NEW DELHI -- The Congress Party's decision to appoint Kamal Nath as its general secretary in charge of poll-bound Punjab is not just deeply insensitive, but also plain stupid. It makes you wonder if the Grand Old Party has signed its own death warrant in the upcoming state assembly elections, in which the Aam Aadmi Party has already set itself up as a formidable contender.
We may never know for sure whether Nath incited a Hindu mob to kill the Sikhs near the Rakab Ganj Sahib gurudwara in Delhi on the afternoon of 1 November 1984, but the fact remains that there are enough members in the Sikh community who believe that the Congress Party leader has blood on his hands or, at the very least, he played some role in the massacre.
The 1984 anti-Sikh riots claimed at least 3,000 lives in Delhi alone.
Let us be clear, no court has found Nath guilty in the anti-Sikh riots. In 2005, the Nanavati Commission, which paved the way for charges to be brought against Congress Party leaders Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler, described Nath's testimony as "vague" but concluded that there was no evidence that he had incited a mob.
The lack of a court verdict does not assuage those who believe that Nath is guilty, either because of what they saw, or what they have heard from people they trust.
In politics, perception can be as important as the truth, and one would think that the Congress Party would be a little sensitive to the power of perception. It has afterall politically fought Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat under his chief ministership. He has not been found guilty by any Indian court so far but that doesn't mean it hasn't been a factor politically, unfavourable or otherwise.
The Congress Party has caught many of its own leaders off guard by appointing Nath. “I’m unable to recover from the shock. I wish the party high command had consulted or at least discussed the appointment with some senior leaders in Punjab," a senior leader told The Indian Express.
Meanwhile, AAP and the Bharatiya Janata Party are having a field day with Nath's appointment in Punjab.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has been relentlessly tweeting out jibes over the Nath's appointment.
Shrewdly enough, the Chief Minister of Delhi has already targeted the one good thing which the Congress Party has in Punjab: Capt. Amarinder Singh, who, despite the Congress Party's lacklustre condition in the state, is still the most popular choice for the chief ministerial candidate, according to a HuffPost C-Voter poll from March.
Singh's standing, unfortunately, is likely to be diminished by Nath's appointment.
Singh has already expressed his support for Nath, a move that has been mocked by Kejriwal and the lawyer H.S. Phoolka, who has represented many of the victims' families and is an influential voice on the 1984 riots.
Amrinder gave Cleanchit to Kamal Nath & admitted getting him appointed in Pb. Next he will bring Tytler to Pb. pic.twitter.com/fRjmzzMBRM— H S Phoolka (@hsphoolka) June 13, 2016
Capt Amrinder shud state his stand on Kamal Nath. Does Capt absolve Kamal Nath? https://t.co/746ad6hNQx— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) June 12, 2016
Unfortunately for the Congress, Nath's appointment coincides with the BJP-ruled Centre's decision to open 75 cases related to the 1984 riots, a move that has likely been inspired by the upcoming Punjab polls.
BJP's Kailash Vijayvargiya said that making Nath in-charge of Punjab "is like rubbing salt into the wound."
Making Nath in charge of Punjab will go down as another slap in the face of the riot victims after Rahul Gandhi's vague responses to questions about the 1984 riots in January, 2014.
Nath is of course right in asserting that he has been not found guilty by a court or the Nanavati commission. But the question for the Congress is, is the party so lacking in leaders that it could not avoid reminding Punjab voters of its fraught history with the Sikh riots?
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