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Politics over 1984 intensifies in Punjab, AAP leads the way

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST

The opportunity

  • Punjab is set for Assembly elections next year
  • Political parties are raising the emotive issue of Operation Blue Star and the 1984 anti-Sikh riots

The accusation

  • AAP leader and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal has called the Modi govt\'s SIT an \'eyewash\'
  • SAD is also taking every opportunity to blame the Congress

More in the story

  • The Congress on the back foot - what does it say on the matter?
  • A private member\'s Bill in Parliament, demanding a \'truth commission\'

Operation Blue Star and the 1984 anti-Sikh riots are still an emotive issue in Punjab. And with Assembly elections around the corner, political parties are making an effort to score brownie points among the electorate, on the issue of how justice has been denied to the victims of the riots.

On 6 June 2016, the 32nd anniversary of Operation Blue Star, it was Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal who fired the opening salvo on the issue, when he shot off a letter to the Prime Minister.

Also read - Politics on religious violence in Punjab, Kejriwal visits injured preacher

He alleged that the Special Investigative Team formed by the Modi administration is just an eyewash, adding that in the interim period, 10 commissions and committees have probed the matter, and yet, justice has eluded the victims.

On Operation Blue Star's anniversary, Kejriwal sent a letter to the PM, calling the SIT an eyewash

Kejriwal, in fact, pointed out that in his first tenure as CM, which lasted 49 days, his government had decided to constitute an SIT, but the decision could not be implemented as the government vacated office.

In fact, the Modi government's announcement of the SIT came just two days before Kejriwal took oath as CM for the second time, and a six-month time limit was set for it to file its report.

"But, it is one and a half years, and the SIT has made absolutely no progress. The SIT failed to open even a single case. Now apprehension is growing in the mind of the people that this SIT was just an eyewash and you formed an ineffective SIT on February 13, 2015 just two days after our win to prevent us from forming an effective SIT," Kejriwal said.

AAP goes after Badals

Sanjay Singh, the senior AAP leader handling Punjab, went on to accuse the NDA government of trying to save the culprits who engineered the massacre of Sikhs in 1984. He went on to claim that Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his family were also hand in glove with the NDA in this act.

"If NDA is not capable of initiating an impartial probe, then the investigation should be handed over to Delhi government. The Badals are hand-in-glove with the Modi government, which is evident from the fact that cabinet minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal never pursued the issue in Union cabinet," he said.

Party spokesperson Sukhpal Khaira, who left the Congress to join the AAP some time ago, said: "Initially, the deadline for the SIT constituted by the Modi government was only six months, but conspicuously, the deadline of the same was extended for another one year. The BJP is not interested to take the probe to its logical conclusion, as it is suspected that RSS leaders were also involved in anti-Sikh riots in 1984," he said.

Gurudwara committee also angry

The functioning of the SIT constituted by the Modi government has also been called into question by the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee (DSGMC). The head of its legal cell, Jaswinder Singh Jolly, recently met SIT chairman Pramod Asthana and member Rakesh Kapoor. He later said the SIT does not have the required manpower and infrastructure.

Also read - Blue Star anniversary: pro-Khalistan slogans raised, Badal insulted

He questioned the presence of Delhi Police officials in the SIT, and asked how could they be expected to honestly probe the role of the same police force in suppressing evidence? He has advocated that the probe be carried out by police officials of some other state, or the CBI. He has also suggested that statements of victims who now reside abroad should be recorded through video conferencing.

Akalis' assault

t is clear that by raking up the issue, both the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and AAP want to corner the Congress. There is hardly any media interaction where Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh is not asked questions about his defence of Delhi Congress leader Jagdish Tytler for his alleged role in the 1984 riots.

Even the Akalis play up the issue regularly. Punjab cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majithia who, while raising the question, has made a charge that the Congress is compelled to protect the perpetrators of anti-Sikh riots of 1984.

There's hardly a press interaction where Punjab Cong chief Amarinder doesn't get asked about 1984

He said that intelligent people around the world are well aware of the fact that the said act was performed on getting a go-ahead from which entity. He added that the repeated appointment of the accused as MPs and ministers is a clear indication that they did what they did upon 'receiving signals' from those who 'played a greater role in the massacre'.

According to Majithia, this is why sheltering all these elements has become mandatory for the Gandhi family and the Congress, because it's afraid that if it doesn't do so, these people may let the cat out of the bag and tell people the bitter truth.

Badal has been using his Sangat Darshan programmes to raise the issue. Reminding the youth of the 'barbaric' military attack on Sri Darbar Sahib by the then-Congress government, he said it is important to keep the youth abreast of the saga of countless atrocities on the Sikhs perpetrated by the 'arrogant' Congress leadership at the helm of affairs at that point of time.

In his address at Fatehgarh Churian, Badal said that the 1984 genocide had badly tormented the Sikh psyche, and now, it is his government's duty to sensitise the youngsters with the pangs of agony suffered by hapless and innocent Sikh community. "The youth should act prudently to differentiate who is their friend or foe," he underlined.

Congress on the back foot

The Congress is decidedly on the defensive, but has been launching counterattacks on the issue. Amarinder insists he has never given a clean chit to Tytler or anyone else. He has reiterated that he had only said that when he had met the victims of the anti-Sikh riots between 1-4 November 1984, nobody mentioned Tytler's name to him as the accused.

He said the names mentioned to him were those of Sajjan Kumar, HKL Bhagat, Lalit Maken, Dharam Dass Shastri and Arjan Dass.

Senior Congress leader Sunil Jakhar points out: "Why is it that the issue is raised just six months ahead of every election? It is merely for political gains. We do not oppose a fair probe and punishment for the guilty."

Private member's Bill

Amidst such charges and counter-charges, suspended AAP MP from Patiala, Dr Dharam Vira Gandhi has given a call to set up a truth commission.

In a write up published in a prominent regional daily, he said: "I hereby demand a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, broadly on the pattern of the post-Apartheid 'Truth and Reconciliation Commission' in South Africa, but with the addition of justice and provisions necessary to unearth the truth of what happened in Punjab and similar events outside Punjab."

Pointing out that the earlier People's Commission, established under the aegis of retired judges by Justice Kuldip Singh, was aborted through legal action in the high court, he said: " I believe that communication and discourse are great instruments for bringing down the walls of hatred and promoting fraternity and brotherhood. In the same measure, these form the foundation of democracy."

He plans to move a private member's Bill on the proposed commission in Parliament.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 9 June 2016, 8:01 IST