The mystery of Jagdish Tytler: High rewards for low behaviour

Jagdish Tytler. The very name is a blast from the past, evoking instant memories of murder, mobs, and dead Sikhs. And if you nudge the mind further down memory lane: Emergency and Sanjay Gandhi. Happy times!

Tytler is a survivor, goes the cliche about the young Kapoor boy from Gujaranwala, later adopted by the educationist JD Tytler. And so he may be, much in the same way as that common household pest. All the poisons and punishments offer at best a temporary respite until it reappears again, as repellent and indestructible as ever.

So it is that Shri Tytler has bobbed back into sight, this time accused of engineering a "1984 Sikh Riot Like Situation" in Odisha on 6 September. There's a video of him doing what he has always done best: inciting a mob to violence. "Jalao, halla bolo, tod do, tod do, tod do…" are the words he used. This is what passes for a political bhashan in Tytler's lexicon.

And they certainly seem to be highly effective. “About 30-40 youth attacked me, rained down blows and kicks as soon as Jagdish Tytler called on party workers to break the barricade," says the woman constable who was attacked and molested by the hordes of Congress workers. Both the speech and attendant violence was captured on video, and yet our man Tytler blusters, "She has to prove this. How she is going to prove this [that] I have [anything] to do with her, anybody."

Sikh activists beat a burning effigy of Jagdish Tytler at a protest in the northern Indian city of Amritsar in March 2009. The protest was held over Congress' decision to field Tytler as a candidate for the April/May general election. Reuters File

It would be a silly question if it were posed by any other than Tytler, the man who has endured and thrived despite the damning 2005 Nanavati Commission report on the 1984 riots. In its most recent issue, Open magazine resurrects the most damning bits of the final report, including the testimony of Govind Narain, a former Union Defence Secretary, who was part of the citizens' committee that investigated the claims of victims:

In his deposition, Narain told the commission, “There was sufficient indication that something like that would happen and therefore the Government should have taken immediate action.” The commission’s final report notes: ‘He has also stated that there was a lot of evidence before them that in the trans Yamuna area, Shri HKL Bhagat, a Congress leader, had planned an organised massacre of Sikhs. He has also stated that there was evidence that Shri Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler had instigated mobs which had attacked the houses of Sikhs and had set them on fire.’

Of Surinder Singh, the head granthi of a gurdwara attacked by Tytler's thugs, the commission notes: "He has stated that Shri Jagdish Tytler had incited the mob to burn the Gurdwara and kill the Sikhs. According to his evidence the mob had thereafter attacked the Gurdwara and burnt it. One Badal Singh was also burnt alive. He has also stated that he was contacted by Shri Jagdish Tytler on 10-11-84 and asked to sign on two sheets of paper." (As in an affidavit that he had not seen Tytler on that infamous day.)

Tytlerji is so good about cleaning up after himself. And he's been long rewarded for it by the Gandhis — especially Rajiv. Contrary to conventional wisdom, The Telegraph notes, it is apolitical Rajiv not Sanjay who brought him into the Congress party: "Tytler met Indira’s elder son, then a pilot, in a flying club. 'Subsequently, Rajiv — who had then nothing to do with politics — urged his mother to bring Tytler into the party,' says a former aide of Rajiv Gandhi."

While Tytler may be best known for his close relationship with the black sheep —  'Sanjay Gandhi ke do haath; Tytler aur Kamal Nath,' went the '80s slogan — it is the "good son" who propelled his political career. Where Indira had sidelined Sanjay's buddies after his death, Rajiv made Tytler a Minister soon after her death and the anti-Sikh riots.  And he remained ascendant under Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh until the Nanavati report finally forced him to resign.

A minor blip that has not prevented Tytler from remaining busy in the Congress party, bouncing from one post to another — even as he cuddles up on the side with the likes of Abhishek Verma, the defence deal seamster who recently named him in a forgery case.

No one can keep a bad man down in Indian politics, but Tytler's case is exceptional even by our lax standards. Indian Express columnist DK Singh writes:

Tytler’s case throws up many questions. Why is it that the Congress cannot dispense with a leader with a not-so-glorious past? There is nothing to write home about his administrative or organisational skills, nor does he have the mass base. If it is loyalty to the Nehru-Gandhi family, how was it earned?

All good questions that will resurface over and again, only to remain unanswered; lingering instead as a reminder of a shameful past and no less shameful present.

Updated Date: Sep 18, 2012 12:33 PM

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