Making Peace With The Past
In the succeeding pages of this issue, we have revisited the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. For me, it was not an easy decision. Personally speaking, I do not want the past to haunt any body or any nation. Because, history is full of horror stories and it is difficult to draw a line. One has to make peace with the past. But as an editor, I do realise that political partisanship is coming on the path of making peace. If you go by the leading “secularists” in India and non-BJP parties, they will say that one should forget about the 1984 anti-Sikh riots; but they will never forget the 2002 riots in Gujarat and go to any extent of ensuring the hanging of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Similarly, though not with same intensity of the habitual “secularists” and the Congress, the BJP and the Akali Dal, particularly the latter, are playing politics with the 1984 riots, without realising that by doing so they are strengthening the hands of all those who still want to establish a Khalistan.
I was persuaded by my colleagues to carry the sequences following the 1984 riots, particularly when the Sikhs in the national capital are terribly anguished that some Congress leaders have been exonerated of charges of aiding and abetting the riots by the Court last month. This is not to suggest that I and my colleagues are against the judicial verdict. We will like our Sikh brothers and sisters to respect the laws of the country and move on. But the problem is that this is not exactly happening, and that is essentially because the Sikhs feel that their 1984 riots-related anguish and grievances are not being seen the same way by the “secularists” and the central government as that of the Muslims who suffered in Gujarat in 2002. It is this double-standard that is hurting the Sikhs; all the more so because they suffered much more than Muslims in Gujarat.
A brief comparison of the riots in 1984 and those in 2002 are in order. Gujarat violence was a series of incidents starting with the burning of Sabarmati Express at Godhra by a Muslim mob on February 27, 2002, resulting in the death of 58 Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya. This, in turn, prompted retaliatory attacks against Muslims and general communal riots on a large scale across the state, in which 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed and 223 more people were reported missing. The 536 places of worship were damaged: 273 dargahs, 241 mosques, 19 temples, and 3 churches. These were the figures that were provided to the Rajya Sabha by the then Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Sriprakash Jaiswal in May 2005. Incidentally, preventive arrests of 17,947 Hindus and 3,616 Muslims were made. In total 27,901 Hindus and 7,651 Muslims were arrested.
Thus, if one goes by none other than the home minister of the country, that, too, a gentleman who belonged to the Congress, the total number of people who were killed in Gujarat violence was 1044 – 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus. In other words, here both Muslims and Hindus were killed. This toll, it is important to note, included 170 (93 Muslims and 77 Hindus) who were killed because of police-firing. And yet, our “secularists” describe the riots as an anti-Muslim pogrom! The word “pogrom” means a systematically organised massacre of a particular community. How can it be applied in the case of Gujarat when both Muslims and Hindus were killed?
Secondly, contrary to the systematic falsehoods that have been heaped on Narendra Modi, the fact, as pointed out by political scientist Madhu Kishwar after doing meticulous research of the SIT report that investigated Modi’s role under the supervision of the Supreme Court, remains that on February 27 itself (the day of the train burning at Godhra), he, apprehending troubles, alerted the state police and the next day (February 28), the day the retaliatory violence started, requested neighbouring states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan to send additional police force. Digvijay Singh as CM of Madhya Pradesh and Ashok Gehlot as CM of Rajasthan declined the request, saying they have no forces to spare! Only Maharashtra CM, Vilasrao Deshmukh, sent some police force. And more important, on February 28 itself, Modi asked for the help of the Army in the afternoon; accordingly 13 columns of Army were deployed to assist the State Civil administration in the evening.
Thirdly, and here I quote Madhu, Modi issued the following statements the same day that were broadcast across Gujarat at 7 pm and repeatedly broadcasted thereafter:
■ I share the grief of the people of Gujarat but the solution does not lie in non-peace, non-restraint or venting out anger.
■ I pray with folded hands that this is the time for maintaining peace; the need is to control the nerves.
■ This is the time for maintaining peace. It is necessary to maintain self-control. We are determined to punish those who are guilty and they will not be spared.
■ He also requested the people of Gujarat to help Gujarat by maintaining peace.
■ Will you not help save Gujarat? Come and help Government. Government is requesting for help. Government is seeking your help to punish the guilty through law.
■ He also added that it was the collective responsibility of all to ensure that the innocent are not affected: “Amidst your anger I pray you to display the unique characteristic of Gujarat of showing restraint and maintaining peace during adversities. Come, let us serve Gujarat through peace and self-control, and let us strengthen the arms of law”…
■ The entire country shares our grief but the responsibility to maintain peace and restraint is ours. I understand your anger, your pain but in the interest of Gujarat, to see that its future doesn’t get ruined, to ensure that Gujarat doesn’t get a blot on its face, it is necessary that five crore Gujarati keep calm and exercise self-restraint…
■ It is our responsibility that the lives of innocent are not put at stake…”Ver verthi shamtu nath (Hatred is never won over by hatred). My fervent appeal to the people of the state is that the time has come to strengthen the hands of law and maintain peace. I pray to the people that they will help in bringing those involved in violence to book.”
In contrast, let us see what happened in 1984. As the details are in our special report, I just will make three points. First, unlike Narendra Modi, Rajiv Gandhi, who just took over as Prime Minister on the day his mother died (October 31), said, when asked about riots that commenced on the 31st late afternoon itself, “when a big tree falls, the earth shakes”. No wonder why many Congress leaders, many of them still stand accused, aided and led the riots.
Secondly, the police was totally ineffective and played the most partisan role when Sikhs were attacked throughout on November 1. The Army was requisitioned on November 2 (that is nearly after two days of rioting, unlike during the Gujarat riots when it came to the scene on the day one itself), but regrettably was ineffective because the police did not co-operate with soldiers (who are not allowed to open fire without the consent of senior police officers and executive magistrates). Only by late evening of the fourth day (November 4) that Army and local police units worked together to subdue the violence.
Thirdly, and this is the most important point, unlike in 2002 when Muslims were targeted only in Gujarat, Sikhs all over India came under attacks in 1984. Going by the official statistics, 2700 Sikhs were killed, non-Sikhs causality almost non-existent. That means that if at all there has been any pogrom in independent India’s history, it was in 1984 anti-Sikh riots. And yet the collusion of political officials in the massacres and the Judiciary’s failure to penalise the killers is not highlighted properly, alienating thus normal Sikhs and increasing support for the Khalistan movement.
Having said all this, I must come back to the point made at the outset. While for the genuine secularism in the country, we must not have different yardsticks for our Sikhs and Muslims, it must be made pretty clear that the ruling Akali Dal is playing with fire by politicising the issue. The party’s virtual support to the ‘memorial’ to Operation Blue Star at the Golden Temple in Amritsar and the protests against the death sentence to former Chief Minister Beant Singh’s assassin, Balwant Singh Rajoana, has provided the political space for Sikh extremism in Punjab and elsewhere. And this at a time when the Sikh Diaspora in Britain, Germany, Canada and the United States is becoming very active in reviving the separatist movement and Pakistan is facilitating it. Of course, it is always a hard time while acknowledging the uglier parts of one’s history. But one must move forward via redemption, reparation, and reconciliation.
By Prakash Nanda