Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Girish Shahane: How India rewards mass murder: A story of three tragedies // Manoj Mitta: Modi's model for 2002 should be Manmohan Singh – not Rajiv Gandhi

NB - On the 32nd anniversary of the carnage in Delhi, I offer my deepest condolences to the families of the victims and my aspiration that our fight for justice & against communalism will continue. This is my 2014 essay on this theme: The Broken Middle - on the 30th anniversary of 1984; and here are some documents of the Sampradayikta Viroshi Andolan, a citizens action group set up in the aftermath of those horrific events: DS

1984 was a terrible year for India, with Khalistani terrorism reaching a peak; an assault on the Golden Temple going awry; the assassination of the British Deputy High Commissioner to Bombay, Percy Norris by the Abu Nidal Organisation; and, near the year’s end, the world’s worst-ever industrial accident in Bhopal. Among all these deaths, the event that has come to define 1984 is the killing of over 3,000 Sikhs in Delhi in the days following the assassination of Indira Gandhi on October 31.

Although Rajiv Gandhi took over as prime minister on the evening of the assassination, he was an inexperienced politician grieving for his dead mother. The home minister at the time, Narasimha Rao, had direct charge of security forces and failed utterly to implement any measures that would have helped Sikh civilians or deterred bloodthirsty mobs. Rao should never be absolved of his role in 1984, just as he should never be absolved of his role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid eight years later.

While there is some uncertainty regarding the extent of Rajiv Gandhi’s culpability in the violence of 1984, there is none with respect to his deplorable behaviour afterwards, which included justifying the violence, appointing to ministerial positions politicians rumoured to have led murderous groups, and preventing impartial and transparent investigation into the massacres. Riding the crest of a sympathy wave, the Congress won an unprecedented majority in the general election that followed. The party was, in effect, rewarded for engineering a pogrom, or at the very least doing nothing to prevent it.

Tacit approval: In January 1993, the scene of carnage shifted to Bombay, and the minority group that faced the wrath of Hindu rioters was Muslims. The ruling Congress played its familiar pusillanimous role in failing to clamp down on rioters, but it was Bal Thackeray’s Shiv Sena that instigated the violence, and whose members directed many of the most gruesome acts. In state elections that followed, the Shiv Sena came to power in Maharashtra for the first time.

Back in 1984, news travelled slowly, and the broadcast media were controlled by government. As Hindu mobs butchered Sikhs in cold blood on Delhi’s streets, television broadcasts showed crowds offering tributes to the slain Prime Minister, and Rajiv Gandhi exuding dignified sorrow at her funeral. Newspapers did report the violence, but failed to convey the gravity of the situation. By 1993, the situation had changed. Most people knew which political party was primarily responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent citizens, even before the comprehensive Justice Srikrishna Commission Report, submitted in 1998, quelled all doubts. If the Shiv Sena was voted into office, it was not from ignorance of its sins, but because the majority either approved of the violence or had no strong reaction against it.

The same pattern was repeated after 2002. Under Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party and members of the Sangh Parivar actively spurred and led killer gangs targeting Muslims, while security forces looked the other way. Modi’s behaviour after the riots was despicable. He displayed no empathy for the dead and dispossessed; promoted police officers under whose jurisdiction the most egregious acts of violence had taken place while impeding the careers of those who prevented atrocities; and inducted into his ministry leaders like Maya Kodnani who faced serious charges in riot-related cases. Despite the 2002 violence having been scrutinised more closely than any previous bloodbath, Modi flourished as chief minister of Gujarat. The optimist within me thought at the time that, while proof of his party’s culpability in mass murder, and of his own negligence if not direct participation, had not prevented him from being re-elected, it had at least stalled his rise in the BJP’s ranks. 2014 proved that optimism deeply misguided.

We have had three terrible outbreaks of mass violence in the past 32 years, and in each instance, those politicians most culpable have been rewarded by voters. Politicians have concluded that inciting violence does little damage to a leader’s image, while action against such incitement could destabilise their own power base. In Maharashtra, Congress and Nationalist Congress Party leaders regularly brought up the Srikrishna Commission report during election rallies but did nothing to implement it. The BJP has been equally ineffective in acting against the culprits of 1984. Like forces at the Line of Control, political parties launch artillery shells into each others’ territory, but stop short of an invasion or any act that would trigger full-scale war. When an upstart like the Aam Aadmi Party enters the fray, on the other hand, all the might of the criminal justice system is brought to bear on relatively minor infractions, demonstrating what is possible with real will.

Effective PR campaign: In place of effective action towards delivering justice, we are left with a public relations war, a war of perception played out in the media. In that war, the BJP has defeated the Congress comprehensively. The first step in its victory was to link 2002 inextricably with 1984. As soon as any television anchor or guest brought up the violence that occurred under Narendra Modi’s watch, BJP supporters would begin talking about the anti-Sikh riots. While this was partially effective, a parity in guilt was hardly a satisfactory argument in favour of a prospective prime minister. The sleight of hand that the BJP managed to pull off as a second step was more astonishing. It convinced the public, or large parts of it, that the Congress and the Gandhis bore the guilt for 1984, but the BJP and Modi were innocent in 2002. In other words, within a couple of years, the equations shifted from Congress = Innocence and BJP = Guilt, to Congress = BJP = Guilt, to Congress = Guilt and BJP = Innocence. The BJP effectively pressed the case that post-1984 Commissions of Inquiry absolving Congress leaders were an eyewash, but the SIT report on 2002 was objective proof that Modi had nothing to do with the violence, even though that report was far from the "clean chit" most commentators took it to be.

While the PR battle has been won and lost, the battle for justice limps along, with a good judgement in one case countered by inexplicable acquittals in others. Meanwhile, the primary lesson of 1984, 1993, and 2002 seems to be that politically-orchestrated attacks on minority groups are more likely to be rewarded than punished, which more or less guarantees the occurrence of similar atrocities in the future.

In the latest episode of his Mann Ki Baat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recalled the massacres of Sikhs in 1984 in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. For somebody who has a penchant to claim a first in anything he does, communal violence is one issue on which Modi actually followed precedents set by Rajiv Gandhi.

The precedent of being a prime minister with “blood on his hands”, the blood of innocent members of a minority community massacred on his watch.The precedent of leading his party to an electoral victory for the first time in his career, whether at the state or national level, on the back of a massacre and a campaign designed to leverage it. The precedent of being exonerated by a commission of inquiry, without even being summoned to answer the allegations against him.

For all these similarities, there is a major difference in the extent of evidence available in each case. Though the scale of Delhi 1984 was greater than Gujarat 2002, there is more damning evidence on the record against Modi than against Rajiv Gandhi. This is mainly because of the Supreme Court’s intervention in Gujarat 2002, leading to a wealth of testimonies and reports being recorded by a special investigation team on a complaint specifically about political and administrative complicity. 

Though the SIT ended up facilitating his elevation to the prime minister’s post, its farcical interrogation of Modi and a slew of contradictions between its conclusions and its own evidence have raised serious questions about his exoneration.

The performance of the two commissions of inquiry, set up by the respective governments, was more compromised as they made no pretence of putting the leader concerned in the witness box. Conscious as he was of this infirmity, Rajiv Gandhi did not allow the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission report to be discussed in Parliament after it had been tabled in 1987. The Justice GT Nanavati Commission report, which was submitted two years ago after a protracted 12-year probe, is yet to be tabled in the Gujarat Assembly, despite a statutory stipulation of doing it within six months. Thus, the whitewash by both commissions turned out to be apparently so indefensible that each government deviated from the norm in its own evasive way.

On the 32nd anniversary of the Delhi carnage, here’s an attempt to convey a sense of the errors of omission and commission that betrayed Rajiv Gandhi’s culpability, the vital aspects of the pogrom and its cover-up for which he escaped accountability in his lifetime, and the parallels between 1984 and 2002.

1. Monumental failure on the part of the police and Army leading to a slaughter in three days of 2,733 Sikhs, right in the capital of the country.
While unofficial estimates were higher, the official death toll announced three years later – 2,733 – was itself so staggering. A law and order breakdown of such mammoth proportions could not have occurred anywhere in the country, least of all in Delhi, without the collusion of the state machinery. 

The provocation for it was of course grave: the first ever assassination of a prime minister, on the morning of October 31, 1984. But the will to deal with its fallout was conspicuously absent.
The first stirrings of retaliatory violence began the same afternoon, the most audacious one being a mob attack on the cavalcade of President Zail Singh on the way to the All India Institute of Medical Science. The police did little to stop the rioting or take action against the assailants. The conduct of the police became more brazen after Rajiv Gandhi had been sworn in the same evening to succeed his deceased mother. They remained passive even when the rampaging mobs had turned murderous early next morning.

In the massacres that followed, the police in some localities openly served as accessories to the crime, by disarming Sikhs or firing at them or forcing them out of gurdwaras. Though the Army had been deployed in stages from the afternoon of November 1, it proved to be so ineffective that the jurisdiction of the Delhi Cantonment police station was among the worst affected areas in the capital. Irrespective of the forces involved, the Army or police, there was hardly any instance of uniformed personnel firing at mobs. And then, following Indira Gandhi’s cremation, the massacres ended suddenly on the afternoon of November 3, as if someone had turned off the tap. To put this in perspective, it may be recalled that the violence in Gujarat 2002 dragged on for almost three months, although it was not so one-sided and the incidence of police firing increased after the first three days.

2. At his first public meeting, Rajiv Gandhi justified the pogrom with his infamous tree 
When a group clash at the Godhra railway station had led to the horrific train burning incident on the morning of February 27, 2002, Modi escalated the situation the same evening by calling it a terrorist act. Even after post-Godhra massacres targeting Muslims had taken place the next day at Gulberg Society and Naroda Patiya, with a much higher death toll, the peace appeal recorded by Modi at 6 pm for repeat telecast condemned only the killing of Hindus at Godhra.

Though Rajiv Gandhi had not made any such divisive statements during the Delhi carnage, he came up with a justification for it a fortnight later while addressing his first public meeting as prime minister. Likening the pogrom to the reverberations of the earth when a big tree had fallen, Rajiv Gandhi made no bones about his attempt to whip up a majoritarian frenzy, in what was the run-up to the Lok Sabha election. Throughout his speech near India Gate, Rajiv Gandhi did not bother to express even a token concern for the plight of the thousands of Sikhs who had just been orphaned, widowed, grievously injured or rendered homeless in the very city in which he was speaking.

3. During his election campaign, Rajiv Gandhi rejected the demand for an inquiry into the carnage saying it would reopen wounds
The disdain for Sikhs manifested by his tree metaphor did set the tone for the Congress party’s campaign in the Lok Sabha election held within two months of the Delhi carnage. But there were already less noticed signs of that disdain. The few assailants who had been arrested were all released on bail, while the Sikhs who had been rounded up for exercising their right to private defence continued to be incarcerated. Having registered an omnibus first information report against unknown persons for each of the localities where scores of Sikhs had been killed, the police stations everywhere refused to register cases against specific persons, especially if they were associated with the Congress party. The seeds of impunity were sown right then. When People's Union For Democratic Rights and People's Union For Civil Liberties had come up with a quick investigative report on the pogrom titled Who are the Guilty?, the Congress party brushed it aside as an anti-national activity. It was against this background that in his campaign speeches Rajiv Gandhi displayed no qualms in rejecting out of hand the persistent demand for a judicial inquiry into the Delhi pogrom. Saying it would reopen wounds and inflame passions, Rajiv Gandhi projected the inquiry demand as just another threat to India’s territorial integrity from the Sikh community.

4. Those facing allegations of engineering the violence were inducted into the Rajiv Gandhi government
On winning the 1984 election with a record majority, Rajiv Gandhi promoted the main Congress leader from Delhi, HKL Bhagat, to the Cabinet rank although his East Delhi constituency had seen the largest number of killings during the carnage. Another prominent leader from Delhi, Jagdish Tytler, made it to the government, as a junior minister, for the first time in his career.
A Gujarat parallel to this is Modi’s decision in 2007 to induct Maya Kodnani into his government, despite the incriminating evidence that had come to light in the form of the call data record of her mobile phone corroborating allegations of involvement in the Naroda Patiya massacre.

5. In January 1985, Parliament condoled the death of Indira Gandhi and Bhopal gas victims but ignored the victims of the Delhi carnage
Emboldened further by the electoral harvest reaped in December 1984 from the hate propaganda, the Rajiv Gandhi government took no notice of the victims while moving a resolution the following month in Parliament condoling Indira Gandhi’s death. The intent to disregard the suffering of the Sikh community became more glaring when the government also moved a resolution shortly thereafter condoling the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy. Given that Assembly elections were due in key states in March 1985, Rajiv Gandhi was clearly wary of sending out any signal that would disrupt what had served as a winning formula in the Lok Sabha election.

6. When Rajiv Gandhi finally appointed the Ranganath Misra Commission six months after the pogrom, it came as a political concession to reach an accord on Punjab
Indeed, it was only after the Congress party had won most of the Assembly elections in March 1985 did Rajiv Gandhi switch to governance mode with regard to the pogrom. Even then, his compulsion was the ongoing insurgency in Punjab, which had been aggravated by the Delhi carnage. Rajiv Gandhi was admittedly forced to drop his opposition to a judicial inquiry into the pogrom as the then Akali Dal chief, HS Longowal, had insisted on it as a precondition for talks on Punjab. The reluctance with which the Ranganath Misra Commission had been set up in April 1985 affected the integrity of the inquiry. Despite being headed by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, the commission from the beginning was engaged in a blatant cover-up. Throwing transparency out of the window, it held all its proceedings in camera. Worse, when it examined a few state actors, the commission did so without informing the counsel for victims, let alone giving them an opportunity to cross-examine those crucial witnesses. (In another tell-tale sign around the same time, the government conferred gallantry awards in the context of the carnage on two police officers, for a shootout in which they had arrested a family of Sikhs firing in self-defence from their own home.) As for Rajiv Gandhi, he was spared the trouble of being called to the commission even for that secret deposition with a built-in immunity against any risk of being cross-examined.

Little wonder then that the report turned out to be a whitewash. Averting the predicament of defending such a travesty of fact-finding, Rajiv Gandhi did not allow any discussion on the report in Parliament when it had been tabled in February 1987. The current dispensation took opacity to a new level by sitting for the last two years on the report of the Nanavati Commission, which had avoided examining Modi despite repeated pleas by the counsel for victims. By contrast, in the inquiry ordered by the colonial government into the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, a multi member body including Indians grilled Gen Dyer in public and indicted him, leading to his resignation.

7. Manmohan Singh’s apology in Parliament in 2005 betrayed Rajiv Gandhi’s responsibility and set a benchmark for Modi
The head of the SIT that exonerated Modi was the very police officer who had been indicted for the security lapses leading to Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination at Sriperumbudur. RK Raghavan owed the resurrection of his career to the Vajpayee government which made him the Central Bureau of Investigation director. In another historical irony, the retired judge picked by the Modi government to head the commission of inquiry into Gujarat 2002 was the very one who had already been appointed by the Vajpayee government to conduct a fresh probe into the Delhi pogrom. Unlike his Gujarat report, Nanavati’s Delhi report was duly made public. It fell to the Manmohan Singh government to table it in Parliament in August 2005. And, unlike the Misra report, the Nanavati report on the Delhi carnage was debated in Parliament. That was when Manmohan was forced by the outrage in Parliament to tender an apology, saying that what had taken place in 1984 was a “negation of the concept of nationhood”. Equally significant was this admission of his despite the repeated exoneration of Rajiv Gandhi: “We all know that we still do not know the truth, and the search must go on.” That was as close as he could get to admitting the cover-up by the Rajiv Gandhi regime in the immediate aftermath, when plenty of witnesses would have been available and their memories would have been fresh.

Despite the SIT and Nanavati inquiries, the truth about Gujarat 2002 is also not known. Following Manmohan Singh’s example, Modi would do well to apologise for the massacres of Muslims during his Gujarat stint. It may serve to bring down the communal temperature in the country.

see also

Selected audio recordings from the PADS national convention
Battinni Rao, Noor Zaheer, Shabnam Hashmi, Jairus Banaji, Rahul Pandita, Purushottam Agrawal, Irfan Engineer, Adhiraj Bose, Himanshu Kumar, Asad Ashraf, Bonojit Hussain, Manisha Sethi and Subhash Gatade.
Transcript of Purushottam Agrawal's speech at the National Convention