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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 18, April 20, 2013

Remembering October-November 1984

Monday 22 April 2013, by Nikhil Chakravartty


From N.C.’s Writings

Early next week, on October 31, the country would be observing the tenth death anniversary of Indira Gandhi who had been cruelly shot down on this very day by her own security guards right inside her residence.

By all accounts it was a ghastly tragedy committ6ed by those who had been embittered by the ‘Operation Bluestar’ at the Golden Temple at Amritsar. The perpetrators of Indira’s assassination owned up the full responsibility for their gory deed which in their eyes was an act of revenge for the sacrilege against the holy of holies of the Sikh community. It needs to remind ourselves that the ‘Operation Bluestar’ was denounced by many who had been unswervingly loyal to Indira Gandhi personally and politically. A full decade having passed since those tragic happenings of 1984—the ‘Bluestar’ and her ghastly killing—it is time to take into account the magnitude of the terrible chain-reactions that flowed from them.

The ‘Operation Bluestar’ has been the only military assault executed against a place of worship in this country since its independence. Perhaps one can go further back and say there was no case of such a military operation since the so-called Mutiny of 1857. The events leading upto that fatal indiscretion of June 1984—virtually a midsummer madness—shows how the unscrupulous tactics of propping up the militant Bhindranwale outfit against the political oppo-sition, represented by the Akali party, led step by step inexorably towards the ill-fated climax of the open military assault on the sanctum sanctorum of a community that through valour and dedication made an indelible contribution towards the making of Indian nationalism. A historical tragedy was thus ensnared by the pettifogging politics of small-town operators.

When the fearsome logic of the ‘Bluestar’ descended in all its fury four months later in the shape of the assassination of Indira Gandhi herself in the morning of October 31, 1984, hell was let loose by a section of politicians in the ruling establishment against the Sikh commu-nity in the Capital and some other centres. Thousands of innocent victims fell in that indes-cribable pogrom—murder, loot and arson—which was switched on for three full days. It was a crime of the most diabolic character carr-ied out in full view of Authority and connived by it. The searing wound that it inflicted upon an entire community marks the most shameful chapter in the annals of our country since inde-pendence. The perpetrators of the Delhi massacre of innocent Sikh families in locality after locality of the Capital carried out systematically in November 1984 have not been touched in all these ten years. Enquiry Commissions, investi-gations galore, have produced no results. Even those who were marked out for prosecution have not been touched.

One of the items in the Rajiv-Longowal accord promised the punishment of the guilty in the Delhi pogrom of November 1984, but nothing was done. The accord itself became virtually a dead letter but the criminals involved in that massacre are roaming about untouched. Even when under pressure of public opinion the local authorities were forced to draw up a miniatu-rised list of the guilty directly involved in that pogrom, these have not yet been tried because the list contained quite a few of the local starlets of the Congress party politics. It was expected that when the new BJP Ministry took over in Delhi, it would implement its election promise of bringing to book the guilty men of the Novem-ber 1984 pogrom, but so far nothing palpable has happened on that score. The Centre had promised to provide adequate relief and rehabili-tation for the innocent victims of that pogrom. This too has been neglected as could be seen when the aggrieved families from time to time come out in protest demonstrations. If this has been the fate of those who had suffered in that pogrom in the Capital, one can imagine the state of callousness that has befallen the fate of the victims at other centres like Kanpur.

The long-term repercussions of such acts of brutality perpetrated under the very nose of the government by people belonging to the ruling establishment itself are bound to be serious. The ‘Bluestar’ and the pogrom of November 1984 must have had its impact on Punjab politics. To say the least, this must have brought rich dividends for the militant camp. Today the Beant Singh Government is being complimented for having ousted the militants if not yet liqui-dated them. Even such a government, trusted by the Centre, can hardly underplay the damage inflicted by the ‘Operation Bluestar’ on the Sikh psyche nor can it ignore the demand for punishing the guilty of the 1984 pogrom in the Capital.

In the final analysis, politics is a serious business as it is directly related to the wielding of power—power over the destiny of millions upon millions in a country like ours. Despite the fact that Indira Gandhi turned out to be a consummate player in the game of power politics with signal contribution in many areas of public concern, there were serious negative aspects in her performance record as the wielder of power. Whether she was misled by others with regard to Punjab, or on her own initiative she brought about the ‘Operation Bluestar’, is immaterial in the present context. The ‘Operation Bluestar’ was one of these negative points in that record which eventually cost her very life, while it brought irreparable damage to the edifice of the nation’s integration. Equally, if not more serious, has been the impact of the November 1984 pogrom and the cynical denial of any semblance of justice in punishing the guilty in that pogrom. A nation’s fibre is not preserved by gaining or aspiring for power through managing elections. Ballot box is certainly important but more compulsive is the moral injunction that the verdict the ballot box carries. This is the stern lesson that one has to bear in mind when one remembers the tragic end of Indira Gandhi and its ghastly aftermath.

As we pay our homage to the memory of Indira Gandhi on the tenth anniversary of her cruel assassination, let us also strive to perceive the depth of the excruciating agony that hundreds of innocent widows of the November pogrom have had to bear silently through all these ten years. These ten years of their silent suffering—isn’t that as heartless as the cruel bullets that pierced Indira Gandhi’s frail body in that sunny October morning ten year ago?

(Mainstream, November 29, 1994)

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