Rahul gambles with appointment of Kamal Nath as Congress in-charge in Punjab

India's trade minister Kamal Nath speaks to The Associated Press in Hong Kong Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2005. Nath, who is in this Asian financial center to participate in the World Trade Organization's ministerial meeting, said it was unlikely the WTO meeting here would resolve a thorny dispute over agricultural trade, but he didn't see a collapse like the previous ministerial gathering in Cancun, Mexico, two years ago. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, June 12: The Punjab Congress did not react till late in the evening to the replacement of Shakeel Ahmed by party general secretary Kamal Nath as in-charge of this state where the outcome of the February 2017 Assembly election has the potential to catapult the party to the national stage. Nath’s name had figured in the November 1984 conspiratorial anti-Sikh violence following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards. It was only last year that senior journalist Sanjay Suri had recalled his eye witness account of the violence outside Gurdwara Rakab Ganj in which he mentions the name of Kamal Nath. Sanjay was then working with The Indian Express and the coverage by the paper was both extensive and intensive.

Here are the excerpts from his eye witness account:

“I wasn’t expecting to find Kamal Nath by the screaming crowd outside Rakab Ganj Sahib gurdwara, where two Sikhs had only just been burnt alive. But there he was, a little to a side, in bright white kurta-pajama, not far from the usual white Ambassador car with its mounted red light and mini flag post by the front bumper announcing its ministerial, or at least officially important, credentials.

“The white of Kamal Nath’s kurta and pajama was standard for a Congress leader. Not exclusive to the Congress, of course, leaders do wear it as near-uniform on occasions where they wish to appear leader like in public. That day the white no doubt doubled appropriately as mourning dress. It was the afternoon of 1 November, Indira Gandhi had been assassinated the previous day. Her body lay for darshan in Teen Murti Bhavan close to Rakab Ganj gurdwara. Mourners had been filing past all morning crying ‘khoon ka badla khoon (blood for blood)’….

“Did I see Kamal Nath physically and obviously leading a mob, commanding them to kill Sikhs? No, I did not. If to that extent the affidavit was ‘weak’, so it was and so be it. But it is just as true that what I had seen raised disturbing questions about just what Kamal Nath was doing there. These were questions the commissions of inquiry did not probe at any length.

“What I did see then was that when the crowd surged forward at one point, Kamal Nath had only to gesture lightly, and they held back. Does that fact exonerate Kamal Nath? Because, on the face of it, he had restrained the crowd, hadn’t he? By way of some intervention he did at that point prevent the crowd advancing further towards the gurdwara.

“Why did the crowd listen to him? Why, in a situation where a murderous bunch was advancing yet again, would the police continue to stand to a side (and the officer leading them duck to a side), and now watch the MP control that crowd? Why did a word from the Congress MP become more effective than any move from the police? What was the relation between Kamal Nath and that crowd that he had only to raise his hand towards it and it held back?”

AAP chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was quick to react, earlier than the Akali Dal.

Obviously, Rahul  Gandhi has gambled in Punjab. State party chief Capt Amarinder Singh wanted Shakeel Ahmed to be replaced. Perhaps he himself was not aware the name of Kamal Nath having surfaced at that time in the anti-Sikh violence. He was the first leader from Punjab to visit the victims of this violence in Delhi.

The life of an issue in Punjab is normally about a month. There are more serious and pressing issues concerning the state than the appointment of Kamal Nath as incharge of the Punjab Congress affairs. In case his guilt is proved, the law would take its own course. However, the wheels of justice have not moved even after 32 years and despite the fact that it is the BJP government ruling at the centre in which the Akali Dal is a partner.

The Akali Dal has been the partner too in earlier NDA government led by Atal Behari Vajpyee but no progress could be made even then in the killing of hundreds of Sikhs in a planned manner in Delhi.

This tragedy has never impacted the Assembly elections in Punjab. The Congress formed the government twice in this state after November, 1984.  The Sikhs in Delhi started voting for the Congress after a period. The Akali Dal committed the blunder of boycotting the elections in 1992, yielding space to the Congress. It was Capt. Amarinder Singh who commanded the party to power again in 2002.

The appointment of Kamal Nath would be part of Punjab political discourse in the coming days and it is upto the Congress to blunt this attack by opting for pro-people issues that are of immediate concern. Issues like appointment of Kamal Nath can be used by both AAP and the Akali Dal to divert political discourse from the real issues. It is the agrarian crisis resulting in increasing incidence of suicides by the farmers that is more serious. The issue of drugs has been hitting the discourse repeatedly.

The most crucial is to give positive programme to check Punjab from sliding down further.


Jagtar Singh


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