With eyes on the 2017 Punjab Assembly elections, power-hungry politicians have once again tried to open the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom wounds. Every time there are elections, the war of words between the Congress and ruling Shiromani Akali Dal heats up on the issue.
The ruling Akali Dal launched a stinging attack on the Congress after Rahul Gandhi visited the epicentre of Punjab unrest, Faridkot, last week. He not only met grief-striken farmer families whose members committed suicides after the crop failures but also expressed his solidarity with the families of Gurjit Singh and Harkrishan Singh who died in police firing on October 14 at Behbal Kalan in Kotkapura.
The Akali Dal had regarded Rahul's visit as politically motivated even before he reached Punjab. It said the Sikh community was looking forward to some "repentance" from Gandhi. "Rahul's refusal to even acknowledge the suffering of the Sikh community at the hands of his family was also indicative of the fact that he wanted to continue to follow the divisive politics of the Congress rather than apologise to find closure for himself and his family," Akali Dal MP Prem Singh Chandumajra said.
The war of words between the SAD and the Congress reached its peak when Captain Amarinder Singh said Rahul was just 14 when the riots took place in 1984. Captain Amarinder Singh reiterated and defended the clean chit to late Rajiv Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi about 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
"Yes, I have given clean chit to Rajiv and Rahul as none of them had any role in the riots," he asserted and challenged the Akalis to prove him wrong with facts and not fiction.
The former chief minister pointed out that when Indira Gandhi was assassinated, Rajiv was in West Bengal.
After he returned and took oath as prime minister, his first move was to go around Delhi and restore peace and order, Singh said. He pointed out that none of the victims have levelled allegations against Rajiv or Rahul that the Akalis, particularly the Badals, are levelling.
The Amritsar MP said that he had already named five people who were involved in the riots - HKL Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar, Dharam Dass Shastri, Arjan Dass and Lalit Maken. He asked the Punjab CM to pursue with Modi to expedite trial as it was courts which had delayed the matter. He told the CM to also ensure that about 120 RSS activists named in the FIRs for anti-Sikh riots are brought to justice.
Commenting on Rahul Gandhi's age at the time of the incident, Akali Dal MP Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa said, "So were thousands of Sikh children who were orphaned when many of their fathers were burnt alive. The Gandhi scion could have at least related to the pain of these children." The Akali Dal said that it was shocked by the manner in which the latter had used Amarinder Singh to secure a clean chit. The party leaders said that Amarinder was in the habit of giving clean chits during his five year misrule in Punjab earlier.
"The manner in which the Amritsar MP, who calls himself a proud soldier, has stooped to bat for Rahul harks back to the days when his forefathers were known more as British toadies than kings," Dhindsa said.
Terming Rahul's visit as a photo-opportunity aimed at bolstering his sagging image in line with his earlier bouts of rural tourism, the Akali leaders said this was a favourite tactic for a member of the Gandhi family who did not have the guts to visit the widow colony in Tilak Vihar in Delhi or the bullet marks at the Akal Takth.
"Despite being only 14-year-old when these events occurred you must know that the genocide against Sikhs was engineered after a remark made by your father Rajiv Gandhi and that it was your grandmother Indira Gandhi who had sent tanks to the Darbar Sahib," Akali Dal MP Balwinder Singh Bhundur said.
Reacting to the SAD's barbs Amarinder said that the party was now raking up the 1984 riots issue to divert the public attention from real issues. "The noose around your (Badal) neck is tightening day by day. No matter what diversionary tactics you try to use, it is not going to loosen. You have proved to be an absolute administrative and political failure," he said.
The Congress has stepped up its offensive against the Akali Dal after Rahul's visit that gave a strong signal to rivals like the SAD, BJP and AAP ahead of 2017 Assembly elections.