The central character of Jaspreet Singh’s book Helium, recently released in India, is the son of a senior policeman who was an important functionary in Delhi at the time of the 1984 massacres. The book, in some measure, is a story of how he summons up the courage to face up to this past with a degree of honesty.
If only Rahul Gandhi could have summoned up a similar honesty, we might be living in a different country. But even so he has managed to provide one worthy service. Thanks to his fumbling lies, the denial of justice for the 1984 victims has reentered our political discourse.
Given that Narendra Modi’s presence in the prime ministerial race has already ensured that what happened in 2002 in Gujarat will remain an important issue in the run up to the election, this is as it should be. The problem, however, is the competitive discourse between 1984 and 2002 that has become a part of the rhetoric, not just among the Congress and the BJP but among a host of sympathizers of either party which includes several commentators.
The desire to make much of the ideological differences between the Congress and the BJP only serves to hide an ugly reality of this country. Both 2002 and 1984 were examples of majoritarian communalism, which is why there was no shortage of low level Congressmen who participated in the 2002 killings or for that matter of RSS functionaries who were named in the 1984 killings.
This majoritarian communalism is not the preserve of sections of the Hindu community. In Kashmir, the Muslim majority is also largely equally accountable as far as the events that led to the exile of Kashmiri Pandits is concerned; or for that matter the Sikh majority which stood by in the late 1980s as terrorists selectively targeted Hindus in the rural areas of the Majha region of Punjab, a story which is yet to be told in all its details.
Both parties, the Congress and the BJP, have seen political opportunities in exploiting majoritarian feelings on various occasions in this country. To claim that the BJP has an explicit ideology that makes it more dangerous than the Congress is not borne out by any evidence of communal violence in this country. Evidence that has held true over several decades cannot be dismissed with some rhetoric about ideological differences, even if it is a man like Amartya Sen propounding it, or the CPI or CPI (M) endorsing it.
This majoritarian tendency is one of the great dangers we face, and where Narendra Modi and his forebears are concerned, it is easy to recognize the dangers. His blinded supporters may not like it but that does not change the truth. Where the Congress is concerned, we run into a greater difficulty, as there are a huge number of people who actively seek to intervene and make excuses for its actions, considering them aberrations -- ever though since Indira Gandhi split the Indian National Congress and started a party in her image there has been no ideological moorings to what we now call the Congress.
Thankfully, Rahul’s interview to Arnab Goswami has changed the enforced silence around the deliberate manipulation of the process of justice in case of the 1984 massacres. While any other comparison is contemptible, it is true that the Congress has been far more successful at sidetracking the judicial processes. It did so by setting up numerous inquiry commissions that were designed to suppress rather than reveal the truth. When someone argues that 1984 massacres are politically irrelevant today, that too much time has passed and, after all, unlike Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi bears no direct responsibility, they forget that this was exactly the response the process of delay was designed to elicit.
The people who make such arguments, who collaborate with the Congress in the suppression of this uncomfortable truth are by and large intelligent people, but they haven’t been able to make the leap that the protagonist of Helium made to his own culpability.
The comparison with Helium is deliberate. Most of the people springing to the intellectual defence of the Congress are also part of a Delhi elite, an elite that extends from the Lutyens zone to the better colonies of the South of the city. Many share a direct contact with the Nehru-Gandhi family (some over generations). Many move within the same social circle as Rahul. Many are among those who haven’t faced up to the uncomfortable truth of what their own family members or friends in government were doing in November 1984. It is, therefore, no surprise that their responses in favour of Rahul is to an interview conducted by Arnab Goswami, seen by this same elite as an outsider to their world.
Thankfully, in his blundering fashion, without meaning to, Rahul has undone this silence that surrounds the complicity of the highest level of the party in the violence of 1984. The AAP has rightly initiated the process of setting up an SIT for 1984, and already people like Tarlochan Singh have come forward with claims that need to be looked into.
Of course, many will, as they already have, talk about Singh's affiliation to the BJP, and they will be right. He was vice-chairman of the minority commission when the violence in Gujarat took place, and he was party to the same kind of cover up that he is now attempting to expose. But he has provided information about the then President of the country, Zail Singh, repeatedly trying to call the Indian Prime Minister, Home Minister and the Delhi Commissioner of Police, only to have his calls ignored. Surely, this is verifiable information. Just as IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt must be listened to even if his wife obtained a Congress ticket in Gujarat, so must Tarlochan Singh.
We must not our personal affiliations temper the anger that we feel at the choice we are faced with, a choice so aptly reflected in Vishal Dadlani’s somewhat crudely phrased tweet about murderers and morons.
Updated Date: Jan 30, 2014 16:19 PM