Does Kamal Nath’s role hold the key to uncovering the political conspiracy over 1984?

Kamal Nath's recent remarks are a mixture of half-truths, obscene belligerence, and a validation of suspicions of his involvement
Does Kamal Nath’s role hold the key to uncovering the political conspiracy over 1984?
Does Kamal Nath’s role hold the key to uncovering the political conspiracy over 1984?
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The Congress may have averted a political crisis with the resignation of Kamal Nath, but it still has a moral concern to address.

Kamal Nath resigned as the Congress party’s Punjab in-charge following objections by the SAD, AAP and the BJP over his alleged role in the 1984 violence in Delhi.

Even though the public debate on bringing the perpetrators of mass violence to justice has now been reduced to a “your-riot-was-worse-than-mine” scenario, this state of affairs must not be allowed to silence the question of why practically no one has been held accountable for the 1984 violence. In November that year, over 2,000 Sikhs in Delhi were killed by frenzied mobs after the assassination of the then prime minister Indira Gandhi.

Kamal Nath’s role in the violence is yet to be fully explored and his performance before the public so far, according to those who have witnessed it, deserves a closer examination.

Congress leaders Sajjan Kumar, Jagdish Tytler and HKL Bhagat have hogged most of the uncomfortable limelight so far. Testimonies against all three to various commissions have been reported by the media extensively. Nath’s role however, does not appear to have received quite as much attention.

On November 1, 1984, a large mob of people advanced on Rakab Ganj Sahib gurudwara, which is right next to Parliament. The mob burned alive a Sikh man and his son. Kamal Nath was present when the bodies of the two men were burning. He stayed there for two hours and left without meeting the Delhi Police Commissioner.

The only people who appear to have closely looked at the events that occurred that day are two journalists who covered the riots and subsequent developments and a witness who hid from mobs to survive.

Journalist Manoj Mitta and survivor HS Phoolka have pieced together a narrative from multiple sources, of what happened during those days in their book When a Tree Shook Delhi – The 1984 Carnage and Its Aftermath. Another journalist Sanjay Suri too wrote about the violence in his book The Anti-Sikh Violence and After. Suri was at Rakab Ganj that day.

Suri’s account of that day published this week on Scroll details the frightening clout that politicians wield, and also includes the disquieting questions he could not ask in his submission to the 2000 Nanavati Commission.

“What I did see then was that when the crowd surged forward at one point, Kamal Nath had only to gesture lightly, and they held back. Does that fact exonerate Kamal Nath? Because, on the face of it, he had restrained the crowd, hadn’t he? By way of some intervention he did at that point prevent the crowd advancing further towards the gurdwara.

“Why did the crowd listen to him? Why, in a situation where a murderous bunch was advancing yet again, would the police continue to stand to a side (and the officer leading them duck to a side), and now watch the MP control that crowd?

“Why did a word from the Congress MP become more effective than any move from the police? What was the relation between Kamal Nath and that crowd that he had only to raise his hand towards it and it held back?

“Why was the controlling left to Kamal Nath? Was that not for the police to do?”

The Nanavati Commission, the last of 10 commissions set up to investigate the violence, gave him what Phoolka and Mitta call “benefit of the doubt”. Based on Sanjay Suri’s account and the affidavits of senior police officers and Nath himself, the commission said that in the “absence of better evidence” the commission could not really say whether he had instigated the mob in any manner and whether he had been involved in the attack on the Rakab Ganj Sahib gurudwara.

Dissecting the commission’s reasoning, all three authors – Mitta, Phoolka and Suri – arrive at one conclusion: Kamal Nath’s presence at the gurudwara raised many questions which the commission did not go into.

Why did no one look for “better evidence”?

Investigations by Tehelka and the overall media reportage in the past few years has given us enough reason to believe that there has indeed been some amount of political involvement. The fact that there have been 10 commissions of inquiry between 1984 and 2000 which have raised more questions than they have answered is suspicious. The alleged instigators of mobs are enjoying not just freedom but political power.

But after 32 years, Kamal Nath has been forced to respond to some of the questions asked of him. His answers, in an NDTV interview, forceful though they appear at face value, are a mixture of half-truths, obscene belligerence, and a validation of suspicions of his involvement.

Nath told NDTV: “I should be applauded for what I did to restrain mob at gurudwara. I told the crowd not to enter the gurudwara. I did a service by talking to the crowd till cops arrived.” The accounts given by Suri and the police however, contradict this version on multiple fronts.

In the absence of a credible enquiry, what are we to believe and when will justice be done?  

Mitta and Phoolka went so far as to say: “The unanswered questions about his role in the Rakabganj Gurdwara episode might well hold the key to uncovering the high-level conspiracy behind the 1984 carnage.”

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