Kamal Nath’s formal takeover as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh took place today in the shadow of protests over his alleged role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, for which another Congress leader, Sajjan Kumar, was convicted.
Former Congress MP Sajjan Kumar, 73, was sentenced to jail for life by the Delhi High Court, which cancelled his acquittal by a trial court and said he did play a part in the mob killings of Sikhs after the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984.
Kamal Nath, one of the high-profile Congress leaders linked to the riots, has denied any role in the violence and the Nanavati Commission into the riots also gave him the benefit of doubt.
Witnesses allege that he led a mob outside the Rakabganj gurdwara in central Delhi and two Sikhs were killed in his presence.
Over the years, the 1984 taint impacted the careers of Sajjan Kumar, HKL Bhagat and Jagdish Tytler, who were sidelined by the party, but Kamal Nath did not lose his standing.
The allegation resurfaced when Congress president Rahul Gandhi chose Kamal Nath to be the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. There have been protests and messages against the Congress veteran have gone viral online. Kamal Nath sees a conspiracy.
“I don’t understand that I have been a minister since 1991. Why has this never been brought up till now? So many times I have been appointed to posts but no one said? It has to be a hidden hand now that is doing this now,” he told NDTV. Who was the hidden hand? “BJP,” he replied.
Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur, a leader of the BJP’s ally Akali Dal, said: “Today it was Sajjan Kumar, tomorrow it will be Tytler, then Kamal Nath, then the whole Gandhi family. Today one accused gets life sentence, the other is being sworn in as chief minister. The Congress has always patronised criminals.”
Does today’s order have any bearing on Kamal Nath?
According to a lawyer close to the petitioners, it does. In the order, he said, the court referred to “political patronage” helping the guilty.
“The criminals responsible for the mass crimes have enjoyed political patronage and managed to evade prosecution and punishment. Bringing such criminals to justice poses a serious challenge to our legal system. As these appeals themselves demonstrate, decades pass by before they can be made answerable. This calls for strengthening the legal system. Neither ‘crimes against humanity’ nor ‘genocide’ is part of our domestic law of crime. This loophole needs to be addressed urgently,” the court order said. This was cited by Kamal Nath’s critics as a sign of trouble for him.