The Delhi high court sentenced former Congress leader Sajjan Kumar to life imprisonment for conspiring to commit murder, promoting enmity and for acts against communal harmony during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Even as Kumar approached the Supreme Court challenging the order, senior counsel H.S. Phoolka, who has been representing riot victims for over three decades, said that justice has finally been delivered. In an interview with Mint, Phoolka also spoke about the charges against Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath, and how the judgement is going to have an effect on future cases of mob violence. Edited excerpts:
What are your thoughts on the judgement?
It is a very good judgement and we are very satisfied with it. The court has come out very firmly on this trend of mass violence and killing of innocents. When the court talks about attacks on minorities, it does not only mean religious minorities. It does not have to be a particular group. It can be a caste minority. If an otherwise majority group (by religion or caste), which is in a minority in a particular place, is attacked, it will also be considered a minority group. That is what the court means. This is what has been happening in our country and it is on the rise. The court was pained to see this situation, and that clearly comes out in the judgement. And, there is a clear message that the country will not accept it.
Why do you see this as a landmark judgement?
The court has called for the legal system to be strengthened. It has said that we should not leave any loopholes for the police (to not act), because under political pressure, the police may not take up cases of mob violence. They may not take action. It should be made so tight that the police has to act as per the law and not as per the politicians. In that sense, it is a landmark judgement not just for the 1984 riots, but for all other cases of mob violence in the country. This will be taken forward in all other cases as well.
You have questioned the appointment of Kamal Nath as the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. Is there any clarity on his involvement in the 1984 riots?
The person is so powerful that he does not allow the wheels of justice to move. He has been scuttling the process till now. He was the first politician whose name appeared in the media. On 2 November 1984, there were news reports that Kamal Nath was leading the mob where two Sikhs were burnt alive and a gurdwara was burnt. The police, in its report, had mentioned that Kamal Nath was present there, but still there no case against Kamal Nath was registered.
Before the Nanavati Commission also there was evidence given that Kamal Nath was seen instigating the mob. On the basis of this evidence, he must admit that he was there, but he said that he was trying to stop the people from getting violent. If you were trying to stop people, then who were two people were burnt alive? They were there for two hours, but why were they not taken to the hospital. There was firing. In his presence, the gurdwara was burnt… What does it mean? The judgement of the Delhi high court by Justice Gabba, which convicted 88 people, clearly questions those people who were a part of the unlawful assembly. (It asked), why were they there? He (Kamal Nath) was there for two hours. What was he doing for two hours?
Do you think there was enough evidence against him?
100%. There was very strong evidence against him.
Do you think the recent judgement strengthens the case against Kamal Nath?
That’s true. This will strengthen the case against Kamal Nath. It will definitely boost the other cases. Not just cases of the 1984 riots, but also other cases of mass violence.
Are you planning to take up the case against Kamal Nath?
The gurdwara committee is looking into the complaint. I only do the legal work. I have asked them to file a complaint and I will help legally.
What is the way forward?
Sajjan Kumar has to be in jail now. It is a big lesson for all of those who have committed such crimes under the influence of power. It is a big warning, There is a clear message that one day law will catch up with them, and they will have to spend their old age in jails. They need to think about the steps they are taking for small political gains. It is a very big message.
The court made a comment on genocide. It said that genocide should be included in our laws. How do you see this?
The court is right. It should be included.
Soon after the judgement both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress raised allegations against each other. Do you think political parties are misusing the issue?
This is very unfortunate. The only debate is that who killed whom. Both need to be punished—1984 riots and 2002 riots. The only way forward is through Tihar Jail.
There have been delaying tactics by Sajjan Kumar and his lawyers. Do you think they will be successful in this?
That is the legal procedure. We never wanted him to be punished at a crossing and shot. We wanted the law (to act). He is entitled to go to the Supreme Court, but we will ask the SC to not entertain his petition. He is used to scuttling the process. But we will not let him get away with it. Now the whole country is there with us. We are not alone. Those days are gone when I was alone. Now crores are with me.
This judgement has come after three decades. How do you see this delay?
They were protected by the entire system. If you see the judgement and my arguments, which have been accepted by the court, there was a whole system which was there to shield him. It was the duty of the government and the administration to bring the guilty to book. Rather than that, the total system was working to shield them.
There have been various incidents of mass violence. Do you see such incidents ending?
If the guilty of 1984 had been punished, then Mumbai would not have seen what it did. We would not have seen Gujarat, and what we are seeing today. They are being rewarded. So this trend of killing minorities, winning elections and getting rewarded. This started from 1984. If they were punished then it would act as a deterrent. That is applicable even today. It is not that we are brooding over the past or it is only revenge we are talking about. We want punishment to act as a deterrent for the future. This will be applicable for all kinds of mass violence incidents. That’s right. It could be a model for future cases.
You have tried your hand in politics, but subsequently you resigned from the Punjab assembly as an Aam Aadmi Party member of legislative assembly (MLA) to focus on the 1984 riots. However, your resignation has not been accepted yet. What are your plans?
The speaker has not accepted my resignation. I have taken a step back from politics. I didn’t join politics for a long time thinking that it was not meant for people like me. I was a link between all the parties in the 1984 riots and it was my focus.