Mumbai: Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s statement that the Congress party was not involved in the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 triggered a political debate.

We fact-checked his claim, using two inquiry commission reports, which made a distinction between motives of the party and its leaders.

Congress leaders and workers were indeed involved in the riots, committing these acts for “personal political reasons” or for “considerations entirely their own”, an inquiry commission report said. However, involvement of the party was “ruled out”.

Claim: “I have no confusion in my mind about that. It was a tragedy, it was a painful experience. You say that the Congress party was involved in that, I don't agree. Certainly there was violence, there was tragedy,” Rahul Gandhi said during a meeting with the local parliamentarians in United Kingdom on August 24, 2018.

Fact: Congress leaders and workers were found to be involved in the 1984 Sikh riots, their motives attributed to “personal political reasons”; they “did indulge/participate in the riots for considerations entirely their own”, said two inquiry commission reports. However, involvement of the party was “ruled out”, according to Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission, and there was “no evidence suggesting that Shri Rajiv Gandhi or any other high ranking Congress (I) leader had suggested or organized attacks on Sikhs”, according to the Nanavati Commission report.

Congress leaders, such as Dharam Das Shastri, then member of parliament (MP), Sajjan Kumar, later member of parliament, Jagdish Tytler, later minister of state for Overseas Indian Affairs, Ram Lal, then Congress Councillor, H K L Bhagat, then union minister, and others were found to be involved in the attacks on Sikhs, according to the Nanavati Commission report.

As many as 3,325 people were killed in the 1984 riots nationwide, with 2,733 killed in Delhi alone, the government told the Rajya Sabha on March 11, 2015, citing the Ahooja committee report, set up under the Rangnath Mishra Commission by the Delhi administration to find the number of deaths in the riots.

The central government set up two inquiry commissions, headed by Justice Ranganath Mishra on April 26, 1985, and Justice G T Nanavati on May 8, 2000, to investigate the 1984 riots. The reports were submitted to the parliament on February 23, 1987, and August 10-11, 2005, respectively. Both these reports were submitted when a Congress or Congress-led government was in power at the Centre.

The Mishra Commission “ruled out participation by the Congress (I) Party or its leaders” but found that some Congressmen “on their own did indulge or participate in the riots for considerations entirely their own”.

The Mishra report also found “delay” on the part of Delhi government and police administration in calling the army, although 5,000 army personnel were ready by the midnight of October 31, 1984.

“As the attacks on Sikhs appear to the Commission as organized, an attempt was made to see who were responsible for organizing the same. Some of the affidavits filed before the commission generally state that the Congress leaders/workers were behind these riots,” the Nanavati Commission report said. “The slogans raised during the riots also indicate that some of the persons who constituted the mobs were Congress(I) workers or sympathizers.”

On the involvement Rajiv Gandhi in the 184 riots, the commission said it “finds no substance” in the allegation that he said: “Sikhs should be taught a lesson.”

However, Rajiv Gandhi did say that “whenever a big tree falls, the earth shakes a little”.

About this statement of Rajiv Gandhi, George Vergese, the then editor of Indian Express, in his affidavit “stated that this statement and other circumstances had created an impression among the section of the people that the public anger was allowed to run its course for a while”, the Nanavati commission report said.

The report reiterated, though, that “there is absolutely no evidence suggesting that Shri Rajiv Gandhi or any other high ranking Congress (I) leader had suggested or organized attacks on Sikhs”.

“Whatever acts were done, were done by the local Congress (I) leaders and workers, and they appear to have done so for their personal political reasons,” the Nanavati Commission report said. “They do not appear to have done so purely for personal reasons. If they were the acts of individuals only then the killing of Sikhs and looting of properties of Sikhs would not have been on such a large scale. Therefore, what those local leaders appear to have done is to take the help of their followers and supporters in inciting or committing those acts.”

"Rahul Gandhi's statement that Congress had no role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots is wrong," H S Phoolka, Senior Advocate at Supreme Court of India and Member of Legislative Assembly for Aam Aadmi Party, said on August 26, 2018. Phoolka was one of the advocates who appeared on behalf of the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee and the November 1984 Carnage Justice Committee, associations representing the victims.

Nanavati Commission report stating involvement of Congress Party leaders in the 1984 Sikh riots:

The Commission, therefore, is of the view that there is credible evidence against Shri Dharam Das Shastri who was a Congress (I) leader of the locality, that he had instigated his men Shri Tek Chand Sharma and Shri Rajinder Singh to organize attack on Sikhs. The Commission recommends to the Government that it should examine the relevant material and direct investigation or further investigation as may be found necessary with respect to the aforesaid allegations.

D. NORTH DISTRICT On the basis of the evidence relating to the incidents which happened in this District it appeared to the Commission that the ACP Shri R.S. Malik, SI Ram Singh, ASI Amar Nath, ASI Mange Ram, ASI Raja Ram, Police Inspector Jai Bhagwan Malik, Police Inspector Durga Prasad and SI Sat Parkash had not performed their duty propertly. Accordingly, notices u/s 8B of Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 were issued to them. Out of them ASI Raja Ram could not be served with the notice as he had already expired earlier. Others were served and they have filed their replies. It also appeared to the Commission that S/Shri Jagdish Tytler, Ram Lal, Kaka Bali, Ram Chander Nagoria and Tarvinder Singh Bedi, who were all Congress(I) Leaders or workers, were in some way involved in the attacks on Sikhs or their properties in this area. Notice issued to Shri Tarvinder Singh could not be served as it was reported that he has died. Notice was not issued to Kaka Bali also as he had expired earlier. S/Shri Jagdish Tytler, Ram Chander Nagoria and Ram Lal have sent their replies.

As stated by Shri Gurbachan Singh (Witness -137) involvement of Shri Jagdish Tytler was also disclosed by by the affected persons to the ‘Citizens Commission’ during the inquiry which it had made within a short time after the riots. That inquiry was made by eminent persons of unquestionable integrity. Shri Govind Narain (Witness-150) who had assisted the Citizens Committee, whose Chairman was Mr. Justice Sikri, has also stated that witnesses had told the Committee about participation by S/Shri H.K.L. Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler in the anti-Sikh riots. Relying upon all this material, the Commission considers it safe to record a finding that there is credible evidence against Shri Jagdish Tytler to the effect that very probably he had a hand in organizing attacks on Sikhs. The Commission, therefore, recommends to the Government to look into this aspect and take further action as may be found necessary.

Large number of affidavits indicate that local Congress(I) leaders and workers had either incited or helped the mobs in attacking the Sikhs. But for the backing and help of influential and resourceful persons, killing of Sikhs so swiftly and in large numbers could not have happened.

The Bharatiya Janata Party and other political parties criticised Rahul Gandhi’s statement that the Congress was not involved in the 1984 Sikh riots.

“It is shocking to hear Mr. Rahul’s statement when all the main culprits from H K L Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar, Jagdish Tytler, Dharamdas Shastri to Kamal Nath were from Congress,” The Hindu quoted Jarnail Singh, vice-chairperson of the Punjabi Academy and former member of the Delhi legislative assembly, as saying on August 27, 2018.

The Congress and its leaders said their party was not involved but acknowledged that some of their comrades were. They said Rahul Gandhi was 13 or 14 years at the time, too young to be held responsible.