Hartosh Singh Bal in Caravan (photo Ashok Vahie):
ON WEDNESDAY, 31 October 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her guards, both Sikh. In the ensuing violence, which lasted roughly three days, 2,733 Sikhs were killed in Delhi. Sikhs were also attacked in several other Indian cities, including Kanpur, Bokaro, Jabalpur and Rourkela. It remains one of the bloodiest and most brutal episodes of communal violence in independent India.
Over the next two decades, nine commissions of inquiry were instituted. Seven of these investigated specific aspects of the tragedy, such as the death count, which was officially established by the Ahuja Committee in 1987. Two of the panels—the Ranganath Misra Commission, constituted in 1985, and the Justice GT Nanavati Commission, whose final report was published in 2005—were required to look at the violence in its entirety.
The reports of those two commissions still make for startling reading. Each recorded testimonies from numerous victims and witnesses, and took depositions from some of those accused, including police officers who had been on duty in badly affected areas. Yet there is not just a complete mismatch between the testimonies recorded and the conclusions reached—the commissions’ own observations contradict their findings.
For thirty years, it has been persistently claimed—partly on the basis of these findings—that the violence following Gandhi’s death was an unplanned outpouring of grief. But the records of these commissions clearly establish one thing that damns such conclusions: the condemnable but largely spontaneous violence of 31 October transformed into an orchestrated massacre that continued from the 1st to the 3rd of November.
For many years, survivors, witnesses and observers have suspected that the violence was orchestrated by the highest echelons of the Congress party.