The United States-based rights group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) wants to serve summons that a court there has issued against Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who is currently in that country for medical reasons. The summons emanates from a civil suit that the SFJ has filed against Sonia seeking compensatory and punitive damages from her for shielding those in the Congress party who allegedly engineered the 1984 riots. Is it right for the SFJ to implicate Sonia in the 1984 riots?
To answer this question, Ajaz Ashraf spoke to lawyer HS Phoolka, who has been valiantly waging a solitary battle to secure justice for those who perished in the 1984 riots, indefatigably pursuing the powerful who allegedly fomented the unforgettable violence in Delhi.
Do you agree with the US-based rights group Sikhs for Justice that Sonia Gandhi is protecting those accused for engineering the 1984 riots?
The allegation against Sonia Gandhi is not that she took part in the riots, but that she is protecting those who engineered it. Yes, Sonia is shielding her partymen who have been accused of fomenting the riots of 1984.
Why do you say Sonia Gandhi is shielding them?
Take former Congress MP Sajjan Kumar. He is an accused in the murder of four Sikhs. On April 8, 1992, both the Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) and the Investigating Officer (IO) prepared and signed a chargesheet at the Nangloi police station. The FIR was registered in 1987. After five years of investigation the chargesheet was prepared. As per the legal process, once a chargesheet is prepared, it is then filed in court, which commits it to trial within two-three weeks. Despite the ACP and IO saying that there is enough evidence against Sajjan Kumar to try him, the chargesheet hasn’t yet been filed in court.
Why are you blaming Sonia for the police not doing its duty?
True, it is the government which is to be blamed for it. But then, this government is led by the party of which Sonia is the president. She could have intervened. She could have wielded her clout to ensure the government moved against those who have been accused of engineering the riots. She couldn’t have been oblivious of, say, the chargesheet prepared at Nangloi police station. It has been reported at great length in newspapers. Parliament has discussed the accusation against him and others on several occasions. Because she hasn’t intervened, I say she is shielding those accused of sparking off the 1984 riots.
Who else she shielding other than Sajjan Kumar?
Twice the government has given a clean chit to Jagdish Tytler, and twice the court has rejected it. Tytler is now an office-bearer of the Congress. Then you have Kamal Nath, who is a powerful minister of the UPA government. He was accused of leading a mob which burnt down the Gurudwara Rakabganj, which, incidentally, is located near Parliament. Two Sikhs were also set ablaze. The Indian Express in its edition of Nov 2, 1984 reported the incident. In 1985, Sanjay Suri, who was then a reporter with the Indian Express but is now based in London, gave his affidavit to the Mishra Commission, which had been appointed to probe the anti-Sikh riots of 1984. In the affidavit Suri said he had seen Kamal Nath lead the mob which burnt down the Gurudwara Rakabganj. Yet no FIR has been registered. The government’s inaction demonstrates Sonia’s culpability; she has to take responsibility for it.
What would Sonia gain in shielding the accused?
Sonia was a housewife then. I am not saying she was involved in the riots in anyway. But as the Congress party president, she could have prevailed upon the government to at least register FIRs. She has to shield Sajjan, Tytler, Kamal Nath, for the entire Congress party was involved in the riot. In fact, the 1984 riots were engineered at Rajiv Gandhi’s behest. This is the reason why she is shielding them.
Quite obviously, unlike diehard Congressmen, you don’t think denying party ticket to the accused, as it happened with Sajjan Kumar and Tytler, is punishment enough.
That isn’t punishment. Following the 1984 riots, for many years they were members of Parliament and held prominent positions in the party or government. They were denied the party ticket only in the 2009 election. This wasn’t because the Congress leadership suddenly had a rethink or became repentant. They were denied the party ticket because of the hue and cry the media raised following the incident involving a Sikh journalist throwing a shoe at Chidambaram. (Interviewer’s note: the Sikh journalist was reacting against the CBI’s decision to give a clean chit to Tytler.) Incredibly, the Congress gave Sajjan Kumar’s brother the party ticket in the 2009 election.
There are some who think the summons issued by a court in a foreign country has lowered the country’s prestige.
My own view is that they – the government, the Congress – have been shamelessly shielding those who were responsible for the 1984 riots. They need to realise that providing justice for the 1984 riot victims is an international issue, they need to realise that hundreds of Sikhs were murdered and something needs to be done about it. Instead, they feel they are powerful and not answerable to anyone. Sonia Gandhi, as I have said, heads the party which is governing India. She and her party are answerable for the 1984 riots.
What do you have to say to those analysts who feel the Congress has brought about a closure to the 1984 riots through its decision to make Manmohan Singh, a Sikh, the country’s prime minister?
First, Manmohan Singh was made prime minister not because of his being a Sikh. He was given the post because the Congress needed him, because of his calibre, or his own standing in the party, or his proximity to the Gandhis. His becoming prime minister is not connected to the 1984 riots. Second, justice for the 1984 riot victims is an issue of upholding the law of land. The law states that a person who has been witnessed committing a murder needs to be charged and tried. In case you want to protect the murderer or don’t want to uphold the law, then why not change the law.
Why do you think the Congress demands justice for Muslim victims of the Gujarat riots but not for Sikhs killed in 1984?
I don’t think the Congress is fair to anyone, not to Sikhs, not to Muslims. They have never been serious about protecting Muslims. The Congress speaks a lot about protecting Muslims, but its principal motive has always been to promote their own interests. This is the reason reason why there have been so many riots under different Congress regimes.
I am not saying that those guilty of engineering the 2002 riots in Gujarat should not be punished. In fact, if you were to compare the conviction rate in the 2002 riot cases to that of the 1984 communal mayhem, then you can’t but reach the conclusion that some progress has been made in providing justice to Muslims in Gujarat. Now, this could be because of the role of the Supreme Court or the National Human Rights Commission. Look at these figures. In the Gujarat riots, 1100 people died, as against the 2733 who perished in Delhi alone in 1984. However, till now, 130 have been given life sentence, and another 10 have been awarded the death sentence. A former minister has been sentenced to 28 years in prison. By contrast, in Delhi, not even 30 have been convicted till date.
Image Source: HS Phoolka