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1984 anti-Sikh pogrom: How Congress shielded and rewarded its leaders accused of leading violent mobs to target Sikhs

The Congress party is not only tainted with accusations of leading the genocide of Sikhs in the wake of former PM Indira Gandhi's assassination by her two Sikh bodyguards, but over the years, the party has also earned the dubious distinction of rewarding those accused of egregious charges during the anti-Sikh pogrom.

Even as Rahul Gandhi mouths off platitudes to reinforce his ‘love shop’ narrative about the otherwise rudderless mass contacting programme, Bharat Jodo Yatra, the Congress party’s decades-old policy of shielding and rewarding perpetrators of the anti-Sikh pogrom in 1984 belie the Gandhi scion’s rosy proclamations.

The Congress party is not only tainted with accusations of leading the genocide of Sikhs in the wake of former PM Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her two Sikh bodyguards, but over the years, the party has also earned the dubious distinction of rewarding those accused of egregious misconduct during the anti-Sikh pogrom.

The 1984 Anti-Sikh riots took place in the aftermath of the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Indira Gandhi was assassinated on 31st October 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards as revenge for Operation Blue Star. From 1st November to 4th November, Sikhs across the country were killed. The government figures suggest the angry mobs, many of which were led by Congress leaders, brutally murdered 3,350 Sikhs.

However, Congress not only shielded those who carried out the pogrom but also rewarded them. 

Sajjan Kumar

Sajjan Kumar was one of the many Congress leaders accused of involvement in the 1984 anti-Sikh massacre. Even after grave allegations against him, Congress rewarded him with a ticket to contest elections in 1991, which he subsequently won. He also won the 2004 general elections on the Congress ticket from the Outer Delhi seat with the highest-ever votes at 8,55,543 votes. A Sanjay Gandhi loyalist, he served as a Member of the Committee on Urban Development and Committee on Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme in 2005. 

In April 2013, Delhi’s Karkardooma district court acquitted him which led to widespread protests. In August 2013, an appeal was filed in Delhi High Court by CBI against his previous acquittal. He was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Delhi High Court on December 17, 2018. 

The ex-Congress MP was charged with the murder of a man and his son in west Delhi’s Saraswati Vihar. On November 1, 1984, a thousand-strong mob allegedly burned alive a father and son duo (Jaswant Singh and Tarun Deep Singh) in Raj Nagar, West Delhi. The prosecution had stated that the crowd burned alive the two men, as well as damaged, destroyed, looted, arson and inflicted severe injuries on their family members and relations, on Kumar’s incitement and abetment. While framing the charges, the court said that there was sufficient evidence on record to form a prima facie opinion that Sajjan Kumar was not only “a participant of the riotous mob but had also led it”. 

Sajjan Kumar was not the only loyalist of the Nehru-Gandhi family and Congress who was accused of leading the mob and running a riot. Another such leader was Jagdish Tytler, who continues to hold sway in the Congress party. The Nanavati Commission recorded the testimony of a witness namely, Jasbir Singh, who stated that on 3rd November 1984, he was passing by the TB hospital gate after taking dinner at the house of one Sucha Singh situated at Outram lane when he had seen Jagdish Tytler coming there in a car. 

Jagdish Tytler

Singh furthered that he heard Tytler “rebuked” the persons who were standing because his instructions were not faithfully carried out. Therefore his position was greatly compromised and lowered in the eyes of the central leaders. He has alleged to have further stated that there was only nominal killing in his constituency compared to East Delhi, Outer Delhi, and Cant. etc. and it would be difficult for him to stake a claim in future as he has promised large-scale killing of Sikhs. He had complained to those persons that they had betrayed him and let him down.

Despite the damning testimony against Tytler, the Congress party did not take punitive action against him. He remained a mainstay of the party’s Delhi unit, often attending meetings and weighing in on his opinions on matters of import.

Jagdish Tytler was subsequently given tickets to contest the election by the Indian National Congress and also made Union Minister of Civil Aviation first and then the labour department. He had contested the 2004 elections and won as well. He was dropped in the 2009 polls. 

In December 2022, Tytler was seen attending Congress Delhi Unit’s meeting over the preparations for the Bharat Jodo Yatra. He was also seen campaigning for the Congress party in the run-up to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) elections.

Kamal Nath

Another such high-profile Congress leader who has been accused of leading a mob has been Kamal Nath. 

Monish Sanjay Suri, witness No. 17, testified before the Nanavati Commission against the Congress leader and said how Nath turned a blind eye to a rioting mob. “He (Suri) stated that Kamal Nath tried to control the crowd and the crowd was looking at him for directions. He did not hear Kamal Nath giving any direction to the mob. He merely saw him speaking to different persons who were in the mob. He reiterated before the Commission that Kamal Nath did not make any attempt to control the situation near the Gurudwara,” the report noted. 

Witness No. 2 Mukhtiar Singh, who lived in the Gurdwara quarters, deposed that at around 4 pm, he saw a huge crowd of 4000 people led by Congress leader Kamal Nath. The Commission however said that Singh was standing quite a distance away from the Congress leader and that it wasn’t possible for him to overhear the conversation between Nath and the mob. As such, the report said that Singh’s inference was based on gestures made by Kamal Nath and thus not ‘conclusive’ evidence. Kamal Nath was never tried in court for his questionable role in the 1984 Sikh genocide.

However, like Tytler and Sajjan Kumar, Kamal Nath, too, was rewarded by the Congress party. He has held important positions in the party, including the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh under the Congress-led government in the state. Nath is also considered close to the Gandhi family and a close aide of Rahul Gandhi.

HKL Bhagat, Arjun Das, and Dharamdas Shastri

In 2018, former Congress leader and Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh named four Congress leaders, including Sajjan Kumar, for their alleged involvement in the 1984 anti-Sikh massacre. Singh named one HKL Bhagat, a veteran Congress leader who had served as the Deputy Mayor and Mayor of Delhi, the Chief Whip of DPCC, and as a six-time MP and Union minister for 22 years. 

His name was also mentioned in the Nanavati Commission report for his suspected role in whipping up anti-Sikh frenzy in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. However, the government at the time declined to prosecute him citing his ill health. He was acquitted by the courts citing a lack of evidence.

Captain Amarinder Singh also named Congress leader Arjun Das, who was accused of leading a riotous mob outside the AIIMS when the violence first broke out. He was also accused of attacking the cavalcade of Pres Giani Zail Singh. In September 1985, Das and his bodyguard were assassinated by Sikh terrorists. Rajiv Gandhi, the family friend of Das, had gone to the hospital to meet his family. 

Another Congress leader that reportedly had a role in instigating violence against Sikhs was MP Lalit Maken. As per a report published by Scroll, Lalit (Maken), Cong. (I) Trade Union Leader and Metropolitan Councillor, paid a mob Rs 100 each plus a bottle of liquor to engage in violence. A white Ambassador car reportedly belonging to him came 4 times to the GT Road area near Azadpur. The mobs were instructed to indulge in arson from inside the car, the report said. 

Amarinder Singh also named Dharamdas Shastri, a Congress MP from Karol Bagh, for his alleged involvement in inciting a mob against Sikhs. As per reports, Shastri allegedly provided the list of Sikh houses and shops with the electoral roll as the source during the pogrom. He is said to have pressurised the Karol Bagh PS SHO to release those arrested for the genocide and looting.

In addition to the said leaders, then-Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, justified the violence that took place in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. On 19th November 1984, while giving a speech in front of thousands of people, Gandhi said, “Jab bhi koi bada ped girta hai, to dharti thodi hilti hai.(When a big tree falls, the earth shakes.)”

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Amit Kelkar
Amit Kelkar
a Pune based IT professional with keen interest in politics

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