Much has been said and written about the shoe that was thrown by a Sikh journalist at P Chidambaram, India’s Home Minister when he refused to address the concerns raised about the Congress Party nominating Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar to contest the upcoming Lok Sabha elections from Delhi: where in 1984, these two gents were alleged to have masterminded a state-supported pogrom which saw the death of over 10,000 Sikhs only because the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi had been assassinated by a Sikh bodyguard.
In this melee, history has been conveniently forgotten because in addition to what these two gents have supposedly been accused of, was also a statement by the slain Prime Minister’s son, Rajiv Gandhi, that when a large tree falls, the ground shakes.
One cannot accuse Rajiv Gandhi of being communal but then given the servility of India’s political classes I would not be surprised, if that statement too would have been seen as a gentle nod of support for the mayhem that followed. India experienced the kind of rioting that would make Godhra in Gujarat look like kindergarten. The only difference was those riots were not televised. The ones in Gujarat were.
I have often argued both in print and television, that the Congress party has perhaps as much blood on its hand as the BJP: and both have used caste and creed to forment trouble in unimaginable ways. The fact that the so-called secular Congress has the gumption to field the Tytlers and Kumars of this world is an expression of denial on the one hand and brazen disregard for the emotions of the citizens on the other. I cannot imagine why the Congress has not acted swiftly and denied them a party ticket to contest the polls. In the absence of such action, the Congress comes across as equally indulgent of hate as the BJP is often made out to be.
The killings happened in 1984 and from then till now, justice has not only been delayed but denied as well. It is a shame that while on the one hand we castigate Narendra Modi, Gujarat’s Chief Minister for what happened in Gujarat, as we should, there is a numbed silence on the events of October 1984. This, to my mind, is a reflection not just on the apathy of our political system but also of our justice system. It is a sad state of affairs that while families of the dead continue to wait for justice, in some bizarre turn of events, they will be asked to choose a candidate who in their minds has blood on his hands. Eventually it is about perceptions and not reality. It is about being seen to be doing the right thing and not trying to obfuscate the real issues by shielding behind an ineffective investigative agency or for that matter a lethargic justice system. The anger of the Sikhs is justified. As is the anger of the Muslims of Gujarat. This anger cannot and must not be ignored if we are to preserve the secular identity of India. And send out a demonstrable signal, that those who kill will not be allowed to govern.
I would argue that the shoe was thrown not at Chidambaram the person, but at the political class that he represents and the office he holds and it does not help matters when he is also seen as both opinionated and arrogant by a large swathe of the elite. I think the shoe- throwing incident must be seen in its symbolism and not in its reality. It is an eruption from the frustration that thousands of Sikh families suffer every passing day and to see that emotion being mocked by nominating these two gents is infuriating to say the least. The journalist Jarnail Singh epitomized that anger; that frustration and sadly the collective helplesness not just of riot victims but also of every Indian who has been victimized by a blend of politics and justice. It is this that we need to be cognizant of.
Sonia Gandhi would be humane and wise to take back the nominations of these two gentlemen whether or not they are held innocent by what is already seen as a kangaroo investigation. She needs to send a signal that she is different and that as a result her party is different. In a strange way she also needs to undo the damage that her late husband seemingly caused by his immediate utterance that were explained, at that time, as an emotional outburst of a grieving son. Today, there are many grieving mothers and sons who’ve been scarred by the trauma of 1984.
And to paraphrase George Orwell, 1984 will never be different if the Tytlers and Kumars of this world escape political banishment, as they must. Sonia Gandhi has very little choice. But then who knows how wise one is, when the boot is on the other foot?