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Blood On Their Hands

A fearless expose of state complicity and whitewash in our very own Orwellian saga: the riots of '84
When A Tree Shook Delhi—The 1984 Carnage And Its Aftermath
By Manoj Mitta By H.S. Phoolka
Roli Books Pages: 288; Rs. 395
There’s no count of the books, films and plays based on that unspeakable perversion, the Holocaust. As against that, this is the first book to be written in 23 years on the 1984 mass murder of the Sikhs in the nation’s capital. So much for how we react to the holocausts in our midst!

American anthropologist and poet Loren Eisley aptly described the human aberration which results in deliberate mass murders: "(Men)...kill for shadowy ideas more ferociously than other creatures kill for food, then, in a generation or less, forget what bloody dream had so oppressed him."

The ’84 killings too were mercilessly planned and executed by the state, with a breathtaking disregard for governance and constitutional rights. After this bloodbath, the state and its partners-in-crime preferred to forget the bloody drama they had enacted.

Are the lives of innocent men, women and children of so little consequence to politicians and men in public office that they can be brutally murdered en masse in the country’s capital for over four days before an effort is made to stop the killings? Does it then have to take over 22 years and 10 inquiry commissions to book the guilty for the chilling inhumanity against the Sikhs who, since the 1700s, have shed more blood for their motherland than any other people?

Even if this book is 20 years too late, it is an authentic and invaluable record of the squalid moves that led to the savagery of ’84. It provides proof of the government’s eyewash of appointing commissions and inquiry committees. The government’s lack of integrity can be judged by the appointment of a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Ranganath Misra, in May 1985. He submitted his report in August 1986. It created no waves—nor was it expected to. The grateful government later appointed him India’s chief justice, and after retirement, the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission. He also got a six-year term in the Rajya Sabha.

About the other heavyweights of the Congress government, the authors say: "In reality, the political careers of Bhagat and Tytler, far from suffering on account of ‘the taint of 1984’, blossomed as if they had been rewarded for engineering the violence. Having won the ’84 election under the shadow of the carnage, Rajiv Gandhi immediately promoted Bhagat to the rank of cabinet minister, and inducted Tytler into the government for the first time as minister of state. Both remained in the Rajiv Gandhi government till the end of its tenure in 1989."

How did India’s "free press" conduct itself during that critical period? Despite Rajiv Gandhi’s benevolent acceptance of Bhagat’s and Tytler’s misdeeds, here’s how Shekhar Gupta, at present the editor-in-chief of the Indian Express, reported it: "The Congressmen whose names surfaced, or were even popularly mentioned in connection with the killings, all paid the price. Political careers of H.K.L. Bhagat, Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar never recovered from the taint of 1984 although no one was ever convicted." Now try and reconcile this with the previous paragraph.

It’s worth mentioning here that five senior police officials (P.N. Rosha, D.K. Aggarwal, N.K. Shinghal, P.S. Bawa, V.N. Rai) met the PM on June 1, 2005, and made a presentation to him on the 1984 killings and recurrent riots. Men of proven integrity and wide experience, they suggested specific steps to prevent people from facing the darkness of ’84. They felt there was no communal riot which could not be put down within a few hours. And if it isn’t, it is obvious that the police "cannot sustain firm deterrent action at variance with the political stance of the government". Their presentation emphatically said: "We feel the time has come for all political parties to realise the dangers inherent in allowing mob violence to terrorise sections of society and to silence the voices they don’t like. Each such episode severely erodes the Rule of Law and the institutions meant to uphold the rights of citizens, and paves the way for fascist attitudes."

When a Tree Shook Delhi should pave the way for many such thoughtful books which forthrightly expose the elements which are increasingly taking over our political space.

(The author is a Sikh historian.)

OUTLOOK: 10 December, 2007
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