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1984 riots: Can killers be let of ?

1984 riots: Can killers be let of ?

Author: Narendra Kaushik
Publication: Mid-Day
Date: January 30, 2005
URL: http://web.mid-day.com/news/nation/2005/january/102586.htm

H S Pholka, a senior lawyer who contested cases of 1984 riots for around two decades, is outraged. He cannot believe that the Nanawati Commission is about to exonerate the Congress for anti-Sikh riots.

Pholka, who recently had a heated argument with Minister for Overseas Affairs Jagdish Tytler in a television studio, where the latter allegedly threatened him, says it is responsibility of the society to do justice to the victims of the Sikh riots. Excerpts from an interview:

How do you react to reports that Nanawati Commission is going to clear the Congress in the 1984 riots?

I don't think the reports are telling the truth. We expect much more than what has come out as a leak. If the reports are true, the findings are contradictory. Look, if Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar, Dharam Das Shastri were not Congress in 1984, who was? They were the main functionaries of the party. Bhagat was Delhi Congress president. Sajjan Kumar was a serious contender for chief ministership in the capital and Shastri was an MP. Jagdish Tytler and Kamal Nath were not of that high stature. How can you say Congress was not involved after finding Bhagat and Sajjan Kumar guilty? Don't workers and leaders constitute a political party? Or is it some commercial company where only the top brass matters? Of course you can't expect an AICC (All India Congress Committee) resolution to launch the riots.

There have been eight committees and two commissions to investigate the riots but not much has been done.
It does dishearten me. But it's a question of who frustrates whom. They frustrate us or we frustrate them. Haven't they been punished? Bhagat lost his political career and Sajjan Kumar has not been able to reach the CM's chair due to the riot cases against him. This should convey a message to the others - don't think you're above the law.

If you think they've been punished, why do you continue to insist on their conviction in the courts?
We're worried about the future. We look at punishment as a deterrent. We don't want a repetition of 1984. Mob violence is the biggest menace. Gujarat happened because the guilty of 1984 went unpunished. Forget Gujarat and there will be another riot after few years.

Have we achieved anything from the commissions and committees, set up to inquire into the different aspects of the riots?
They were all shams set up to frustrate people. Kusum Mittal committee recommended action against 72 officials but action was not taken against a single police official. At least 15 such ACPs (Assistant Commissioners of Police) are still serving against whom there were charges leveled by Kusum Mittal committee. Jain Aggarwal committee recommended registration of cases. 400 cases were registered. But most of them - particularly the ones involving VIPs - were closed down.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi has already said sorry for the riots? Is it not enough?
Can the murderers be pardoned? This is not done. Either we change our IPC (Indian Penal Code) and make provisions that a person says sorry and gets away with murder or punish them according to the law.

It has often been seen that the guilty of communal riots, more often than not, go scot-free. Would the proposed law to deal with communal riots help?
Riot violence should include all kinds of mob violence and large-scale violence. It always happens with connivance and nexus of politicians and police. We should try all such cases outside the state where violence takes place. There should be no discretionary powers with the state in dealing with the mob violence cases. It should be made mandatory for the district administration to call and deploy the army after a certain period of rioting. It should include caste riots (four dalits were lynched in Jhajjar for skinning a cow). A time may not be far when Brahmins will be targeted in Tamil Nadu.

Do you feel disadvantaged that in 1984, the judiciary was not very active and did not order investigation against witnesses who backtracked in the riot cases?
You can't set the clock back. Judicial activism started in 1990s. Retraction by witnesses is a general trend. To avoid this, statements should be recorded under section 164.

Today, three important posts in the government including the prime minister's are held by Sikhs? Does this soothe you?
The Sikhs are very happy. Besides PM Manmohan Singh, we have Sikhs as deputy chairman of Planning Commission and Army chief. But 1984 was a law and order problem. This is not an issue of a victim community. I don't look at '84 as a Sikh issue or Gujarat as a Muslim issue.

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