‘The government should realise that if such organisations are using this issue to further their separatist goals then why not address it properly, instead of giving it to them to exploit?’
A U.S. court has issued summons to Congress President Sonia Gandhi on a complaint by a radical Sikh group, “Sikhs for Justice” (SFJ), that is seeking compensatory and punitive damages from her for protecting prominent Congressmen allegedly involved in engineering the anti-Sikh riots of 1984. Harvinder Singh Phoolka, the lawyer who has single-handedly been pursuing these cases with a missionary zeal for the last 29 years, speaks to The Hindu on whether this is the right approach to be taken to bring the guilty to book. Excerpts:
“Sikhs for Justice” argues that Ms Sonia Gandhi is guilty of protecting those responsible for the 1984 riots. Do you agree?
She definitely is. As president of the Congress party, she has given people like Kamal Nath and Jagdish Tytler high positions in the government and party, despite there being serious allegations against them. She may not have been party president in 1984 but in subsequent years she has gone out of her way to ensure that these people escape the law.
Because the current campaign to ambush Congress leaders with civil suits on the 1984 riots in foreign courts is run by radical Sikh organisations, some feel that the issue should be ignored because those who are pursuing it have a larger separatist agenda.
I think it should be viewed in reverse. The government should realise that if such organisations are using this issue to further their separatist goals then why not address it properly, instead of giving it to them to exploit? To say the riot victims’ quest for justice somehow becomes less important because the SFJ has taken it up strongly is wrong. The government is providing these organisations with an opportunity to use it.
The strategy of the SFJ and some other expatriate Sikh organisations is to embarrass the Congress’s leaders internationally, when they go abroad. Do you think this is the right approach?
As far as the issue of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots is concerned, these leaders have become so thick-skinned that nothing affects them anymore. They are shamelessly protecting the guilty Congressmen. Therefore, they should be prepared to face this shame before the outside world.
How is the government shielding these people?
We have evidence to show that all these years there has been a massive cover-up to protect the guilty. Is it possible for a cover-up to happen without the knowledge of the party president?
What kind of cover-up?
Former Congress MP Sajjan Kumar is an accused in the murder of four Sikhs. The FIR was registered in 1987 in the Nangloi police station and after five years the charge sheet was prepared. Despite the ACP and IO saying that there is enough evidence against Sajjan Kumar to try him, this charge sheet has still not been filed in court.
When there was a hue and cry in the media, he was not given a ticket for the 2009 election but his brother was given one and he himself holds a powerful position in the party.
Take the case of Kamal Nath, a senior minister in her government. Despite media reports and affidavits given by eyewitnesses including one by a senior independent journalist now based in London, that Kamal Nath led a mob of rioters that burnt down Gurudwara Rakabganj, no case has been registered against him. What more evidence do you need to register a case?
That amounts to inaction by the police. Are you saying that Sonia Gandhi should have intervened in the police investigation?
She is responsible for the police’s inaction. It is her party that is running the government. The officer responsible for much of the cover-up is today a DCP in the Prime Minister’s Office. This issue has been raised three times in Parliament. How can she not know?
She could have ensured that the police did its job and at least filed the missing charge sheet against Sajjan Kumar. Twice the government gave a clean chit to Mr. Tytler and both times the court rejected it.
I will say that she is intervening to give these men powerful posts and positions. Let her come out and say that she gave them important positions without knowing about their deeds in 1984. She needs to protect these people because the entire Congress party was complicit at that time.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has apologised in Parliament for the 1984 riots. Has that assuaged hurt sentiments somehow?
If an apology is as good as a conviction by the courts, then I would ask the government to change the law. Justice for the 1984 riot victims is an issue of upholding the law of the land. The law states that a person who has been witnessed committing a murder needs to be charged and tried. If you do not want to uphold the law and want to protect the murderers, then why not change the law?
You have always pointed out the differences between how cases of Muslim victims of the Gujarat riots were dealt with and the cases of Sikhs killed in 1984. Did the Bharatiya Janata Party also let you down in pursuing these cases?
In Gujarat, where 1,100 people were killed, the Congress took up the riots issue with such conviction and zeal that it led to 130 convictions, 10 death sentences and the conviction of one minister, Maya Kodnani. In the 1984 cases, where 3,000 people were killed in Delhi alone there have been only 30 convictions so far and all are inconsequent[ial] persons.
The BJP supports and helps me on this issue but not with the same zeal as shown by the Congress for the Gujarat riots. The BJP has never adopted it as its own issue and sees it more as a Sikh issue. They expect that I should go to the Akali Dal for assistance. Most often, the BJP uses the 1984 riots to counter allegations on the Gujarat riots.
I am ready to collaborate with any party for this. Even if Sonia Gandhi says that she will ensure justice for these Sikhs, I will stand with her. I have also collaborated with the so-called radical SFJ to seek out witnesses. My association with them is limited to this issue. I am not concerned with their ideological stance.
Keywords: Sikhs for Justice, Sonia Gandhi, New York summons, 1984 anti-Sikh riots, U.S. laws, pro-Khalistan groups, political violence, Sajjan Kumar, Jagdish Tytler, Harvinder Singh Phoolka, anti-Sikh riots