Over a year-and-a-half after the Supreme Court ordered a Special Investigation Team to re-investigate cases from the 1984 mass killings of Sikhs, the Home Ministry on Monday, 9 September, ordered the SIT to reopen case number 601/84 – in which Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath could face investigation and prosecution.
According to official estimates, 2,733 Sikhs were murdered in Delhi in the aftermath of the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (3,350 across India), with riots against the community also destroying and damaging homes and gurudwaras and leading to the displacement of thousands.
Several Congress leaders have been accused over the years of instigating the violence, including Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar. Kamal Nath, who was an up and coming MP from Chhindwara in Madhya Pradesh at the time, was accused of being present at the Rakab Ganj Gurudwara when it was attacked on 1 November 1984.
Here’s what we know about the incident, how Nath has defended himself, and what charges could possibly be laid at his door.
On 1 November 1984, the Rakab Ganj Gurudwara, across the street from Parliament House, was besieged for around five hours, during which two Sikh men were burnt alive and the building of the gurudwara was damaged by the mob.
In its report about the incident the next day, The Indian Express reported that Kamal Nath had led the mob, according to Manoj Mitta and HS Phoolka in their book about the riots – When a Tree Shook Delhi.
A staff reporter for The Indian Express, Sanjay Suri was on the spot, and would go on to be a key witness in the investigations into the incident. Suri said in his report that Nath was controlling the crowd, and that the mob was looking to him for directions, something he reiterated in all his statements to the inquiries into the riots.
In an interview to The Indian Express in 2015, this is how Suri described what he saw at the scene:
“When I went to Rakabganj Gurdwara, there were crowds outside and they were surging. Two Sikhs had already been burnt alive. I saw a crowd on the road surging again and again towards the gurdwara. By the side of this crowd was Kamal Nath. The crowd move forward, he raised his hand and they stopped. You could see this two ways – he stopped the crowd. My question is – what is the relationship between him and them that he had only to raise his hand and they stopped?”
A more detailed account by Suri can be found in his book 1984: The Anti-Sikh Violence and After, an excerpt from which was published in The Caravan on 7 July 2015.
The Statesman also reported on 3 November 1984 that Nath was present at Rakab Ganj, and said “Officers wondered what Mr Kamal Nath was doing at Rakabganj.”