Rahul Gandhi is wrong about 1984. But why is no one asking Narendra Modi about 2002 anymore?


Unlike the ghost of the anti-Sikh riots, the ghost of the anti-Muslim riots does not arise because the media doesn’t summon it.

At home or abroad, 1984 relentlessly haunts Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Every time his supporters celebrate his emergence as a leader in his own right, the victims of the 1984 pogrom against Sikhs seem to rise, in the manner of Banquo’s ghost in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, to torment Gandhi. At almost every general interaction at which he takes questions, the question of the Congress’ role in the 1984 riots following Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination at the hands of her Sikh bodyguards is tossed at him.

Unlike Macbeth, though, Gandhi does not lose his nerve and slip into confession mode. Asked the question again at a meeting with British parliamentarians in London on Friday, the Congress president responded with a poker face. “You say that the Congress party was involved in that, I don’t agree,” he said. “Certainly, there was violence, there was a tragedy.” Call it the revenge of the ghost of 1984 – Gandhi was back in the headlines for a wrong reason.

For Gandhi’s supporters, the intermittent demands that he accept his party’s role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots appear unreasonable and harsh. Unreasonable because he was just a 14-year-old boy in 1984, and harsh because such an admission would mean that Gandhi would have to implicitly criticise his father Rajiv Gandhi, who was the prime minister at that time.

Besides, as the Congress always insists, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh apologised for the 1984 riots in Parliament on August 11, 2005. His apology was made not only to the Sikh community, but to the “whole Indian nation”. Still, it is not clear whether Singh, through his apology, had accepted the charge that the Congress consciously stoked the 1984 riots.

Gandhi has repeatedly refused to entertain this suggestion, most disastrously in his 2014 interview with TV anchor Arnab Goswami. “I remember, I was a child then [1984], I remember the government was doing everything it could to stop the riots,” Gandhi said. The ghost of 1984 had promptly risen to mock him then too.

It is decidedly an insult to the nation’s collective memory for Gandhi to protest his party’s innocence with regard to the 1984 riots. There is ample evidence that some Congress leaders led or encouraged mobs to target Sikhs. For instance, a question mark hangs on Kamal Nath, who is now the chief of the Madhya Pradesh unit of the Congress. It is also true that the Union government slipped into a willful paralysis in Delhi. Worse, Rajiv Gandhi rationalised the violence with an aphorism, “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes.”

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