New Delhi: The Delhi high court on Monday sentenced Congress leader Sajjan Kumar to imprisonment for life for conspiracy to commit murder in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, promoting enmity and for acts against communal harmony. The court said the riots were a “crime against humanity".

Political parties including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Left parties welcomed the verdict. The BJP lashed out at the Congress as Kumar was a senior leader of the party, which was in power when the incident took place. Congress leaders said it should not be politicized and the law should take its own course. The leaders claimed that Kumar does not hold any official post in the party.

A bench of justices S. Muralidhar and Vinod Goel was hearing the appeals filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation, riots victims and the convicts who were challenging a trial court’s acquittal of Kumar in 2013.

The high court directed 73-year-old Kumar and other five convicts to surrender by 31 December 2018 and not to leave the city of Delhi.

The verdict came on the day Kamal Nath of the Congress took oath as Madhya Pradesh chief minister. Following the verdict, Nath also came under attack over his alleged involvement in the riots, which he denied.

BJP chief Amit Shah thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for setting up a special investigation team in 2015 to look into the pending cases.

“Victims of the 1984 riots had lost all hope of justice because those responsible for crime against them enjoyed political patronage of Congress leadership. Delhi high court’s conviction of Sajjan Kumar has once again assured the victims that the criminals of 1984 will not go scot-free," Shah said.

The verdict was also hailed by Congress leader and Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh.

“Welcome Sajjan Kumar’s conviction by Delhi HC. Justice has finally been delivered. Sajjan was named by victims who I met in refugee camps then and I’d always maintained he should be punished," said the chief minister.

The case relates to killing of five Sikhs in Raj Nagar area in south-west Delhi on 1 and 2 November 1984 and burning down of a gurdwara in the same area, in riots that broke out following the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 31 October of that year. Thousands of people were killed in the riots.

Six accused, including Sajjan Kumar, who was a member of Parliament at that time, were tried in 2010. Three years later the lower court had convicted five of the accused but acquitted Kumar of all the charges.

“Finally, the effort has been that cover ups are now defeated. Sajjan Kumar was a symbol of the anti-Sikh riots in 1984. People came one after the other and given evidence but so far the cover up had succeeded. Today finally the judiciary has intervened and he has been convicted," said finance minister Arun Jaitley.

“The legacy of the 1984 injustice hangs around the neck of both the Congress party and the Gandhi family which led the Congress all these years and ensured that no justice is done to the victims," he said.

The witnesses were represented by senior advocate and AAP leader H.S. Phoolka.

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