Rahul attempts a healing touch, says 84 riots were totally wrong

Written by Political Bureau | New Delhi, Nov 18 | Updated: Nov 20 2008, 04:57am hrs
Congress scion Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday apologised for the nationwide violence against Sikhs in 1984 in the wake of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination. Having followed the footsteps of his mother Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the move seemed aimed at strengthening the pro-minority image of the Congress.

The young Congress leader's healing touch comments, made during a press interaction in Amritsar, clearly looked part of a sustained attempt to bring the Sikhs, once the vote base of Congress, closer to the party again.

The 1984 riots were absolutely wrong. They (the perpetrators) should be brought to justice, Rahul said, stressing the Gandhi-Nehru family was proud of the Sikh community. I or my family have no ill-feeling towards any community, he said. The comments are expected to trigger a sharp response from Akali Dal and BJP, who are wary of Sikhs going back to the Congressfold, especially in the context of the Delhi assembly polls.

Sikhs have been a factor in states outside Punjab and are able to influence prospects of Lok Sabha candidates in almost three dozen constituencies. They traditionally supported the Congress until the riots after which they began turning to other parties.

Party circles here, however, contend that Rahul Gandhi's remarks are only in line with the Congress stand on the issue . They pointed out that Sonia had expressed anguish on the anti-Sikh riots and had even disapproved of the army action at the Golden Temple in 1984 during an election rally in Chandigarh a few years ago.

When asked if the comments were aimed at wooing the minority Sikh vote back, a senior leader maintained that there was nothing wrong in doing so. We have even apologised for the failure to prevent the destruction of the mosque at Ayodhya. The party has not shied from the truth, he said.

A more than categoric stand was taken by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2005, when apologised to the nation for the anti-Sikh riots in 1984. On behalf of our government, the entire people of this country, I bow my head in shame that such a thing took place, he told the Rajya Sabha while replying to an discussion on the Nanavati Commission report. The Prime Minister also promised to take all possible steps within the ambit of law against any individual named by the commission.