The allegations against HS Phoolka, counsel for Delhi’s 1984 riot victims, are another attempt to suppress the truth.
Some, if limited, reportage about the recent charges and counter-charges between HS Phoolka, the man who has almost single-handedly pursued the 1984 anti-Sikh riots cases, and Paramjit Sarna, the head of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC), has given the impression to most outsiders that this is another in a long series of arcane arguments within the Sikh faith. The truth is quite different. It is all about Kamal Nath and his role in the riots. It is a last-ditch effort by men such as Sarna to subvert one of the few serious attempts to pursue the case against Kamal Nath.
To understand why Kamal Nath has been almost missing from this story, one needs to step back a little. The ghosts of 1984 continue to afflict this country with some regularity because of the dereliction of duty by legislative and legal institutions and the media. The recent Bhopal judgment was a perfect example. There was something nauseating about the most prominent anchors on television bleeding and tweeting their concerns when in the 14 years that led to this predictable event, none of them ever saw it fit to address the issue in a fashion that could have made a difference.
The glaring injustice of Bhopal had been buried under a mound of legalese, and it required some patience to sift through the facts. This was rarely done till the judgment made the injustice visible. And now, something similar is happening with the other trauma of 1984—the massacre of Delhi’s Sikhs. But there is no guarantee that a similar judgment will eventually bring the injustice to light.
Commissions and court cases have clouded obvious truths, and at each step, the media has looked away from a simple truth. For several hours, Kamal Nath was part of a mob that burned down two Sikhs at the gates of Gurdwara Rakabganj in 1984, less than a kilometre from Parliament. His guilt in the 1984 riots is far more direct than the role of Warren Anderson in the Bhopal gas tragedy. And his continued presence in the Union Cabinet a greater shame than Warren Anderson’s lounging at ease in his Hamptons mansion.
A fortnight ago, Phoolka asked Sarna to give his assent to proceed with the formalities of asking for the registration of a case against Kamal Nath. Sarna’s assent was necessary because the cases are being pursued in the name of the DSGMC. Given his closeness to the Congress, Sarna’s plea that the Nanavati Commission had exonerated Kamal Nath was understandable but unforgiveable.
The Commission did not absolve Kamal Nath. Rather, noting the weight of evidence against him, it very strangely gave him the ‘benefit of doubt’ because it could not ascertain what Nath was doing at the head of the mob. This may have something to do with the fact that a Congress government had rather unexpectedly come to power before Nanavati submitted his report. Probably, Sarna, along with the Commission, would like us to believe that no one in the mob was guilty and the two men set themselves on fire.
I have on far too many occasions written about Kamal Nath, but then that was true for Bhopal as well before our TV anchors developed a conscience. The problem is that by the time this ‘awakening’ of conscience takes place, it would be too late. When I had suggested that the case against Kamal Nath, whether through ignorance or through his ample PR skills, had been deliberately ignored by the media, some senior and credible journalists had contacted me in private to say this was not true and cited their writings on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. The problem with assertions of conscience in private is that they are a futile exercise.
We are at the point where it seems likely that the process of holding Kamal Nath accountable could finally begin. It is time privately-held views were made public.
Hartosh Singh Bal turned from the difficulty of doing mathematics to the ease of writing on politics. Unlike mathematics all this requires is being less wrong than most others who dwell on the subject.