Rahul puts a Cheshire Cat on Ra­jiv’s big tree

For the 1984 anti-sikh ri­ots, we have blame that is not blame, an apology that is not an apology. Also an apology with­out blame and blame with­out an apology

Governance Now - - FRONT PAGE - S B Easwaran sbeaswaran@gov­er­nan­cenow.com

You needn’t be thor­oughly fa­mil­iar with lewis car­roll’s Alice’s Ad­ven­tures in Won­der­land to know about the cheshire cat. char­ac­ters like Humpty dumpty, the red Queen and the cheshire cat are part of the kit of pop­u­lar id­iom. alice en­coun­ters the cheshire cat sit­ting on a tree, fad­ing into and out of view, leav­ing only a lin­ger­ing smile, prompt­ing her to say, “i’ve seen a cat with­out a grin but never a grin with­out a cat.” Physi­cists have taken sub­atomic par­ti­cles and sep­a­rated them from one of their in­nate prop­er­ties such as spin or mag­netic mo­ment and nick­named them ‘quan­tum cheshire cats’. congress pres­i­dent rahul gandhi has gone be­yond that. Here’s how.

Speak­ing re­cently in london, rahul, not ex­actly known for mak­ing well­judged state­ments, told a news chan­nel the congress was not in­volved in the 1984 anti-sikh ri­ots. af­ter the as­sas­si­na­tion of prime min­is­ter indira gandhi by her Sikh body­guards, some 3,000 Sikhs were killed in over three days of ri­ot­ing in delhi alone. over 400 ri­ot­ers have been con­victed so far, but none of the big names ac­cused of in­cit­ing, lead­ing, and di­rect­ing the mobs. H K l Bha­gat, Sa­j­jan Ku­mar, Jagdish Tytler, Brah­manand gupta, ram­pal Saroj – these are among the congress lead­ers sur­vivors of the car­nage pointed to. The only two politi­cians con­victed are ex­mu­nic­i­pal councillor Bal­wan Khokhar and ex-mla ma­hen­dra Yadav. Both were con­gress­men.

re­port af­ter in­de­pen­dent re­port has high­lighted the in­volve­ment of congress lead­ers in the ri­ot­ing. They have also al­leged that the police force was co­erced into in­ac­tiv­ity. Even judges were con­strained to ob­serve that in­ves­ti­ga­tions of riot cases were want­ing in qual­ity. al­le­ga­tions of gang-rape of ab­ducted Sikh women haven’t been looked into. one judge, S n dhin­gra, ob­served: “a sys­tem which per­mits the le­git­imised vi­o­lence and crim­i­nals through the in­stru­men­tal­i­ties of the state to sti­fle the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, can­not be re­lied upon to dis­pense ba­sic jus­tice uni­formly to the peo­ple. it amounts to a to­tal wip­ing out of the rule of law.”

Tie that to the fol­low­ing facts. one, the congress was in power at the cen­tre and in con­trol of the delhi ad­min­is­tra­tion. Two, rahul’s fa­ther ra­jiv gandhi, who took charge as prime min­is­ter on his mother’s death, had no­to­ri­ously said of the vi­o­lence: “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes.” From the ac­tion-re­ac­tion im­pli­ca­tions of that state­ment, it fol­lows that the state failed to pre­vent what it should have been pre­pared for. and the agency of state ac­tion stemmed from the congress. So, pray, will rahul tell us who ex­actly was in­volved?

rahul’s de­nial casts a shadow, once again, on two apolo­gies for 1984. For long the congress has main­tained that So­nia gandhi and man­mo­han Singh (as prime min­is­ter) have apol­o­gised for the 1984 ri­ots. When rahul said, in march 2014, that “the prime min­is­ter of the UPA has apol­o­gised and the pres­i­dent of congress party [So­nia gandhi] ex­pressed re­grets,” jour­nal­ist Karan Tha­par sub­jected the So­nia part to dogged scru­tiny. He con­cluded, in his Hin­dus­tan Times col­umn, dated march 23, 2014, that: “So­nia gandhi has ex­pressed re­gret for op­er­a­tion Blues­tar and could be con­strued to have done so for the 1984 Sikh killings but it seems al­most cer­tain she hasn’t apol­o­gised for ei­ther.”

now for the man­mo­han Singh

apology of 2005, de­liv­ered by the then prime min­is­ter in the ra­jya Sabha. The oc­ca­sion was the tabling of the ac­tion-taken re­port on the nana­vati com­mis­sion re­port. it won high praise equat­ing it with gand­hian moral clar­ity, but who ex­actly was Singh apol­o­gis­ing for? His words: “on be­half of our gov­ern­ment, on be­half of the en­tire peo­ple of this coun­try, i bow my head in shame that such thing took place.” With hardly any jus­tice de­liv­ered and none of the or­ches­tra­tors of the vi­o­lence pun­ished, doesn’t that grandil­o­quence be­come a cruel joke on mil­lions of law-abid­ing cit­i­zens who had no role in the ri­ots?

in the same speech, Singh said, “one thing the re­port con­clu­sively states is that there is no ev­i­dence, what­so­ever, against the top lead­er­ship of the congress party.” This is ques­tion­able. Wit­nesses to the ri­ot­ing have spo­ken of mo­tor­cy­cle-borne men mov­ing about with lists of Sikh homes to be tar­geted. like in other ri­ots, this could not have been pos­si­ble with­out the con­nivance or par­tic­i­pa­tion of the ad­min­is­tra­tion. or the lists could have come from par­ties, which have them for elec­tion work. it doesn’t take great de­duc­tive skills to work out where, in 1984, those lists could have come from.

The com­mis­sion records ev­i­dence from some se­nior de­fence of­fi­cers who met then pres­i­dent Zail Singh, a Sikh with a congress back­ground, and asked him, as head of the forces, to or­der the army to end the ri­ot­ing. They were sent to home min­is­ter P V narasimha rao, who in turn is recorded as hav­ing given them an in­dif­fer­ent hear­ing and done noth­ing. So what “top lead­er­ship” of the congress was Singh re­fer­ring to? no prizes for guess­ing.

There’s more. Singh refers to a “val­ued col­league” ten­der­ing his res­ig­na­tion. This of course was then min­is­ter of state for over­seas in­dian af­fairs Jagdish Tytler, who went out kick­ing af­ter pres­sure from within his party, from the left al­lies of the UPA, and the op­po­si­tion. af­ter re­sign­ing, he said, “The nana­vati re­port is rub­bish and should be thrown into the dust­bin.”

Which, in a sense, ap­plies to all re­ports of com­mis­sions of in­quiry. com­mis­sions are strange beasts: they work like courts, gath­er­ing and weigh­ing ev­i­dence and putting on record only that which passes scru­tiny, but they can­not pros­e­cute. none of their rec­om­men­da­tions or the im­pli­ca­tions of their find­ings are bind­ing on the gov­ern­ment. gov­ern­ments are wont to ap­point judges who will pro­duce a re­port that suits them; else, judges are re­placed or new com­mis­sions ap­pointed. The anti-sikh ri­ots saw ten com­mis­sions be­fore the one headed by nana­vati. if there was one con­clu­sion that the nana­vati com­mis­sion ar­rived at – other than those claimed by Singh – it was that things needed fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion!

So what do we make of this long and cruel trav­esty? The con­gressled UPA-1 gov­ern­ment of 2004-09 has apol­o­gised. The peo­ple of in­dia have had an apology ex­tracted from them willy-nilly. and the congress it­self can be said to have both apol­o­gised and not apol­o­gised. When it comes to ri­ots – delhi 1984, gu­jarat 2002, or the many oth­ers that are our dark his­tory – lead­ers on the watch have al­ways ex­pressed re­gret, whether or not they apol­o­gised. al­ways af­ter sub­vert­ing pro­cesses to al­low the vi­o­lence. Blame for the car­nage be­comes a quan­tum en­tity. There’s no blame but re­gret, and there’s re­gret but no blame. it’s there and not there. Think of the cheshire cat and quan­tum cheshire cats. See the con­nec­tion?

Ashish asthana

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