Facing fire over his alleged role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, Congress general secretary Kamal Nath on Wednesday quit as the party’s Punjab affairs in-charge, just three days after he was given the post.
The state unit too got a sigh of relief as the news of the former Union minister asking party president Sonia Gandhi to relieve him of the charge came in late evening. Party spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala confirmed that she had accepted his resignation from the post.
Several state Congress leaders and Nath himself had claimed that he had been absolved by the Nanavati Commission that probed the killings, which had followed the assassination of the then prime minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984, by her Sikh bodyguards. But the emotive issue could have rocked the boat of the Congress in the assembly elections that are barely six months away.
Immediately since the appointment, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), its partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) were unsparing in their attack on Nath, who had admitted before the commission that he was present outside Gurdwara Rakabganj when a mob had set it on fire after killing a father-son duo on November 1, 1984.
Though state unit chief Capt Amarinder Singh put up a belated defence for Nath at a press conference on Tuesday — and Nath too claimed he had been at the gurdwara “to save Sikhs” — the party was at unease over the appointment as the ghost of 1984 came back to haunt it again after 32 years at a time when it’s dreading a third loss in a row in Punjab.
Nath, in his letter to Sonia on Wednesday, hit out at the SAD and AAP, saying that certain elements were raking up the issue to “malign the party for political gains”. “The Nanavati Commission set up by the NDA regime had absolved me. Even during a subsequent motion to discuss the commission’s report in Parliament, none of the Akali-BJP MPs, including (now deputy chief minister and SAD president) Sukhbir Badal, mentioned my name. Never in my long political career has any stigma been attached to my name,” he wrote.
“This canard is a cheap political ploy to gain traction before elections. The party has to focus on rampant drug abuse, misgovernance (sic), breakdown of law and order and misery of farmers and youth. I would like to be relieved of the responsibility to ensure attention is not diverted from the real issues facing Punjab,” the letter further read.
His replacement is likely to be announced within this week, it is learnt. His predecessor was Shakeel Ahmad..
Ahead of the assembly elections in politically important Uttar Pradesh and Punjab next year, the Congress had put senior leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Nath in charge of the party affairs in these two states on Sunday.