Time for genuine closure

Over the past few weeks, two traumatic events – the military attack on the Golden Temple in June 1984, code named Operation Blue Star, and the shameful pogrom of Sikhs in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination in October 1984 – have begun to receive extensive coverage in the media. As usual, a long list of high profile individuals – including those who were close to the then corridors of power –  have joined the debate, and have been airing their views on 9 o’clock shows of various English news channels.

It was Rahul Gandhi’s interview to a prominent TV news channel, last week, that once again brought the spotlight on the Sikh genocide. Documents released by the UK government, under the 30-year declassification rule which alluded to British SAS commanders having advised the Indian government with regard to Operation Blue star, has raised the hackles in New Delhi of Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike – albeit for different reasons. While members of the Sikh community, not just the Shiromani Akali Dal, who for long have argued that the operation was well planned and not just a last resort, feel vindicated. Many in the strategic community are questioning, why a foreign government had to be involved in India’s domestic politics.

For opposition parties, especially the BJP, these revelations in the UK could not have come at a more opportune moment, since the already beleaguered Congress-led alliance in New Delhi has been further put on the back foot.

It is unfortunate, however, that rather than attempting to provide a closure to both events, the focus is still on trivial issues. Apart from the BJP, the Shiromani Akali Dal, which claims to be the representative of the Sikhs, has smelt blood, and is trying to milk this issue for political gains in the forthcoming elections. The Congress itself has not given any clarification on the operation, while senior military officers who led the attack have vehemently denied British involvement, and claim that they performed as per the orders they received from the government of the day. The tragic chapter of June 1984, which led to the loss of so many innocent lives on a pious occasion – the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev – will never truly close, as it is etched in the mind of not just every Sikh, in fact  all right thinking citizens of this country. A more mature, humane and sensitive approach, bereft of petty politics and false nationalism, may provide some sort of healing.

If one were to look at the 1984 massacre of Sikhs, any discussion ultimately leads to a Congress vs BJP slug fest. While the BJP tries to deflect criticism for its poor handling of the equally gory Gujarat riots.

The Congress Party is quick to defend its top leadership of the time, and underline how a distinguished Sikh has led a Congress government for 10 years. It would be naïve to assume that the appointment of Manmohan Singh has not softened the Sikhs attitude towards the Congress. Yet, it would be equally naïve to assume that the appointment of one individual has in anyway impacted the psyche of the victims of the tragic events of 1984. Similarly, while many BJP leaders lash out at the Congress for the killings of Sikhs, nothing concrete was achieved while the BJP led NDA government was in power for six years. The BJP would also do well, to realise that the inability of the central and state governments in 2002, to prevent violence in Gujarat can not be justified by pointing to Congress’ involvement in 1984. No rational Indian would fall for this disingenuous argument.

It is time that instances of religious violence or ethnic cleansing, including that of Kashmiri pandits, are dealt with seriously, and concrete measures are undertaken to provide not just economic compensation, but also a closure.

Addressing the grievances of all communities which have suffered, including Hindus, will ensure that the debate does not get embroiled in majority-minority debates. Genuine reconciliation for communities which have suffered is not a favour, but right as citizens of a diverse society and vibrant democracy.

The author is a New Delhi-based analyst
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