Book Review: When a tree shook Delhi: the 1984 carnage and its aftermath by Manoj Mitta and H.S.Phoolka
After I finished reading the book, When a tree shook Delhi: the 1984 carnage and its aftermath by Manoj Mitta and H.S.Phoolka, I sat still for a few seconds and reflected of the severity of the experience of 200 odd pages I leafed through. The book serves the useful purpose of bringing together various bits of information regarding the Sikh carnage, replete with accounts from various government sources as well as witness stories; it also raises crucial questions about what went wrong and how.
Although there are a couple of official reports of inquiry commissions regarding the carnage, the book fills a void in that it brings together all these reports, and analyses their findings holistically. Manoj Mitta is an experienced journalist who has written about the 1984 slaughter extensively over two decades, and HS Phoolka a crusading lawyer who has fought for justice for the hapless and forlorn victims of the carnage.
Unlike many other “fact-finding” books I have read before, this one was not a cut-and-paste job or a collage of old newspaper clippings. The research and pain that has gone into putting this book together is massive and hence impressive.
Mitta and Phoolka have no difficulty in proving that the report of the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission that was appointed by the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1985 was a mere exercise in whitewashing facts. In 2001, the Vajpayee government appointed the Nanavati Commission that submitted its findings in the form of a report in 2005. Although the Nanavati Commission was more forthcoming about the “truth”, a lot was left unexplored.
The book raises an important issue of State complicity. The book confirms the worst suspicion that had the army been deployed in all the trouble-spots of the National Capital on October 31, 1984 itself, the killings could have been stopped. So, who delayed the deployment? The Home Minister and the Prime of Minister of India must answer.
It is tragic and ironic that the Congress made a Sikh Prime Minister “apologise” for a pogrom against Sikhs, 21 years after the carnage. Manmohan Singh, while presenting the Nanavati Commission’s report in Parliament admitted that even 21 years after the tragic riots and two judicial inquiries into them, the “truth had not yet been fully revealed”. He humbly “apologised” not only to the Sikh community but also to the whole nation for what took place in 1984. Yet, even that solemn moment was not without irony. Jagdish Tytler, one of the several Congress leaders accused of complicity in the carnage, was then a member of the Council of Ministers.
Will the truth about the bigger conspiracy behind this pogrom ever emerge in the public domain? Or will the guilty evade the gallows just for the “lack of evidence”? The integrity of world’s largest democracy is at stake.
My Rating: 4/5 stars
The title of this post might surprise some, while come across as unsurprising to many, but standing at the crossroads of another year end, there is no denying the fact that India needs more than just a figurative head. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has failed to inspire citizens with leadership and has reduced the post of executive head of the nation to ceremonial face which appears on hoardings and government advertisements.
Question naturally arises who should lead the government then? Which politician in current Indian political situation possesses the caliber to lead India towards prosperity? Is it India’s “crown Prince” Rahul Gandhi? Or Madam Sonia Gandhi? Or someone else?
Rahul Gandhi is too immature to take up the mantle as grave as the Prime Ministerial berth. He could, rather, make his way up starting with running a state (eg U.P.). That could well be an apprenticeship which can mold him for future responsibilities.
His mother and chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance is also better kept away from the PM’s office. Although it is an open secret that calls the shots in matters of national policy, but her ascent to the “chair” will spell trouble for the nation. The Party and The Government better be kept separate institutions and she can look after the party affairs.
India’s hunt for a Prime Minister ends with a very senior parliamentarian and also a senior minister of the present government. Pranab Mukherjee, in all fairness is the acting Prime Minister of UPA 2.
According to this article published in The Times Of India, Pranab Mukherjee is part of 34 Group of Ministers (GoM) heading 15 of them. He was most recently made head of the Joint Drafting Committee of the Lokpal Bill. Pranab Mukherjee is the Leader of the House in the Lok Sabha. On more than one occasions, this senior parliamentarian has emerged as the crisis manager for the UPA. His equations with various political outfits (across the colour spectrum) is known to be relatively better than his party colleagues. He has the distinction of holding ministries ranging from Defence to Finance, External Affairs, Revenue, Shipping, Transport, Communication, Economic Affairs, Commerce and Industry.
Rumours say, Pranab Mukherjee was a strong contender for the Prime Ministerial berth in the early 1980s. When Indira Gandhi was assassinated, a section of the Congress projected him as the Prime Minister in waiting. But given its sycophantic nature, the Congress fell back to the first family of Indian politics. The altercations were such that Pranab Mukherjee was forced to quit the party he had served for decades. Although he returned back to the fold of Congress soon, the “mistrust” seems yet to be healed.
Coronating Manmohan Singh to the high chair in 2004 was a political masterstroke by Sonia Gandhi in the wake of massive protests by BJP. But repeating the same in 2009 looks like an unpardonable mistake. Although Mr Singh is learning his lessons in politics, can India afford to bear the brunt of his tuition? Is it not more judicious to hand over the reigns to someone who is already in charge? After all that can boost the party’s electoral fortunes in 2014!
Unless history seeks to repeat itself, opportunity knocks at Congress’s door to undo the sin it committed in 1984. Pranab Mukherjee, with his political experience and leadership skills, can take India to echelons of glory.