1984 riots are centre stage again

BY AMITABH SRIVASTAVA| IN Media Practice | 03/02/2014
It is unfortunate that when both Modi and the Congress were trying to bury the communal issues, the anchor of the most popular show has resurrected the ghosts of 1984 riots once again,

Did Rahul Gandhi advisors blunder in choosing Times Now as the launching pad for his first nationalised TV interview? 

With the kind of reaction it has provoked and knowing the tilt that the host Arnab Goswami gives to the show, which he proudly calls 'my programme', it was like throwing a lamb in a butcher's den.

Interestingly, a day before the show was telecast Arnab had told a reporter from Rediff that Rahul appeared to him as a person who had 'his heart in the right place'. He also commended the Congress vice president for taking all the questions head on and answering the questions prepared by him.

But when aired next day, the interview ­ turned Rahul in a villain of India in what was billed as the biggest interview of 2014, which itself was a misnomer, given that we are only in the first month of 2014.

Like an accomplished spider ready to snare his victim into his web, Arnab pretended to warn Rahul Gandhi by politely telling him that he would be asked tough questions to which Rahul replied, with a child-like bravado, that he was prepared for tough challenges.

To be fair, Rahul took very personal questions like Subramaniam Swamy questioning the genuineness of his degree on his chin with his famed dimpled smile.

But when this did not elicit the kind of response he wanted, Arnab brought up the 1984 riots issue indirectly by talking of Manmohan Singh's comments on Narendra Modi about 2002. This was a double edged sword - if Rahul had expressed his reservations, Arnab would have trapped him by saying you don't respect your Prime Minister. Rahul fell into the trap and backed up Singh. The rest of the interview was on Arnab’s terms and he went hammer and tongs after Rahul.

The next day, all newspaper headlines talked only about Rahul Gandhi's comments on 1984, something which he had not anticipated. And this was followed by a longish news- hour on Times Now, a day after, where the Opposition tore into the Congress record on 1984, which of course is indefensible.

It is unfortunate that when both Modi and the Congress were trying to bury the communal issues like the Ram Temple to concentrate on the development agenda, what has the anchor of the most popular show (by his own admission) done?  He has resurrected the ghosts of 1984 riots once again.

But as a journalist my worry is that in this cacophony of riots and killings and call for justice no one is talking about the conditions that led to the Army action on June 6, 1984.

Sikh terrorism was at its peak and Bhindrawale had declared his intention to create Khalistan, aided and abetted by a hostile neighbour. Innocent people had started fleeing their homes, scared of the threats and extortions by terrorists.

When, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered the Army to move into the Golden Temple to flush out terrorists led by Bhindrawale, it recovered the most sophisticated arms and ammunition as well as jewellery worth crores inside. Though it was tough, she never flinched from taking a call unlike what our present Prime Minister is accused of - prevaricating and looking the other way.

She paid the price for this with her life. The genocide that followed her assassination remains a permanent blot in the history of independent India. What makes it worse is that even after many commissions no senior police officers have been punished for dereliction of duty.

What is more glaring is that some of the Congress leaders who reportedly led the mobs in the four days of killing (it was not riots because Hindus by and large were saving Sikhs and Khushwant admits this) remain active in Congress. 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi have apologised for these killings but Arnab insists that Rahul Gandhi also apologise, which he refused to do.

What is equally shocking is that on January 6, 2013 (the 24th anniversary of the hanging of Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh), the Akal Takht honoured Indira Gandhi’s killers in Punjab and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) government, though not a part of the ceremony, did not stop it either.

And after Rahul’s interview, their representative Harsimrat Kaur Badal was the loudest in denouncing the Congress on Times Now during the debate “No apology for 1984”. SAD was allowed to have its say along with their live-in partners in Punjab the BJP and Arnab had no problem. 

Is that fair, is a question we all - at least right thinking journalists - must ask?

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