We seem to be going round and round the mulberry bush on this issue — should certain leaders who were in charge during riots apologise or not? Of course, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, is the favourite target of those who feel that he should render an apology for the 2002 Gujarat riots, which happened on his watch. Others feel that it is Congress president Sonia Gandhi who should say sorry for the 1984 riots, which took place after Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
There has been a lot of hair splitting on whether some leaders have actually apologised or have merely expressed regret for incidents of communal violence. There is no doubt that those who were in charge during riots must express their apologies. But this is cold comfort to the victims.
We still have people who were displaced during the riots of Partition and who have still not got full restitution. Many victims of the cataclysmic 1984 riots are still living in refugee camps with a new generation raised almost completely in them. The Gujarat victims have got little succour and many of them are living in squalid circumstances. The latest set of people affected by riots is those in Muzaffarnagar and no help seems in sight for them. On the contrary, some of them who got a modicum of compensation have been asked to return the sums on account of the fact that they were not residents of the town. In all riots, the victims suffer a number of setbacks if they survive. They endure physical injuries, they lose their homes, they lose their loved ones, they lose their livelihoods and they lose their sense of security. All these need to be addressed and an apology or an expression of regret don’t compensate for these huge setbacks.
The main issue that should be debated is first how to activate the machinery to prevent riots in the first place. Often, timely police action can stop a small fracas from turning into a full blown riot. The next should be how, in the eventuality of a riot, to stop it as quickly as possible and apprehend the guilty. Alongside, those who have suffered should receive compensation and rehabilitation without delay. As long as we go on debating this issue of apologies, the political class is not held accountable for not giving the victims back some semblance of normal life. This has to be the foremost priority for which no amount of remorseful words can compensate.