Recalling the terrifying pogrom of November 1984 that left thousands of Sikh men, women and children dead -- killed by Congress thugs
At 9.30 am on October 31, 1984, Mrs Indira Gandhi, iron-willed and iron-fisted Prime Minister of India, famously described by her aunt Vijayalakshmi Pandit as “the only man in her Cabinet”, was assassinated at her 1, Safdarjung Road residence. The assassins, both Sikhs, were Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, two of the guards who were meant to protect her. Satwant Singh was arrested; Beant Singh was shot dead by the other guards.
Satwant Singh later told investigators that he and Beant Singh had assassinated Mrs Gandhi to avenge the desecration of Harmandir Saheb and destruction of the Akal Takht in ‘Operation Bluestar’, the Army action of June 5-7, 1984. Mrs Gandhi had ordered the military operation to flush out Khalistani terrorists, including Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who had made the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar into their headquarters.
‘Operation Bluestar’ was a military success but a political disaster. The objective of ‘flushing out’ the Khalistanis was achieved, but at a huge price. According to the White Paper published by the Government of India, 493 people, including terrorists (200 in the Akal Takht alone), were killed. The official toll was far less than what foreign agencies and newspapers reported: 1,000. BBC journalist Mark Tully, in his book ‘Amritsar – Mrs Gandhi’s Last Battle’, placed the death toll at 2,093. Eyewitnesses said at least 8,000 were killed. The ‘White Paper’ said 83 soldiers had died in the three-day-long action. This figure, too, remains disputed.
The backlash was enormous, and beyond what had been anticipated, alienating the Sikh masses at home and abroad (Khalistanis in Canada plotted and executed the bombing of Emperor Kanishka, Air India’s Montreal-London-Delhi Flight 182, killing all 329 people aboard the aircraft on June 23, 1985) and fuelling the Khalistani movement which was finally crushed in the early-1990s, thanks to the then Punjab Police chief KPS Gill. But the restoration of peace in Punjab is another story. On January 6, 1989, Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh, who had been held guilty of conspiracy in the crime but pleaded his innocence till the end, were executed at Tihar Jail.
That, in brief, is the story of Mrs Gandhi’s assassination. But there’s a longer story to be told – that of what followed the deed.
Twenty-seven years is a long time. Public memory is notoriously short and it is unlikely those who have come of age in these 27 years would know of the terrible pogrom that left 4,733 Sikhs dead, most of them slaughtered in Delhi, retribution massacres carried out by Congress thugs led by Congress leaders, among them Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar.
It would, therefore, be in order to recall the chain of events lest we be persuaded to believe that nothing of consequence happened by a Prime Minister who spends sleepless nights worrying about a terror suspect held in distant Australia but blithely disowns responsibility for the shocking attempt to whitewash the crimes of his party and its 'leaders' committed against thousands at home.
So, here is the story of how thousands of Sikh men, women and children were slaughtered; in Delhi alone, 2,733 Sikhs were burned alive, butchered or beaten to death. Women were raped while their terrified families pleaded for mercy, little or none of which was shown by the Congress goons. In one of the numerous such incidents, a woman was gang-raped in front of her 17-year-old son; before leaving, the marauders torched the boy.
For three days and four nights the killing and pillaging continued without the police, the civil administration and the Union Government, which was then in direct charge of Delhi, lifting a finger in admonishment. The Congress was in power and could have prevented the violence, but the then Prime Minister, his Home Minister, indeed the entire Council of Ministers, twiddled their thumbs.
Even as stray dogs gorged on charred corpses and wailing women, clutching children too frightened to cry, fled mobs armed with iron rods, staves and gallons of kerosene, AIR and Doordarshan kept on broadcasting blood-curdling slogans like 'Khoon ka badla khoon se lenge' (We shall avenge blood with blood) raised by Congress workers grieving over their dear departed leader.
Mrs Gandhi was assassinated at 9.30 am, but her death was 'officially' confirmed at 6 pm, after due diligence had been exercised to ensure Rajiv Gandhi's succession. By then, reports of stray incidents of violence against Sikhs, including the stoning of President Zail Singh's car, had started trickling in at various police stations.
By the morning of November 1, hordes of men were on the rampage in south, east and west Delhi. They were armed with iron rods and carried old tyres and jerry cans filled with kerosene and petrol. Owners of petrol pumps and kerosene stores, beneficiaries of Congress largesse, provided petrol and kerosene free of cost. Some of the men went around on scooters and motorcycles, marking Sikh houses and business establishments with chalk for easy identification. They had been provided with electoral rolls to make their task easier.
By late afternoon that day, hundreds of taxis, trucks and shops owned by Sikhs had been set ablaze. By early evening, the murder, loot and rape began in right earnest. The worst butchery took place in Block 32 of Trilokpuri, a resettlement colony in east Delhi. The police either participated in the violence or merely watched from the sidelines.
Curfew was declared in south and central Delhi at 4 pm, and in east and west Delhi at 6 pm on November 1. But there was no attempt to enforce it. PV Narasimha Rao, the then Home Minister, remained unmoved by cries for help. In his affidavit to the Nanavati Commission of Inquiry, Lt-Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, decorated hero of the 1971 India-Pakistan war, said, "The Home Minister was grossly negligent in his approach, which clearly reflected his connivance with perpetrators of the heinous crimes being committed against the Sikhs."
The first deployment of the Army took place around 6 pm on November 1 in south and central Delhi, which were comparatively unaffected, but in the absence of navigators, which should have been provided by the police and the civil authorities, the jawans found themselves lost in unfamiliar roads and avenues.
The Army was deployed in east and west Delhi in the afternoon of November 2, more than 24 hours after the killings began. But, here, too, the jawans were at a loss because there were no navigators to show them the way through byzantine lanes.
In any event, there was little the Army could have done: Magistrates were 'not available' to give permission to fire on the mobs. This mandatory requirement was kept pending till Mrs Gandhi's funeral was over. By then, 1,026 Sikhs had been killed in east Delhi. Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar were among Congress 'leaders' who, witnesses said, incited and led mobs. Both deny the allegation, but the evidence is overwhelming.
A report on the pogrom, jointly prepared by the PUCL and PUDR and published under the title, Who Are the Guilty? names both of them along with others. The report quotes well-known journalist Sudip Mazumdar:
"The Police Commissioner, SC Tandon was briefing the Press (about 10 Indian reporters and five foreign journalists) in his office on November 6, at 5 pm. A reporter asked him to comment on the large number of complaints about local Congress MPs and lightweights trying to pressure the police to get their men released. The Police Commissioner totally denied the allegation… Just as he finished uttering these words, Jagdish Tytler, Congress MP from Sadar constituency, barged into the Police Commissioner's office along with three other followers and on the top of his voice demanded, 'What is this Mr Tandon? You still have not done what I asked you to do?' The reporters were amused, the Police Commissioner embarrassed. Tytler kept on shouting and a reporter asked the Police Commissioner to ask that 'shouting man' to wait outside since a Press conference was on. Tytler shouted at the reporter, 'This is more important.' The reporter told the Police Commissioner that if Tytler wanted to sit in the office he would be welcome, but a lot of questions regarding his involvement would also be asked and he was welcome to hear them. Tytler was fuming…"
The slaughter was not limited to Delhi, though. Sikhs were killed in Gurgaon, Kanpur, Bokaro, Indore and many other towns and cities in States ruled by the Congress. In a replay of the mayhem in Delhi, 26 Sikh soldiers were pulled out of trains and killed.
After quenching their thirst for blood, the mobs retreated to savour their 'revenge'. The flames died and the winter air blew away the stench of death. Rajiv Gandhi's Government issued a statement placing the death toll at 425!
Rajiv Gandhi had no qualms about justifying the carnage. "Some riots took place in the country following the murder of Indiraji," Rajiv Gandhi said on November 19, 1984, even as thousands of families grieved for their loved ones killed by Congress hoodlums, "We know the people were very angry and for a few days it seemed India had been shaken. But when a mighty tree falls, it is only natural that the earth around it does shake a little."
Some riots? Only natural? Shake a little?
Demands for a judicial inquiry were stonewalled by Rajiv Gandhi. Human rights organisations petitioned the courts; the Government said courts were not empowered to order inquiries. Meanwhile, Rajiv Gandhi dissolved the Lok Sabha and went for an early election, which the Congress swept by using the 'sympathy card' and launching a vitriolic hate campaign.
Once in office, Rajiv Gandhi was desperate for a breakthrough in Punjab. He mollycoddled Akali leader Sant Harchand Singh Longowal into agreeing to sign a peace accord with him. Sant Longowal listed a set of pre-conditions; one of them was the setting up of a judicial commission to inquire into the pogrom.
Thus was born the Ranganath Misra Commission of Inquiry, which took on the job of crafting a report that would suggest extra-terrestrials were to be blamed for whatever had happened. Worse, submissions and affidavits were passed on to those accused of leading the mobs; some of these documents were later recovered from the house of Sajjan Kumar. Gag orders were issued, preventing the Press from reporting in-camera proceedings of the Commission.
For full six months, Rajiv Gandhi refused to make public the Ranganath Misra Commission's report. When it was tabled in Parliament, the report was found to be an amazing travesty of the truth; neither were the guilty men of 1984 named, nor was responsibility fixed.
Subsequently, nine commissions and committees were set up to get to the truth, but they were either disbanded midway or not allowed access to documents and evidence. India had to wait for the report of the Nanavati Commission for an approximate version of the real story.
Justice Nanavati's report said, "The Commission considers it safe to record its finding that there is credible evidence against Jagdish Tytler to the effect that very probably he had a hand in organising attacks on Sikhs." This is not an indictment, Mr Manmohan Singh and his Government decided, so why bother about it? Four years later they remain unrepentant, their attitude remains unchanged.
Two thousand seven hundred and thirty-three men, women and children killed in Delhi, another 2,000 killed elsewhere, scores of women raped, property worth crores of rupees looted or sacked. Families devastated forever, survivors scarred for the rest of their lives.
But the Congress doesn't care!
(This is a revised version of my article which originally appeared in The Pioneer in 2009.)
Also read my article for Rediff, Light a candle for 4,733 Sikhs slaughtered by Congress hoods, for more details of the pogrom.