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Viewing Delhi from Punjab

For close to a quarter of a century the Congress has been in a state of denial.

Written by Vipin Pubby | April 11, 2009 10:16:09 pm

For close to a quarter of a century the Congress has been in a state of denial. Photographic and video proof,eyewitness accounts and circumstantial evidence all pointed the finger at some Congress leaders allegedly leading or provoking lumpen elements in the 1984 riots. Starting with Rajiv Gandhi’s infamous and insensitive statement that “when a big tree falls,the earth trembles” the Congress has missed many opportunities to heal the wounds caused by the senseless violence. Various inquiry panels were constituted and efforts made to rehabilitate victims. To be fair,many families were successfully rehabilitated but the wounds continue to fester. Rajiv Gandhi could never visit Amritsar during his lifetime. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi condemned the incidents and held out regrets,but when it came to action against the culprits,there is nothing much for the Congress to show.

The Congress missed another opportunity when it became obvious to anyone that the Nanavati Commission’s report was not implemented in its spirit. Some of the persons it indicted were let off on flimsy grounds. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,the first Sikh to hold the post,did apologise for the 1984 riots but did not follow it up with expediting action against those responsible. Now,the timing for the CBI giving a “clean chit” to Jagdish Tytler,even as the Lok Sabha elections are on the horizon,could not have been worse. The very fact that the news reports about it came a day before the CBI’s sealed report was presented to the court led to the suspicion that there was more than what met the eye. It brought back the issue to the centre-stage of public discourse.

It also provided a stick that the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD),which rules Punjab in alliance with the BJP,could use to hit its main rival,the Congress. Interestingly the election in the state was being considered issue-less — or,at best,as a test for the SAD president and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. He had upped the ante against Congress leader and former chief minister Amarinder Singh. And it was expected that they would indulge in a no-holds-barred campaign. The other main issue for the election in the state was that pertaining to the Dera Sacha Sauda,whose chief Baba Ram Rahim Singh allegedly “masqueraded” as one of the Sikh Gurus by wearing robes similar to those worn by the Guru. The Dera,which has a significant following in parts of the state,had lent its weight to the Congress in the last elections which led to the Akalis losing seats in what had hitherto been its strongholds. Subsequently radicals had attempted to milk the issue but had found only limited support. This also proved a further setback to hardliners who had been consistently losing public support and were given a whitewash in the previous three elections,including the previous Lok Sabha elections.

Their inability to muster support was seen as the failure of virtually the last attempt at stoking communal fires; it was now almost clear that the radicals were not part of the thought process of the Sikh masses. Pakistan,which backed a section of militants during the troubled times,was embroiled in its own problems; and non-resident Indians,who too had been funding them, faced recession as well as a sharper eye on their activities in their adopted countries. This added to the isolation of the radicals.

But now,the fresh spotlight on 1984 shall certainly make it part of the political discourse during the run-up to the elections; but it is likely to have little or no impact on the final election outcome,according to long-time observers like Dr Pramod Kumar,the director of the Institute for Development and Communication here. He thinks that it may sway a section of voters but the impact would not be significant enough; the results will be as they would have been before the controversy erupted.

However,the Congress’s campaign in-charge,Amarinder Singh,and its state chief,Mohinder Singh Kaypee,did not want to take any chances and told the party high command that nominating Tytler and Sajjan Kumar could have an adverse impact. Indeed,the Congress may have found itself on the backfoot with all its rivals taking up the issue to counter its line on the Gujarat riots.

By taking Tytler and Sajjan Kumar off its list of candidates,the Congress may have attempted to pour balm on the wounds but the ghost of 1984 shall continue to haunt the party till it applies closure to the case by unequivocally condemning the riots and visibly punishing the perpetrators.

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