Dr Dharam Vira Gandhi to move Truth Commission Bill in Parliament


Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, June 7: Dr Dharam Vira Gandhi, the MP from Patiala who won as Aam Aadmi Party man in 2014 elections, ended his write up that appeared in one of the major newspapers from the region on June 7 with the sentence, “Let fraternity and brotherhood prevail in Punjab. Let the humanity win”. What is unusual is that he has to write this  69  years after partition of the country during which Punjab was the major sufferer and this region too was divided into two Punjabs. But then historically,  Punjab has never been stable. The Indian Punjab faced the worst during the period lasting about decade and a half beginning 1978. This Punjab was trisected in 1966 when Haryana was carved out from its territory with mountainous areas having been merged  with neighbouring Himachal Pradesh. Communal divide continues to run deep in this border state whose political dynamics is different from other states in the country but this divide is issue based. Despite this divide, the region has been free from communal riots despite the Sikhs having come under attack in other states.

Dr Gandhi has taken up a bigger agenda and that is of the closure of the terrorist/militant movement that rocked the state in which thousands of people were killed and those who became the victims of this brand  of politics of violence included Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Akali Dal chief Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh and retired chief of the Indian Army General A S Vaidya. No exact count is available as hundreds of Sikh youth just disappeared without a trace.

Setting up of the truth and reconciliation commission might not have been mooted for the first time but Dr Gandhi is now taking up this agenda as a mission and this is what makes the difference. He would not confine the raising this issue as part of the normal political discourse but take some concrete steps.

He has decided to move private member’s bill for the setting up of this Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission and his template broadly is  the post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa but suitable to the demands of Punjab. In Punjab, the sufferers were both Sikhs as well as Hindus. The humiliation and degradation the people suffered at the hands of both the security forces and the terrorists/militants are shocking. The torture of Baljit Kaur involved in the killing of Bhindranwale associate Surinder Singh Sodhi in the Golden Temple complex is in the public domain as her half burnt body was later recovered from a gutter. Golden temple is not the place where people should have been roasted alive. The way the security forces tortured Sikhs are part of the social media.

This issue of setting up of such a commission had come up at a seminar by some Sikh bodies last week too but Dr Gandhi goes a step ahead  as he proposes to give practical shape to his proposal.

In the first stage, he proposes to meet the President of India, the Prime Minister and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to convince them about the need for such a commission. This lobbying is a must as his initiative might face strong resistance from the very people who could be scared of getting exposed. This could include people from across the political spectrum. Then there is the role of agencies, both Indian and foreign. The dynamics of political violence in Punjab has been very intricate.  It is more than three decades later that some information has started surfacing.

There can be nothing like entire truth and moreover, these are the terms that are relative. The truth commission should be allowed to inspect entire government record, including that of all the intelligence agencies. Some retired officials  have provided some insight in the books they have written regarding the role of the intelligence agencies they were working with.

No prime minister would put at stake his/her own life to win election by polarizing the society at large. Sant Bhindranwale was determined to die. However, somebody has to explain as to why six Hindus travelling in a bus were taken out from a bus and gunned down on the night of October 5, 1983. What was the fault of the farmers who were shot by the army near Patti in the early morning hours when they were going on bullock cart to get diesel for their pump sets. Diesel was in short supply then. There was yet another section that was the worst sufferer- the women.

Moving the bill in Lok Sabha would be a big achievement in itself for Dr Gandhi, who has been a social activist who set the example of providing affordable health care with his experiment of participatory democracy at village Bilaspur where, as a government doctor,  he left behind 30-bed hospital that he constructed without any held from the government.



Jagtar Singh


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