In sheer desperation to win the second term, the ruling right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has intensified its attacks on the opposition Congress party over its complicity in the 1984 Sikh massacre.
Thousands of innocent Sikhs were murdered across India in mob violence in the first week of November 1984 following the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. The supporters of Gandhi’s so-called secular Congress party were seen leading the gangs involved in the bloodbath.
35 years later, the BJP government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is locked in a tough electoral battle with the Congress party. Modi who came to power in 2014 with a brute majority has failed to deliver on a number of issues as a result of which it might lose the ongoing general election. On top of that, the BJP government faces criticism for patronizing organized violence against religious minorities, particularly the Muslims and Christians.
The BJP think tank and its mother organization Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) wants to transform India into Hindu theocracy and considers Islam and Christianity as foreign religions, while Sikhism as part and parcel of the Hindu fold.
The past five years have seen a spike in vicious attacks on Muslims and Christians, even as their assimilationist policy toward Sikhs has also been resisted by many Sikh organizations, barring Akali Dal that is the mainstream Sikh political party of Punjab.
Akali Dal has remained a staunch ally of the BJP and considers Congress as its main enemy force.
The past hostilities between Akali Dal and Congress has brought the former closer to the BJP which is an important national party. To the advantage of the BJP, the ugly political events of 1984, including Sikh massacre had widened a gulf between the Congress and Akali Dal.
This is despite many complexities of the saga of 1984. If Congress was the main driving force behind anti-Sikh violence, the BJP must also share blame for it.
The murder of Indira Gandhi was the result of the army invasion of the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest Sikh shrine in Amritsar in the month of June that year. The military attack was ordered to deal with a handful of militants who had fortified the place of worship. The ill-conceived army operation that left many worshipers dead and historical buildings inside the complex heavily destroyed was preventable. But Indira Gandhi wanted to indulge in something spectacular to win the forthcoming general election by polarizing Hindu majority against the Sikhs who only make two per cent of the Indian population.
The government was trying to take advantage of the anti-Sikh wave that gripped the Indian mainstream because of the murders of Hindus in Punjab. The Indian establishment frequently blamed those hiding in the Golden Temple Complex of carrying out these killings. The army attack on the martyrdom day of the fifth master of the Sikh faith had left a heavy casualty of innocent pilgrims. The Sikhs felt completely alienated after such a ruthless attack on their spiritual centre.
The BJP backers who continue to pretend as well-wishers of the Sikhs had actually meekly supported both the army attack on the Golden Temple Complex and the anti-Sikh massacre. The late Nanaji Deshmukh the towering RSS leader had justified these events and instead blamed the Sikh leaders or these bloody episodes. While on one hand, Prime Minister Modi and other senior BJP leaders have been raising noise over the involvement of Congress party in the Sikh massacre, early this year, the BJP government gave the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award to Deshmukh posthumously.
It is pertinent to mention that the BJP supporters not only celebrated the attack on the Golden Temple Complex, many of them also participated in the Sikh massacre. This explains why Indira Gandhi’s son Rajiv Gandhi won the next election with a huge majority riding on anti-Sikh tide, whereas the BJP was reduced to the strength of only two MPs.
Even otherwise, the BJP did the same to Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. Thousands of Muslims were slaughtered in the state following the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. Over 50 people had died in the incident that was blamed on Muslim fundamentalists even though one commission of enquiry found that it was an accident.
It is widely acknowledged that Modi, who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat back then, was directly responsible for allowing the mobs to target Muslims with the help of the police. The technique was no different than the one applied on the Sikhs in 1984. Much like 1984, 2002 violence against Muslims paid electoral dividends to Modi in the next assembly elections.
Today, Modi and the BJP unashamedly describe 1984 as terrorism and genocide, but won’t accept such terminology to define the incidents of 2002. We all know that Congress was responsible for 1984, and we don’t need a party whose own hands are smeared with blood to remind us of that. Congress was and remains accountable for that. Especially the reaction of a senior Congress leader Sam Pitroda to these allegations didn’t sit down well with the Sikh community. By brushing aside these accusations saying, “what happened, happened” he has only shown that Congress lacks genuine remorse for what it did to the Sikhs in 1984. The recent appointment of Kamal Nath, a senior Congress leader involved in the massacre as the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh makes it more obvious.
It’s a shame that the Congress wants us to forgive and forget the past, while continues to shed tears for Indira Gandhi on her death anniversary every year. Congress must acknowledge its sins and stop taking the support of anti-BJP voters for granted.
That said, the BJP cannot deny the fact of being a party with an agenda to turn India into a homogenous fascist Hindu nation with no future for minorities. What separates it from the Congress is that the latter indulged in sectarian politics for opportunistic reasons, whereas the BJP has a well-thought-out policy program based on the idea of an exclusionist society. By repeatedly bringing up the past deeds of the Congress, BJP can neither escape from its own failures nor hide its real face.
The BJP is only using the 1984 issue as a trump card for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it suits them to rake up any such baggage against Congress to dilute allegations of spreading religious hatred against the BJP and silence its critics. Secondly, the BJP knows that it isn’t going to gain much from the Sikhs and people in Punjab as they make a small minority and only 13 seats in the parliament. Significantly, Modi magic didn’t work in Punjab during the 2014 election and isn’t likely to work this time either.
The BJP knows that the 1984 issue has been kept alive by the Sikh Diaspora for all these years. Since Sikhs have made progress outside India and hold the power of balance in many countries, such as Canada, US and UK, by trying to keep them on their side they want to showcase to the global community that they aren’t really anti-minority. A case in point is their use of word genocide to describe the Sikh massacre that has until now been vehemently opposed by the pro-India lobby and Indian diplomats in countries like Canada.
The BJP obviously understands this and one does not need rocket science to figure this out.