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Updated: October 31, 2009 23:35 IST

Manmohan a balm, but anger still lingers in Sikhs

Anita Joshua
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Victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots raise slogans during a demonstration in front of the Karkardooma Court in New Delhi on Saturday. Photo: PTI
Victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots raise slogans during a demonstration in front of the Karkardooma Court in New Delhi on Saturday. Photo: PTI

Twenty five years ago today, the streets of the capital were ablaze as well-armed mobs, with the evident backing of the police and ruling Congress party, exacted a bloody revenge on Delhi’s Sikh community for the assassination of Indira Gandhi by two of her bodyguards.

By the time the powers-that-be decided to restore order, some 4,000 innocent men, women and children had been hunted down and killed.

Two-and-a-half decades later, the system has been relatively generous in handing out cash as compensation for the victims’ families. But of the redemptive currency closest to the hearts of the country’s proud Sikh community -- justice -- there has been precious little.

While the rest of the country has moved on to newer tribulations and tragedies, the absence of justice for the victims of November 1984 has been like a raw wound for most Sikhs.

Unable to have closure the proper way, many in the community have grudgingly seen in the Congress party’s decision to pick Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister a symbolic making of amends. “As a signalling device, it was a useful one for the Congress to have Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister; whatever be the circumstances of his elevation to that office,” said editor of Seminar, Tejbir Singh.

“Somewhere, the fact that a Sikh has become Prime Minister a far-fetched possibility given that the community accounts for only 1.9 per cent of the country’s population -- indicates that there is no underlying community discrimination.”

More so now than in 2004. That the Congress decided to project Dr. Singh as its prime ministerial candidate for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections is seen as an affirmation of confidence in his leadership.

“It has been like a balm on the community,” admits H.S. Phoolka, the lawyer who has been pursuing the carnage cases in court. At the same time, he points to the selective amnesia in the Congress on the issue of the party’s complicity in the Sikh carnage.

“The Congress wants us to forget it; view it as an aberration. When they made Manmohan Singh Prime Minister, they stepped up this rhetoric; saying, ‘forget it now at least we have apologised and now made your man the Prime Minister. Our answer has been that the apology came 21 years late and under the Indian legal system an apology is not a substitute for punishment for murder. We want justice.”

Ever in denial mode, the Congress insists the Sikhs have moved on since 1984 and made peace with the party; having elected it to power in Punjab in between. “We are sensitive to the sentiments of Sikhs which is why we dropped Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler when there were protests from within the community against their candidature for the Lok Sabha elections,” is the Congress refrain.

However, for Tejbir Singh, these protests particularly, the incident involving journalist Jarnail Singh throwing a shoe at Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram are evidence that the issue is easy to rekindle.

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