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What about the big fish?

The Nanavati Commission describes the riots as an organised carnage but falls short of indicting the political organisers. The government uses this as an escape route. Ajmer Singh reports

Will This Wound Ever Heal? Sikhs protesting against the Nanavati Commission report
 
The report says that
instructions were issued
to kill Sikhs and loot
their houses and shops
Nineteen Eighty Four. 2,733 killed, murdered, burnt alive. Yet, twenty years on, the needle of suspicion still swings like a lost pendulum. Nine commissions of inquiry over, the government tables the latest report — which took five years to coMPlete — on the very very last day, till it could keep it under the wraps no longer.

Now that the Justice Nanavati Commission report is finally out, a cover-up operation has been launched to protect the perpetrators of this organised carnage. And, what has been tabled is a much-diluted report — leaving the old wounds unhealed. A majority of senior Congress leaders have been let off — even those held guilty with credible evidence. These leaders are conveniently taking shelter in the “probable involvement” clause of the report.

The Nanavati Commission report and the Action Taken Report (ATR), placed before Parliament earlier this week, have opened up a Pandora’s box with both the Opposition and the Sikhs rejecting the report. Justice Nanavati has given a clean chit to former Prime Minister late Rajiv Gandhi and the then Home Minister late Narasimha Rao. It has also gone soft on senior leaders like Kamal Nath, Vasant Sathe and HKL Bhagat. But Jagdish Tytler, Dharam Dass Shastri and Sajjan Kumar have been recommended for further investigations.

This, despite the fact that Nanavati has described the riots as an “organised carnage” in his own report. He states that the mobs came in vehicles and in some cases even in dtc buses. That they came armed with weapons and inflammable materials like kerosene, petrol and white powder. That there was evidence to show that meetings were held to organise attacks and instructions were issued to kill Sikhs and loot their houses and shops. That the attacks were systematic and without fear of the police. That he male members of the community were taken out of their houses, beaten and burnt alive in a systematic manner. That tyres were put around their necks and were set on fire by pouring kerosene or petrol over them. That what had initially started off as an angry outburst became an organised carnage.

Not surprisingly then, the commission has come in for much criticism for its selective amnesia. A case in point is of Union Minister Kamal Nath. In a case of mob violence at Rakabgunj, si Hoshiar Singh stands indicted by Nanavati for not taking effective steps to protect the gurudwara. However, Nath who was leading the same mob has been let off, for lack of evidence. Nanavati states: “It is a clear case of dereliction of duty on part of Hoshiar Singh and appropriate action has been recommended against him.”

An iMPortant witness, Mukhtiar Singh, states in his affidavit that Hoshiar Singh instigated the mob to enter Gurudwara Rakabgunj and handed over his service revolver/pistol to one of the rioters to fire at the devotees. “When the mob further mounted and again attack (sic) at the gurudwara … mob came with a big force along with some of the Congress (i) leaders, workers etc, of whom I can recognise some leaders like Kamal Nath and Vasant Sathe. On the instructions of the said Congress (i) leaders, police fired several rounds at Gurudwara Rakabgunj.”

Kamal Nath, who has been let off, defends himself thus in his affidavit: “In the afternoon of November 1, 1984, on receiving information that some violence was taking place in and around Rakabgunj, I as a senior and responsible leader of the Congress party decided to go there. I tried to find out why they had gathered there and why they were agitated. I was told that some Hindu men and women were kept inside the gurudwara forcibly, and that was the main reason they were agitated. By that time the police commissioner came there. I felt satisfied that the police would be able to control the situation and left the place.” Justice Nanavati states in his report: “In the absence of better evidence it is not possible for the commission to say that he (Kamal Nath) had in any manner instigated the mob or that he was involved in the attack on the Rakabgunj. Mukhtiar Singh, Ajit Singh were quite far away from the place where Kamal Nath stood and they could not have heard anything that Kamal Nath told to the mob.”

Meanwhile, the Union government, while refusing to initiate any action against Jagdish Tytler, states in the ATR: “The Nanavati Commission has stated that ‘very probably’ he had a hand in organising the attacks on Sikhs. It is clear from this observation that the commission itself was not absolutely sure about his involvement in such attacks. It may be pointed out that in criminal cases, a person cannot be prosecuted siMPly on the basis of ‘probability…in the context of judicial verdicts on the incidents mentioned in the report, any further action will not be justified’.”

Feeling the Heat: Justice Nanavati
Interestingly, the government ignored the first few lines of the Nanavati Commission report, which reads: “The commission considers it safe to record that there is credible evidence against Jagdish Tytler.” Justice Nanavati recommended that the government look into this aspect and take further action.

More damaging is the observation, which refers to the affidavit filed by one Surinder Singh, another witness, who states: “The mob which attacked Gurudwara Rakabgunj was led by Jagdish Tytler who was then Congress (i) MP of the area. Jagdish Tytler had incited the mob to burn the gurudwara and kill the Sikhs. One Badal Singh was also burnt alive.”

Surinder Singh further states: “Tytler contacted me on November 10, 1984 and asked me to sign on two papers.” Tytler, in his defence, then referred to a subsequent affidavit wherein the witness, Surinder Singh, withdrew his allegations.

Taking serious note of this, Justice Nanavati states: “He (Surinder Singh) has given evidence before this commission and therefore what he has stated in his affidavit referred to by Jagdish Tytler is not of much value. What appears from all this is that the subsequent affidavit was probably obtained by persuasion or under pressure. If this witness had really not seen Tytler in the mob or if he was not approached by Tytler then he would not have come before the commission to give evidence, or would have told the commission that the attack did not take place in that manner. For speaking the truth it was not necessary for him to wait till February 5, 2002 and file an additional affidavit.”

The ATR again ignored the iMPortant testimony of Jasbir Singh, another witness, as also stated in the report. Jasbir Singh states: “On November 3, 1984... he had seen Tytler coming there in a car. He rebuked the persons who were standing there that his instructions were not faithfully carried out and therefore his position was greatly coMPromised and lowered in the eyes of the Central leaders.”

Jasbir Singh further states that Tytler told persons gathered there that “there was only nominal killing in his constituency coMPared to East Delhi, Outer Delhi and Cantonment areas, and it would be difficult for him to stake claim in future that he has promised large-scale killings of Sikhs.”

One of the witnesses, Govind Narayan, who had assisted the Citizens’ Committee, also states that the committee had been told about HKL Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler’s role in the anti-Sikh riots.

About the involvement of former Congress MP late Dharam Dass Shastri, the report states: “There is credible evidence against him. He had instigated his men, Tek Chand Sharma and Rajinder Singh, to organise attacks on Sikhs.” One Bua Singh, a witness, states that Dharam Dass Shastri had told Rajinder Singh to get more persons and kill Sikhs. Harvinder Singh, a witness, also states that Shastri told the mob to kill Sikhs and loot them.

According to the report, Shastri condemned the police for arresting the rioters by saying they could not be treated as criminals. The commission recommended examination of relevant material and also further investigations against Shastri. The ATR shows no action against Tek Chand Sharma and Rajinder Singh as they had been already by convicted by the additional sessions court. The ATR ruled out any action against Shastri on the ground that he has not been named as an accused in most of the cases. But the government said it would examine the factual position.

The Nanavati report has severely indicted Congress MP Sajjan Kumar and recommended examination of cases where witnesses have accused him and yet no chargesheets were filed. The cases were terminated as untraced. The cases are registered at Mongolpuri, Sultanpuri and Delhi Cantonment police stations.

One Jagdish Kaur, a witness, and a number of persons had also filed affidavits that Sajjan Kumar had incited mobs and the commission said there was credible material against Sajjan Kumar and one Balwan Khokhar. Shockingly, the ATR states that Sajjan Kumar has not been named as an accused and there is no justification in reopening some of the cases.

Justice Nanavati blames former Lt Governor PG Gavai for not being able to maintain law and order in Delhi. “He cannot escape responsibility for its failure”, the report says. Gavai, however, told Tehelka, “I have been made a scapegoat. What force does a lieutenant governor have? Does he have a rifle or a baton?” (see interview)

About the role of the then Police Commissioner SC Tandon, the report states: “There was a colossal failure of law and order and as head of the police force, he has to be held responsible for the failure. The ATR states that Gavai and Tandon were removed after the riots and further action is being examined in consultation with the law ministry.” The ATR is, however, silent on any action against senior police officers whose names have figured for their controversial role during the riots.

The beneficiaries of Justice Nanavati’s largesse have been former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the then Home Minister Narasimha Rao. According to the report, it was suggested that Rajiv Gandhi had told one of his officials that Sikhs should be taught a lesson. But the commission found no substance in that allegation.

“The evidence was found to be very vague and it is also not believable that Rajiv Gandhi would have said this to an official. The evidence suggests that Rajiv Gandhi had shown much concern and issued an appeal for remaining calm and maintaining communal harmony,” says the commission report. Justice Nanavati, also did not take cognisance of Rajiv Gandhi’s infamous statement, “When a big tree falls the earth shakes”. The report also exonerates Rao of any blame for delay or indifference despite the fact that a number of persons had approached Rao for action.

The commission also did not recommend any action against HKL Bhagat in view of his physical and mental condition. The commission, however, observes that Congress leaders and workers had directly or indirectly taken part in rioting incidents in East Delhi. Leaders who have been repeatedly named include, HKL Bhagat, Shyam Singh Tyagi and Bhoop Singh Tyagi. The commission has surprisingly shied away from recommending action against any of the culprits, including police officers of this area.

 

Aug 20 , 2005
 
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