In a massive step towards justice over the horrific 1984 anti-Sikh riots, Congress man Sajjan Kumar's earlier acquittal by a trial court was reversed on Monday as he was held guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the violence. Following this, the community and political leaders' focus has turned towards others from the party who were alleged to have been involved, notably Kamal Nath who is scheduled to be sworn in as Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister later on the day.
Kumar's conviction was pronounced in an emotional hearing in the Delhi High Court, with counsels breaking into tears after the judges were unsparing in calling the massacre of over 3000 people following the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi 'a crime against humanity'.
The judges held five persons guilty in the verdict, namely Sajjan Kumar, Ex-MLA Mahender Yadav, Ex-councillor Balwant Khokhar, Ex-Navy officer Baghmal, and Kishan Khokhar, ordering them to surrender. The judges also made a damning remark over how Sajjan Kumar and others managed to evade the arms of justice for 34 years, saying:
"In the summer of 1947, during partition, several people were massacred. 37 years later Delhi was the witness of a similar tragedy. The accused enjoyed political patronage and escaped trial", the judges said.
While clearly welcoming the conviction, a number of leaders and members of the Sikh community, including the Akali Dal, have also sought similar action against other Congress leaders who were allegedly involved, with union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal saying: "Out of the three, one is in prison, and the other is being sworn in as Chief Minister" - the latter a clear reference to Kamal Nath who has been embroiled in a furore over his alleged role in the 1984 riots, following the announcement that he will be the CM of Madhya Pradesh.
Harsimrat Kaur Badal added, "Congress is promoting these people whom Rajiv Gandhi used as his right-hand men. Kamal Nath was there. He ordered the killing and the Congress is still promoting them and backing them up."
She concluded, "I couldn't be more thankful to the courts. But PM Modi is the only PM who had the guts to go against the Gandhi family."
That other Congress leaders were involved in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots was something that had been conceded by party president Rahul Gandhi in an interview to Arnab Goswami in 2014, the transcript of which went as follows:
Arnab Goswami: Would you apologise for the 1984 riots? Were Congressmen involved?
Rahul Gandhi: Some Congressmen probably were involved
Arnab Goswami: You admit some Congressmen probably were involved?
Rahul Gandhi: Some Congressmen have been punished for it
However, speaking to UK-based parliamentarians during an interaction in London earlier this year, Rahul Gandhi had committed a U-turn.
He was asked: "When we speak about 1984, we speak about the criminal involvement of the Congress party in over 3000 murders in Delhi alone over which there's been no move to deliver justice since then."
To this, the Congress president called the anti-Sikh riots a "tragedy" and a "painful experience" and replied,
"You say the Congress party was involved. I don't agree with that."
Following the above remark, the BJP, in its tweet citing Rahul Gandhi's admission in the interview to Arnab Goswami, had also included what is infamously believed to be former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's response to the unmitigated violence that was unleashed following his mother's assassination at the hands of two of her guards, when he said: "When a big tree falls, the Earth shakes."
Aside from what Harsimrat Kaur Badal said, BJP's Tajinder Singh Bagga has been leading a hunger-strike against Kamal Nath's appointment as Madhya Pradesh CM, listing allegations in a poster that has been widely shared:
Speaking to Republic TV, former Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal said, "Kamal Nath ko Chief Minister banana acchi baat nahi hai." (Making Kamal Nath Chief Minister is not a good thing)
In an exclusive statement to Republic TV, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley also cited Kamal Nath's elevation to CM to substantiate his view that the Congress had given only lip-sympathy over the mob violence: "Effectively, after 1984 they gave tickets to those involved, some became parliamentarians -- made them ministers. It comes on a day when one of them is being sworn in as CM."
While speaking to Arnab Goswami in 2014, Rahul Gandhi had taken refuge in the fact that he wasn't active in politics as a member of the Congress during 1984. The question now arises whether he can claim the same this time around given that he is currently the Congress president and has hand-picked Kamal Nath to be Chief Minister?