I wonder if you’ve noticed how carefully Rahul Gandhi answered a question put to him by PTI last Sunday? Asked why he had hesitated to apologise for the 1984 Sikh killings in his Times Now interview, he replied: “The prime minister of the UPA has apologised and the president of Congress party expressed regrets. I share their sentiments completely.”
That answer inadvertently revives an old question I have been struggling with: What exactly has Sonia Gandhi said about Operation Bluestar and the November 1984 killings? An apology, regret or something else?
My colleagues spent months diligently and, perhaps, exhaustively researching the issue but the outcome remained unclear. That is till Rahul Gandhi stepped in and settled the issue. Today I want to explain. Let’s start with the research.
On January 27, 1998, at a rally in Chandigarh, UNI says Sonia Gandhi said of Operation Bluestar “mujhe dukh hua”, which I take as an expression of regret but not necessarily an apology. But why quibble, for many the two are the same.
The same UNI report says that speaking of the riots when Indira Gandhi was killed, Sonia Gandhi said she could “understand” the pain Sikhs feel because of what she experienced when Rajiv and Indira Gandhi died. The report says she added: “There is no use recalling what we have collectively lost. No words can balm that pain. Consolation from others always somehow sound hollow.” This is certainly not an apology and perhaps not even regret.
On December 28, 1999, when Sonia Gandhi visited the Golden Temple, a PTI report published by The Indian Express says the Golden Temple’s information officer, Gurbachan Singh Bachan, said she was not given a traditional saropa because she “had not apologised for the 1984 storming of the temple and anti-Sikh riots.”
Separately, a Tribune story of December 28, 1999, seems to quote in full a statement signed by her and released to the press by Amarinder Singh, then PPCC president. It’s a six-paragraph statement. The penultimate paragraph begins with the following sentence: “I have earlier expressed my deep anguish and regrets for the events of 1984, which ought never to have happened.”
Now, is this ‘earlier expression’ simply a reference to what she said at the Chandigarh rally of January 1998, where she didn’t express apology or even regret for the Sikh killings of November 1984 although she did talk of “dukh” with reference to Operation Bluestar? Possibly but it’s not clear.
Finally, DNA has a story dated August 11, 2005, published shortly after Dr Manmohan Singh apologised for the ’84 riots in Parliament, which claims that The Punjab Rights Forum doesn’t consider
Dr Manmohan Singh’s apology sufficient because it believes an apology “should come from the Nehru-Gandhi family and particularly from Congress President Sonia Gandhi.” This suggests the group doesn’t believe that up till 2005 Sonia Gandhi had apologised or, at least, does not accept what she said as an apology.
After 2005, as far as I can tell, Sonia Gandhi hasn’t spoken about either Operation Bluestar or the 1984 killings. Or our research hasn’t discovered it.
Do you now see why I believe Rahul Gandhi chose his words deliberately and carefully? Sonia Gandhi has expressed regret for Operation Bluestar and could be construed to have done so for the 1984 Sikh killings but it seems almost certain she hasn’t apologised for either.
This means Rahul Gandhi has answered the question I began with. I thank him for his candour and clarity.
The views expressed by the author are personal