Life in Gurgaon

Rahul must reconsider what he said on Congress involvement in the 1984 Delhi riots

Source: Hindustan Times

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Addressing a gathering at the Bucerius Summer School in Germany last week, Congress president, Rahul Gandhi, told his audience that his sister, Priyanka Gandhi, and he had forgiven Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran, for ordering the assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in 1991. “The reason I wasn’t happy was because I saw myself in his children. So I realised, him lying there actually means that there are kids like me who are crying,” he said.

Rahul has often spoken of pain and has also been commended for being able to deal with the loss of a father who died a violent death. Yet, for someone who understands pain, it is surprising that he sought to absolve the Congress for the worst pogrom in which more than 3,000 Sikhs were killed in the Capital in riots that followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi.

Thirty four years have passed since Delhi burned. Several commissions of inquiry have named senior Congressmen for their involvement in the killing of Sikhs. Among the various commissions, the one headed by Justice GT Nanavati expressly named leaders including Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar in 2005. The cases against them were reopened, after the report said there was “credible evidence” and Rahul, who was a Member of Parliament by then, must surely remember that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was forced to drop Tytler from his Cabinet.

Several leaders, including former home and finance minister P Chidambaram and Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh, have jumped to Rahul’s defence, saying he was only a child, barely 13 or 14 years of age, in 1984. The Punjab CM, in fact, has made it worse by naming Congressmen and saying they may have acted in their personal capacity.

If I were Rahul Gandhi, I would be embarrassed by both arguments. Age does not absolve you of the fact that as the president of the grand old party, you ought to know your history. In this case, it is contemporary history. For example, let’s refer to all the Japanese leaders who have had to apologise for the havoc their country wreaked on its neighbours during World War II. They too were children at the time but they apologised even though they had no personal role.

Nor, for that matter, did Manmohan Singh, but he made a forceful speech in Parliament after the Nanavati report was tabled. “I have no hesitation in apologising to the Sikh community. I apologise not only to the Sikh community, but to the whole Indian nation because what took place in 1984 is the negation of the concept of nationhood enshrined in our Constitution,” he said. He went a step further, saying, “I hang my head in shame.”

Amarinder’s defence, too, crumbles quickly. It is naive of him to suggest that leaders such as Sajjan Kumar — he named him — acted in a personal capacity, when, for the past 34 years, he continues to be a part of the Congress. Kumar and Tytler were even named as Lok Sabha candidates, but their names were withdrawn after a huge uproar in 2009.

Of late, Rahul Gandhi has been particularly articulate. He has addressed burning issues, including those of hate and lynchings, and even went to the extent of hugging Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Parliament. In his favour, it must also be said, that he is willing to take live questions but in the current instance, he could hardly have been unprepared for a question relating to the 1984 violence. The question has dogged the party for 34 years and his mother, too, has apologised for the pain of the pogrom.

As he prepares for the big battle of 2019, Rahul Gandhi must reconsider what he said. Senior Congress leaders such as Tytler and Sajjan are still being adjudicated on in court. Instead of having Chidambaram and others defend him, he must show moral courage and clarity and own up that he perhaps made a mistake. That one step alone will go a long way. He may even be hailed for being a politician who is willing to correct himself.

Justice lies at the heart of the 1984 riots, which was not only about those who died, but is also about the living, who continue to fight. Rahul Gandhi can help them — and himself — by speaking up again.