The Curious case of Justice Ranganath Misra who gave clean chit to Congress for 1984 Sikh massacre

Interestingly enough, Ranganath Misra's career shows an upward trajectory since the report was submitted in 1987.

Recently, senior Congress leader Sajjan Kumar was sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the 1984 Sikh genocide. The court made scathing observations when it said that Kumar enjoyed political patronage and there was a concerted effort to shield him.

The verdict, that was finally delivered after years, put the spotlight back on the ghastly 1984 anti-Sikh genocide. To make matters worse for the Congress party, it decided to elevate Kamal Nath, another leader who was suspected of being involved in the genocide, as the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh.

Post the assassination of Indira Gandhi, a massive organised genocide took place against the Sikhs which was spearheaded by Congress.

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After much public pressure, former Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi was forced to set up the one-member Justice Ranganath Misra Commission of Inquiry to probe the 1984 Sikh massacre. Justice Misra found 19 Congress workers guilty but gave the party a clean chit. He declared that “the riots which had a spontaneous origin later attained a channelised method at the hands of gangsters”.

Ranganath Misra’s report, absolving the Congress party of all guilt, came under heavy criticism. The Citizens Justice Committee (CJC), a body of lawyers and jurists, which was invited to assist the Commission withdrew from its hearings after criticizing its procedures severely in a report to Misra. The CJC claimed that witnesses were not being provided with any protection, they were being exposed to constant threats and intimidation and the aura of secrecy around its procedures made any independent evaluation impossible.

V.M. Tarkunde, a retired judge of the Bombay High Court, said, “We did not feel there was any point in our participating any more. This has been a one-sided investigation. We were never given a chance to participate in it as we had been promised.” The CJC’s petition also claimed that “not one officer from the government or the Delhi administration has been invited to step into the witness box.”

Gen. J.S. Aurora stated, “From the beginning, the terms of reference of the Commission were biased against the victims. The investigation did not go to the victims, the victims were forced to come to the investigation with the burden of proof on them.” The withdrawal of the CJC meant the removal of the only body that was representing the victims from the proceedings.

The book ‘When a Tree shook Delhi” written by senior editor Manoj Mitta and H.S. Phoolka, claims that the Ranganath Misra Commission presented a “diluted” version of events. It claims that “given the circumstances in which it was appointed, the Misra Commission faced a credibility crisis from its very birth. For almost six months, the government had blatantly stone-walled all demands for an inquiry into the carnage.”

Khushwant Singh wrote of the Commission, “‘Operation Whitewash’ had begun. Before Mishra was half-way through, the panel of lawyers representing victims of the Holocaust led by Soli Sorabjee expressed its lack of confidence in the learned judge’s impartiality and withdrew from the commission. Mishra went ahead and submitted his findings to the government. As expected, he held the Lt Governor and the police commissioner of Delhi guilty of dereliction of duty. It must have occurred to him that neither of the two could have acted the way they did without the instructions of higher-ups, including the prime minister or someone acting on his behalf or the home minister. I doubt if Mishra can look at his own face in a mirror.”

Interestingly enough, Ranganath Misra’s career shows an upward trajectory since the report was submitted in 1987. he became the Chief Justice of India on the 35th in September 1990 and served until the 24th of November next year. He was appointed the first chairman of the National Human Rights Commission. Eventually, He served as a Congress MP between 1998-2004. He was also awarded the chairmanship of the National Commission for religious and linguistic minorities and the National Commission for scheduled castes(SCs) and scheduled tribes(STs). Considering the fact that Congress leader Sajjan Kumar was recently convicted for his role in the massacre and the senior Misra’s political career, it appears the critics of the Ranganath Commission Report had good reason to believe that the Commission was merely hogwash.

Importantly, the Ranganath Commission report on religious and linguistic minorities recommended a 10 per cent reservation in government jobs for Muslims and another 5 per cent for other minorities and recommended that Scheduled Caste status be extended to all religions. Since the Supreme Court bars reservations above 50%, it was believed that religious reservations could be implemented by reducing the reservations for OBCs.

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