“The First Amendment defends all forms of speech including hate speech, which is why groups like Ku Klux Klan are allowed to utter their poisonous remarks.”
– Salman Rushdie
The triumphant Congress returns to power in the heartland of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with three chief ministers formally taking oath on Monday. Taking oath on a marathon day of swearing-in ceremonies were three Congress chief ministers and a deputy chief minister—Kamal Nath in Madhya Pradesh, Bhupesh Baghel in Chhattisgarh and Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan, with Sachin Pilot as his deputy. However, the moment was marred by the verdict of the Delhi high court reversing the acquittal of Congress leader Sajjan Kumar in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and sentencing him to life imprisonment. Parties like BJP and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) stepped up the heat on the issue and targeted the Congress for Nath’s choice, alleging that he too was culpable in the riots. Kamal Nath’s name had cropped up along with affidavit and evidence submitted in a report to the Nanavati Commission. By overturning the session court’s order that acquitted Congress leader Sajjan Kumar for his role in the 1984 riots, the Delhi High Court has given hope to thousands of families who have waited for justice for more than 34 years. Following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984 by two of her Sikh bodyguards, the Sikh community became a target of communal violence. Mobs went around Delhi killing 2,733 Sikhs over the next four days. A total of 3,350 Sikhs were killed across the country, as per official figures. The conviction is no doubt “a delayed vindication of justice”. By reversing the Lower court’s acquittal and sentencing Kumar to imprisonment for the remainder of his life, the Delhi High Court has reignited hope for substantial justice.
The High Court has asked Kumar to surrender by 31 December and extended the terms of other two convicts – former MLA Mahender Yadav and Kishan Khokhar – from three years to 10 years. It was the Central Bureau of Investigation which had filed an appeal against Kumar’s acquittal in 2013, alleging that he and his accomplices were engaged in “a planned communal riot” and “religious cleansing”. There is no denying that some Congressmen had fanned the widespread violence that claimed so many lives in 1984 and it has been an open secret for all these decades. There were three main eyewitnesses in the case. One of them was Jagdish Kaur, whose husband Kehar, 18-year-old son Gurpreet and three cousins were killed. The other two witnesses were Jagsher Singh, a cousin of Jagdish Kaur, and Nirpreet Kaur, who saw the gurdwara being burnt down and her father being burnt alive by the raging mobs. These witnesses, however, deposed only after the case was handed to the CBI and stood firm all along.
The verdict is no doubt a “jolt” to the Congress party. The 73-year-old former strongman may now pin his hopes on an appeal to the Supreme Court. The verdict will not only be celebrated by the family members of those who were killed in Delhi Cantonment but by all those who were affected by the violence.