• Why Do Minority Massacres Lead to Election Gains?

    Ram Puniyani

    January 4, 2019

    Sajjan Kumar, former Congress leader and MP, finally surrendered on December 31, the deadline set by the High Court in Delhi which gave the verdict about his involvement in the 1984 anti Sikh massacre.

    This anti Sikh pogrom took place in the aftermath of the assassination of then Prime Minster India Indira Gandhi. Several commissions of inquiry later Kumar was finally implicated in 2005 by the Justice Nanavati Commission investigating the massacre.

    Last month, Justices Muralidhar and Goel who gave the verdict hit the nail on the head when in their judgment they observed, “There has been a familiar pattern of mass killings since the Partition, including Mumbai in 1993, Gujarat in 2002, and Muzaffarnagar in 2013… Common to these mass crimes were the targeting of minorities and attacks spearheaded by dominant political actors facilitated by law enforcement agencies. The criminals responsible for the mass crimes have enjoyed political patronage and managed to evade prosecution and punishment.”

    The tragedy of rising communal violence is due to communal forces, the apathetic political leadership, which is either promoting or letting it happen, the biased administration and police apparatus, and loopholes in the justice delivery system. All this has led to the impunity being enjoyed by leaders and footsoldiers involved in violence.

    Violence against the religious minorities can be broadly categorized into two groups. One is the anti Sikh violence, which was a one-off event and came up as a sort of insane political revenge against the hapless Sikh community.

    The other is regular, repeated violence against Muslims and Christians – which is part of the Hindu Nationalist or Hindutva agenda.

    While the Congress led the violence against the Sikh minority, it is Hindu communal groups who have been orchestrating the violence against Muslims and Christians.

    An interesting observation, backed by the research of scholars of ethnic violence, is that the forces which orchestrate communal violence become electorally stronger in the region.

    While in the aftermath of anti Sikh pogrom the Congress emerged as more powerful in Delhi, in the case of Mumbai 1992-93 and Gujarat 2002 the BJP emerged stronger, even planting roots in areas where it had been minuscule in strength.

    The most significant such study comes from Yale University – it demonstrates that the BJP’s electoral strength goes up in the post violence scenario. By contrast, in Delhi where in the post pogrom phase the Congress emerged stronger, it gradually weakened.

    As far as the anti Sikh pogrom is concerned, exclusive blame is put on the Congress. No doubt this is most of the truth – but there is another aspect which has been conveniently put under the carpet. And that is the support and involvement of the RSS-BJP in this tragic incident.

    The Hindustan Times of February 2, 2002 reported that in the 1984 pogrom names from the BJP were also there in those involved in the violence. The Pioneer of April 11, 1994 reported the “BJP move to shield its cadre’s involvement in the 1984 violence.”

    Khabar Bar (linked above) reports that by 2014 a total of 14 FIRs had been registered “against 49 BJP-RSS leaders for their role in the anti-Sikh riots of 1984.” According to the same report, incumbent chief minister of Punjab Amarinder Singh had also named many BJP and RSS leaders like Ram Kumar Jain, Pritam Singh and Ram Chander Gupta, to name a few, who were involved in the massacre, and had questioned Sukhbir Singh Badal for maintaining a sheepish silence about their involvement, only because they belonged to an allied party.

    Contrary to Shiromani Akali Dal’s Sukhbir Singh Badal’s claims that BJP members courageously saved the lives of Sikhs in 1984, records as per the Jain-Aggarwal committee included several names of prominent Delhi BJP and RSS workers being a part of the massacre.

    But the revelation came in an article by the major RSS ideologue Nanaji Deshmukh. In an article in Pratipaksh on November 25, 1984, Deshmukh wrote that the anti Sikh violence was due to ‘a genuine feeling of anger among Hindus of India’ and that the Sikh community should bear it silently.

    He also says that Rajiv Gandhi needs all the support in this hour of national crisis.

    The document itself was circulated on November 5, 1984 when the peak of the violence was underway.

    George Fernandes, then editor of Pratipaksh, published it with this editorial comment: “The author of the following document is known as an ideologue and policy formulator of the RSS. After the killing of the Prime Minister he distributed this document among prominent politicians. It has a historical significance that is why we have decided to publish it, violating the policy of our Weekly. This document highlights the new affinities developing between the Indira Congress and the RSS. We produce here the Hindi translation of the document.”

    While Congress complicity has been criticised time and time again, and correctly so, the aspect of the RSS-BJP attitude to the Sikh religious minority has been hidden from popular understanding. The BJP and the Akali Dal allied in Punjab to be in power there for a long time, despite their ideological differences – but why the Akali Dal has maintained a silence on the RSS role in the 1984 massacre is a matter of deep concern.

    This document coming from a prominent RSS ideologue puts the blame of violence on Sikhs themselves, whereas Indira Gandhi’s assassins in no way represented the whole community.

    The major failure since the anti Sikh pogrom has been the failure of justice delivery. It’s true that major Congress leaders like Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh expressed deep remorse and regret over the 1984, while one has yet to hear any pain and anguish from RSS-BJP circles over the regularly occurring anti-Muslim and anti-Christian violence.

    One hopes that the phase of anti-Sikh has passed never to repeat. But violence against Muslims and Christians is on the rise, and is assuming horrid forms.

    While feeling some relief that Sajjan Kumar is in jail, where he should have been years ago, the wish is that all those responsible for the massacres of Mumbai 1992-93, Gujarat 2002, Kandhamal 2008 and Muzaaafarnagar 2013, among others, are punished as per the law – and that we rid our society of the ill of impunity enjoyed by the planners and executers of these macabre acts.


     

    First published in The Citizen.

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