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