The Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s speech in Berkeley University has once again polarized the Hindu Right and so called secularists in the Indian politics.
Gandhi was in US to address the university students where he attacked the current right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government of India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He pointed out how sectarian violence and religious intolerance have grown under Modi administration. He also criticized other right wing policies of the government which have created economic inequality in the country.
The leaders of the BJP government wasted no time and started counter attack against Gandhi for saying negative things about his own country during a foreign tour.
Well, Gandhi did not do anything wrong. After all Modi himself has been saying certain negative things about India during his foreign tours in the past and whatever Gandhi said is already known to the world.
The BJP will have to face the music for growing bigotry in India where minorities are under constant attacks from Hindu extremists who have become emboldened ever since Modi government came to power in 2014.
However, little discussion is being held on the protest organized by Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) against Gandhi. The SFJ is a US-based advocacy group which has been campaigning for justice to the Sikhs who were targeted in a well orchestrated mob violence across India in 1984. The massacre followed the assassination of the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards who were enraged by the infamous military attack on the Golden Temple Complex- the holiest Sikh shrine in June that year. The army was ordered to invade the place of worship where the Sikh militants had stockpiled weapons. Shortly after her murder, the activists of Gandhi’s secularist Congress party began mobilizing mobs against Sikhs to avenge the death of the slain leader.
Indira Gandhi was the grandmother of Rahul whose father the late Rajiv Gandhi succeeded her as the next Prime Minister. He not only publicly justified the anti Sikh massacre, but also awarded those involved in the violence with ministerial positions in his government. Taking advantage of the anti Sikh wave he got elected with a brute majority and to appease Hindu majority brought a draconian anti terror law to deal with the Sikh extremists. The law was widely misused against Sikhs in Punjab and other parts of India and the Sikh political activists were frequently abducted and killed by the police and security forces in staged shootouts in the name of war on terror.
For these reasons the Sikh activists have always seen the Gandhi family as their enemy. Notably, there has been no dignified closure or honest acknowledgement of the excesses committed against the Sikhs, leave alone the question of punishing the guilty of Sikh genocide.
It is a separate matter that Rahul’s mother Sonia Gandhi who happens to be the President of the Congress Party had given an opportunity to Dr. Manmohan Singh, a well known Sikh economist to lead the country as the Prime Minister when the Congress led coalition was running the previous government. Singh was the first turbaned Sikh to lead India. Yet, no justice was done to the families of the victims of 1984.
At Berkeley Rahul Gandhi pulled no punches while criticizing sectarian politics of the BJP government and even claimed to be sympathetic to the Sikh protesters but remained silent on the question of shielding the politicians involved in the massacre. So much so, he refused to answer a direct question on this that came from the floor after his speech.
Though Gandhi is absolutely right about the alarming situation in India and did a great job by exposing the BJP government, he and his party have to come clean on 1984 to establish their secular credentials. He should have sat down with the protesters and listened to them. Even now he can ensure that his party makes a genuine official apology to the victims’ families and provide all the evidence against several top notch Congress leaders to the investigating agencies so that justice could be served. If not then Congress has no moral right to condemn the BJP on the issue of religious intolerance.
To prove itself to be a real secular alternative to the BJP, the Congress will have to walk extra miles to wipe away this blot. The secularist media and the parliamentary left who are also enamored by the Congress and continue to see it as a challenge to the BJP also have to be honest on the issue of 1984 if they really want to defeat the designs of the political forces that indulge in majoritarianism which is the root of sectarian violence in India.
It is pertinent to mention that Modi government in Gujarat followed the same technique against the Muslims that was applied to target Sikhs in 2002. This was followed by the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. More than 50 people had died in the incident that was blamed on Muslim fundamentalists by the Modi government. As a result anti Muslim violence broke out in Gujarat. Human Rights activists believe that had justice been done to the victims of 1984, 2002 wouldn’t have happened. Much like Rajiv Gandhi- Modi also used an anti minority wave to win another election in Gujarat with a thumping majority.
These simple but inconvenient facts are enough to prove that Congress owes a much bigger moral responsibility to correct the historical wrongs to move ahead and lead a struggle for pluralist India.
Gurpreet Singh is a Canada- based journalist who publishes Radical Desi- a monthly magazine that covers alternative politics.