Saturday, October 29

Not His Master's Voice

Praful Bidwai on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

When Manmohan Singh was sworn in as India's Prime Minister 16 months ago, many regarded him as a political lightweight who got that job entirely by virtue of his proximity and loyalty to Sonia Gandhi. He would long remain under the Congress president's shadow, consult her on every issue, if not take all his commands from her.
Many pundits forecast duopoly: two centres of power, one (Gandhi's) greater than the other; or separation between political and economic decision-making. Gandhi would retain primacy in the first; Singh would dominate the second.
This theory started looking shaky rather early on. Singh hand-picked his team, including Pranab Mukherjee, a known security hawk, and Montek Singh Ahluwalia, a committed neo-liberal with a strong International Monetary Fund-World Bank background. Ahluwalia would be at least as important as, if not more so than, Finance Minister P Chidambaram.
As Planning Commission deputy chair, he would tremendously influence economic priorities and distribution of Central expenditure. Chidambaram, at the end of the day, is a politician, who cannot ignore his constituency. Ahluwalia has no popular constituency.
However, Singh soon dealt another blow to the duopoly hypothesis. He followed Vajpayee in creating a strong Prime Minister's Office, with its own staff. He had definite ideas about who would be in the Planning Commission or head the Indian Council of Social Science Research. He vetoed more appointments than he approved. Soon, Singh quietly started asserting himself in areas such as foreign policy. His style was never confrontational, but beneath the polite, soft-spoken exterior lay a hard-nosed, shrewd persona.
Today, Manmohan Singh has emerged from Sonia Gandhi's shadow. He's his own man, with definite ideas, projects, policies and preferences. He has left his stamp on many institutions. This in part follows the forceful logic of the office he holds. It cannot be otherwise in a Westminster-style democracy, when the Prime Minister does not preside over a collegium, but is pre-eminent - some might say, excessively important. The exercise of power through the Cabinet and its institutions favours the PM. The PMO multiplies the effect, through its managers, fire-fighters and spin-doctors.
So far, this is pretty straightforward. But it?s remarkable that Manmohan Singh leads (if he fully does) a party with no more than 145 seats in the 545-strong Lok Sabha and yet can rule as if he commanded a single-party majority! This is partly explained by the ideologically disparate, fragmented nature of the Congress's United Progressive Alliance partners (mostly regional or Mandal-inspired OBC parties) and "outside" supporters (the Left, Bahujan Samaj and Samajwadi Parties).
Singh has also left a good deal of party-level political negotiation to others, including Sonia Gandhi, while concentrating on governmental politics. Thus, Gandhi as UPA chairperson "handles" the Congress' allies, while being isolated from many areas of policy-making. And Singh extends his influence to areas to which he is relatively new - foreign affairs and security.
The present balance-of-power and division of labour has allowed the PM to exercise disproportionate influence and become increasingly autonomous of Gandhi and the Congress apparatus. His own political personality is becoming clear.
Regrettably, that personality has its angularities and a dark conservative side. Dr Singh came to power on a broad Left-of-centre platform. But his preferred policies are right-of-centre. This is not a pejorative description. Evidence for it comes from a number of decisions attributable to Dr Singh and his confidants.
Take economics. Singh has been content to follow the broad free-market, pro-liberalisation orientation of the National Democratic Alliance - barring the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the UPA's single greatest achievement. He has continued with the NDA's macro-economic approach, taxation policies, resource mobilisation and allocation priorities, emphasis on foreign investment, commitment to globalisation, and public sector divestment.
Three of Singh's top priorities are 'labour reform' (read, removal of worker protection through hire-and-fire policies), opening up the retail sector to foreign investment (which could ruin millions of small traders and street-vendors), and reaching trade-related agreements on agriculture and services with the OECD. India compromised on this last at the Geneva ministerial of the World Trade Organisation by breaking ranks with the developing countries' G-21 - in contrast to its firm position at Cancun. India's position at the coming crucial Hong Kong meeting will substantially impact its economy.
Earlier, Dr Singh talked of empowering the underprivileged. Now, he only talks of growth. Thus, in his Independence Day address he said: "If we maintain this momentum of growth (approximately 7 per cent) for the next 5-10 years, then it would be possible for us to eradicate poverty, ignorance, hunger and disease. This is not a dream but something that is possible in our times". This regurgitates the notorious trickle-down theory, which stands belied by India's own experience.
However, it's in the foreign and security policy areas that Singh's conservative influence is starkest. These are precisely the areas from which Sonia Gandhi has kept herself away - because she has been so advised thanks to her "foreign origins". Thus, the decision to sign the June 28 defence cooperation and the July 18 nuclear deals with the US were very much Singh's. As was the September 24 vote accusing Iran of "non-compliance" with the NPT.
By all accounts, Singh was greatly impressed by President Bush's interest in India as an emerging power and "partner". But Singh weighed this so much higher than principle or self-interest - in energy security via Iran and Central Asia, and the larger issue of Asian economic integration. Singh's major right-ward turn could cost India dearly.
It's hard to fault Singh's general policy of befriending China or talking peace with Pakistan. But he has often left its actual implementation to dyed-in-the-wool bureaucrats. Singh has failed to engage Nepal and Bangladesh, or take a secular, pro-democracy approach.
All in all, Singh's policy record is conservative. He has pushed this through so far without a confrontation with the Left or the Congress, except on BHEL divestment. But this may well change with the Iran-US-India triangle. In that case, Singh may have to clip his ambitions and learn to respect coalitional consensus.

Tuesday, October 18

Shall we abolish death penalty?

It's the same old question again which noted jurist Fali S Nariman argues is not so much legal or constitutional as is sociological.

The hangman's noose is again in the news-thanks to the front-page of The Indian Express (October 17). But it has long been on the conscience of legislators, of judges, and of the thinking public, and also (it would appear) on the conscience of President Kalam: his humane stand has a stirred up a controversy. It needs stirring up. The truth is that the death penalty is not so much a legal or a constitutional issue, as a sociological one. It evokes divergent responses in different people-and judges, being human, are no exception: nor are Presidents. There are the abolitionists, and the anti-abolitionists.
In India there has always been a cleavage of opinion. For some (as with our President), it is a matter of conscience. I remember my senior, (Sir Jamshedji Kanga) telling us in the 1950s about a senior District Judge, Mr. Khareghat, who was due to be elevated to the Bombay High Court. In those days the capital sentence could only be imposed by a High Court Judge. Khareghat declined the honour on the ground that he would never be a party to the death sentence: he would rather not be a High Court Judge. (That is why we remember the name of that District Judge!)
The abolitionists have a strong lobby. Recent events in various countries (especially in the developing world) have driven many to the conclusion that murder will never cease to be an instrument of politics until the execution even of proved murderers is regarded as immoral and wrong. In the world of today there are fewer and fewer men condemned to death for murder, and more and more executed for political views.
As long as death remains a permissible instrument of Government, those in power will always justify its use. Besides, (and this is a particularly pertinent point) the hangman's noose ends the search for truth-what if the judge is wrong? The question plagues our consciences. Judgments of Courts can always be recalled and reviewed; execution of sentences of death, never.
I recall what Niall Mardermott, distinguished Secretary General of the International Commission of Jurists, said whilst conveying to the then President of India, ICJ's plea for mercy for Kehar Singh (one of Mrs. Gandhi's assassins) "in the country of my birth (the Republic of Ireland) there is a saying that the grass never grows under the gallows". But President Venkatraman had already made up his mind-and Kehar Singh was hanged.
The main plank of the anti-abolitionists is that the death sentence has a deterrent effect-not by the fear of death, but exciting in the community a deep feeling of abhorrence for the crime of murder. I remember in 1973 when Jagmohan Singh's case was being argued, (where the constitutionality of the death penalty was first upheld) Chief Justice Sikri said, in the course of arguments, that he was certain that if the death penalty were abolished, entire villages in the Punjab would be wiped out in a wave of reprisals! He had been the Advocate-General of that State for many years.
Other Justices from this State and other border States have expressed similar views. How can a deep feeling of abhorrence of the death penalty be sustained, (say the anti-abolitionists), when known and hardened criminals sentenced to imprisonment for life, are set free through paroles and remissions after only a few years of incarceration? They have a point.
What then of the future? In the Oliver Wendell Holmes Lectures delivered in September 1981, Justice Brennan said: "I believe that a majority of the Supreme Court will one day accept that when the State punishes with death, it denies the humanity and dignity of the victim... That will be a great day for our country and our Court". He was speaking about the United States and its Supreme Court of which he was a distinguished member.
There are many in this country who would like to see the Supreme Court of India utter similar sentiments. Perhaps, hopefully, one day, it will-but I venture to predict it will only be when the system of criminal justice effectively ensures that persons who would have hanged but for the constitutional outlawing of capital punishment (like persons guilty of horrendous murders) would not return to society until reformed. Till then, the great question will continue to haunt us all (as it haunts our President): is it really necessary to hang people in order to convince people that killing people is wrong?

Monday, October 17

Children Of The Same God

A prize-winning entry in an annual essay contest sponsored by The Indian Express and Citizens for Peace on the topic "A Secular Rethink" by Shashi Warrier

On a bright winter's morning in Bombay more than two decades ago, my friend Shankar and I stood nervously by an open doorway crowded with grim-faced people, some snuffling, a few weeping, most of them avoiding our eyes. We were on a condolence visit that Shankar had to make: he had dragged me along for moral support. A short while after we arrived, a graying lady caught sight of Shankar from inside. She came out, took his hand, and led us into a darkened, quiet bedroom to meet her younger sister, recently widowed, prostrate from grief. The widow looked at Shankar through bleary, swollen eyes, took his hand in both of hers, and wept a little, wiping her eyes with the end of her white dupatta. She said nothing at all, and neither did we.
The elder sister came for us in a few minutes, taking us to the crowded sitting room, where she handed us cups of cooling tea, and biscuits. She told us of how her brother-in-law had died: he'd been dragged out of a taxicab and butchered to death by a screaming mob, egged on, she said, by Congressman HKL Bhagat.
He was a Sikh, a trader in automobile parts, visiting Delhi on business. He was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and he paid for that with his life. "We never thought anything like this could happen," she told us. "We were part of you. Now..." Her voice trailed away, and neither my friend nor I could find anything meaningful to say. We sat with her for a few more minutes and left, relieved to be leaving.
Another bright winter's morning some weeks later, we met the ladies at a market and stopped to chat. The widow was still getting used to dealing with the large empty space in her life. Grief had made her gaunt, and her clothes hung loose on her. Her face was weathered, her graying hair almost white now. But her back was straight as ever, and the fire in her eyes as bright and strong. Once again she took Shankar's hand, and, this time round, mine as well. "I thought of going to my son, in England," she said, "but decided to stay. This is my home. You are my people. Despite what happened to him. You are my people. Not the English." Strangely, her strength comforted us.
I remembered her when Lakshman Kadirgamar was assassinated. Until a few years ago, we used to think of Sri Lanka as a country where the majority Sinhalese more or less stuck their decisions down minority throats. Along came Mr Kadirgamar, and that began to change. Sri Lanka became more inclusive, more tolerant. The government began to talk to the LTTE, with the Norwegians mediating. And peace, after a fashion, returned to the island nation. Now, with Mr Kadirgamar gone, I wonder where the peace process will lead.
But two little bits of Kadirgamar's thinking, two principles that he spoke of again and again, stick in my mind: first, that he stood for all the people of Sri Lanka, regardless of religion or language; the second, that the LTTE, for all the damage they did, were Sri Lankans, and deserved to be treated as such. Much like the Sikh widow who held my hand twenty-odd years ago.
It's easy to accuse someone like Narendra Modi - or, for that matter, Jagdish Tytler or Bhagat - of being a blot on the country?s fabric. It's easy to appoint committees to look into pogroms of different kinds and come up with nothing. It's harder far to accept that Modi is one of us, just as it's harder far to accept that a separatist shooting down women and children, or letting off a bomb in a crowded market square, is one of us.
The word "secular" in essence just means relating to worldly things as distinguished from things relating to church or religion. In our society, it has acquired this meaning: don't hate someone because they pray to a different god. That's a very narrow meaning, and one that is already beginning to hurt India.
Thanks partly to Modi and others of his ilk, it's now acceptable to hate those who hate those who pray to a different god. Behind a banner of secularism, united only by their need to defeat the BJP-RSS combine, have come together two parties that have been the country?s bitterest political foes since decades before Independence: the Congress and the leftists. Adding weight to this coalition is the RJD, led by Laloo Prasad Yadav, accused of swindling the treasury of many hundreds of crore of rupees, of running his state into the ground in the many long years during which he ruled it, and of many other lesser charges.
The strange thing is that this "secular" front has given itself licence to hate on grounds other than religion. Caste, for instance. Laloo Prasad Yadav has thundered against the "forward" castes, criticising them for being forward. You can discriminate ? nay, hate ? for almost any reason other than religion, and you will get away with it. You might be a serial killer but if you haven't been convicted and are willing to spout hatred against "communal" forces, you're welcome to join the band ruling the country.
Trouble is, this is a government based on hate, just like the BJP-RSS combine. As the days pass, the differences between the UPA and the NDA seem to narrow and dwindle. One of these days, political reality will look more and more like the ending of Orwell's "Animal Farm", where the working beasts gather at the windows of the farmhouse to see the pigs and men sitting together at the table, indistinguishable from each other.
But Mahatma Gandhi more than half a century ago, Kadirgamar rather more recently, and the Sikh widow in between, all in their different ways made the same point that Jesus made a couple of millennia ago: there's no US and THEM, there's only US.
So, what does all this have to do with secularism, this business of us and them? Thinking in terms of us and them is about hate, about bigotry, about prejudice. It's the kind of thinking that has set Kashmir apart from the rest of India. It's the kind of thinking that makes the shopkeeper in Srinagar ask visitors if they're from India, or the village official in Nagaland tell you that his son has gone to college in India.
Secularism must be inclusive, and compassionate. So being secular means not judging another human being. Someone who's a different colour is different, but no better or worse. Someone who worships differently is no better or worse. Someone who preaches a different political ideology is just someone who thinks differently, but is no better or worse. Someone who's wealthier or poorer has more or less money, but is no better or worse.
There's no way to learn this except by doing it. Learning that Hindus and Muslims and Christians are all the same, that they use different words for the same things. That knowledge will free us. But it's wealth, or lack of it, that's at the root of most troubles. Poverty anywhere, on any scale, is a potential source of strife. Ignorance is another. Work on these two, and we're on our way to getting some of our big problems licked.
The question is how. The old slogan, "Think Big", gets increasingly in our way. Thinking big in conditions of widespread poverty, or war, or communal strife, only leads to a feeling of helplessness, of defeat. So think small. Think not of how to clean up the country's roads: instead, pick up a bit of garbage on the road and drop it in a litter bin. Think not of how to feed the country?s millions of hungry children: instead, help the kid on the corner to get a square meal. Mohammed Yunus of Bangladesh did just this: he thought very small. From his thinking small came rural micro-credit and Grameen Bank, a powerful instrument of social change, especially among women, in Bangladesh.
So think small. You and I and millions of others who think small might not end up like Mohammad Yunus, but we certainly can make a difference. We are, after all, children of the same god.

Thursday, October 13

'My Land is Healthier'

No pesticide, no chemical fertiliser, no crop losses. Amrita writes about a farmer from Chottiyan village in Sangrur district, who has'nt heard of the term 'organic farming'.

"Meri mitti sab nallon takatwar hai (My land is healthier than all other lands)," Jeeva Singh announces proudly as he plays with a handful of earth.
The source of his confidence lies in knowing what has fed his farm for the past 30 years-or, rather, what hasn't. No chemical fertilisers, no pesticides, no weed-killers. And before you think 'organic farming', no, he hasn't heard of that label either.
Elsewhere, Jeeva Singh would be an oddity. In Punjab, amidst the pesticide-doused fields, crop failures and farmer suicides of the cotton belt, he is a miracle.
It was at the onset of so called green revolution when Jeeva Singh recalls people suddenly started using chemicals for more yield and better pest-resistance "I don't know what it was, but something inside me reacted violently to the idea of poisoning our Mother Earth" he says remembering "The people around me, including my sons, thought I was mad."
Jeeva Singh has never seen anybody showing so much interest in the way he does his agriculture. This is a way of life for him and what he believes in, he explains. He simply depends on conventional farming methods and lets nature guide his crops. His wife and daughter pitch in by deweeding land the old-fashioned way, with their hands.
Even to the casual observer, Jeeva Singh's fields look different from the neat, manicured lands of his neighbours. It's hard to discern much order in the medley of cotton, tinda and maize that grow on his land, but it becomes clear on talking to the farmer that he has a bigger picture in mind.
The basic idea is to keep our own needs in check. He has not joined the blind race for commercialisation and mechanization. He prefers to use a bicycle and tackle various jobs around the farm with his own hands instead of hiring labour, so he prefers to grow what he can look after himself.
And it's not much, he is the first to acknowledge. "I may get slightly lesser yield than my neighbours but because I don't use hired labour or chemicals, my input costs are much lower than theirs" is his common-sensical explanation. Interestingly while the land-holdings of other farmers around have been dropping every year, he has actually been able to add two acres to his original three acres of land.
And as for the feeling of satisfaction that comes from coaxing life out of earth the way nature meant it, it's priceless.

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 5

Community Betrayed

Jatinder Preet

Time is a great healer, they say. While the individual sufferers of carnage against Sikhs in 1984 picked up threads of their lives and carried on, the wounds on the collective consciousness of Sikh community are still festering. To see perpetrators of those wounds going not only scot-free but continue to occupy important positions did not help in the healing in any way. Now come the revelations that the community's own were indulging in behind the scenes machinations that ultimately shamed the justice.
It's sad to see no outrage, not even within the community when investigations by the weekly Tehelka has mentioned specific names, putting under cloud the Sikh leadership.
It seems, though the time has not been able to heal the wounds, but it certainly has made it easier for us to turn our faces the other way. This is what has happened after the report came in. There have not even been murmurs.
Report after report from impeccable credentials named Congress leaders Sajjan Kumar, HKL Bhagat, Jagdish Tytler among others as those who led the massacres of Sikhs after the assassination of the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi in November 1984. After much hue and cry enquiries were instituted. The long drawn out investigations came to naught ultimately. The Allurements and intimidations saw witnesses turning hostile one by one. Neither the protectors nor the adjudicators found anything amiss.
The lesser mortals were tired out and the fight to seek justice remained to be led by few. To rightly acknowledge the role of those who have been putting up this fight we have to seek out those who have been responsible in making justice elusive.
We have some of those names now. There is damning evidence against them. Rs 25 lakh was offered to Darshan Kaur who lost 12 members of her family, including her husband, to withdraw her testimony against Congress leader HKL Bhagat. She was offered the money by local Sikh leader and former DSGMC member, Atma Singh Lubhana, a man who had actually been authorised by the Shaheedgunj Gurdwara Committee to help the Tilak Vihar widows with their court cases. Surinder Singh, the head granthi of Gurdwara Pulbangash in New Delhi, the prime witness in case against Jagdish Tytler, went abroad for a year, a week after changing his statement. Prahalad Singh Chandok, then president of Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) is named as the one who pressurized the witnesses to say Tytler didn't lead the mob. Chandok even presented a robe of honour to Tytler, for which the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of the Sikhs, summoned him but the Takht Jathedar didn't impose a penalty. Another key witness, Satnami Bai when questioned about changing her statement swore by Guru Granth Sahib in the presence of widows and riot victims that it was Atma Singh Lubhana who was instrumental in her turning hostile.
While Sikh leaders like Lubhana and Chandok were instrumental in behind the scene machinations, there were Sikhs who actually voted for Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler. In fact, both the leaders have been flaunting their Sikh supporters as trophies.
While we are talking of a community here, we have to keep us reminded that we are dealing with humans actually, with all their frailties and weaknesses. The community will continue to have individuals who actually sell off its interests. What's more important is how the community responds to this and ensures that this does not happen.

Monday, October 3

1984 Carnage : Justice Shamed

The images of villains of the 1984 carnage are etched in the collective consciousness of the community, waiting for justice to be done, even after twenty years. While they are yet to be brought to justice the evidence is piling up. Now comes a damning report in the weekly 'Tehelka' that digs out the middlemen who acted on behalf of these politicians and played a treacherous role in threatening and buying off crucial eyewitnesses and victims of the massacre.

The dead cannot strike a deal so the living did. To bail out those who led the massacre of Sikhs in 1984. One witness was offered Rs 25 lakh to forget or not name the men who led the mob that killed 12 members of her family. She refused to give in. She was beaten and constantly threatened but she didn't yield.
But some others did. They turned hostile one by one. Those who stuck to their deposition were left to fend for themselves, with neither the protector nor the adjudicator finding anything amiss. Congress leaders HKL Bhagat, Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar were let off, due to the behind-the-scenes machinations that included allurement and intimidation. And the not-so-subtle threat of a 1984 redux. Democracy and justice lay shamed.
Investigations reveal that in almost all cases, deals were struck to win over witnesses. In Bhagat's case, Rs 25 lakh was offered to a witness. In Tytler's case, a week after changing his statement the prime witness went abroad for a year and the second witness is still in the US. There were threats to their lives as well and a prominent Sikh leader was involved in pressurising the witness to say Tytler didn't lead the mob. Further sensational disclosures were made that a prime witness, who turned hostile, against Sajjan Kumar was taken to the Congress leader's residence. Some of these witnesses enjoy a lavish lifestyle and their families misled media team about their whereabouts.
Investigations uncovered the network of middlemen who struck dubious deals to win over witnesses, subvert the truth and derail justice.

Jagdish Tytler : A changed testimony
Surinder Singh, the head granthi of Gurdwara Pulbangash, said in a sworn affidavit in January 2002 that Congress leader Jagdish Tytler, then the local MP, led the mob that had attacked his gurdwara. He stated, "Tytler incited the mob to burn the gurdwara and kill the Sikhs." According to his evidence, the mob had then attacked and burnt the gurdwara down. One Badal Singh was burnt alive in the assault, several were injured.
By the time, the Nanavati Commission summoned Jagdish Tytler on the complaint, Surinder Singh had been 'managed'. Tytler drew the Commission's attention to another affidavit by Singh, this one dated August 5, 2002, which amounted to a retraction of Singh's earlier position - he said he did not even know what was in the earlier affidavit because he could not read or write English.
He also said he had not seen Tytler leading the mob that attacked Gurdwara Pulbangash.
This affidavit was filed on October 22, 2002 and it came to light a year later when Tytler was served a notice to appear before the Commission.
The Congress leader's knowledge of such an affidavit astonished the Commission as Surinder Singh had named Tytler in his testimony on January 17, 2002.
Tytler had been trying to work on Surinder Singh. In his testimony to the Nanavati Commission, Surinder Singh did state that he was contacted by Jagdish Tytler on November 10, 1984 and asked to sign two sheets of paper. He declined to sign. But subsequent efforts by Tytler to 'win over' Singh appear to have succeeded.
About Surinder Singh's changed affidavit, Justice Nanavati stated, "what appears from all this is that the subsequent affidavit was probably obtained by persuasion or under pressure. If this witness had really not seen Jagdish Tytler in the mob or if he was not approached by Tytler then he would not have come before the Commission to give evidence or would have told the Commission that the attack did not take place in that manner. For speaking the truth, it was not necessary for him to wait till 5-8-2002 and file an additional affidavit." After these findings, our team began investigations and tried to contact Surinder Singh.
We were misled by Surinder Singh's family about his whereabouts. Two attempts were made to contact him at his residence in the Gurdwara Rakabganj family quarters but the family refused to open the door. The nameplate outside his quarters was also removed. Contact was established with his son Narinder Singh, who fixed a meeting with Surinder Singh. But then, the two vanished. Using a fake reference, contact was established with Surinder Singh and another rendezvous was set but he again failed to turn up.
This was provocation enough for detailed investigations. Enquiries revealed that Surinder Singh left for Canada, 10 days after filing his subsequent affidavit. Being an employee of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) Surinder Singh had sought a year's leave, that too without pay, from October 30, 2002 to October 29, 2003. On his return, DSGMC president Prahlad Singh Chandok posted him in a prestigious gurdwara. Surinder Singh draws a meagre salary but owns a luxury car and is constructing a house near Majnu Ka Tilla in North Delhi.
After a lapse of two years, the DSGMC sought Surinder Singh's explanation for changing his statement against Tytler. The then DSGMC chief Chandok clandestinely issued a suspension order but held onto it. Curiously, three days after filing the previous order, another DSGMC office-bearer, Harbhajan Singh Matharu, sought an explanation from Surinder Singh on March 20, 2004.
In his reply on March 23, 2004, Surinder Singh speaks of a threat to his life. Tehelka has a copy of his reply, which says, "if you seek an explanation from me, then I be given a guarantee that we, Management Committee, would be responsible for loss of my life and property, only then will I give an explanation." Two months after this episode, Chandok presented a robe of honour to Tytler.
For this act, the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of the Sikhs, summoned Chandok but the Takht Jathedar didn't impose a penalty.
The Sikh Forum - which then had the late Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora as its chief patron - sought a meeting with Takht Jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti as it resented the lack of action against Chandok. In its letter to Vedanti dated August 2, 2004, the Sikh Forum stated that some witnesses who had filed affidavits before the Nanavati Commission are now reluctant to appear for cross-examination. The Forum sought a clarification on the Jathedar's order, as Chandok's exoneration had created an impression that no wrong was committed by honouring Tytler. The Forum stated that Tytler, now summoned by the Nanavati Commission, had a role in the 1984 carnage and this decision has aggrieved the riot victims. In another letter dated September 22, 2004, the Sikh Forum sought a review of the decision exonerating Chandok. It further requested the Akal Takht that Chandok be summoned again and directed to snap all ties with people guilty in the Sikh carnage.
The Forum's members included Dr Amrik Singh, Major General MS Chadha, Dr Anup Singh, Lieutenant Colonel Manohar Singh, advocate HS Phoolka, Wing Commander RS Chhatwal, Dr Mahip Singh and Dr AS Narang among others.
After the Nanavati report was tabled in Parliament, the Sikh Forum met on August 12, 2005. We accessed the meeting's confidential record which accused Chandok of pressurising witnesses. According to the minutes of the meeting, "Sardar Prahlad Singh Chandok had honoured Jagdish Tytler, For this act he was called by Jathedar Akal Takht . But on intervention of some influential persons, he was not given any punishment. But now for his role in pressurising Bhai Surinder Singh to change his affidavit against Jagdish Tytler, we should take up this case with Jathedar Akal Takht Sahib."
We spoke to the Sikh Forum which appeared reluctant to state the facts openly. This forced us to use the spycam and it was revealed that this group had confronted Chandok and Surinder about the subsequent affidavit. The details of this meeting were recorded by the Forum. Wg Cdr Chhatwal shared the Forum's strategy about taking action against them. The conversation has been edited and the operative part goes:

What action will you take against Chandok?
It will be a religious action without going to the press and we will write to Akal Takht that he is treacherous fellow and is instrumental in seeing that Jagdish Tytler is not blamed. Akal Takht should haul him up.

What will you write to Akal Takht? That he struck a deal?
I do not know whether we will write this thing.

Then what exactly will you write?
This has not been decided as yet.

Why was Chandok not summoned earlier if he turned treacherous, why no action was taken against him?
This is not the first instance, first Babbar did it and then Atma did it. Now we will confront him.

When you questioned Chandok did his body language give an impression that?
Yes, that he has pressurised Surinder Singh to change his statement.

And what about Surinder Singh?
He does not deserve to be a head granthi, he has changed his statement and now he is running away. He succumbed to the pressure.

Pressure or allurements?
It is one and the same thing.

Were some recordings made in the confidential sheets?
Yes, a part of it has been done, we can only build up the moral pressure and can't do anything legally.

When had you asked Chandok about this issue?
This was a week after Tytler had appeared before the Nanavati Commission and he talked about Surinder Singh's changed affidavit.

This affidavit was filed on October 22, we were all surprised about it and then we asked Chandok about this.
Further, Nanavati report mentions the affidavit filed by another witness Jasbir Singh. Jasbir, who had seen Jagdish Tytler on November 3, 1984, stated, "He (Tytler) rebuked the persons forming the group that his instructions have not been faithfully carried out. His position has been greatly compromised and lowered in the eyes of Central leaders. There has been only nominal killings in his constituency compared to East Delhi, Outer Delhi, Cantt etc. How he would be able to stake claims in future? I had promised large scale killing of Sikhs and sought full protection but you have betrayed and let me down and he left in a huff."
Our investigations revealed that Jasbir Singh was threatened and his family is living incognito and in constant fear. Speaking to us, Jasbir's mother-in-law Gurdeep Kaur stated that he went abroad (USA) because of the constant threats. Jasbir had confided in her about being waylaid by some people near Peeragarhi. Anticipating danger, she pleaded not to disclose the whereabouts of Jasbir's wife and son. Jasbir's wife remained mum throughout and was very protective of her son.
Gurdeep Kaur added that she was offered a bag full of notes to change her statement but she refused. More than 50 persons of her clan were killed during the carnage. She had testified against councillor Dr Ashok and some supporters of HKL Bhagat.

HKL Bhagat : A witness won over
During the anti-Sikh violence, the largest number of killings took place in Bhagat's East Delhi constituency. One witness, Satnami Bai, said Bhagat had led the rioters. Later on, she turned hostile and failed to identify him. Another witness, Darshan Kaur, stuck to her deposition despite threats to her life and identified Bhagat. But the case collapsed in 1995 and Bhagat was acquitted on the ground that in a riot case, conviction cannot be based on the word of just one witness. Enquiries revealed that local Sikh leader and former DSGMC member Atma Singh Lubhana had struck a deal with Satnami Bai to change her statement. According to confidential documents of the Lubhana community, this deal was struck for Rs 12 lakh.
Darshan Kaur told that Atma Singh Lubhana had offered her Rs 25 lakh to turn hostile and on her refusal was thrashed by him. For beating up Kaur, Lubhana was summoned by the Akal Takht on September 14, 1998. Takht Jathedar Ranjit Singh, after considering the apology tendered by Lubhana, had pronounced religious punishment. Darshan Kaur stated that he had threatened to burn her alive in Tilak Vihar. Earlier also, she was waylaid by some unidentified people and threatened. She had earlier told our team that she was offered Rs 25 lakh in hard cash but she had sought the payment by cheque so as to expose them.
According to a letter dated December 4, 1996, by Mohan Singh, president of the All-India Lubhana Sikh Sanstha to 'mukhias' of the Lubhana panchayats, "on November 17, 1996 a panchayat was organised at Gurdwara Shaheedgunj, Tilak Vihar, wherein Satnami Bai was questioned about changing her statement. In the presence of widows and riot victims, Satnami Bai swore by Guru Granth Sahib that it was Atma Singh Lubhana who was instrumental in her turning hostile. Satnami stated that a deal was struck for Rs 12 lakh and the rest is known to Atma Singh." After this Lubhana was summoned by the panchayat but he failed to appear and was ostracised from the Lubhana community (Nikaali- Roti Beti ka rishta Khatam).
On December 2, 1996, Lubhana appeared before the panchayat and agreed to abide by its decision. The panchayat decided to continue with the boycott of Lubhana and a five-member committee was formed to inquire into this episode. The members included Inder Singh, Mohan Singh, Bhai Mohan Singh, Hari Singh and Babu Singh Dukhia. Subsequently, it was decided to summon a Sarva Panchayat to take a final decision on Lubhana. This Sarva Panchayat or Chauraasi Maha Panchayat gathered at Gurdwara Shaheedgunj on April 25, 1999 and included mukhias and panches of 84 villages of north India of the Lubhana community.
According to Babu Singh Dukhia, now president of the Shaheedgunj Gurdwara, Atma Singh Lubhana had confessed to his crime before the maha panchayat and was asked to pay a fine of Rs 5.28 lakh. This was recorded in the panchayat register and Lubhana had also signed it. A written undertaking by Dukhia revealed that Satnami Bai had also confessed before the panches that Atma Singh had deposited money in her Tilak Nagar postal account. All panches agreed that due to his lust for money, Lubhana had influenced Satnami to change her statement and had turned a traitor. Babu Singh Dukhia had recorded his dissenting note about pardoning after payment of Rs 5.28 lakh fine. Thereafter, this document was sealed and it was decided that it would not be made public.
When confronted, Lubhana admitted to paying the fine. He stated that the penalty was paid in instalments and spent on renovating various gurdwaras. As desired by the panchayat, he had also agreed to follow their directive. But he was evasive about the reasons behind his boycott and denied being instrumental in Satnami Bai turning hostile. "I had not committed any crime but had to put my signatures as everyone persuaded me to settle the matter once and for all." Caught out, Lubhana denied threatening or offering any money to Darshan Kaur or Anwar Kaur but admitted to being summoned by the Akal Takht.
Our team captured Satnami on spycam wherein she admitted to changing her statement because of threats to her life but denied receiving money. She also stated that Congress MP HKL Bhagat led the mobs and his wife was also present. The conversation has been edited and the operative part goes:

Where were you living during the riots?

What all did you see?
Yes, I saw all of it, small kids between10-11 years killed before me.

Your husband was also killed?
Yes, they hit him with a stick, thrashed him, poured kerosene, powder and then burnt him alive. Many of the Sikhs were dragged by their hair, white powder sprinkled on them and burnt alive, in pain the Sikhs would scream, and rioters comment, 'Sardars are dancing', I saw all this. It has been 21 years of pain and now government has given them clean chit. In front of my house, four children were killed, first they were hit with sticks, their teeth came out, a rioter said Saala Zinda Hai and then they stabbed him.

Do you know the people who indulged in killings?
Some were outsiders and some neighbours. Some Jats and Gujjars.

Can you tell us the number of people in the mob?
They came in numbers armed with sticks, powder, cycle tyres which were put around the necks of many men, poured oil and powder...and petrol and burnt them...tied their judas (hair tied in a bun) and burnt them.

A common man would not indulge in this unless he is incited by somebody from top. Did anyone instigate the rioters?
The killers were all Congress people, how could the justice be done with Congress in power, they were HKL Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar, Tytler, Shastri, Sharma and many others, these were the main people who incited the mob.

Who were the people who led the mob in your area, in Trilokpuri?
HKL Bhagat.

Was he leading the mob?
Yes, he was leading the mob

Did you see him yourself?
Yes, in front of my house there was a Muslim woman, his godsister, Bhagat used to come every Sunday to meet her.

So, the mob was led by HKL Bhagat?
Yes, both husband and wife were leading the mob. They came in a vehicle and directed to eliminate all the Sikhs.

This was his area?
Yes, Trilokpuri was his area and he was leading the mob. HKL Bhagat said these are sons of snake, kill them all.

So, you heard it at that time?
Not only did I hear it, I saw it with my own eyes.

So he instructed to kill.
There were two blocks, 32 and block number 31, there was a house of a Muslim woman. He came from block number 31, he came from his sister's house and then said, kill all the Sardars, he said none should be spared?

You had also given an affidavit about these incidents.
I had given all the papers but the police never recorded my statement, we were told to go back to our houses.

So did you testify before the court?
Yes, I was a witness and made a statement in the court and in Nanavati Commission as well.

Was there a threat to your life?
Many widows were waylaid and forced to change their statements.

Did it happen with you?
Yes, HKL Bhagat's goons threatened me, that if I do not change my statement, my brothers and children would be killed, we were already living in extreme fear, it could happen again, so I had to succumb.

The people of HKL Bhagat threatened you that if you do not change your statement, they will kill your people?
Yes, they said so, my parents were living with me.

What exactly did they say, was money also offered?
Your brother and children would be killed, if I do not change my statement but no money was offered.

Did you lodge a complaint with police?
Nobody heard us.

Sajjan Kumar : With help from the police
Justice Nanavati recommended that all the seven cases against Sajjan Kumar, including FIR No 307/94, be reinvestigated. This particular FIR had been lodged on the basis of an affidavit filed before the Ranganath Mishra Commission of Inquiry by a widow, Anek Kaur, in 1985. In the affidavit, she gave graphic details of how Sajjan Kumar, other Congress leaders and the police had turned murderous that day. Her house, she said, was surrounded by a mob led by Congress leader Jai Singh. The police were inciting the mob to kill Sardars and burn their houses. She also stated that Sajjan Kumar and another Congress leader Jai Kishan had come in a jeep and when she had run up to them for protection, Jai Kishan had said that only six Sardars were left and that he would get them killed. Sajjan Kumar had also stated that they should be beaten to death. Anek's husband Vakil Singh was beaten and left for dead - he died three months later. Based on this and other evidence, Nanavati recommended a reinvestigation but the government in its Action Taken Report, denied the allegation and said that Anek Kaur had subsequently (in 1994) withdrawn her statement against Sajjan Kumar. Thus, the government felt that since there was no fresh evidence, it would not be just to reopen the case.
While the government found no justification to reopen the case, our investigations revealed that witness Anek Kaur was won over and her statement changed.
We traced out her family as Anek Kaur died about four years ago. Her mother-in-law Sahibzadi disclosed that one Rathi had obtained Anek Kaur's thumb impression on a paper and used to buy rations for them regularly. Vakil Singh's sister Mishri Kaur, who used to accompany Anek Kaur, told us that Sajjan Kumar had offered them a flat to change Anek's statement. Another offer was made by Sajjan Kumar that he would sponsor their expenses for as long as they live in lieu of a changed statement. The family was paid for about two years. This entire conversation was captured on a spycam. The edited conversation goes:

What had Sajjan Kumar asked Anek Kaur, can you share that with us?
Gawahi badal do, poora kharcha milega, muawza milega aur flat dilwa doonga (You will get a flat as well as compensation, just get Anek Kaur's statement changed).

Did this happen before your eyes?
Yes. This was in my presence, kehta tha, byan badal do, jab tak zinda rahoge, poori zindagi ka kharcha doonga, ek do saal diya bhee bus uske baad nahin (He said he'll take care of all expenses as long as we lived, he gave money for about one or two years then stopped)

What happened after that?
Then Rathi came in the picture, Rathi, Inspector Rathi, would accompany Anek to the court, would also bring his vehicle. He used to give Rs 200 every month and in addition also hand over Rs 50 to Rs 100. Jai Kishan, the local MLA, had also given Rs 1,200.

And then?
Paisa Rathi kha gaya (Rathi took away all the money), usne Anek se angootha lagwa liya (Rathi had taken Anek's thumb impression on a paper). I had complained against Rathi to the court and headquarter.

Did you not approach Sajjan Kumar for the promised flat and the money?
Yes, twice I had gone to him but he refused to speak to me, baad mein aana (come later), I was thrown out of his place. This was some time around the last elections.

What happened to Anek Kaur?
She was sick and died about four years ago. Before her death she told me and her daughter as well that take money from Sajjan or else depose against him, take it that he is the murderer of your parents.

So she changed her statement?
She did not change her statement but Rathi took her thumb impression and gave her only Rs 200.

That the government was on the side of the guilty is also clear from another case. According to the Nanavati report, one Kher Singh had filed an affidavit before Jain-Banerjee Committee and stated, "that on that day in the morning, he had seen local MP Sajjan Kumar addressing a crowd of persons and telling them that Sikhs had killed their mata and that no Sikh in the area should be spared. At that time Ishwar Singh, Hardwari Lal and other local persons had raised slogans against Sikhs". The report further states, "This witness therefore rushed back to his house. Dr Iqbal Singh Chadha, Resham Singh and Ajit Singh were burnt alive. When the mob came near his house, the neighbours told the mob that nobody was present in the house and so he was saved. He was rescued by the military on November 3, 1984. Kher Singh had later on approached the police and told them that he was a witness to the murder of those three persons but the police told him that as no case was registered with respect to their murder, his could not be recorded."
Regarding this incident FIR no 178 was recorded only on November 15, 1984. No one was arrested in this case and the case was filed as untraced. Justice Nanavati observed in his report, "it appears that in respect of death of Iqbal Singh Chadha FIR No 178/84 and the case was then filed as untraced.
Kher Singh had specifically stated that he was the eyewitness to the murder of Dr Iqbal Singh Chadha yet his statement was not recorded with the result that he was not even cited as a witness. Thus even though eyewitness was available, the police did not investigate the case properly and closed it as untraced."
While Justice Nanavati states an eyewitness was available, the Action Taken Report says the contrary. It states, "no eyewitness came forward to give any specific evidence or clue about the incident. Therefore the case was sent as untraced which was accepted by the competent court." Interestingly, the police refused to record the statement of eyewitness Kher Singh but lodged an FIR based on the complaint of Harvinder Kaur, wife of Dr Chadha, who had not named any person as she had not seen the incident.

'Bhagat should be hanged, even if he is sick'
Can Rs 25 lakh bring back the 12 family members whom she lost to the 1984 carnage? Can it bring back even one? Then what good is it, says Darshan Kaur
Many witnesses turned hostile one after the other, but Darshan Kaur who lost 12 members of her family, including her husband, refused to fall for the lure of money or surrender to the fear of death. In a chilling confession, she tells that she had been offered Rs 25 lakh to withdraw her testimony against Congress leader HKL Bhagat. She was offered the money by local Sikh leader, Atma Singh Lubhana, a man who had actually been authorised by the Shaheedgunj Gurdwara Committee to help the Tilak Vihar widows with their court cases. Tilak Vihar in West Delhi is one of the largest colonies that houses the victims of Carnage 1984.
Darshan moved from East Delhi's Trilokpuri to Raghubir Nagar, Tilak Vihar where she lives under round-the-clock police protection.

Excerpts from the conversation:
During the trials many witnesses were threatened and some turned hostile after accepting money. Could you tell us about your case? We are told that Atma Singh Lubhana offered you money to change your testimony?
At that time we used to live in Trilokpuri and HKL Bhagat was the local MP. I was a witness against him. We had no educated people guiding us about court appearances and no menfolk were spared during the riots. Lubhana appeared on the scene after the riots. None of his family members were killed during the riots. This man used to cycle around then and he now moves in cars whereas we don't even have a bicycle. Since there were no educated people among us, it was decided in the Shaheedgunj Gurdwara to hand over all these representations to him. Lubhana would accompany all the widows to the Karkardooma courts. When HKL Bhagat came to know of this, he decided to strike a deal with him. Lubhana was instructed to offer money to widows to change their statements. Some of them did but I don't want to name any of them.

Please give us the details, be frank.
Some widows accepted the money and turned hostile. I neither accepted money nor changed my statement. I lost 12 of my family members and asked them to bring back at least one. I rejected Lubhana's offer and then started the process of threats. He
attacked me also. Bhagat also engineered attacks against me.

Was the attack at the instance of Bhagat?
Once on my way back, when I had no security, five-six people in a Maruti car waylaid me. They first made enquiries about some address and then tried pulling me inside the car. I started crying and tried to save myself by slapping them and hitting them with my chappals. A traffic constable and some other people came to my rescue and they fled away. After some time, police protection was given to me. This protection is with me for the last 12 years.

Did Atma Singh Lubhana offer you money?
Lubhana had offered me Rs 25 lakh to change my testimony.
He asked me to accept the money and withdraw the case against Bhagat. He said, with this money your generations will live comfortably so why take such trouble. On my refusal, he started abusing me and physically attacked me.

Why did Atma Singh Lubhana beat you up?
He wanted me to accept the money and withdraw from the case. He did not want me to appear as a witness against HKL Bhagat.

That means he asked you to accept Rs 25 lakh and not appear against HKL Bhagat?
Yes, he asked me not to appear as a witness against HKL Bhagat. He said, take Rs 25 lakh and your children and grandchildren will live comfortably. And if you don't then you will keep running around. He said, either he (Bhagat) or I will kill you. These threats continued and I challenged him to touch me. I am not afraid. I will not retract from my testimony. I told Lubhana to bring back at least one member of my family. Twelve of my family members were killed. Provoked by this, he attacked me.

Is Lubhana still threatening you?
Yes, even now, he is after my life, he threatened me over the phone. He said he would burn me alive.
I told him that I am not afraid of any threats. I challenged him to touch me. He put the phone down and then some women called up and issued threats.

Who were these women?
I don't know the names of those women who threatened me but I informed the police authorities.

We are told that he gave money to other witnesses also?
He had sold off Anwar Kaur who had initially testified against Sajjan Kumar. When Sajjan Kumar won the election he had gone to congratulate him. Many other Sikhs had accompanied him.

How do you know that Anwar had taken money through Lubhana?
We had invited Anwar Kaur to join our group of widows and then she narrated it to us. After Sajjan Kumar was acquitted, we took out protest processions and then went to the gurdwara where we called Anwar. We asked her why she had turned hostile when we could have got justice for so many of our brothers who had been murdered. We asked her who had incited her and then she told us that it was Atma Singh Lubhana who did all this.

What did she tell you?
She stated that Lubhana had taken her to Sajjan Kumar's residence. She did not tell us about the money she got but she said Lubhana had struck the deal. She said she got scared and changed her statement.

Can you tell us when exactly she confessed to you and the others?
This was four-five years ago, when Sajjan Kumar was acquitted. It is then that all the widows confronted Anwar Kaur. She sought forgiveness . In the case of another widow, Satnami Bai, Lubhana signed in a register when a panchayat was organised and admitted that he was instrumental in Satnami turning hostile. He was asked to pay a fine of Rs 5 lakh for working against the Sikh Panth, which he did.

Justice Nanavati has let off Bhagat on humanitarian grounds as he is bedridden. What do you have to say on this?
HKL Bhagat should be hanged, even if he is sick. He deserves no mercy as he is a murderer. I had seen him leading the mobs saying, 'kill all the Sardars, they are snakes'.