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Manmohan Singh blames Narsimha Rao for 1984 massacre

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh had referred to former PM IK Gujral’s meeting with then home minister PV Narasimha Rao, saying that if his advice to press the army into action had been heeded, then “perhaps the massacre that took place in 1984 could have been avoided”.

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Dec 06, 2019, 11.48 AM IST
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Singh had referred to former prime minister IK Gujral’s meeting with then home minister PV Narasimha Rao, saying that if his advice to press the army into action had been heeded, then “perhaps the massacre that took place in 1984 could have been avoided”.
NEW DELHI: Former prime minister Manmohan Singh’s belief that lives could be saved if the Army were called in immediately after riots broke out following Indira Gandhi’s assassination was shared by political leaders, veterans and even serving armed forces officers who had raised the matter, but the Congress-led government had failed to act till it was too late, official records showed.

Singh had referred to former prime minister IK Gujral’s meeting with then home minister PV Narasimha Rao, saying that if his advice to press the army into action had been heeded, then “perhaps the massacre that took place in 1984 could have been avoided”.

Official records show that not only Gujral, but veterans like 1971 war hero Lt Gen JS Aurora had appealed to the government to deploy the Army without delay on October 31, 1984, but it took the Congress regime more than 24 hours to react, resulting in anti-Sikh riots spreading across the national capital.

In his testimony before the Nanavati Commission, Gujral said that he had found Rao unaware of how the unrest was unfolding in the city. In fact, a strange reason was given to Gujral by then Lt Governor of Delhi, PG Gavai, for not calling in the armed forces. “If the Army is called, there would be panic,” the Nanavati Commission report quoted Gavai as telling him.

Gujral was impressed upon by Lt Gen Aurora, who had led the Indian forces to victory in East Pakistan in 1971, that immediate action was needed to be taken. In his testimony, writer Patwant Singh recorded that Lt Gen Aurora, former ambassador S Gurbachan Singh and Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh, who was later elevated to the rank of Marshal of the Air Force, met then president Giani Zail Singh, to ask for action.

The president had said that he was not in touch with the home minister. The lack of action from the government had prompted the delegation to meet Rao but he, too, was found to be “impassive”.

“This witness found the approach of the home minister casual and the impression which he and others carried was that he was totally unconcerned. He has also stated that as a matter of fact the home minister did not make any plan and discuss the matter with the Army chief for controlling the violence. They carried an impression that even if the Army arrives in the city, it will not be made effective and that their fears turned out to be correct as the Army was not made effective till 3-11-1984,” the Nanavati commission report said.

While most commissions and reports have absolved Rajiv Gandhi, who was sworn in as prime minister immediately after the assassination, the Nanavati report carried the testimony of SC Tandon, then Delhi police commissioner, who said that the decision to call in the Army by the prime minister was taken at 1.30 pm on November 1, over 24 hours after the assassination.

In his testimony, Rao had defended his actions, saying that as the home minister, he was not competent to call the troops. “From where the troops should be called is a decision within the exclusive domain of the Chief of the Army Staff under the ministry of defence,” read his official reply to the panel.

The testimony was supported by Rao’s grandson NV Subhash, a BJP spokesperson who said efforts are still being made to shield the Gandhi family from any blame for inaction during the anti-Sikh riots. “As a family member, I’m feeling saddened by this statement by Dr Manmohan Singh. It’s unacceptable. Can any home minister take independent decision without the Cabinet’s approval?” he questioned.

Beyond the efforts by politicians and senior veterans to activate the Army to curb violence, the Nanavati Commission also recorded that serving officers posted in New Delhi were astonished with the lack of action.

Retired Brigadier AS Brar, who was then posted as the commandant of Rajputana Rifles Regimental Centre in Delhi, was quoted as saying that he was “surprised and disgusted with the mental and physical inertia of the authorities” when he rang up his seniors, asking if help was needed but was told that the situation was under control.

The officer has also recorded conversations he had with Brig DD Madura and Brig Inder Luthra, who led troops into Delhi a day after the rioting broke out. When asked why it had taken the Army so long to reach Delhi, the officers had replied: “Do not ask us. Ask the authorities for not allowing us to enter Delhi yesterday.”

Major General JS Jamwal (Retd), who was the general officer commanding of Delhi Area, gave evidence stating that he had troops on the ready for deployment immediately after reports of the assassination but formal orders to engage the soldiers came more than 24 hours later.

It took the Army three days to get into effective control and it was only by November 3 that violence reduced in the national capital. The Justice Mishra Commission – set up to investigate and suggest remedies after the riots – had cited the delay in calling in the Army, keeping it on stand by and asked to aid and assist the Delhi administration were among the top reasons for the riots that claimed thousands of Sikh lives.

(Catch all the Business News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on The Economic Times.)

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