Madhya Pradesh CM Kamal Nath faces uneasy term in office as ghosts of 1984 anti-Sikh riots return to haunt him

Thirty-four years after anti-Sikh riot hit the national capital, the Delhi High Court pronounced former Congress MP Sajan Kumar guilty, putting a firm judicial stamp on a verdict which those who lived in Delhi on 30 October 1984 and in the following week, had given decades ago. He has been sentenced for life.

The taint of his involvement in the anti-Sikh riots, leading mobs that killed innocent Sikhs and looted shops and residential premises of members of that community, remained since 1984 but that didn’t deter Congress leadership to give him important positions — he got elected on Congress party ticket for 10th Lok Sabha in 1991 and for 14th Lok Sabha in 2004. He had been a Lok Sabha MP from Congress in 1984 when Indira Gandhi was assassinated and when he led riotous murderous mobs.

 Madhya Pradesh CM Kamal Nath faces uneasy term in office as ghosts of 1984 anti-Sikh riots return to haunt him

File image of Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath. PTI

He, thus, is no ordinary leader of Congress. He along with HKL Bhagat (deceased) and Jagdish Tytler controlled Delhi unit of the party. They were MPs from Outer Delhi, North Delhi and East Delhi. There was no doubt in the public mind about their complicity in the riots. Justice delayed is justice denied, they say. But today’s landmark judgment of Delhi High Court reversing Kumar’s lower court acquittal will give some closure, howsoever delayed, to the family of the victims.

The Delhi High Court verdict is a big blow to the Congress. It comes at a time when the party was in a celebratory mood, having snatched power from the BJP in three Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

The judgment establishes first direct and conclusive proof of Congress’ linkage with the 1984 carnage. So far, the Congress’ rivals and critics had only one circumstantial evidence in the form of a Rajiv Gandhi statement when he had said, “Kuch din ke liye logo ko laga ki Bharat hil raha hai lekin jab bhi koi bada ped girta hai dharti thodi hilti hai (For some days people felt that India was shaking but when a big tree falls the earth shakes)." The remark will now find a new meaning, with newfound political connotation, particularly when the parliamentary election is only four months away.

As the irony would have it, around the time the Delhi High Court delivered its verdict convicting accused Sajan, another prominent leader Kamal Nath whose name figured in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi was preparing to take over as the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. Notwithstanding protests by the Akali Dal, sections of the BJP and members of the Sikh community about three hours after the declaration of the judgment by the Delhi High Court, Nath was administered the oath of the Office of Chief Minister by Governor Anandiben Patel at a public ceremony in Bhopal.

Though there is no substantive criminal case against the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, the taint of 1984 is going to make his position a bit uneasy. The Supreme Court appointed SIT has reopened several cases. It is because of the renewed scrutiny and reopening of the riot cases that some convictions have taken place in the past few weeks. Nath would hope that his case is not re-opened.

Nath was a prominent first time MP in 1984. He was present at Gurudwara Rakabganj on 1 November 1984 when two Sikhs were burnt alive. Some allege that he was leading the mob which killed the two Sikh men but Nath’s defence was that he was trying to control the mob.

In his book, 1984: The Anti-Sikh Roit and After, journalist Sanjay Suri presents a detailed eyewitness account of the incident of the day, “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-pajama, 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.... It was the afternoon of 1 November, Indira Gandhi had been assassinated the previous day. Her body lay for darshan in Teen Murti Bhavan close to Rakab Ganj Gurdwara. Mourners had been filing past all morning crying 'khoon ka badla khoon (blood for blood)'. Rakab Ganj Gurdwara was the nearest target from Teen Murti Bhavan where the cry for blood could be turned into action. There were certain to be Sikhs there, and there was the gurdwara itself to attack....”

There is also an affidavit by one Mukhtiyar Singh against Nath. The case against him in one among the 232 riot cases which have been closed. Fresh demands are now being raised to reopen those cases including the one against the Madhya Pradesh chief minister.

In the parliamentary elections in the immediate aftermath of Indira’s Gandhi’s assassination and riot, Nath was re-elected. He never looked back, entering the Parliament nine times, holding various ministerial portfolios including commerce and industry, surface transport, parliamentary affairs, urban development in UPA-I and UPA-II.

Nath overcame a humble challenge from Jyotiraditya Scindia to become the Chief Minister of Madya Pradesh. But the day Nath achieved his biggest ambition in life, the ghost of 1984 anti-Sikh riots have come back to haunt him.

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Updated Date: Dec 17, 2018 16:59:42 IST