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Minister Hardeep Puri’s tweet on ’84 riots puts envoys in a tough spot

The use of the term “genocide” by a Central minister has thrown Indian diplomats in a tizzy as they have been countering its use abroad.

india Updated: Dec 15, 2017 16:36 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times, Toronto
Hardeep Singh Puri,SikhGenocide,1984 riots
The anti-Sikh riots broke out on October 31, 1984, after the assassination then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. Large mobs killed around 3,000 Sikhs, most of them men.(HT file)

Use of the hashtag #SikhGenocide by a minister of the Narendra Modi government has caused consternation within the external affairs ministry as the term is contrary to India’s stated position that the anti-Sikh violence after the 1984 assassination of Indira Gandhi amounted to “riots”.

Last month, minister of state for housing and urban affairs Hardeep Singh Puri used #SikhGenocide in a pair of tweets while responding to Punjab state legislator and Supreme Court advocate HS Phoolka.

One read: “@hsphoolka has been the rallying point & main source of inspiration providing legal assistance to families of victims of #sikhgenocide.” The second read: “The community collectively owes @hsphooka a big debt of gratitude. #NoJusticefor1984 #sikhgenocide.”

Puri did not respond to a request for comment.

The anti-Sikh riots broke out on October 31, 1984, after the assassination then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. Large mobs killed around 3,000 Sikhs, most of them men. Delhi saw the worst of the violence that swept many parts of India.

This overt espousal of the term “genocide” by a Central minister has thrown Indian diplomats in a tizzy as they have been countering its use abroad. In April, a Liberal member of the Ontario provincial parliament moved a motion using that term and its passage caused ire in New Delhi.

At that time, an external affairs ministry spokesperson officially reiterated India’s position: “We have noted the passage of a Private Members’ Motion in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario on April 6. We reject this misguided motion which is based on a limited understanding of India, its Constitution, society, ethos, rule of law and the judicial process. Our views have been conveyed to the government and political leadership in Canada.”

A similar motion had been moved a year earlier by Jagmeet Singh, then an Ontario member of the provincial parliament and now leader of the New Democratic Party, one of the three largest political parties in Canada.

That action in the Ontario legislature also caused friction between the Indian and Canadian governments even as Canada’s minister of national defence Harjit Sajjan visited New Delhi, and, according to reports, was told by his then Indian counterpart Arun Jaitley that the motion had caused “considerable disquiet” in the country.

That motion, in fact, continues to cast a shadow on ties between Ottawa and New Delhi.

Officials are now seeking “clarity” on what the Indian position is, even as envoys have been countering a resurgent pro-Khalistan movement in countries such as Canada.

What has concerned external affairs ministry officials even more is that Puri has represented India abroad, including as the permanent representative to the United Nations in New York.

Puri’s tweets came in the context of Phoolka’s reaction to an op-ed he wrote for Hindustan Times, in which he had focused on these themes: “This was a mass atrocity and could attract any of the four labels normally associated with such heinous crimes: genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and war crimes.”

He had also commented that, “By no means can the carnage of 1984 be described as a ‘riot’.”

First Published: Dec 15, 2017 16:34 IST