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The Truth: Feeling and the Unfeeling

No politician has been punished for the obvious part they play in organising these outrages


No riot that lasts
beyond 24 hours is possible without
explicit political
It is a political fashion to set up commissions of inquiry whenever large-scale riots take place . This is a useful practice, since it provides opportunities of employment for superannuated judges, who then routinely express their gratitude, first by taking an inordinately long time to arrive at their ‘findings’, and then by submitting ambiguously worded reports that can lend themselves to convenient political interpretation, without necessitating any unequivocal course of action. These are immediately grabbed by opportunistic political parties who use them to beat up their opponents on a partisan political agenda that has nothing to do with securing justice.

Currently, the game is running somewhat in balance between the country’s two leading political formations. The Congress has selective leaks from the same Justice GT Nanavati’s Commission of Inquiry into the Gujarat riots, with which it periodically attempts to beat up the bjp; the bjp now has the learned Justice’s report on the Sikh pogrom to attack the Congress. But this is just shadow boxing. Nobody politically significant ever gets hurt. As for the families of those who were murdered, and the many who survive, maimed and scarred by the hideous violence, India has a long tradition of simply forgetting about these.

2,733 Sikhs were killed in the orchestrated massacres of 1984; and the Congress clearly has the ‘better score’ over the bjp here — the Gujarat riots had 1,044 dead, 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus. These are hideous blots on India’s record, a shame and a disgrace that can only partially be mitigated by bringing the guilty to the harshest justice. But the farcical nature of the ‘Commission of Inquiry’ into the riots is more than evident in the record. Nine such commissions have ‘investigated’ the 1984 riots till date, and at the end of this interminable process we have just eight convictions for this enormous and politically managed outrage. No politician has been punished for the obvious part so many played in organising these atrocities; no officials have been brought to book for their abject and manifest failure to do their sworn duty.

Unfortunately, this is anything but the exception. The Mumbai riots of 1993 had 1,788 dead — there are no convictions; the Bhagalpur riots had over a thousand dead — they have yielded just 10 convictions; the Meerut riots of 1987 had 350 dead — there have been no convictions. Even in the rare cases where convictions are secured, these are against inconsequential thugs. No politician has ever been convicted since Partition. It is, moreover, my very firm conviction that no major riot, indeed, no riot that lasts beyond 24 hours, is even possible without explicit political and administrative collusion.

Such a disgraceful record of injustice must make the blood boil, and it is only natural that many advocates and ‘expert’ votaries of the ‘root causes’ theory of terrorism would seize eagerly upon these examples to argue that it is such systemic inequities that feed the armies of terrorism. But this is arrant — though politically correct — nonsense and only demonstrates the enormous distance from the realities of the ground at which such ‘experts’ operate. The truth is, there is little correlation between the trajectory of terrorism and the incidence of such atrocities. Indeed, despite the enveloping anger of the Sikh community in the wake of the 1984 riots — anger, to which no Sikh, indeed, no civilised human being, could have been immune — there was no significant spike in terrorist recruitment. The greatest damage to the situation in Punjab was done by relatively ‘blunt’ and indiscriminate military operations, Operation Bluestar and the ‘mopping up’ Operation Woodrose that followed, which forced large numbers of young volunteers into the arms of welcoming Pakistani ‘handlers’ and carried violence to a new level. The 1984 riots may have created an occasional Surjit Singh Penta, but none of the prominent terrorist leaders in Punjab were drawn from families of the victims of 1984. A study by three professors of the Guru Nanak Dev University found that, in their survey of 323 terrorists, just one cited the Delhi riots as a motive. Of course, terrorist groups and the State sponsors of terrorism have always and eagerly sought to exploit riots to recruit cadres for their inhuman enterprise — this was certainly the case in the wake of the 1984 riots as it was, more recently, of the Gujarat riots. They have, however, been largely unsuccessful. They may whip up an occasional volunteer for the odd act of terrorism, causing some peripheral damage to the social fabric. But this has had little historical significance in the larger mobilisation strategy for terrorism, or in the complex causation that feeds movements of religious extremism. Such movements thrive more on an imagined or invented history of ‘grievances’ than on real injustices.

The reason why riots do not produce terrorists is simply because a majority of victims are unwilling to transform themselves into mirror images of their brutal tormentors. The victims of 1984 knew that, however real and extreme the wrongs, terrorism remained utterly irreconcilable with the tenets of their faith. This is the essential reason why terrorism eventually collapsed in Punjab — it was programmed to fail because it was the complete anti-thesis of everything Sikhism taught its followers.


Aug 20 , 2005
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