Arun Shourie is an accomplished man. As the pioneer of investigative journalism in India, he famously brought down then-Maharashtra Chief Minister AR Antulay. He still remains arguably the finest investigative journalist India has produced. As the divestment minister in Vajpayee’s cabinet, Shourie laboured hard. Vajpayee wanted to elevate him to the finance ministership, but forces inimical to Shourie prevented that occurrence.
In an interview Shourie gave many years ago, he mentioned that by 1984, the Hindu male had begun to be seen by minorities in India as effete. To quote him, Slap him on one cheek and he would proffer the other cheek.
1984. The year of death in India. The year of Orwell in India. The most turbulent year in India’s history. For four years. Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale’s goons had kept Hindus paralyzed in fear all over Punjab and as far as Delhi. Sure, Indira Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi, and Giani Zail Singh all had something to do with the Frankenstein that Bhindranwale became, but their intention was only to create a counterfoil against the Akalis, not someone who would start devouring Hindus.
It is estimated that between 1980 and 1984, thousands of Hindus lost their lives to Bhindranwale’s goons. Nobody ever even memorializes their lives, leave alone talks about their deaths. Those days, Delhi would shut down at sunset out of fear of Bhindranwale. I was a teenager applying to engineering college and wanted to travel to Kurukshetra to pick up the application forms. A friend of mine was accompanying me. The bus drove through Punjab. Those were the days when Bhindranwale’s thugs would stop buses, separate Sikhs from Hindus, and then mow the Hindus down.
A friend’s mother counseled me not to go. But we went. It was only when the Punjab Roadways bus left the boundaries of Punjab that we breathed easier.
A seminal event in the rise of Bhindranwale has been said to be the roughing-up that many Sikhs endured at the hands of the then Haryana Chief Minister, Bhajan Lal’s police during the Asiad of 1982. Indira Gandhi was holding the Asiad to showpiece India. Some Sikhs threatened to disrupt it. She would brook no disruption. But the roughing-up that many Sikhs endured was not any worse than what many nonwhite people have to face today in Western countries in the age of terror. These people are not using extreme frisking to justify terrorism, as many Sikhs have used the Asiad fiasco to justify the rise of Bhindranwale.
The grainy video on state-run TV — Doordarshan — showed a young man. A bewildered young man of 40 standing by the side of his dead mother’s body. The crowd screeched, Khoon ka badla khoon sey lengey (Blood for blood). The young man came forward and implored the mob to stop its chants. A few days before, his cousin, Arun Nehru, had reportedly convinced then-President Zail Singh to make the young man of 40 prime minister of India. The history of independent India had never seen such a young ruler. William Pitt the Younger was prime minister at 24, but that was in Britain, and in 1783. JFK was 44 when he became US President; Obama 47.
In the first year of Rajiv’s rule, there perhaps was no more powerful a man in India than Arun Nehru. Rajiv disdained politics; Nehru embraced it. Nehru was Rajiv’s gatekeeper. Now it is inconceivable that the low-level thugs accused of the Sikh massacre of 1984 did not have the go-ahead from someone at the top. Maybe it was Rajiv, maybe it was Nehru, maybe it was Nehru without keeping Rajiv in the loop, maybe Rajiv was too stunned by his loss to have anybody break to him what was happening, maybe Rajiv and Nehru colluded, maybe it was someone else.
Rajiv held a rally in Delhi a few days after his mother’s assassination where he’s quoted as saying: When a big tree falls, the earth shakes. This statement has been used by many to denote his approval of the Sikh massacre. He made the statement in Hindi, a language in which he was clearly uncomfortable. Maybe he was justifying why the massacre took place. Maybe he was just justifying the massacre. Who knows?
Khushwant Singh amongst others believed that Indira Gandhi should have used commandos to flush out Bhindranwale from the Golden Temple instead of storming it. But are you saying that Indira Gandhi did not consider commando action. In the India of 1984, only one religion considered itself so sacrosanct that terrorists could hole up inside its place of worship with pretty much impunity from the security forces. Can a Hindu temple or a masjid claim such immunity even today?
Indira Gandhi knew she was going to lose her life at the hands of her Sikh bodyguards, yet she retained them close to her person. Before the storming of the temple, she was widely popular amongst the Sikhs. Afterwards, she became an accursed figure, just biding her time until her brutal end.
Politicians in India today claim that Indira Gandhi demolished the Sikhs. Seriously? When? By storming the Golden Temple. Why didn’t the Sikh leadership hand over a known terrorist and secessionist and killer that Bhindranwale was to the authorities. Why did they allow him to have refuge inside the temple, away from the long arms of the law.
Other politicians say that the Sikh massacre of 1984 was the biggest genocide in history. Really? Yes, thousands of Sikhs were put to death in the most inhumane manner by thugs of the Congress party. But what about the thousands of Hindus who were done to death as mercilessly by Bhindranwale. In the towns of Punjab such as Ludhiana and Patiala, between 1980 and 1984, a common refrain every evening was, What’s today’s score? Meaning how many Hindus have been put to death. What about a requiem for all those nameless, hapless lives lost at the hands of a thug.
Shourie was right. By 1984, the Hindu male was seen as expendable. What India needs is a truth and reconciliation commission to sort 1984 out.
via TOI Blog
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