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1984 Sikh Massacres: Need More Than an Apology


The Times of India, Aug. 13, 2005

Photo: 1984 Sikh Massacres

The prime minister has done the right thing by apologising to the nation in Parliament for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. His well-crafted speech was rich in emotion and promise. He now needs to deliver on his promise of justice to victims of the riots if the emotion is not to be construed as a hollow political tactic. The Congress needs to walk the extra mile to enable Manmohan Singh in his endeavour. This 'search for truth' has to be not just the prime minister's but of the entire political spectrum. The nation needs apologies, and much more, if the scars of the riots are to heal.

There are enough reasons for sceptics to worry if the sentiments expressed by the Congress leadership in the last few days go beyond addressing the immediate political moment. The A.T.R. [Action Taken Report] on the Nanavati commission's report approved by the Union cabinet and submitted in Parliament had glossed over most of Justice Nanavati's remarks. The moral outrage in the media and the threat of U.P.A. allies to vote against the government pressurised the Congress to look at the commission's report anew. The party had begun rethinking its position on the '84 riots in the 90s itself. Sonia Gandhi's apology to the Sikhs went a long way in bridging the gap between the Congress and the community. But the sentiment was hardly reflected in the party's preference for politicians like Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar who were indicted by victims as instigators of violence. The A.T.R. prepared by the home ministry only raised doubts about the government's commitment to justice.

The challenge before Manmohan is enormous. Free India's history is a history of failed promises. Riot after riot has challenged the idea of a secular and democratic India. Institutions meant to protect constitutional guarantees of political and social freedoms have been trampled upon repeatedly by the mainstream political class. Delhi '84 and Gujarat '02 are evidences of the collapse of the state. Such memories erode the belief of the people in the Indian state and democracy. Justice to the victims of the anti-Sikh riots can go a long way to restore the confidence of the people not just in the state but in the political class as well. Which is why Manmohan can't afford to fail. Commitment to justice has to be a fundamental character of Indian democracy.