An Open Letter to Manmohan Singh

Honorable Prime Minister Manmohan Singh:

It is an act of courage that you have unequivocally apologized for the massacre of Sikhs in the wake of the assassination of Prim-minister Indira Gandhi in 1984. Even more important is the promise that the Nanavati commission report would not collect dust, but would be acted upon and the guilty, particularly the leaders would be prosecuted to the full extant of the law. Twenty-one years, almost a generation is a long time to wait for justice.

This small step should be a norm for any decent government, but it is remarkable because it would be a first in India’s post independence history, indeed a commendable and politically courageous step. It would help cut the shackles and facilitate India’s assent to a great future.

The unfortunate fact of life in India for about 50 years has been – the individual acts of murder are punished by law, but mass murders are rewarded by political power.

In the past, petty disputes between people of different communities, fanned by rumors, coupled by inaction of civil administration resulted in cyclical riots. Politicians learned to callously use the fanned hatred to political advantage. In time, instead of fishing in troubled waters, some communal political parties started engaging hoodlums to engineer riots to win elections. From a spontaneous riots the phenomenon morphed into planned pogroms From a few dead the numbers soared into thousands murdered.

There are numerous examples of such planned pogroms. Two of the most egregious were, the Bombay riots of 1992 in the wake of the planned destruction of the Babri Masjid, and the most horrible pogroms of all, the planned massacre of Muslims by the BJP government in Gujarat, in the wake of Godhra episode in the February-March 2002.

In the aftermath of riots, pressured by secular parties and national newspapers, governments institute judicial inquiry commissions to escape condemnation. The bane of past judicial inquiries has been that the judges overcoming the impediments placed by the government do a meticulous job of investigation. Usually the guilty are powerful people in the government, as happened in the 1984 killings of Sikhs or many riots against Muslims and atrocities against Christians.

Judicial inquiry commissions take a few years to table their reports. In the intervening period, passions cool and memories fade. The government ignores the recommendations of the inquiry. It becomes an exercise in futility. The guilty not only go free, but also find encouragement to become even more brazen in their evil deeds, accelerating the downward spiral.

When it comes to killing of the innocents in the riots, the hands of BJP along with its Hindutva allies are dripping with blood, but the hands of the Congress are not clean either. The BJP relied on the polarization to come to power, by engineering riots, a euphemism for pogroms. The congress tolerated riots fearful of antagonizing the majority vote; thus inaction became the modus operandi. Mr. Narsimha Rao was the poster boy of this policy.

To say that riots are a natural outcome of India’s troubled past has been proven to be a lie. Riots can be stopped, if the government really cares, as has been proven time and again by the decades long rule of communist governments in Bengal, which used to be a tinderbox about three decades ago.

Mr. Prime Minister, all decent Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christian and others are also waiting for the long overdue action on the Sri Krishna commission report on Bombay riots of 1992 and for the government to actively help the Shah commission finish its work on the Gujarat riots of 2002. We hope you would change the ethos and dynamics. Justice would not be delayed to amount to justice being denied.