On December 12, the end of the nail-biting fight between Congress and BJP in Madhya Pradesh eventually led to the welcoming of the Congress party in the state, after routing BJP out of power. Though the brawl between the two national parties is over at least in the state, now there are reports of tussle inside the Congress party itself over the issue of choosing the next Chief Minister (CM). Till now two names have emerged as the contenders of the CM post – MP Congress state President Kamal Nath and party leader Jyotiraditya Scindia. With Nath’s name popping up for CM’s post, it is crucial to know about his alleged role in the 1984 Sikh riots.
Leading the riots
On 31 October 1984, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her guards, who belonged to the Sikh community. The assassination of the PM led to violence that roughly lasted for three days and thousands of lives were lost. The violence did not limit itself in just the national capital, but it had also engulfed several other Indian cities, including Kanpur, Bokaro, Jabalpur and Rourkela. In Delhi alone, 2,733 Sikhs were killed at that time. This episode of communal violence in the newly independent India is considered one of the bloodiest and most brutal episodes, as reported by The Caravan.
On November 1, 1984, a day after the then PM’s assassination, her body was laid at the Teen Murti Bhavan for darshan, when a frenzied mob rushed towards the closest Gurdwara in the vicinity of Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Sahib chanting communal slogans like “Khoon ka Badla Khoon (blood for blood)”.
Inquiry into the killing
After the catastrophic event, in the next two decades, there were several inquiry commissions set up to probe the role of people involved in it. Numerous victims and witnesses recorded their testimonies narrating the events that led to the riots. Numerous testimonies of witnesses were recorded, a few of them indicated Congress leader Nath’s role in the carnage.
One such account is by journalist Sanjay Suri, who said, “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 bright white kurta-pyjama, not far from the usual white Ambassador car with its mounted red light and mini flag post by the front bumper announcing its ministerial, or at least officially important, credentials.”
The above quote is from Suri’s book “1984: The Anti-Sikh Violence And After-which have alleged Nath’s role in the Sikh Riots post-Indra Gandhi’s death”.
It was further alleged that on November 1, when the capital was all covered with the fog and bloodshed, the then emerging Congress leader Nath was reportedly leading the mobs, as reported by The Scroll.
According to The Statesman report on November 3, 1984, the police personnel present at the site criticised the role of politicians. The police said that councillors, intervened on behalf of violent mobs when policemen were trying to stop the arson. The police also alleged that even in the leader’s presence “some mobs had charged at the gurdwara,” reported The Outlook. Nath presence was also confirmed by the two of the senior-most officers, Commissioner Subhash Tandan, and Additional Commissioner Gautam Kaul. It is not yet established whether Nath directed the mob or not. Meanwhile, Nath had denied the accusations and said that he was rather trying to bring the situation under control.
The Nanavati Commission’s report on the 1984 anti-Sikh riot said that the minister’s response is very “vague” on the involvement of Nath. “He says that he was a senior political leader and feeling concerned about the law and order situation, he went to the Gurudwara and therefore it appears little strange that he left that place abruptly without even contacting the police officers who had come there,” says the report. However, the commision set up to probe the Sikh riots held that it would “not be proper” to come to any conclusion against the MP.
The commission recommended a CBI probe into his role on eyewitnesses’ statement that Nath spent two hours with the mob in front of Gurdwara and did nothing to help the two Sikhs who were burnt alive and allegedly letting the mob and the police to carry on with their hostilities against the Sikh community.
In June 2016, Nath had stepped down from the post of party in-charge of Punjab affairs, in the midst of growing allegations of his involvement in the riots. The BJP had said that his resignation “proved his complicity in the 1984 riots”.
The growing uproar against Nath
At the time when Nath’s name has been proposed for the CM contender, the Congress is surrounded by many questions over their actions of choosing Nath for the CM’s post.
According to The Indian Express, Kanwar MLAs Sandhu and HS Phoolka have criticised the Congress for considering Nath for the CM’s post.
While speaking to the publication Sandhu said, “Kamal Nath has not done enough to clear the misgivings that exist about his role in the riots and it is the responsibility of the Congress to ensure that it is heedful of the perception that Kamal Nath’s image carries.”
Now the pressure is mounting on the Congress president Rahul Gandhi to declare Madhya Pradesh CM. According to the reports the party president is taking suggestions from the other party leaders over the CM name.