I was on my way to Peshawar from Rawalpindi to meet Wali Khan, son of Frontier Gandhi, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan. At Abottabad, where I stopped for a cup of tea, the radio was broadcasting a BBC report that Sikh security guards had shot Prime Minister Indira Gandhi dead. There was no question of my proceeding further. I rushed back to Lahore but by then the flight to Delhi had left. Ironically, a London-based Sikh organization at Lahore had arranged that day a meeting to raise the demand for Khalistan. When I landed at Palam the following day, the airport wore a deserted look. Two Sikh officers at the immigration counter stood aside. I heard someone saying at the counter that security would have to be arranged to take the Sikh employees safe home.
I was bewildered and could not make a head or tail out of what was going on. A Hindu officer at the counter explained that there had been a massacre of Sikhs at Delhi. It had never occurred to me that the Hindus could kill the Sikhs who, according to the constitution, were Hindus. That apart, marriages between the Hindus and Sikhs were common till a few years ago. My mother was from a Sikh family. When I came out of Palam, I saw a heap of ashes. The taxi driver told me that a Sikh had been burnt alive earlier in the day. Many years later, when I was the Rajya Sabha member, I raised the question of 1984 anti-Sikh riots and wanted appointment of a high-powered commission to probe the entire happening. L.K. Advani supported me. Justice G.T. Nanavati, who had probed the Gujarat killings, was appointed to head the commission. In an otherwise fair report that he submitted to the government, Justice Nanavati had evaded naming the person behind the anti-Sikh riots. When I met him later to complain that he did not name the person, he shrugged his shoulders and said that everybody knew who were behind the riots. This is true, but if he had named them in his report, it would have made all the difference.
The head of a Special Investigation Team (SIT), R.K. Raghvan, probing 10 cases following instructions from the Supreme Court, allowed his ideology to have the better of him, although he had been an outstanding police officer. Even the court has not commented on Narendra Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat, although it had all the details before it. By sending to the trial court the case of former Congress MP, Eshan Jafri, who along with 69 people were burnt or butchered alive at the Gulburga Society in Ahmedabad, the Supreme Court had only passed on the buck. This is the same Supreme Court which commented on Modi: Nero was fiddling while Rome was burning.
The sort of report the SIT has submitted can be made out from the evidence of two retired judges it had ignored. Both had interviewed the then Home Minister, Haren Pandya, who was murdered because he had started speaking the truth. According to the two judges, P.B. Sawant, who was on the Supreme Court bench, and Justice H. Suresh of the Bombay High Court, Pandya told them that the chief minister had directed the police to give Hindus a free hand to vent their anger during the riots.
Both judges were members of the People’s Tribunal which held Modi guilty. That there is not a single FIR filed against the chief minister is not a plus point. He had created so much fear in the minds of the victims that they dared not to go to the police station, hardly safe for Muslims at that time. To incite people Modi also had arranged to parade through Ahmedabad streets the 49 bodies of kar sevaks who had been burnt alive on a train at Godhara while returning from a pilgrimage. This had terrible repercussions. Even today, Muslims in Gujarat generally confine themselves to their localities fearing that they may be attacked.
They have not forgotten how 2000 from their community were killed and how several thousands were ousted from their homes and lands. Some Muslims have tried to return, but have found that they are not welcome to their places where they and their forefathers had lived for ages. True, the horror of Gujarat had shaken the nation. Yet, no amount of condemnation by the public and the media has made Modi relent, much less force him to apologise. He had refused to say sorry and had gone about arranging the humbug of sadbhavana (goodwill) sittings at big cities of the state. Modi had a lot to hide. Specific instances of murders, when reconstructed or proved, pinpoint to the state’s plot for ethnic cleansing.
Brave police officers like Sanjay Bhatt have told the truth, even at the risk of annoying Modi who had unleashed his repressive, one-sided administration against Bhatt. He is suffering alone and even the Gujarat High Court has not come to his aid. Still Bhatt had said in an affidavit that Modi instructed his officers to let Hindus vent their anger on Muslims. In the case of Sikhs, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi have offered their apologies for the 1984 riots. Modi and his party, BJP, have not done even that. Now that he is the Prime Minister, he should have had the grace to apologise for what he had reportedly done in 2002 when he was the chief minister of Gujarat.
Why there is so much umbrage against the anti-Muslim and anti-Sikh riots even after years of their occurrence is not yet understood either by the BJP in the first case of Gujarat or by the Congress in the second case of Sikhs. The reason is that there is practically no action against those people who had soiled their hands with blood. The BJP had saved them in Gujarat and the Congress did so in Delhi and elsewhere. Still worse, both parties do their best to protect the administrations which had planned and executed these riots.
—The writer is a veteran Indian journalist, syndicated columnist, human rights activist and author.