I was on my way to Peshawar from Lahore to meet Khan Abdul Wali Khan, son of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the Frontier Gandhi. My friend and I stopped at Abottabad, halfway, to have a cup of tea. The radio continuously blared that prime minister Indira Gandhi had been assassinated by her Sikh security guards. It was a BBC broadcast. The All India Radio announcement came four hours later. There was no question of our proceeding further. But it was too late to catch the flight back to Delhi from Lahore. I had no permission to cross the border on foot.
Post Indira assassination
It was late in the afternoon the following day that I landed at Palam. The airport wore a forlorn look. The two Sikh officers at the immigration counter stood aloof. I could not make out what had happened. A Hindu immigration officer explained that many Sikhs had been killed in the city. (The official figure of casualties was put at 3,000 in Delhi alone). Hordes of fanatics had been hurled upon the Sikhs to kill them. I could not imagine how it was possible when the Hindus and Sikhs were so close to each other socially and religion-wise for ages and when the government was in good control. But it had turned out that the government itself was a party to the killings.
The then prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, had reportedly said that his mother had been murdered and nothing had happened. And after the massacre of Sikhs, he had lamented that when a big tree is felled, the earth is bound to shake. He had no qualms of sorrow. Rajiv Gandhi intentionally delayed the deployment of army. I discovered subsequently to my horror that he had stopped even the flag march by the army because he wanted to “punish” the Sikhs. But the police had also been told to overlook the incidents.
After the Nanavati Commission had reconstructed the events in a White Paper, I asked him why he had not named the people responsible for looking and killing the Sikhs, he said it was “so obvious.” He did not want to elaborate further. Indeed, it was not a secret and Justice Nanavati was quite right in not spelling out. His reticence was in order. Even though he had come to the conclusion that Rajiv Gandhi was behind it, he, as a judge, could not hold the then prime minister guilty without a proper inquiry.
Silence of liberals
Congress president Sonia Gandhi should have publicly apologised for what had happened to the Sikhs at the hands of her family, headed by Rajiv Gandhi. But Sonia preferred to go to President Pranab Mukherjee to complain about the rise of intolerance. There was nothing wrong in doing so because it is for anybody to see intolerance has increased in the last one and a half years. There is no doubt that the level of tolerance has come down after the advent of the Narendra Modi government. But it is also true that the liberal elements do not speak out. Their silence is ominous and it is unexplainable why the media should be a mute spectator. The early November is one occasion when the atrocities against the Sikh community should have been recalled and condemned at the joint meeting of the two communities. But even the liberal Hindus did not take the initiative.
The contamination of bureaucracy is obvious. There is tolerance towards minorities but not acceptance. When I was India’s High Commissioner at London, I found how the officials behaved particularly. At the High Commission I saw the mission’s main gate was kept closed. The security men told me that this was being done to keep the Sikh terrorists away. The security opened the aperture in the door to see if the visitor was Sikh or non-Sikh. If he were a Sikh, he was told to come through the back door and was thoroughly frisked. I was horrified because the assumption was that the Sikhs were terrorists. I immediately ordered throwing open the gate and the Sikhs were allowed through the main door.
I also found that there was a list of 100-odd Sikhs who were declared by the Home Ministry as “undesirable.” A Sikh rang me up from Lancashire to request me to issue a visa to his son who was just 12 years old. I asked him why he did not follow the routine procedure. He said that Sikhs were not being issued visas. I took up the case of this boy and found that his father was listed as undesirable. Going deep into the case, I found that the father had raised a slogan ‘Khalistan zindabad’ outside the India House, the mission’s office. I found it strange that the sins of father should visit on the son and also felt amused that the father had been blacklisted because he had raised the slogan. I told the visa officials that if we were to deny visa to the boy, he would definitely become a Khalistani. If he were to go to India, he would see that there were no discriminations against the Sikhs. After visiting India, the boy and his family became the most exponent of the message that he was proud to be an Indian. He had gone all over and found that there was no discrimination against the Sikhs. A fringe element was against the minorities but it had no supporters.
One argument of mine which went home was that the country should be differentiated from the government. The government belongs to a political party or a combination of parties which could be thrown out in elections. But the country belongs to all the people and any harm done to it would affect all the communities, whether they are in the government or in the opposition. India, as a country, has survived for ages because it has the spirit of accommodation and sense of tolerance. Those who are trying to defeat this idea are really harming the country. Fortunately, the people have awakened to the intolerance, which some elements are spreading. This is a positive sign.