The two unfortunate riots of 1984 in Delhi and 2002 in Gujarat are haunting the Indian political space ever since they happened. In both of them there is a widely held belief that the government of the day did not take adequate and necessary steps to nip them in the bud and thereby they are accused of alleged connivance  In both riots precious lives were lost in thousands. The scar they left on the two minority communities of Sikhs and Muslims is not getting healed even after 30 years and 12 years lapsed period.

In both the riots allegedly leaders of the ruling party are supposed to have taken leading part in heaping death and misery over hapless men, women and children in vicious forms. Both the ruling parties in Delhi and Gujarat are in a denial mode. In the case of Delhi riots, after many years the PM apologized in the Parliament but in case of Gujarat there is no apology by its CM or his party.

In his interview to a TV channel, Rahul Gandhi by design or default stated that "some Congressmen may have been involved in the 1984 riots". Naturally the Sikhs are up in anger and are demanding action against such Congress leaders. This has once again brought these riots on the center stage. 

Far too often, we have observed, how the Gujarat riots are used as a neutralizing weapon by Congress when attacked by BJP on Delhi riots and vice versa. Most of the times the bickering between the representatives of these two by now more regional and less national parties is sickening to say the least. The riots for them have become a source of endless debates and are used to score debating points. Both have miserably failed to answer the important question - why they could not control the riots in the shortest possible time.

The 1984 riots took place following the killing of the then PM Mrs Indira Gandhi by her own two Sikh bodyguards, on October 31, 1984. The apparent reason was to avenge the Operation Bluestar in which army was used to flush out the well entrenched terrorists from the sacred Golden Temple in Amritsar. This act had enraged many in the Sikh community. Indira was advised to opt for non Sikh bodyguards but like a true patriot she refused the suggestion only to pay with her life.

Indira was shot at around 9 am but officially the announcement was made by about 2 pm. Her son Rajiv Gandhi was in Kolkatta and returned to Delhi by late evening. He was immediately elected leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha and was thereafter sworn as the PM. By the next day however Sikhs were targeted in Delhi and many North Indian cities and were brutally killed, their houses burned, women molested, property looted etc. It seemed the rioters had a field day as there was no one to stop them. This mayhem lasted for three days and then stopped altogether. The figures of Sikhs killed is widely believed to be upwards of 4000 and figures up to 10,000 are also frequently mentioned.

The 2002 riots in Gujarat erupted a day after the S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express was burnt allegedly burnt by a mob of Muslims in Godhra and 59 Hindu kar sevaks returning from a program in Ayodhya were burnt to death. The charred bodies were brought to Ahmedabad and the ghastly sight incited the Hindus to react violently. The riots spread to many parts of Gujarat and more than a thousand people from both communities lost their lives including in police firing. The riots lasted for nearly three months from March 1, 2002 on wards. There was widespread loss of property and horrible stories of hateful acts of torture and killings.

What was common to both the riots was that they were  reactions by the majority community  to  dastardly acts by persons of a minority communities. Another common feature was the fact that both incidents happened during morning hours and the riots began a day after. Another common factor was the alleged systematic manner in which the rioters moved to take revenge indicating a degree of advance planning. Thus spontaneous reaction was not there. Also in both cases there were leaders at the helm who lacked administrative experience, one of them in fact was sworn on the very day of the incident. This was to play a crucial role in the curbing of the riots.

In the 1984 riots the casualties were very high especially because the riots lasted for only three days. This shows it was very concentrated and no control actions were taken. The arsonists had a free hand and took their revenge to their hearts content. In the 2002 riots the casualties were around 1100 inclusive of deaths due to police firing and spread over nearly three months period.  

There were  no 24X7 TV channels in 1984 and this was one main reason why it has not registered in the minds of the people as has the 2002 riots which was extensively covered by the electronic media. Also there was very tardy follow up of cases against alleged rioters of 1984 including identified Congress leaders which are going on today also. On the contrary many of the 2002 rioters have been convicted and have received death sentences, and varying jail periods. A minister has been convicted and sent to 28 years jail sentence. This has been possible due to the Special Investigations Team (SIT) formed by the Supreme Court which also monitored them. Further many trials were held outside Gujarat indicating a lack of faith in the local administration to act fair. This has brought a sense of closure to many of the riot victims which is not the case for 1984 victims.

The demand of Sikhs for setting up of an SIT is a valid demand and should be under SC monitoring and also have a time limit. Better late than never.

It would be worthwhile to discuss, could the riots have been prevented or if timely measures were taken could the killings have been minimized. It does seem that the administration did have nearly 24 hours lead time before the riots started. 

In both cases the attitude of the administration has been however to a large extent similar. They have shown a studied and calculated indifference to the riots and its victims. It is the absence of any preventive steps taken during this period which points to either a deliberate negligence or a lack of understanding the possibility of a strong  reaction. In both cases, unfortunately, there is also allegedly indifference shown by police against rioters in the first few days when the rioting was at its peak. Also in both cases fingers are pointed at powerful politicians, especially those in power, for their alleged involvement in leading rampaging mobs or not coordinating abatement measures when approached by victims. In both cases it is alleged that the Army was not called in time and this resulted in higher casualties.

Post riots the probe commissions have been formed to investigate what all had happened. As usual everyone knows the commissions take years and years to submit their reports. In one of the riots the inquiry commission is working even after 13 years. When their reports come, matter is usually forgotten and hardly any action is taken.  Unfortunately these commission reports are more of a time buying tactics.

However what is unique to these riots is there being remembered almost on a daily basis, for scoring debating points and embarrassing each other. If the Congress rakes up 2002 the BJP immediately rakes up 1984 and vice versa. It has now reached to an  irritating stage in TV news debates. In the name of these riots muck is spoken and many a times false statements are made. There are young persons who may not have been born when 1984 riots took place or were very small. They can be told any lie by vested interests.

What is true is the fact that one riot was relegated to background and another was skillfully exploited  politically. Both riots were used to settle scores and were subsequently mercilessly exploited for political gains. The latest riot in Muzaffarnagr also falls into this category.

While the politicians and active rioters gained it was the poor hapless victims who escaped death that are the worst sufferers. Most of them have lost their houses and had to move to alien places.The survivors lost their near and dear ones and have to live with this loss throughout their lives. They have had to suffer financial losses also. No amount of compensation can compensate their losses and the mental agony they are suffering from.

What however is frightening is the fact that most of the mass murders, rapists, looters, arsonists etc are roaming the streets freely knowing very well that no harm is going to come on them. There simply is no will in the system to haul them up. Involved leaders and identified persons of stature are not being either prosecuted or done at less than snails pace. It smells of a big and silent conspiracy. The State acted as a one sided punishment agent.

The 2014 elections are seeing both aggressive and a low level campaigning and riots of 1984 and 2002 are freely hurled at each other without any consideration about the pain it may cause to the feeling of survivors. The issue simply is that your riot was more worse than my riot. What a fall for a society which considers Mahatama Gandhi as its ideal.


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