It’s 1 o’clock in the afternoon and the lanes of Tilak Vihar, a colony of survivors of anti-Sikh riots in West Delhi’s Tilak Nagar, are deserted. Right across the colony is a gurdwara, where some Sikhs are huddled for respite from the scorching heat. Their conversation veers to the recent news about the acquittal of 15 anti-Sikh riot convicts by the Supreme Court and Wajeer Singh Khalsa’s eyes well up with tears of rage. The memories of that haunting day in 1984 had apparantly come rushing back to the 40-year-old riot survivor.
“If even one convict is sentenced to death, we will get some peace,” one of them said.
Nearly 3,000 Sikhs were killed in Delhi in 1984 after the assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguard.
Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Polling schedule, results date, constituency-wise election results, key candidates
Ahead of the vote in Delhi, and as it happens in every election, the emotive issue of the 1984 riots is a poll issue.
On Thursday, the ruling BJP tweeted a clip of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s speech in which he says about the riots: “When a tree falls, the earth shakes.” BJP president Amit Shah said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will “ensure justice” for anti-Sikh riots victims, saying no culprit will be spared.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Friday described Sam Pitroda’s ‘hua toh hua’ remark on anti-Sikh riots as “completely out of line” and asked him to apologise for it.
“What Mr. Sam Pitroda has said is absolutely and completely out of line and is not appreciated. I will be communicating this to him directly. He must apologise for his comment,” Gandhi wrote on Facebook.
Meanwhile, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which came to power in 2015 with a promise to provide justice to anti-Sikh riot victims, has largely remained silent about them.
While the blame game has been on for 34 years, for the survivors residing in Tilak Vihar Colony, the elections are all about “reopening of old wounds” and “becoming trump cards” for political parties. “Party aati hai jaati hai, zakhm kuredkar chali jaati hai (Parties come and go and open up old wounds),” a tearful Khalsa said.
Living in a one-room set of a dilapidated building provided by the government, Khalsa complained that no candidate or any party worker has visited them even once in the past five years. “What promises are they going to fulfill if they don’t even know about the conditions we live in,” asked Khalsa.
“The papers of this building still reads ‘temporary allotment.’ Some of the flats here are on the verge of collapsing. The families here now have expanded to at least five members, and they are all squeezing into a small roof of shelter. The youth is falling prey to drugs with no decent jobs to do. If this building crumbles, there will be deaths again like 1984,” Khalsa said.
Sikh votes, a fight between BJP and AAP
Most of the residents of Tilak Vihar, which has a population of close to 4,000, had ancestral land and houses of their own that they lost in the riots. After almost three decades, when the Aam Aadmi Party arrived in the political scene, it promised monetary compensation to the kin of deceased in the riots aside from seeking justice for the survivors.
Many saw a new ray of hope in AAP and the party came to power with a thumping majority in 2015. But Inder Singh, 72, fondly called mukhiya because of his seniority, said he felt betrayed when AAP showed keenness on allying with the Congress.
Opinion | Delhi, after 1984
“Even though the sitting BJP MP Pravesh Verma has not done anything for us in five years, I will still vote for the BJP because of Modi. AAP’s Tilak Nagar MLA is our man, a Sikh MLA, but even he declared he will agree with whatever the party decides. He betrayed us,” Singh said in distress.
BJP’s Delhi unit spokesperson Jitender Singh Bagga said it was only when the BJP came to power that Sajjan Kumar (a prime accused in the anti-Sikh riots cases) was convicted and put behind bars.
“There was no justice when Congress served three terms and AAP came to power in Delhi?” he asked.
“When Congress announced Kamal Nath as the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, we were on a hunger strike for three days,” he added, saying the Congress is adding insult to the injuries of victims by giving a powerful position to the accused.
Meanwhile, AAP’s Tilak Nagar MLA Jarnail Singh said the motive to seek an alliance with the Congress was only to defeat the BJP and gain power in neighbouring states. “We haven’t cheated on our ideology and neither have we betrayed the Sikh voters in Delhi. If at all we thought of an alliance, it was only to prevent BJP from coming to power,” he said.
Darshan Singh, who supported AAP in the assembly election, believes the party worked a lot for the welfare of the people and minimised electricity bills and provided free water. “ AAP will continue to fight for riot survivors, for the people and once it wins statehood, there will be more development,” he said..
How Sajjan Kumar’s conviction changed Sikh vote-base
Bhura Singh’s bedridden father was cut into two halves in front of him during riots. Remembering the incident, the 84-year-old said Sajjan Kumar’s conviction gave him relief. Survived by his son and his family, Singh’s only wish is to see the accused getting the death sentence.
“Today Sajjan is jailed, tomorrow the rest will be and that hope can only be fulfilled by Narendra Modi,” he said.
For Balbir Singh, who joined AAP as a party worker in 2013, said, “The party is never clear about what it wants. When it should have focused on the development of the state and helped the survivors get justice, it is embroiled in the statehood issue. “Only Modi can bring justice and I am sure if we demand jobs and space to live, he will fulfil that as well,” Singh added.
Delhi votes on Sunday in the sixth round of voting in the Lok Sabha election.