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Anti-Sikh Pogrom 1984: Righting the Wrongs — Prof Ram Puniyani

Congress leader Sajjan Kumar. — PTI


SAJJAN KUMAR, a Congress leader finally surrendered on December 31, 2018 the deadline set by the Delhi Court, which gave the verdict about his involvement in the 1984 anti Sikh massacre. This anti Sikh pogrom had taken place in the aftermath of the assassination of the then Prime Minster of India Indira Gandhi (1984). Several commissions of inquiry later in 2005 Kumar was finally implicated by Nanavati Commission investigating this massacre.

Justices Muralidhar and Goel who gave this verdict hit the nail on the head when they observed in their judgment, “There has been a familiar pattern of mass killings since the Partition, including Mumbai in 1993, Gujarat in 2002, and Muzaffarnagar in 2013 … Common to these mass crimes were the targeting of minorities and attacks spearheaded by dominant political actors facilitated by law enforcement agencies. The criminals responsible for the mass crimes have enjoyed political patronage and managed to evade prosecution and punishment.”

The tragedy of rising communal violence has been due to the communal forces, the apathetic political leadership, which is either promoting or letting it happen, the biased administration, police apparatus and the loopholes in the justice delivery system. All this has led to the impunity being enjoyed by leaders and foot soldiers involved in violence.

The violence against the religious minorities can be broadly categorized into two groups. One is the anti-Sikh violence, which was one go event and came up as a sort of insane political revenge against the hapless Sikh community. The other is a regular repetitive violence against Muslims and Christians, which is part of the Hindu Nationalist agenda.

While Congress led the violence against the Sikh minority, it is the Hindu communal groups who have been orchestrating the violence against Muslims and Christians. One interesting observation backed up by research of scholars of ethnic violence is that the forces which orchestrate the violence become electorally stronger in the region. While in the aftermath of anti-Sikh pogrom Congress emerged as more powerful in Delhi, in case of Mumbai 1992-1993, Gujarat 2002 BJP emerged stronger and planted its roots even in areas where it was earlier miniscule in its strength.

The most significant such study is that coming from Yale University, which demonstrates that the BJP’s electoral strength goes up in the post violence scenario. In contrast, in Delhi where in the post pogrom phase Congress emerged stronger, it gradually came down.

As far as anti-Sikh pogrom is concerned, the exclusive blame is put on Congress. No doubt it has most of truth, but there is another aspect which has been conveniently put under the carpet, and that is the support-involvement of RSS-BJP in this tragic incident.

Hindustan Times of 2nd February 2002 reports that in this violence names from BJP are also there in those involved in riots. Pioneer of 11th April 1994 reported “BJP move to shield cadre’s involved in 1984 violence. News portal Khabar Bar, reports that Captain Amrinder Singh reported in 2014 that a total of 14 FIRs that were registered “against 49 BJP-RSS leaders for their role in anti-Sikh riots of 1984”. He had also named many BJP and RSS leaders like Ram Kumar Jain, Pritam Singh, Ram Chander Gupta to name a few, who were involved in riots, and questioned Sukhbir Singh Badal for maintaining a sheepish silence about their involvement, just because they belonged to his alliance party.” 

Contrary to Shiromani Akali Dal’s Sukhbir Singh Badal’s claims that the BJP members courageously saved lives of the Sikhs in 1984, records as per Jain-Aggarwal committee included several names of prominent Delhi and RSS workers being a part of the massacre.

The bigger revelation has been the article by a major RSS ideologue Nanaji Deshmukh. In an article in Pratipaksh (25th November 1984) he goes on to say that the anti-Sikh violence has been due to ‘a genuine feeling of anger among Hindus of India’ and that Sikh community should bear it silently. He also says that Rajiv Gandhi needs all the support in this hour of national crisis.

As such the document was circulated on 5th November 1984 when peak of violence was underway. George Fernandes the editor of Pratipaksh published it with an editorial comment, “The author of the following document is known as an ideologue and policy formulator of the RSS. After the killing of Prime Minister (Indira Gandhi) he distributed this document among prominent politicians. It has a historical significance that is why we have decided to publish it, violating policy of our Weekly. This document highlights the new affinities developing between the Indira Congress and the RSS. We produce here the Hindi translation of the document.”

While Congress complicity has been criticized times and over again, and correctly so, the aspect of RSS-BJP attitude to this religious minority has been hidden from popular understanding. BJP and Akali Dal allied in Punjab to be in power for long time, despite their ideological differences, but why Akali Dal has maintained silence of RSS role in 1984 massacre is a matter of deep concern. This document coming from RSS ideologue puts the blame of violence on Sikhs themselves, while the assassins in no way represented the whole community.

The major flaws in the post Anti-Sikh violence has been failure of justice delivery. It’s true that major Congress leaders like Sonia Gandhi and Dr. Manmohan Singh have expressed deep remorse and regret over the 1984, but one is yet to hear any pain and anguish from RSS-BJP circles over the regularly occurring anti-Muslim and anti-Christian violence. One hopes that the phase of anti-Sikh has passed never to repeat, the violence against Muslims and Christians is on the rise and assuming more horrid forms.

While feeling some relief that Sajjan Kumar is in jail, where he should have been years ago, the wish is that all those involved in the massacres of Mumbai 1992-93, Gujarat 2002, Kandhamal 2008 and Muzaaafarnagar 2013 among others are given punishment as per the law and we rid our society of the ill of impunity enjoyed by the planners and executers of these dastardly acts.


Ram Puniyani is an eminent author, activist and former professor of IIT Mumbai. The views are personal and Caravan Daily does not necessarily share or subscribe to them.

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