JALANDHAR — Barely 24 hours after the Congress announced Kamal Nath as its chief minister designate for Madhya Pradesh, the ghost of 1984 anti-Sikh riots is back to haunt him.
Several political leaders accused Nath of being party to the riots in Delhi where at least 3,000 Sikhs were brutally murdered and several others were displaced.
Akali Dal leader Manjinder Singh Sirsa leveled charges against Nath for his alleged role in the riots and has threatened to launch a nationwide protest against the decision. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA Sukhpal Khaira also accused the Congress of protecting of protecting Nath claiming that there was strong evidence against him. Shiromani Akali Dal leader and Punjab’s former revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia too slammed Congress for ‘rewarding’ other anti Sikh leaders like Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tyler with plum posts.
Even though Nath, in an interview to India Today after winning the recently held assembly elections, has claimed that there were no charges against him in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, he was once again put under the public spotlight over his alleged role in the massacre that unfolded a after India’s former prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards Satwant Singh and Beant Singh.
Speaking to Huffpost India, HS Phoolka, an advocate fighting the cases from the riots in the Supreme Court and former leader of Opposition from AAP, said that the Special Investigative team (SIT) formed by the Supreme Court to re-probe 186 cases from riots had given the much needed momentum to the process of providing justice to the kin of those killed during the riots. Phoolka said that Nath will soon be behind bars.
“There is strong evidence against Kamal Nath in the anti-Sikh riots case and he cannot evade law. Time cannot be a reason to deny justice to anyone and so he too will be served the quantum of punishment soon,” said Phoolka.
Recently, the Delhi High Court upheld the conviction of 88 people by a lower court in 1996 and has also announced the first death penalty to an accused for murdering a Sikh in Mahipalpur area and a life term for another in November this year.
What was Kamal Nath’s role in the anti-Sikh riots and what are the evidences against him?
The most crucial evidence was the affidavit submitted to the Nanavati Commission and later to Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission by senior journalist Sanjay Suri, who during the time was working at The Indian Express in New Delhi. On 1 November, 1984, a day after Gandhi’s assassination, Suri had gone to the Gurudwara Rakab Ganj Sahib to assess the deteriorating law and order situation.
Suri alleged that Nath was controlling the ‘blood thirsty’ crowd and was a spectator of the atrocities on Sikh devotees in the Gurudwara. He said cops and paramilitary forces were also mute spectators.
Suri in his book 1984:The Anti Sikh Riots and After:
“I wasn’t expecting to find Kamal Nath by the screaming crowd outside Rakab Ganj Sahib Gurdwara, where two Sikhs had only just been burnt alive. But there he was, a little to a side, in a bright white kurta-pajama, not far from the usual white Ambassador car with its mounted red light and a mini flag post by the front bumper announcing its ministerial, or at least officially important, credentials.”
He wrote further wrote
“What I did see then was that when the crowd surged forward at one point, Kamal Nath had only to gesture lightly and they held back. Why did the crowd listen to him? Why in a situation where a murderous bunch was advancing yet again would the police continue to stand to a side and now watch the MP control that crowd?”
Phoolka in his book When A Tree Shook Delhi on the 1984 carnage has quoted Suri’s report published on 2 November, 1984 and alleged that Nath was indeed controlling the crowd and giving directions to the mob.
While Nath’s appointment has caused a huge uproar in the political circles in Punjab, Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh slammed the Shiromani Akali Dal for politicising the riots.
Intervening during a call attention motion raised by Akali MLA Bikram Singh Majithia in the Vidhan Sabha, Singh said the law was taking its due course as far as allegations against the veteran former union minister were concerned.
Nath has been a Union Minister for more than 10 years after the allegations first surfaced, Singh pointed out, adding that a mere reference about the senior Congress leader in the Nanavati Commission report could not be construed as his involvement in the case. The law alone could decide the role of any individual, the Chief Minister said, adding that nobody should exploit this sensitive issue of the 1984 riots for their political ends.
Singh also showed pictures of Punjab’s former Chief Minister and SAD leader Parkash Singh Badal presenting a bouquet to Kamal Nath and Sukhbir Singh Badal and Parminder Singh Dhindsa attending a meeting with the former Union minister to highlight the fact that the Akali leaders were just trying to politicise the issue for their petty vested interests.