons of the Congress party have not yet received justice so far. Court proceedings are delayed while the criminals roam freely in Delhi. Some of them were awarded key Ministries in the subsequent Cabinets as well as in the party. The scars of those pogroms are still in the hearts of the people because of the deliberate delays and attempts to save the criminals by the power elite of the country. In fact, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi tried to justify the anti-Sikh violence terming it as ‘jab bada ped girta hai to dharti hilte hai’, that is, when a huge tree falls, the earth shakes. It was not a speech of a seasoned political leader but a politician who was playing politics with a dead body. And a massive mandate does not justify the killings and violence. The Congress’ game was replicated by the BJP in Gujarat and the victims were the minorities.

It has to be understood that in the scheme of things of our major political parties, the value of a majority community is important and for that they are ready to dump the minority voices and their rights. Hence, Rajiv Gandhi and his Congress did not care for the Sikhs when the death of Indira Gandhi was communa-lised and the Hindus felt that the Congress needed to be strengthened. Similar was the case of Gujarat: Modi sidetracked all the criticism of Muslims being denied justice and went on a tirade against them. A similar pattern is being witnessed now in Haryana when no party is ready to take on the Khaps for their anti-constitutional statements and violence against Dalits. These effectively show that the Indian state is primarily a brahmanical one which just works on the sentiments of the so-called upper-caste Hindus and only stereotypes the minorities. The act of violence by an individual is actually painted as the voice of the community and then punishment is given to it by the ‘people’ and is justified by the power elite as the sentiments of the ‘majority’.

It is not for nothing that when we see the pattern we find strange similarities of violence against minorities in Delhi and Gujarat. One shudders to think what would have happened if Gandhi was killed not by Nathuram Godse, a Brahmin, but by some Muslim or Dalit? But a Brahmin killing Gandhi did not result in violence against Brahmins in the country. In fact, there were people quite openly justifying the theory of killing Gandhi.

India cannot become a truly democratic society if its state fails to protect its people who do not practise the same religion or values as its power elite do. The rule of law must be applied in all circumstances and political deaths should not be used as hate propaganda against one community to reap political benefit by placating the other. The threat of communalism looms large over the nation and can take it back to the primitive age of horror and terror. It is time for Indians to rise above their narrow, communal mindset and behave as proper citizens. All the citizens of the country need protection and failure to protect them by the officials must be punished severely with even the formation of special courts for their trials. The criminals of Delhi’s anti-Sikh riots must be punished at the earliest and all those innocents who lost their near and dear ones rehabilitated and protected so that they have faith in the country’s Constitution and their hopes are not totally belied by the politicisation of a crime.

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