Manmohan Singh did not have the courage to take on the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty’s interference in his government’s functioning from 2004-14.
Thirty-five years after the incident, Manmohan Singh has suddenly thought it necessary to offer his insight on how the massacre of more than 3,000 Sikhs in Delhi could have been averted. He claimed that as Union Home Minister, PV Narasimha Rao failed to heed senior leader IK Gujral’s advice to immediately call in the Army to quell the violence. Manmohan Singh said that Gujral met Rao and pleaded with him to requisition the Army’s assistance. “If that advice had been heeded, perhaps the 1984 massacre could have been avoided”, he declared.
The reason was one of efficiency, but the result was that the Home Minister was bypassed. Reports from local stations were now sent directly to the Prime Minister’s Office.”
It is disgraceful that Singh should have indicted a person who not just trusted him with the Finance portfolio but also stood by him when critics unleashed their venom over the economic reforms that had been set in motion. Such had been the condemnation that Singh had offered to resign. He was persuaded against the move by Rao who assured him that he (Rao) would take the rap if things went wrong.
But’s let keep aside the ungratefulness shown by Singh. If Manmohan Singh was indeed in the know of the failure, why did he join Rao’s government in 1991? He could have taken the principled position that he would have nothing to do with a leader who had failed to protect the Sikhs. He not only joined the ministry but gathered the accolades that came his way for the economic reforms.
We have only Singh’s word, as of now, that Gujral had asked Rao to summon the Army at the earliest and the latter refused to act on it. Gujral did not make a mention of this incident in his autobiography, Matters of Discretion. In fact, he skips every detail of the horrific incident in the book. There is a chapter titled ‘Indira Gandhi’s Assassination (chapter 32), which ends with the following sentence: “The era of her son Rajiv Gandhi began ominously with the torrent of anti-Sikh riots, which continue to haunt the nation to this day.” The following chapter jumps to the formation of the Janata Dal and the intricacies surrounding it. It is strange that Gujral did not delve into what he admits was a “torrent of anti-Sikh riots”. One wonders why he was so circumspect even years of the incident (his autobiography was published by Hay House in 2011), to the extent of forgetting even this important piece of advice he offered.
But there are other details in author Vinay Sitapati’s biography of Rao, titled Half Lion: How PV Narasimha Rao Transformed India. He points out that Delhi being a Union Territory then, the Delhi police reported directly to Home Minister Rao. The author writes that Rao was in his office talking to a bureaucrat when the news of rioting began to filter in. Here is the version given by Sitapati: “According to this bureaucrat, the telephone rang at around 6 pm (October 31, 1984). On the line was a young Congressman known for his proximity to Rajiv Gandhi. He told Narasimha Rao about the attacks against Sikhs living in Delhi, and spoke of the need to ‘coordinate a single response to the violence’. Henceforth, ‘all information (on the violence) should be sent to the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office)’. The reason was one of efficiency, but the result was that the Home Minister was bypassed. Reports from local stations were now sent directly to the Prime Minister’s Office.”
Sitapati goes on to narrate that eminent lawyer Ram Jethmalani met Rao and was “struck by the fact that Rao appeared unconcerned”. The reason for this attitude, the author notes, is that with the PMO in direct control of the affairs, “the Home Minister knew he had been made redundant”. Later on, former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan too met Rao and appealed to him to act. Rao picked up the phone and spoke to somebody, asking him to take action. Of course, nothing happened, which only proves the point that Rao had become a nobody on this issue.
It is public knowledge — and was even then — that several Congress leaders were involved in the incident, and they would not have dared to go on if Rajiv Gandhi had censured them.
It is clear that the buck stopped at Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s table. It can be argued that Rao could have bypassed his Prime Minister in this hour of crisis and directed the authorities to take action. But this line of argument must then also accept that Rajiv Gandhi failed as Prime Minister. Those like Manmohan Singh, while holding Rao responsible, skirt the larger issue of Rajiv Gandhi’s unpardonable failure. Besides, let’s not forget that several inquiry panels which have gone into the incident have cleared Rao of any dereliction of duty. If there is anything that can be held against him, it is that he did not stand up to his Prime Minister and publicly shame him. Had he done that, his career in the Congress party would have ended unceremoniously but he would have at least emerged with his head held high. But there is a flip side too. If Rao had acted independently, he would have been accused of embarrassing Rajiv Gandhi at a time when the latter was still in mourning. And for seeking to derive personal political capital out of a tragedy. Besides, it is doubtful if the authorities, knowing that the PMO was handling the issue, would have obeyed Rao’s instructions.
Assuming that Gujral did give that advice, what was Rao’s reaction? It cannot be that he wanted the Sikhs to be killed and, therefore did not act. Was there something he told Gujral by way of explanation for his failure to respond to the violence? And, why did Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi not dismiss his Home Minister Rao if the latter had indeed failed in his duties at that critical juncture? It is sad that Manmohan Singh while demeaning his mentor, has not shown the courage to call a spade a spade. He cannot be unaware of the fact that, if only Rajiv Gandhi had said one word against the violence and sternly asked for it to end, the tragedy could have been contained. After all, it is public knowledge — and was even then — that several Congress leaders were involved in the incident, and they would not have dared to go on if Rajiv Gandhi had censured them.
Manmohan Singh did not have the courage to take on the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty’s interference in his government’s functioning from 2004-14. But at least now, when neither he nor his party is in power, he could have demonstrated some spine and, instead of picking on Rao, identified Rajiv Gandhi by name. But then, Manmohan Singh has nothing left to lose by remaining subservient to the dynasty. Rao was his past; Sonia Gandhi is his present.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.