Type to search

1984 Pogrom




Sikh religion, born as a sword-arm of Hinduism, gave a rare gift to every believing Sikh-a pride and joy in his or her religious identity, rooted in the belief that they were born to fight oppression and to defend the underdog. This is the psychology which attracted Sikhs in large numbers to the defence forces. While such beliefs took care of the community at a spiritual and essential level, the flourishing agricultural economy of Punjab, armoured the community materially.

The anti-Sikh violence in November, 1984, however has changed everything for the entire community. Fear and echoes have replaced song and laughter for which the community was known until that cruel November.

The Congress party’s vicious role in planning and executing the anti-Sikh violence is a foregone conclusion but it would be worthwhile to examine the party’s nasty role in turning the mass psychology against Sikhs in the few years preceding the assassination of Mrs. Indira Gandhi.

The Punjab political problem, which saw the rise of Sikh militancy and an unprecedented form of state terrorism, is largely believed to be a creation of the Congress (I) party. It is an open secret that the Sikh militant leader, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwala, had the full backing of the Congress party which wanted to use him to crush its main political rival in Punjab, the Akali party. It is besides the point that Bhindranwala outsmarted Mrs. Gandhi.

The essence of the Akali Dal’s political programme, before militancy hijacked everything in Punjab, was, decentralisation and a reasonable balance of power between the centre and the states. The Congress party was never interested in addressing the issue, its sole interest being to finish the Akalis as a political force. The Congress policy of finishing its political rivals through hook of crook, is what saw the rise of militancy in Assam, where a students movement against the infiltration of foreigners into the state and their inclusion in the electoral lists (to serve as vote banks for the Congress (I) party), degenerated into an anti-national movement. The Congress party and government at the centre launched a systematic campaign against the Assam students movement leaders, accusing them of being anti-national and sectarian. In Andhra Pradesh, the Telugu Desam party too was dubbed as parochial and a threat to the nation’s unity. In Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah was removed as chief minister for having become an instrument of anti-national forces.

What the Congress government did to the Akalis political campaign for decentralisation is too well known to be repeated, it must be underlined here that it was the Congress which was solely responsible for converting a political campaign into a communal issue, which, eventually, threw the entire state into the arms of terrorism. And, let nobody forget that a majority of the terrorists were also the creation of the Congress party. In a nutshell, anybody who opposed the Congress party was dubbed as anti-national, such sentiments having come from forceful propaganda over the years based on slogans like this, Indira is India and India is Indira. The stranglehold of such beliefs over the party is evident from the fact that Rajiv Gandhi described the entire political opposition as anti-national in an election speech and campaigned all over the country against the Anandpur Sahib Resolution (the basis of the Akalis political campaign in the late 70s and 80s) as being an anti-national document.

It is the Congress which is responsible for throwing the state of Punjab, both the administration and the militant leaders, into the lap of terrorism. But for its devious policies, militancy would never have acquired the deadly face it did and ordinary Sikhs, who had nothing to do the politics, would not have acquired the image of terrorists.

Anybody who has followed the political moves of the party over the last two decades, knows that everytime the party saw its own political and electoral fortunes under threat, it raised the bogey of anti-national forces being at work in India although, it is an open secret that every secessionist movement in the country had the party’s backing. Not just this. Name any communal riot in the country which did not have participation of the Congress party, both direct and indirect.

Now, let us examine the Congress party’s cunning manipulation of nationalistic sentiments. The party seem to be suffering from paranoia about a threat to India’s unity. Around every election this paranoia gets heightened. Its refrain of a threat to national unity is almost sickening. Why is the party constantly harping on this tune? To keep itself alive? Or to divide people on communal lines?

If by being secular it can do what it did to the Sikhs, can we imagine the harm that it can do when its declare mask comes off? In November 1984 the Sikhs were used as guinea pigs in a new electoral experiment, to woo the majority community votes. The killing of Mrs. Gandhi instantly united the Hindus of India behind the Congress. It was to unite the Hindus and to stoke their communal sentiments that the conspiracy behind the massacre of Sikhs was aimed, an aim in which the party had an astounding success. It was this sentiment which helped the party win the biggest ever mandate in the 1984 general elections. Rajiv Gandhi got the mandate not even his grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru (a true secularist), could get. Who knows whom the party will use next.

Besides, by raising the bogey of a threat to national unity and security, the Congress has succeeded in keeping national attention away from crucial issues- poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and other basic problems of the population. It is this assiduously-raised bogey of the Congress which clouded the minds of the intelligentsia during those death-filled days. Earlier, the intelligentsia failed in its responsibility to correct the image of Sikhs, as projected by the official propaganda machinery. It just kept lapping up all that it was fed by the ruling party. The end result was that even during those days of grotesque anti-Sikh violence, its view was blinkers. Instead of playing a constructive role to contain the violence, it added fuel to the fire. For example, the late Girilal Jain, then the editor of Times of India, wrote a front page editorial on November 2, 1994. The editorial reminded the readers about how terrorist killings were cried out in Punjab and went on the say that the events preceding that day (the anti-Sikh violence) should serve as an eye-opener to the Sikhs and their political leadership, the Akali Dal. In other words, Sikhs, who were being massacred could still take some moral lessons from the violence. The editorial echoed the same sentiments that the leaders of the Congress had employed to get the community butchered. Similarly, many other intellectuals have contributed to the smear campaign against Sikhs.

Former editor of Navbharat Times, Mr. Rajendra Mathur and that of Jan Satta, Mr. Prabhash Joshi, for instance, have been harping on the following tune in their writing: The fanatic nature of the Sikh political leadership and the resultant anti-national character; the failure of ordinary Sikhs to resist terrorism because of their natural sympathy being with Khalistanis and terrorists and the role of the Akalis in the political turmoil that faced Punjab for over a decade and the threat to national unity because of their politics. These writer also advocated hard measures to put down the Sikh leadership.

Such examples are enough to prove the role played by the opinion makers, especially in the mass media, in shaping the psyche of the anti-Sikh mobs. And against this backdrop, it would not be far-fetched to state that a very strong section of the national media was as instrumental in the anti-Sikh violence as were members of the government. Don’t we all accept that the mind that plots a crime is deadlier than the hand that executes it?

How deadly secularism can be, we saw for ourselves in the first week of November, 1984. Sikhs are the enemies of India, they are all Khalistanis (just as Muslims are all Pakistanis). This belief took such roots in the mind of the majority that they could turn a blind eye to savage killings right under their noses. By looking the other way, the majority community lent an implicit support to the anti-Sikh violence and the reason behind it was the carefully cultivated hostility against the Sikhs in the mass mind. While it is true that the police, the administration and the Congress party members were involved in the violence right from start to finish, had the Hindus at large come out in sizeable numbers to counter the mobs, it would never have happened. Even the help lent by individual Hindus made a big difference in saving the lives of thousands of Sikhs. Collectively, the Hindus could have saved many thousands more.

Another factor that seems to have played a big role in the anti-Sikh violence is jealousy. A predominant part of the community lives in Punjab, which, with its fertile land, has made its people economically much more forward than the rest of the country. The prosperous state of the Sikh community apparently played a significant role in arousing violence. There are hundreds of people who took part in the violence, lured by the booty that could be had from the shops and houses of Sikhs. Of course, the mobs could not distinguish between the prosperous and the poor Sikhs because there was no time or mind for making such distinctions. So, they took a pot-shot at every Sikh.

To conclude, I would way that this new chapter in the history of free India, written in the blood of Sikhs, born to be the defenders of Hinduism (a role they performed with aplomb) is the biggest blotch on our nation. It is not the material poverty line under which lie the living dead of India that should shame us as mush as the poverty line of humanity under which the whole nation lives. The genocide of 5,000 Sikhs and the subsequent callousness with which the whole system has treated the issue exposes, like nothing else, the utter mental and spiritual poverty of the Indian people.


Leave a Comment