In public life, being fair isn't enough. One also has to come across as being fair. By this simple rule, candidatures of Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar were eminently avoidable. More so when building bridges with the alienated Sikh community was a major goal Sonia Gandhi set for herself on joining active politics.
The Tytler-Sajjan duo’s withdrawal from the electoral race will to some extent soften the blow to Sonia’s agenda, the high point of which was the Congress’s February 2002 victory in Punjab Assembly polls and Manmohan Singh’s installation as Prime Minister two years down the line. Singh’s 2004 selection was on merit. But it did give the country its first PM from the exceptionally enterprising and self-respecting Sikh community.
The Congress took control of the border state when the NDA’s local allies, BJP-Akali Dal, were in power at the Centre. Riots erupted in Gujarat in less than a fortnight of the Punjab polls in which the Congress seemed to have buried the ghost of the 1984 carnage.
It took the party nearly two decades to live down the stigma Rajiv Gandhi tried obfuscating after the 1985 Akali victory in polls held amid unprecedented security: “Congress lost the elections in Punjab but won the state back for India.”
That was a thoughtful correction of “when a big tree falls, the earth shakes” statement he made on the widespread anti-Sikh violence after Indira Gandhi's assassination.
But the presence on the Congress stage of leaders who allegedly abetted violence or remained silent spectators in the face of the mayhem kept the party on the defensive.
Belated though and for whatever reasons — political expediency or altruism — Sonia’s decision to make Tytler and Sajjan sit out should put an end to the “two wrongs make a right” logic. The perverse argument has debased political debates post-1984, the 1992 demolition of Babri mosque and the retributive Gujarat carnage after Godhra.
“The Congress’s decision under public pressure brings out the question of accountability of political parties. They’d have to come clean now on dark chapters in their history and that of the country,” surmised veteran socialist Surendra Mohan. “If popular pressure is strong, others such as the BJP would have to follow suit.”
Pressure in this era of coalitions could even come from allies with support-base in the minority community demanding justice in Gujarat and on the Ayodhya issue. For instance, JD (U)’s Nitish Kumar has already put the BJP on notice.
“There will be no NDA if issues such as Ram temple are on their agenda,” Nitish said in an interview to Zee TV. He also lambasted L K Advani for comparing Jayaprakash Narayan’s arrest during Emergency with Varun Gandhi’s detention for making a hate speech.