GOVERNMENT ORGANISED CARNAGE [Sarkari Qatl-e-Aam]
MISHRA COMMISSION REPORT AN ANALYSIS
Several independent reports of inquiry into the anti-Sikh violence shortly after the events, established the role of the Congress party in the violence. These reports also confirmed that the violence was systematically planned and organized. Prominent among the independent reports was, Who are the Guilty? by two human rights groups, the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). The other groups who pressurized the then Congress(I) government at the centre to set up a government commission of inquiry, included, Citizens for Democracy (CFD). Citizens’ Justice Committee (CJC), Citizens’ United Forum and Anti-Communal Forum. The judicial commission set up by the government was headed by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, namely, Justice Ranga Nath Mishra. The Mishra Commission report was tabled in parliament on February 23, 1987. Following is an analysis of the report:
The Mishra Commission of Inquiry was set up on April 26, 1985 under section 3 of the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952. To begin with, the Commission was assigned to probe the anti-Sikh violence in Delhi alone. Later, after Mr. Rajiv Gandhi signed a peace accord with Sikh religious leader Harchand Singh Longowal, the Commission’s scope of Inquiry was expanded to include a probe into the violence at Kanpur, Bokaro and other places.
Although the setting up of the Commission was a welcome step, it was established after much ado and under pressure, first from the human rights groups and then the communal groups. But for the pressure, it might never have been set up, which does not speak well for the intentions of the Rajiv Gandhi government. This, in itself, is a point disfavouring the validity of the subsequent inquiry.
Prior to the establishment of Mishra Commission, the government had set up at least ten commissions of inquiry to probe various incident of communal violence, prominent among them being, communal violence at Malagaon (1967), Ahmedabad (1967), Bhiwandi (1971) and Ahmedabad (1984). However, there is one essential difference between these commission and the Mishra Commission: They, unlike Mishra Commission, were set up almost immediately in the wake of violence. The government took six months to set up the Mishra Commission and it took the commission another three months to hold the first hearing (on July 29, 1985). The commission went off to sleep after the first sitting. Its second sitting was on September 2, 1985. On September 11, the commission demanded that under section 5 of the Commission of Inquiry Act, it should be assisted by an agency to aid its task, a demand that was ignored by the government. On November 5, the commission, in a strongly worded letter, repeated its demand. This means a gap of a full twelve months before the Commission could start its probe. The Commission took ten months to write its report and submitted it to the government in August, 1986. The government sat on the report for another six months and tabled it in parliament only in February, 1997.
The second point to note about the features of the Commission is the purpose and scope of inquiry. All the other commission for probing communal violence had to address the following main questions. The cause of violence and the actual event. The Mishra Commission, however, was asked to address one basic question, whether the violence in the wake of Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s assassination was organized (as alleged by several independent reports and witnesses). From this, it is evident that the Commission’s role was limited to investigating whether of not the anti-Sikh violence was planned and organized. In other words, its purpose was not to probe the cause of violence or to find out the guilty, which speaks volumes for the futility of its establishment.
The daily-delay tactics in the setting up of the Commission and its limited purpose and scope, by themselves, could its credibility. Even within the limited scope of inquiry, the commission could not have done a fair job because PUDR and PUCL, the two independent committees that probed the anti-Sikh violence and reached the conclusion that the violence had been organized, were not allowed to participate in its proceedings. Similarly, Citizen’s Justice Committee (CJS), which played a crucial role in the relief work for the families of the victims, was not given enough opportunity to present its version to the Commission. PUDR and PUCL, which dissociated themselves from the official inquiry, did so on two main grounds: The proceedings should not be in-camera and the media should be allowed to report day to day on the proceedings, the said. Both the demands were, however, rejected and the two independent groups quit in dispute. This act of theirs was described as irresponsible by the Commission but the report did not mention that the Akali Dal and CJS had also declined to work with the Commission on similar grounds. The four groups enlisted by the Commission did not have the suitable credentials but they worked with the Commission from start to finish.
The way Justice Mishra conducted the inquiry also raises serious doubts about the credibility of his report. The commission received 2905 affidavits but it selected only 128 out of them as proof. Nobody knows what the selection criterion was. Later, it was discovered that the commission rejected many affidavits because they would have contradicted its findings, especially, those that related to the role of the Congress party leaders and workers. Eventually, even out of the 128 affidavits selected by the Commission, only 30 were the subject of investigation. The investigation was only limited to the proof submitted in the affidavits and no independent attempt was made to investigate any other aspect of the violence.
Many of those who were associated with the Commission complained that they were not shown the necessary documents and their questions and queries were scuttled, either on the grounds that they were unnecessary or that they were not in public interest. CJS has complained that the Commission did not even allow it to question the police and why it had not used force to stem the violence. The commission’s uniform reaction to such queries was that they were irrelevant and unnecessary.
The most serious complaint against the Commission relate to the statements made by witnesses and officials who were questioned. Only some of the many who wanted to testify were allowed to do so and even they were not allowed to give a complete picture. Again, many senior officials’ accounts were kept secret. The testimony of 11 officials before the Commission was treated in a separate category (separate from the witnesses testimony). This was not only arbitrary but clearly violated the provisions of the Act under which the Commission was set up. Because of such arbitrariness, the Commission’s inquiry was totally lop-sided and unfair. One of the most shocking aspects of the report is the fact that, out of the 2905 affidavits received by the commission, 2266 or 78 percent of them, have been listed in the listed in the category, affidavits against the riot affected. If the this does not underline the utter perversity of the Mishra Commission Report, noting else can.
The report is divided into two parts, the first, dealing with an account of the events, an examination of the affidavits, probe into the role of the police and the administration and, an analysis of the anti-Sikh violence in Delhi, Bokaro, Kanpur and Chans Tehsil. The second part lists the court cases relating to the violence, the rehabilitation schemes and programs of the government and an analysis of the affidavits.
Although, by the look of it, the report is methodically divided into various sections and sub-sections, a close study reveals the report to be very shoddy. There is no clarity, no method, no attention to facts or details and to make matters worse, the report rambles on and on, especially, with regard to the alleged role of the Congress leaders in the violence (all the while trying to clear them of involvement). The result is a messy report, full of repetitions and, at places, even contradictions.
The report quotes many writers and intellectuals, the quotes being either totally irrelevant and misplaced or reeking of sympathy with the killers rather than the killed. For instance, read the following statement in the report, quoting Adam Smith. It is in human nature to punish evil. Other thinkers and philosophers quoted in the report in include Karl Marx and Rabindranath Tagore. Had the Commission spent even half the time it did on quoting and writing utterly irrelevant things, on examining the affidavits, it may have served some purpose.
Besides, the report is full of language and factual errors and it seems that the Commission did not even gets its basic facts right. For instance, the report repeatedly refers to Delhi police DIGs (Deputy Inspector General) although in Delhi, the post of DIG was abolished in 1978. Another example of the Commission’s general knowledge is that the report refers to Delhi as the fastest growing city in the world. According to the census of the last four decades, out of the Indian cities with a population of over 25 lakhs (2.5 millions), the rate of growth of population in at least 20 cities exceeds Delhi’s rate of growth. Even among the metropolitan cities, Delhi is not the fastest growing city. In yet another instance of the Commission’s ignorance about basic facts, it is pertinent to point out that the Commission refers to the seventh five years plan as closed in 1985 whereas the plan ended in 1990.
According to the Commission, the violence began as a result of a sudden and spontaneous upsurge although later some anti-social forces took over the scene and carried it out in a planned way. The report says that the local police stations delayed informing their seniors and chiefs about the violence which is why the Police Commissioner and other wings of the government failed to contain or control the situation. It has held the Delhi police guilty of dereliction of duty but the administration the Congress party and government have been absolved of all responsibility for the violence.
Let us examine some of the main conclusions of the report:
The role of the anti-social elements and the Congress (I)
The reports says that the riots started spontaneously and the situation became uncontrollable because of the involvement of anti-social forces who went about indulging in violence in a very organized way. Even Satan follows a designs and this what the gangsters and anti-social forces did in carrying out the killing ……… The violence was not planned and organized by any political party but by criminal gangs whose numbers have alarmingly increased in Delhi. According to the report, the rise in the strength of criminal gangs is directly proportional to the rise in Delhi’s population, especially, the rise in the numbers of industrial labour force. Besides, crime incidence has increased in Delhi and there has not been a proportional increase in the strength of the Delhi police force. All these factors aided the anti-Sikh violence in the wake of Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination, according to the report.
The Commission’s bright views about Delhi’s population (it is the fastest growing city in the world) have already been examined. Now, let us find out whether its vies on the rise in the numbers of Industrial labour in Delhi is correct or not. According to official statistics, Delhi has reported the maximum increase and rate of growth in the population of service class, businessmen and traders. The Commission’s view that the increase in the Delhi police force numbers has not been proportional to the rate of increase in crime, is also incorrect. And, even presuming that both the observations, about the rise in industrial labour force and less than proportional (to the crime rate) rise in the police force of Delhi , are correct, what is so special about these features that should have led to anti-Sikh violence at such a large scale and for so many days in Delhi? These features can be attributed to any large city, even those, where Sikhs are in a majority. Why didn’t violence take place in those cities?
Apart from making such generalizations and basing its absorb conclusions on them, the Commission has not cared to define expressions like anti-social forces who, it says, were responsible for organized violence and, thousands others, who do not fall in the category of ‘anti socials’ who participated in the Violence. Many of them were regular members and supporters of the Congress (I) says the report. The Commission has not stated anywhere the difference between the anti socials and those who do not fall in this category. Nor has it specified which category the Congress members and supporters fall into and, yet, the Commission’s conclusion is that the Congress party was not responsible for the riots at any stage.
The Commission’s conclusions are based on statements by officials, including Lt. Governor PG Gavai and Deputy Commissioner R.P. Sethi (who is described as District Magistrate in the report) and half baked and arbitrarily-selected affidavits. In support of its conclusion that the Congress was not responsible for the violence, it says that had the Congress (I) engineered the riots no area under its rule would have been spared. Besides, the Congress leaders appeals for communal harmony and peace right after the riots also prove that the allegations against the party are baseless, says the report.
There are contradictions galore in the report. The report gives a clean chit to the Congress party and at the same time it holds 19 party members guilty, without giving their names. Out of those 19, six names are the same as those given by the PUDR and PUCL report. The reference to the 19 Congress members in the report seems to be based on a list provided by the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee (DGPC) in a written statement to the Commission. The DGPC gave two lists, one which refers to the 19 members mentioned in the report and another one listing 13 top leaders names. The Commission has apparently blacked out a mention of the second list given by the DGPC (obviously to suit its pre-conceived conclusions).
The Commission makes a special reference to the allegations levelled against former union minister HKL Bhagat for his involvement in the anti-Sikh violence. In the 30 affidavits which form the basis of the Commission’s report, not one carries the name of Bhagat and yet the report absolves Bhagat of any involvement for want of solid proof. The report also refers to the hundreds of counter affidavits (supporting Mr. Bhagat) it received. These affidavits in support of Mr. Bhagat imply that Mr. Bhagat and his supporters anticipated or were aware of the bias in the testimonies of witnesses. Besides, the Commission says, it also investigated the affidavits which named him but found the allegations against him baseless. Bhagat gets a clean chit first and then, in the second part of the report, which lists the 30 affidavits on which the conclusions are based, we do not find any allegation against him. From this, the readers can draw their own conclusions about the intentions and conclusions of the report. If there are no allegations against him, what is he being absolved of and why?
The main report also has the names of two Congress workers, namely, Dr. Ashok and Himmat Rai. They were named in affidavits no 2367 and 2706 but the Commission did not think that these affidavits merited an investigation.
Sajjan Kumar’s name finds no mention in the first part and, in the second he has been issued a clean certificate.
The role of the Congress, as analysed by the Commission, leads us to the following three conclusions, each more absurd and contradictory the other. Mr. Bhagat is not guilty (but these is no allegation against him!), Mr. Sajjan Kumar is not guilty (but did the Commission examine the allegations?) and the Congress party was not involved in the violence although 19 of its members find a mention in the report.
THE ROLE OF THE DELHI ADMINISTRATION AND CENTRAL GOVERNMENT.
The commission has not paid much attention to analysing the role of the Delhi administration and the Central Government. The Commission’s conclusion about their role is that for two days the Delhi administration and the central government did not come to know about the violence. It has already been pointed out that newspapers published front page news about a top level meeting at the prime minister’s residence on October 31. And yet, the Commission insists that the did not know about the situation. For Mr. Gavai, the Commission has special words of concern and sympathy because he had a serious heart attack before the riots and was supposed to have handed over charge to another person. The Commission states that Delhi needs an able, clever, resolute, visionary and sensitive administrator. Mr. Gavai, who had a heart attack before the riots and was apparently unable to do anything on account of his bad health, retired soon after and joined the Congress party (he left it to join the BJP some time ago but is back in the Congress now).
According to the Commission, the delay in calling the army was caused because the police headquarters did not get the requisite information from their junior officers on time. The Commission sounds upset with the Lt. Governor and the Police Commissioner for this.
The Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) has also been a given a clean chit although it is an open secret that the bus services were in full operation during the carnage, having been used to transport the killers and their weapons. The Commission, even while observing that some DTC men were instructed not to tell anybody where and how the buses were used, does not think they are guilty.
If there is one organ of the state against whom the Commission has made any criticism, it is the Delhi police. But here too it blames the junior officers for serious neglect of their duties while the seniors have been partially absolved on the plea that they could not gauge the gravity of the situation (because of the delay in getting information from their subordinates).
The Commission says that some uniformed cops indulged in looting and violence but their number was quite small. It is possible that there was nexus between the police and anti-social elements at some places, it adds. The most important question, whether the police was under any political pressure, was not addressed properly by the Commission. The report says that the Commission asked many police officers whether they were under any political pressure but they all denied this. The report say that this question was addressed so pointedly that, had there been any truth in the allegation (that the police were under political pressure), it would have become evident. It does not take long for us to find evidence of the Commission’s strict inquiry into this question. A Deputy Commissioner R.P. Sethi, (who is referred to as Deputy Magistrate in the report); was asked by the commission whether the police deliberately neglect its duty. Mr. Sethi’s reply was, I do not think that the police openly indulged in violence nor do I think that they were an under any political pressure. The commission asked Mr. Sethi to explain what he meant by pressure. I meant pressure from the local political leaders but in the absence of any concrete proof I cannot say the source of the pressure. However, it would be correct to say that the police did not do its duty. I just felt that there was some pressure that prevented them from doing their duty. In my view, had the police gauged the situation on October 31 and sought assistance from the army, it could have prevented the violence. The Commission agrees with Mr.Sethi.
According to an observation made in the report, the police always sides with the ruling class, which is a gift of British imperialism in India… The police, according to the conclusions reached by the report, is mainly responsible for the violence but, the most important question, whether the police neglected its duty wilfully and under pressure of directions from the political powers-that-be, has been left untouched.
SUGGESTIONS TO SUCH VIOLENCE
In part two, sub-section two, the report suggest ways to prevent such violence in the future. Some of the general suggestions are: The number of police station and police personnel should be increased and police training centres, which would breed ideal care-takers of the country’s law and order, should be opened. Voluntary organizations, which played a major role in the relief work after the killings, should be encouraged and aided by the government, it says.
This suggestion reeks of double speak considering that Commission itself contemptuously sidelined two of the major voluntary group, PUDH and PUCL, who could have lent it valuable support in its inquiry into the violence.
School children should be given religious education to promote nationalism, brotherhood and self-sacrifice and, finally, the mass media, especially, the electronic media, should recast its programmes and policies in a patriotic mould.
Apart from such recommendations of a very general nature, the report also lists some specific recommendations. Compensation for the victims’ families should be raised from 10,000 rupees to 20,000 rupees, the government should give them employment, recommendations which were accepted by the government but it must be pointed out that the relief recommended by the Commission falls pathetically short of what some independent agencies recommended.
According to official statistics, revised time and again, the number of those killed in the riots, rages from 101 to 2307. The Commission notes that the constantly changing stand of the administration about the number of those killed does not bode well for its seriousness in dealing with the relief work and recommends that clear and proper investigation be done into this aspect. Surprisingly, the government assigned this task to the home secretary whose negligence in the first place led to the confusion in the official figures about the killings.
The most glaring example of the Commission’s malafide and motivated investigation into the violence is that, despite PUDR and PUCL cautioning it against revealing the names of the witnesses who testified against political bigwigs, the commission published their names and addresses while blacking out the names of those alleged to have been involved in the violence.