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Ontario motion: Why neither Congress nor BJP will call 1984 riots a 'genocide'

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 11 April 2017, 18:17 IST
(Arya Sharma/Catch News)

As soon as the Ontario legislature passed a motion dubbing the 1984 anti-Sikh riots a ‘genocide', India was quick to call it a "misguided" notion.

But a constituent of the Union government, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has deviated from this position. Though it trained its guns on the Congress over the emotive issue, even BJP has been put on a sticky wicket. 

There have been several reports in the past on the alleged involvement of RSS affiliates in the 1984 riots. There have also been reports of the BJP leaders terming the killings as a 'genocide'. But with Narendra Modi at the helm, it is a different ball game altogether. The Centre is compelled to reject the Ontario motion as otherwise it would provide space for international demands that the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat be declared a genocide as well.  

Emotive reactions

Just after the Ontario legislature carried the motion, the Indian government said that it was based on a limited understanding of India, its Constitution, society, ethos, rule of law and judicial process. The Centre also conveyed its views to the political leadership in Canada.

The first one to raise the issue in Parliament during zero hour on 10 April was SAD general secretary and Lok Sabha MP from Anandpur Sahib, Prem Singh Chandumajra, who expressed his unhappiness over the Indian reaction to the Ontario motion. He went on to demand that the ministry of external affairs (MEA) withdraw its statement.

Motion in Canada dubs 1984 anti-Sikh riots a genocide; SAD raises issue in Parliament

In Rajya Sabha, another SAD MP, Naresh Gujral, did the same. His statement was met with protests from Congress members led by Anand Sharma, who sought that Gujral calling the 1984 riots a state-sponsored 'genocide' inside the Parliament be expunged.

This demand coming from the Akali MPs is politically relevant as they are one of BJP's oldest allies.

The drama in Punjab

Meanwhile, SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal and his wife Harsimrat Kaur Badal who is a Union minister, have taken the battle to their home turf to corner the Congress-led government under Captain Amarinder Singh.

Sukhbir has reiterated that the widespread massacre of Sikhs in Delhi and some other parts of the country in November 1984 was 'most certainly a genocide of the community in vast numbers'. Talking about the Ontario motion, he said, “ We are indeed grateful to the authorities and the people of Ontario for this very touching gesture of compassion and solidarity. They have called this shameful chapter by its right name and they deserve our thanks. Every Indian, except those guilty of this tragedy, regards it as a genocide.”

He has asked the central government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi formally acknowledge the shameful massacre of Sikhs as 'a brutal genocide'.

“There is no doubt about this in anyone’s mind that the Congress planned and executed a genocide of the Sikhs in 1984. Senior leaders of that party holding top positions in the government of India actively facilitated, directed and even participated in this gruesome genocide. Orders for this genocide had come from the very top in the government. The entire world was shocked when the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi publicly justified this inhuman genocide as 'a natural reaction to the falling of a big tree' (Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination.) Dr Manmohan Singh later had to apologise for this to the nation,” said Sukhbir Badal.

“We now request Prime Minister Narendra Modi to apply balm to the deep wounds of the Sikh community by personally intervening to ensure that the guilty of this genocide are not allowed to go scot free any longer, ” he said.

Harsimrat on the other hand has asked Amarinder to hold a special session of the state Assembly to adopt a similar resolution as done by the Ontario legislature. She said this is essential to publicly expose those who conceived the genocide as well as the perpetrators.

She added that the Punjab assembly can even discuss the entire issue to identify those who planned the killings. "Only if the entire set of perpetrators are brought before the people, can truth prevail in this case," she said.

Admitting that this would be a difficult task for Amarinder, she underlined, "He has to choose between being true to the Sikh community versus shielding a family whose hands are stained with the blood of innocents. Amarinder however must rise to the occasion and denounce all those elements in the Congress who authored this massacre. This alone will assuage the hurt feelings of the community worldwide."

The catch

But the fact remains that the BJP is also on a sticky wicket on this contentious issue. There have been reports that not just Congress, even BJP-RSS functionaries were involved in the anti-Sikh violence. The Congress has alleged that a total of 14 FIRs were registered 'against 49 BJP-RSS leaders for their role in anti-Sikh riots of 1984'. The party has also repeatedly questioned the silence of SAD on the involvement of BJP-RSS functionaries in the violence.

Although the government has rejected the Ontario motion, reports say that that while raising the issue in the Lok Sabha Chandumajra had said that former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and former Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani had also termed the massacre as 'genocide'.

Congress has always contended that its opponents try to resurrect the issue every time there is a pol

Veteran political observer Jagtar Singh has also pointed, “However, it may be mentioned that the word ‘genocide’ was mentioned by Union home minister Rajnath Singh himself at a function on December 26, 2014 to distribute cheques of compensation in Tilak Nagar in Delhi, where many of the victims of the massacre continue to reside.”

Leader of the Opposition in Punjab Assembly and senior Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader HS Phoolka who has been fighting the cases of 1984 riot victims, has also welcomed the resolution passed by Ontario assembly. "All persons responsible for the attacks should be booked under genocide laws and given the strictest punishment. We all know that even after more than three decades, justice is still denied to victims of 1984 Sikh genocide,” he said.

The impact of the motion

While Jagtar disagrees that the issue will have a bearing on the outcome forthcoming civic body elections in Delhi and Punjab, many people say that it will be one of the issues during the campaign.


Elections to the five municipal corporations in Punjab including Patiala, Ludhiana, Bathinda, Amritsar and Jalandhar are to be held in a couple of months along with the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. Recently, there was also a bypoll in the Sikh-dominated Rajouri Garden Assembly seat in Delhi. There is a point of view that both the Akalis and AAP leaders will raise it during their campaign, particularly in the Sikh dominated areas of West Delhi and also Punjab to emotionally sway the electorate in their support.

The Congress has always contended that its opponents try to resurrect the issue every time there is a poll. Congress leaders also say that Sikhs have voted enthusiastically for Congress in Delhi as well in Punjab and this is a reply to the parties who try to raise the issue for political ends.

First published: 11 April 2017, 17:17 IST