The acquittal of Congress leader Sajjan Kumar in a 1984 riot case extinguishes every glimmer of hope for substantial justice to the Sikh victims of the bloody pogrom that took place in the nation’s capital in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The judge found three men guilty of murder and two of rioting, but was not convinced that Mr. Kumar had instigated the riots. The verdict is bound to reinforce the view that politically well-connected persons will continue to evade the law, helped as they are by an excruciatingly slow judicial process, manipulated investigations and shoddy prosecutions. The positive feature of Judge J.R. Aryan’s 129-page verdict is that it recognises the value of the testimony of the first prosecution witness Jagdish Kaur despite 28 years having elapsed since her husband, son and three cousins were killed in the Raj Nagar area of Delhi Cantonment. However, her credibility, according to the court, is limited to her account of these five deaths and does not extend to her claim that she had seen Mr. Kumar, then the local MP, addressing a crowd of supporters, while she was on her way to the police station on the morning of November 2, 1984. And two other witnesses who sought to corroborate her version, also failed to convince the trial judge. It did not help matters that Ms Kaur, who testified about Mr. Kumar’s role before the Justice Nanavati Panel in 2000, had, presumably out of fear, omitted mention of the Congress leader in her submission to the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission soon after the massacres.

While appreciating the Central Bureau of Investigation for persisting with its charges against Mr. Kumar despite the complicity of sections of the Delhi police with the suspects in the early stages, one must fault the agency for limiting its charge sheet to simple oral testimony by witnesses that they had seen Mr. Kumar berating his supporters for not doing enough damage to the Sikhs and warning that even Hindus offering shelter to them must be killed and their houses burnt. Given the deliberate inaction on the part of the Delhi police and, in some cases, its active collaboration, the agency ought to have more diligently pursued a possible conspiracy angle. There is not a whisper in the testimony discussed in the verdict on the party affiliations of the rioters, or how the mob came to assemble in the area or the extent of planning and coordination behind the organised riots. Sadly, at no stage has any investigation seriously attempted to grapple with the vital element of political complicity, a curious omission since the thugs who wreaked murder and arson across the national capital for three days were only executing what someone in authority had deliberately willed. Until the time these instigators are identified and punished, 1984 will always haunt the conscience of India.