"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

Rahul Gandhi needs to apologise for the misdeeds of his father and grandmother to win confidence of the nation Featured


Gurpreet Singh


The humiliating defeat of the opposition Congress party in the recent parliamentary election in India comes close to the 35th anniversary of state sponsored repression of minority Sikh community.

The party has bagged only 52 seats out of the total 543 in the parliament. 

This was despite the fact that Congress claims to be a secular alternative to the ruling right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) under which attacks on religious minorities, especially Muslims and Christians have grown sharply. So much so, the anti–incumbency factor didn’t work either, and as a result, the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi got re-elected with a brute majority, taking 303 seats, more than the 282 it won in the 2014 election.

Even though this election was seen as a referendum on the future of secular India, with the BJP bent upon turning the country into a Hindu theocracy, the Congress party led by Rahul Gandhi failed to sell its image as a credible secular alternative.

Modi described the tag of secularism carried by Congress party as fake. 

Though I strongly dislike Modi for his sectarian politics, I agree with him 100 percent when he called the secularism of Congress party a sham.

It was exactly 35 years ago in 1984, when the Congress as the governing party targeted the Sikh community to polarize the Hindu majority to win the impending general election. 

The then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi – the grandmother of Rahul Gandhi - was locked in a conflict with the moderate Sikh leadership of Punjab that was seeking extra rights for the community and their home state. However, Indira Gandhi remained adamant and never tried to resolve these issues with honesty. This resulted in the emergence of a parallel Sikh extremist movement that believed in an armed resistance. The situation was allowed to go out of hand, following which Indira Gandhi ordered the military invasion of the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest Sikh shrine, in Amritsar in June, 1984. 

The ill-conceived army operation was avoidable, and aimed at dealing with handful of militants. Instead, it left many innocent worshipers dead and highest temporal seat of the Sikh faith – the Akal Takhat Sahib - heavily destroyed. This had alienated the Sikhs from the mainstream.

On October 31, 1984 Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards at her official residence in New Delhi. Following the high profile murder, innocent Sikhs were killed all across India by the mobs led by Congress party activists. Indira’s son Rajiv Gandhi, who was later appointed as the Prime Minister, was complicit in the pogroms. He had gone to the extent of justifying the anti-Sikh massacre as a natural reaction to the death of a popular leader, whereas it was a state sponsored genocide. 

The Congress won 404 seats out of 514 in the election that followed the Sikh massacre. Notably, the BJP won only two seats in the house, since the Congress was able to attract the Hindu vote bank of BJP. This had vindicated the Sikh leadership, which complained that the army invasion was planned to win the election and nothing else by scapegoating the community. 

This whole episode set a precedent for majoritarian democracy, under which minorities are targeted with impunity to win elections by polarizing the dominant group. 

Modi used a similar strategy in Gujarat in 2002. Before becoming the Prime Minister, he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, which saw the worst anti—Muslim pogrom. The massacre followed the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. More than 50 people died in the incident that was blamed by Modi on Islamic extremists. Shortly after that, the BJP supporters organized mass murders of Muslims all over the state. Subsequently, Modi won the assembly election with a huge mandate. 

Modi’s ascendance to power cannot be delinked from the ugly events of 1984. Ironically, Modi had repeatedly raised the issue of 1984 during the election to embarrass Congress, whereas the BJP workers were also involved in the anti-Sikh massacre.

Today what is happening to all other minority communities under Modi is the culmination of the Sikh genocide of 1984, which marked the beginning of an era of impunity and the death of the idea of India that is based on diversity and pluralism. 

It is pertinent to mention that Modi and his party openly played the religious card during the election campaign and also fielded candidates involved in hate crimes and hate speeches against Muslims and Christians. It is a separate matter that they had the moderate Sikh leadership of Punjab on their side. This particular group cannot go along with Congress because of its baggage of 1984. Even otherwise, Hindu nationalists consider Sikhs as part of Hindu fold, a theory that is strongly contested by many Sikh activists. 

Unfortunately, the Congress lacks genuine remorse for what it did in 1984. Except making some symbolic moves such as appointing the first Sikh Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, the Congress party never came out clean on this issue. Interestingly, Singh had made a vague apology for 1984, but never acknowledged the involvement of Congress party or his colleagues in the massacre. That itself was a mockery of repentance. Several months before the recent general election, the Congress appointed Kamal Nath, a senior leader involved in the 1984 massacre as the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. During the general election, one of the senior leaders, Sam Pitroda said what happened happened in reference to 1984. It is high time that Rahul Gandhi own up moral responsibility for the massacre and apologise for the actions of his beloved dad and grandma.

It is important to mention here that a Sikh separatist leader Simranjeet Singh Mann – who had resigned as a police officer in protest against the army invasion of the Golden Temple - has set a great example by apologizing for the action of his grandfather, who was the custodian of Akal Takhat during British rule.

Aroor Singh had presented a robe of honour to a general responsible for Jallianwala Bagh massacre. On April 13, 1919 British troops fired on a peaceful gathering of demonstrators who had gathered in protest against the arrests of the leaders of freedom struggle, at Jallianwala Bagh public park located near the Golden Temple. Close to 1,000 people died in the incident.

I still remember having confronted Mann as a journalist during a press conference in Punjab almost two decades ago, asking what he thinks of the action of his grandfather, to which he categorically said that it was a wrong thing to do and later apologized for it.

If Mann can do so despite his grandfather not being directly responsible for the massacre, why can’t Rahul Gandhi do the same? He should learn something from a person like Mann, who despite being a separatist had courtesy to make an apology for someone who betrayed the national movement. 

More than an apology, the Congress needs to do soul searching on its commitment towards secularism. Merely criticising Modi and BJP for being outright sectarian is not going to work. You have to really prove that your words match with your deeds. 




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