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Nellie and Delhi: 'Secular' riots versus 'communal' riots

By Rajeev Mantri and Harsh Gupta

"One has to let such events take their own course before stepping in."

This remark was made by prime minister Indira Gandhi, in reply to Financial Times when asked why she had not acted earlier to stop the violence during Assam's Nellie massacre of 18 February 1983 when the state was under President's Rule. Mrs Gandhi was never probed about what she meant when she said this, and neither has the Congress party ever had to answer for what was one of the worst riots in independent India's history, with the official number of dead said to be 2,191, most of them Muslims.

When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was re-elected to the Rajya Sabha as a representative of Assam this year, he tweeted "It’s a great opportunity for me to rededicate myself to the service of the people of Assam." Singh entered the Rajya Sabha claiming to be a resident of Assam and a tenant of the Congress party's Hiteshwar Saikia, the man who took over as Assam chief minister on 27 February 1983 after the Nellie riots.

 Nellie and Delhi: Secular riots versus communal riots

A Sikh woman left widowed after the 1984 riots in Delhi, cries in front of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's residence in New Delhi. AFP

It was under Saikia's chief ministership that the Assam Accord was executed in 1985 by Rajiv Gandhi. As part of the Accord, 310 charge-sheeted criminal cases related to the Nellie violence were dropped by the Union government - a curious case of the Union government exonerating itself, given that the violence took place when Assam was under President's Rule and hence under the control of Indira Gandhi.

Indira Gandhi's ruthless remark is lesser known than Rajiv Gandhi's disgraceful comment that justified the Congress-sponsored pogrom against Sikhs in 1984 - the worst riots in the history of the republic. "When a big tree falls, the earth shakes,” Rajiv Gandhi had said referring to his mother's killing.

The government-controlled Doordarshan, immediately after Rajiv' Gandhi's first speech as prime minister, "showed shots of HKL Bhagat and his supporters beating their breasts and shouting, 'Khoon ka badla khoon se lenge' (Blood will be avenged with blood)," according to senior journalist Tavleen Singh's book, Durbar. It should be remembered that Doordarshan was the only TV channel in India at the time.

Tavleen Singh further records how Bhagat showed up at Rajiv Gandhi's residence after his assassination, asking if it was Sikhs who had killed the prime minister. Bhagat died in 2005 and, in fine Congress tradition, his son Deepak Bhagat was made general secretary of the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee.

Immediately after Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, he was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna. Manmohan Singh as finance minister announced a donation of Rs 100 crore in the 1991 budget (equivalent to at least Rs 1,000 crore today) to the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, a private trust created in the former prime minister's name controlled by Sonia Gandhi. After protests by opposition parties, the government was forced to cancel this donation.

Singh claimed while campaigning during the 1999 general elections that the 1984 riots had been orchestrated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and that the Congress organisation had nothing to do with it. He made this wild assertion because no investigation till then had been able to pin down the Congress party or any of its leaders for perpetrating the 1984 pogrom, even though there were eye-witness accounts of prominent Congress party functionaries leading mobs out to kill innocent Sikhs.

The Misra Commission constituted in May 1985 kept the names of the accused secret from the public. More committees and commissions were created to act on the findings of the Misra Commission—the entire exercise made a mockery of justice as the Congress—controlled governments did not act on their recommendations, and there was political connivance to delay and protract the process.

The 1984 pogrom wasn't even investigated properly till the AB Vajpayee government constituted the GT Nanavati Commission in 2000. When the Commission submitted its 185-page report in 2005, it was Singh, now the prime minister, who issued an apology in the Rajya Sabha—and not Sonia Gandhi who lays claim to the legacy of Rajiv Gandhi. Her stance on 1984 has been notable - speaking at Chandigarh in January 1998 on the storming of the Golden Temple and the Sikh killings, she said rather conveniently that “There is no use recalling what we have collectively lost. No words can balm that pain."

As our country prepares for general elections in a few months, eminent philosopher-economist Amartya Sen reminds us that "there is no philosophy of killing Sikhs in the Congress".

The riots in Nellie and Delhi are just two examples of the many tragic incidents that have taken place in independent India, the vast majority under Congress governments. What is especially notable about Nellie and Delhi is that they happened under members of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty (who are not just relatives but self-described role models for Congress vice-president and probable prime ministerial candidate Rahul Gandhi) and for which none of the people at the top have been held accountable.

India just witnessed gruesome violence in Uttar Pradesh under a Samajwadi Party state government and a Congress-led union government - both of them spotlessly "secular". Thousands have been displaced with many killed and raped.

Paraphrasing billionaire investor Warren Buffett's response to his academic critics, we wholeheartedly agree with Amartya Sen when he says that there is no philosophy of attacking minorities in the Congress - just because they can kill in practice, does not mean they will kill in theory.

Rajeev Mantri is a venture capitalist and writer. Harsh Gupta is a financial consultant and writer.

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Updated Date: Feb 12, 2014 09:55:07 IST