Home >Opinion >Columns >Opinion | Singh on ’84 riots: political move or harmless words?

When the sad event of 1984 took place, Gujralji on that very sad evening, went to the then home minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, and told him that the situation was so grave that it was necessary for the government to call the army at the earliest. If that advice had been heeded, perhaps the massacre that took place in 1984 could have been avoided." These are the words of former prime minister Manmohan Singh. He was speaking at an event held to mark the 100th birth anniversary of the late former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral.

Needless to say that this statement drew a strong response on social media and in the political circle. Questions were raised as to what was the need for this revelation? Now, when that tragic chapter has become part of our past, will its ghost not come out of the grave once again to haunt us after this statement? Some are even asking that why, after all, this time was chosen to say something like that? Assembly elections are due in Delhi in a few months. Won’t it cast a negative impact on the already stumbling Congress?

It can’t be denied that Narasimha Rao and Rajiv Gandhi have also become the target of this statement. The opponents, without losing any opportunity, have started saying considering that Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister back then, why should he not be blamed? Both Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao are not here anymore to answer these questions. Singh is considered to be one of the most serious and sincere leaders of this country. In a public life of more than half a century, he has never said anything lightly on public platforms. Here, we must remember the relationship between Rao and Singh. When in 1991, Rao became the prime minister quite accidentally, he made Singh the finance minister. Singh himself has said it publicly that he could initiate the revolution of economic liberalization in India only because he always had Rao’s support and advice at his side.

Earlier this year, when he was honoured with the ‘P.V. Narasimha Rao national leadership and lifetime achievement award’, Singh not only accepted it humbly, but also praised his ‘boss’ generously in that award ceremony. In such a scenario, what does this grave accusation prove?

Here, let me clearly say that I have never found faults in Singh’s intentions. Let me take you to December 2006 to clarify my point. We were going to Japan. As the air force plane took off from Delhi for Tokyo, the prime minister’s media advisor, Sanjaya Baru, walked up to me. He said “you have to meet the prime minister in a little while". When I met the then prime minister, I mentioned during our conversation that Punjab and Uttarakhand were going to vote for the assembly in coming days. “You are the first Sikh prime minister of the country and a section of the Sikh community doesn’t think favourably about the Congress, so wouldn’t it be good if you hold a public meeting in Amritsar, visit the Golden Temple and pray there? This will be good not only for politics, but also for India’s spirit of harmonious coexistence. You should also hold meetings in the Sikh majority areas of Uttarakhand." As was his habit, he remained quiet. There was no immediate response.

Back then, newspapers were publishing articles on how despite Manmohan Singh being the prime minister, Congress was not making use of his stature in election campaigns. However, our meeting ended in a little while and I went back to my seat. After some time, Baru came to me and patting my shoulder in a friendly manner, said: “You have increased my work. Boss has instructed me to chalk out a plan for Punjab and Uttarakhand visits." The intention of mentioning this incident is not that the then prime minister accepted my suggestions, but it made one thing clear—Manmohan Singh was quite aware of the sensitive issues facing India. Later, he not only visited Harmander Sahib, but also tried meaningfully to woo the Sikh mind through his words.

Before this, in 2005, too, during a debate in the Rajya Sabha, Singh, had said: “I have no hesitation in apologizing to the Sikh community. I apologize not only to the Sikh community, but to the whole Indian nation because what took place in 1984 is the negation of the concept of nationhood enshrined in our Constitution…On behalf of our government, on behalf of the entire people of this country, I bow my head in shame that such a thing took place." Now, whenever Operation Blue Star, or the atrocities on the Sikh community, are discussed in Indian history, the noble intentions of the Sikh prime minister will also be mentioned. The question is despite being sensitive and compassionate to the Sikhs and despite having immense respect for Rao, why did Singh say something that was controversial? Upcoming events will decide whether this statement was a well thought out step by a politician, or just a statement suitable for the occasion, which created a flutter.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. His Twitter handle is @shekarkahin

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