If it failed to find cause for cheer in India’s ongoing general elections, the Indian National Congress was certainly buoyed by the decision of a federal judge in New York to dismiss and close a lingering case against the party for its alleged role in the 1984 riots that claimed the lives several thousands members of the Sikh community.
On Monday evening Judge Robert Sweet granted the party’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought against it by the Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) advocacy group, which sought damages stemming from the Congress’ alleged responsibility for the riots that engulfed New Delhi and other parts of the nation in violence following the assassination of erstwhile Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
In his opinion, Judge Sweet ruled against the SFJ’s claim to be “legal representatives” and thus plaintiffs in this case filed under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) of the U.S., as this required the group and the individual complainants to be “aliens”, which they were not, given their U.S. residential status.
Second, the judge found in favour of the argument that the ATS did not extend to corporate defendants such as the Congress Party and that the SFJ’s claim constituted “an impermissible extraterritorial application of the ATS”.
In particular he noted that especially considering that the alleged involvement of the Congress in the riots was entirely off U.S. soil, the plaintiffs’ arguments were insufficient to established that the conduct [of the Congress] sufficiently ‘touched and concerned’ the U.S. to establish jurisdiction under the ATS and dismissal is appropriate…”
Speaking to The Hindu Ravi Batra, who represented the Congress Party in the case, explained that a part of the motion made by the defence was that the SFJ was an “illegal plaintiff, because we wanted to put them out of this publicity-seeking business”.
Mr. Batra added that any genuine victim of the riots could always approach the Indian judiciary to seek redress, as indeed was the case, but the SFJ’s case gave false hope to such genuine victims.
Pending cases remain against Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Regarding the case against Mrs. Gandhi, in which a judgment could be expected in a few weeks or even sooner according to Mr. Batra, the defence argument was expected to be “even stronger because we have included an anti-suit injunction, to stop them from filing further cases, abusing the courthouse door, which is only for genuine cases.”
While the Southern District Court of New York gained notoriety earlier this year for its involvement in the case of Devyani Khobragade, former Deputy Consul General of India who was arrested for underpaying her domestic employee, the latest judgment showcased a positive view of the Indian judicial system.
Mr. Batra pointed out that in his decision to close the case brought by the SFJ and others Judge Sweet acknowledged in a footnote that “contrary to SFJ's false assertions… India has acted to address the hurt caused by the 1984 events.”
The case against Dr. Singh has not been served yet, and hence the timeframe for resolution is likely to be longer, according to Mr. Batra.