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Updated: April 22, 2011 05:32 IST

Manmohan Singh's apology for anti-Sikh riots a ‘Gandhian moment of moral clarity,' says 2005 cable

Hasan Suroor
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TWO DECADES LATER: A victim of the riots at a 2005 demonstration in New Delhi. Photo: Sandeep Saxena
The Hindu TWO DECADES LATER: A victim of the riots at a 2005 demonstration in New Delhi. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's public apology for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots is hailed in an American diplomatic cable as a “singular act of political courage'' and an “almost Gandhian moment of moral clarity in India's long march to religious harmony.”

The violence in northern India, primarily in Delhi, targeting members of the Sikh community broke out following Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination on October 31, 1984.

Writing on August 12, 2005 (38469: unclassified), Robert O'Blake, Deputy Chief of Mission at the American Embassy in New Delhi, noted that Dr. Singh had done “what no Indian leader in 20 years has been willing to do.”

“The PM's singular act of political courage stands in exquisite contrast to the opportunism and hatred directed by senior GOI officials against Sikhs in 1984. The PM's act of statesmanship will raise his already strong reputation as a representative of the nation's highest Gandhian ideals,” he said, adding that the apology “pre-empted BJP's efforts to capitalize on the (Nanavati Commission) report, which named two high-profile Congress leaders as conspirators in the riots.”

The cable, accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, said the Congress party's “swift action'' against Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar in the wake of the commission's report “raised questions about the fate of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi if a similar commission investigating the 2002 Gujarat riots finds his government at fault.''

In his apology in Parliament on August 12, 2005, Dr. Manmohan Singh said: “I have no hesitation in apologizing to the Sikh community. I apologize not only to the Sikh community, but to the whole Indian nation because what took place in 1984 is the negation of the concept of nationhood enshrined in our Constitution.”

The cable, describing the riots as “one of the saddest and darkest moments in recent Indian history,” said: “The PM apology and forced resignation of a minister with long ties to the Gandhi family has surprised Indians who only expected the worst of their politicians. The PM's singular act of political courage will be long-remembered as a momentous — almost Gandhian — moment of moral clarity in India's long march to religious harmony.”

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)

USA atleast found Osama and brought him to justice for killing thousands but people who were responsible in murdering thousands of innocent sikh men women and children are still not brought to justice. Is this the justice in India ? it is shame that your own leaders you put in the office to protect you will participate in killing spree

from:  Lakhee
Posted on: May 6, 2011 at 07:55 IST

No doubt PM had made an courageous act by apologizing to the sikh community but an apology cannot relieve the pain and anguish of the people who have suffered in the riot.The riot victims needed justice, they wanted the culprits of riot to be punished severely.

from:  Sumit
Posted on: Apr 24, 2011 at 09:48 IST

I must appreciate Dr. Singh to have made such a statement. However Apology is not enough sir. And why you, you are not even involved...and on whose behalf? There is something called "Justice". I can think of you as a good and courageous Prime Minister if you go against your own Party and take actions to help bring the guilty to justice. Please do so...statements do not make a leader great..their acts make them a leader at least.

from:  Krunal Gandhi
Posted on: Apr 24, 2011 at 00:44 IST

An apology by a Sikh Prime Minister is not equal to providing justice for those widows, who lost their husbands, children and suffered rape at the hands of mad Hindus under the protection of state machinery. What Sikhs want is to punish the guilty. Mr. PM cannot just whitewash what was done to the innocent Sikhs by saying the the country's lagal system is slow or has faults like systems in other parts of the world. This was a planned genocide of the Sikhs by Congress functionaries and Hindu mob and these people are still protected by the Congress. The PM of India should be commended for what he has done for the progress of the country but no brownie points from the Sikhs (I mean the non-congress Sikhs) until he punishes the guilty and the sikhs will not rest until it is done.

from:  DSB
Posted on: Apr 23, 2011 at 08:40 IST

An apology that does not bring with it a movement towards bringing justice to those responsible for these massacres of an organized manner, also better known as 'Pogroms' is simply irrelevant. The countless thousands of dead Sikhs and the families they left behind don't need apologies; they need action. They want reassurance that these organized massacres will not happen again.

from:  Deep Hundal
Posted on: Apr 23, 2011 at 00:40 IST

I was a kid when 84 happened, still remember the joy of school being closed,what more you can expect from a kid. But now after 27 years, I feel shame inside me because injustice was done to a lot of people very few have raised their voices. PM apology is similar to what Mahabharat Bhisham's apology to Draupadi molestation in raj darbar. Do people of integrity just have apologies not courage to do justice or protect those who are weak ? Isn't it shame that we have Tytlers / Sajjan kumar's and Modi's still out in open. Apology is alright but more is needed.

from:  Lalit
Posted on: Apr 22, 2011 at 19:16 IST

I take exception to Mr. Rahman's inclusion of Nellie with Ayodhya and Gujarat. It is correct to state the Ayodhya and Gujarat were acts of religious violence, and justice to the Muslim community in terms of not only an apology but restituition is an imperative. However, it is a stretch to include Nellie in the same bracket. First, Nellie was not about religion though the victims happened to be Muslims. It was a tribal reaction to Bengali interlopers who had made the former a minority in their own territory. Secondly, the Muslims were by and large Bangladeshis, not even Indian citizens, who should have gone back after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 in the first place. It is more appropriate to blame the corrupt governments of Assam that exploited vote bank politics and suppressed Assamese tribals till the reaction was explosive.

from:  Parag Vohra
Posted on: Apr 22, 2011 at 18:40 IST

Forgiving someone for thier trespasses or misdeeds or wrong actions is the hardest thing that can be done. PM Manmohan Singh is a proud Sikh and great human being to have come forward and apologise for the crimes committed by his own party men. Will this same thing can ever happen for Muslims? Is there any noble man from Hindutva cadre to apologize for the riots after Babri Masjid demolition or Gujarat or any other fateful incident that has dawned upon hapless Muslims in India?

from:  Roeas
Posted on: Apr 22, 2011 at 17:07 IST

Our PM has mastered the act of play-acting be it on corruption, foreign policy or the apology as printed. If he had any sense of shame and self respect he would have divorced himself from the Congress party immediately after the latter's dastardly act on innocent Sikhs in 1984. Instead, he chose to faithfully serve the same family whose head's unholy remarks about the ground shaking when a big tree falls legalised this massacre. He overlooked the fact that he too is a Sikh. This so called apology is nothing but an ex post facto sanction for the gruesome murders perpetrated on his clansmen.

from:  JK Dutt
Posted on: Apr 22, 2011 at 13:28 IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's appolgy doesnt mean ANYTHING to the Sikh community. No Jatt Sikh in Punjab or any other nation in the world feels any type of closure or confort form the simply 'sorry'. However the Bhapas of Delhi seem to love Mr.Singh (and ironically it was all their women in riots that were being gangraped in the 84 genocide). Shame on this so called Sikh, they Bhapas may forgive and vote the same people again and again, and dance when India wins the Cricket games, the Sikh Jatts will not.

from:  Hari Singh
Posted on: Apr 22, 2011 at 13:11 IST

It was An organized killing of the Sikhs. Even women and children were not spared by Congress. Police not fired even a single bullet to save Sikhs!! when Congress criminals organizing killings of Sikhs, Rajive Gandhi's statement further instigated the criminals to kill Sikhs. What is the use of apology,it is a lip service!!Even after decades not even a single criminal has been punished!

from:  C S Sundaresha
Posted on: Apr 22, 2011 at 12:28 IST

Mr.Singh himself belonging to the same community offering apology, is not a big thing at all. Can Mr.Singh now tender a sincere apology to the nation for his inability to prevent the monumental 2G scam from taking place despite the fact that he was in the know of the things?

from:  R Venkat
Posted on: Apr 22, 2011 at 11:36 IST

Will an apology by the Prime Minister two decades after the massacre of Sikhs allegedly by his own partymen wipe off the stain on his party's reputation? The 'PM's singular act of political courage' might have been praised by the US diplomat;but would any US diplomat have praised Narendra Modi if he had apologised for the killings during the Gujarat riots? Americans clearly know which side the toast is buttered!

from:  K.Vijayakumar
Posted on: Apr 22, 2011 at 08:31 IST

Everyone knows this. Certainly he was held in high esteem. But what transformed him to his present state of low esteem in the public eyes on account of his inaction and silence over scams, remains a mystery.

from:  G.Naryanaswamy
Posted on: Apr 22, 2011 at 07:09 IST

I feel extremely sorry for what happened to the Sikhs in 1984 and happy to see the prime Minister's apology issued in 2005 which was long overdue. Owing to the strength of Indian democracy, finally a Sikh could become the PM and hence, and the community got the justice. However, this makes one wonder when will be the day for Muslims who have repeatedly been on the receiving end of heinous communal crimes. Will we have to wait for a Muslim to become the Prime Minister of India to accept the injustice that has been done against the Muslims in Nellie (1983), in Ayodhya (1992), and in Gujarat (2002)? It took twenty years for the Sikhs to get justice, but how long it will take for the Muslims to get theirs?

from:  Shahidur Rashid Talukdar
Posted on: Apr 22, 2011 at 06:42 IST

I am really proud of the Prime Minister Mr.Manmohansingh.To call him as the architect of modern India will be an understatement.Coming forward to accept the failings of the erstwile Govt and to set the reconciliation in motion shows his Gandhian side of moral clarity.May God give him long life to make this country prosper in every area including social justice

from:  Kirubakaran
Posted on: Apr 22, 2011 at 06:37 IST
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