Even if one did not expect honesty from Rahul Gandhi on 1984, one would have thought that his handlers would have at least prepared him better for his Times Now interview with Arnab Goswami.
Much as they wanted us to be told over and over again as to how he wants to empower women and open up the system, has personally "given" us the Lokpal, RTI, and six wonder bills that he wants Parliament to pass, perhaps they should also have told him to not try to justify the actions of the ruling Congress party in 1984:
there is a difference between the 1984 riots and the Gujarat riots. The difference is that the government of the day in 1984 was not aiding and abetting the riots.
Even if the truth about 1984 was kept away from him because he was very young then, is it too much to expect that he should have better informed himself by now? May we suggest some basic reading material? Perhaps he could start here.
And since he was offered the escape route not once but a number of times, it was rather telling that he chose not even to offer a nominal and conditional apology.
What would he have lost if he said that he felt genuinely sorry and had no hesitation in offering an unconditional apology, just as the PM had in Parliament in 2005, even if that too had been a case of making a virtue out of a necessity?
What if he went on to add that any apology by itself is lame, means nothing and that in the end words don't matter, actions do, and that his party has much to do to ensure that the victims get justice? Be they of 1984, 1992/3, 2002, or indeed any other "riot"?
What if he added that while his party under his father and mother could be seen to have protected and promoted many of those accused in the 1984 riots, he would try to make amends?
What if he said that having suffered personal loss, he could certainly empathise with and understand the pain of the victims?
Would that not have given him the moral highground to launch into Mr Modi and his cussed refusal to accept any responsibility for Gujarat 2002?
Or was it a conscious decision not to be specific on 2002, because it would only underline how almost an exact equivalent exists, for any charge so levelled, for 1984? But in that case, surely Rahul Gandhi realises that his only charge against Modi ["He was CM when Gujarat happened"] while absolutely true, also applies to his father who was the PM when, well, Delhi happened?
And could he not do better than to offer this as evidence for "Gujarat":
"people saw it. I am not the person who saw it, your colleague saw it. Your colleagues told me."
Since Arnab Goswami had already brought up the question of those Congress luminaries who had been named by many credible enquiry reports and eye-witnesses, surely Mr Rahul Gandhi remembered the name of one Maya Kodnani, who had been made a minister by Mr Modi after the riots, despite credible charges against her, just as these men had been by his father?
That he seems to lack any introspection or contrition for 1984 is bad enough, but what is even more revelatory is that even his handlers failed to prepare him even on tactical grounds, not only on 1984 but even on corruption or 2002, which is perhaps why we had the following absurd exchange:
Arnab: What is your view, would like to expound your views, your PM accuses Narendra Modi in his press conference of presiding over "the mass massacre of innocent citizens on the streets of Ahmedabad." Mr. Rahul Gandhi my question to you is this, do you agree with your PM when he says that?
Rahul: Well, I mean what the Prime Minister is saying is a fact, Gujarat happened, people died but the real issue as far I am concerned...
Arnab: How do you accuse Mr. Narendra Modi of it?
Rahul: Gujarat happened, people died. The real issue at hand here is...
Arnab: How is Mr. Modi responsible?
Rahul: He was CM when Gujarat happened
Arnab: The fact remains that Narendra Modi has been given a clean chit, in the Gulbarg massacre case by the SIT and the court Mr. Gandhi. My question to you is "can the Congress party sustain its attack on Mr. Narendra Modi on this issue when he has been given the clean chit by the courts in the Gujarat riots
Rahul : The Congress party and the BJP have two completely different philosophies, our attack on the BJP is based on the idea that this country needs to move forward democratically, it needs push democracy deeper into the country, it needs to push democracy into the villagers, it needs to give women democratic powers, it needs to give youngsters democratic powers. It is about opening the doors of the congress party, about empowering the youth
Arnab : How is Narendra Modi responsible for the riots when the courts have given him a clean chit, politically your party's tact to criticise Narendra Modi and draw him into the Gujarat riots?
Rahul: Our political party is fighting an ideological battle Against the BJP and let me draw out the two pillars- our party believes that women should be empowered, democracy should go to every house, that RTI, and the MNREGA paradigm should be further expanded. The BJP believes power should be extremely concentrated in this country, few people should run this country and the large mass of this country should have no voice.
Arnab: Specifically speaking how is Narendra Modi, your party criticised him for the 2002 Gujarat riots, and how can you do that when he has been given a clean chit in the Gulbarg massacre by the SIT of the court. It was challenged in the court, the court upheld the SIT finding and therefore legally speaking Mr. Gandhi you cannot draw Narendra Modi into the Gujarat riots, implicate him personally. Do you believe that strategy of your party is fundamentally wrong?
Rahul: The strategy of the party is very simple. Everything we have done over that last 5-10years, in fact if you look all the way back to the freedom movement, every single thing we have ever done is empower people. We empowered people in the freedom movement, we empowered farmers in the Green revolution, and we empowered the citizens of India when we did the telecom revolution. We have empowered millions and millions of people through frankly the most powerful legislation that has ever taken place in this country called the RTI- Right to information. Things that used to be closed, things that were in closed doors which nobody knew about
Arnab: I will come to that but you haven't answered my question. Gujarat riots is the question, your party has consistently wanted to put Mr. Narendra Modi on the back foot on the Gujarat riots, he says "the court has given me clean chit" and I am asking you today, is your party's argument about putting him on the back foot on Gujarat is flawed given the ways the courts have looked at it
Rahul: The PM has stated his position on the Gujarat riots. The Gujarat riots took place, people died, Mr. Narendra Modi was in charge of Gujarat at that point. I am bringing you to a real ideological battle that is taking place here. The real ideological battle that is taking place here and the one we are going to win and that has always been one in this country is the battle of empowering people in this country. Of course there is your point of the Gujarat riots and it is very important that people who have taken part in this kind of thing are brought to book. But the real issue at hand here is empowering the women of this country, giving them true power. We talk about India being a superpower we can only be half a superpower if our women are not empowered. What I want to do is going forward is basically focus on three things. Focus on empowering our people, truly empowering our people, giving them democratic rights within the political party. I want youngsters who come in and really, really push democracy in the party. I want to empower them and I want to make India, together with everybody, taking everybody together I want to put India on the manufacturing map, I want to make this the centre of manufacturing in the world. I want to make this place at least as much as a manufacturing power as China.
Arnab: You say that Narendra Modi was CM during the Gujarat riots and the BJP was in power. The BJP was as much in power in Gujarat during the riots as much as Akhilesh is in power in UP or for that matter the Congress party was in power when the 1984 Anti Sikh riots happened, now let me quote, you spoke in one of your speeches of the anger of your Grandmothers death, I think it was campaign trail in Rajasthan. You spoke about knowing the people who killed her and you spoke about anger and managing your own anger and quelling your own anger and drawing it into strength elsewhere. Now that speech of yours became a subject of controversy with Narendra Modi posing a series a questions to you on 1984 and he said the following and I want to quote him and your categorical and specific response "he's crying for the assassination of his Grandmother but has he shed tears of those killed in the 1984 riots, I want to ask the Shehzada and you remember Mr. Gandhi he's constantly deriding you by calling you a Shehzada, whether your party kills Sikhs in anger when your Grandmother died, so following from this I have 2 questions, my first question; do you acknowledge the role of congressmen in the 1984 riots, B) will you apologise for the riots as your party demands an apology from Modi for the Gujarat riots?
Rahul: Two things, in 1977 when my Grandmother lost the election we went and lived ....and the people who came with my Grandmother, those people who stood by my Grandmother were Sikhs. Pretty much everyone had deserted my Grandmother but the Sikhs were standing with my Grandmother. I think the Sikhs are probably one of the industrious people in this country. I admire them; we have a PM who is a Sikh. I don't have the same world view as my opposition. What those two people did to my Grandmother, was two individuals, I don't turn around and take my anger which existed then, frankly, it doesn't exist now and brush it onto an entire community, that's just not me.
Arnab: I am sure you don't, my question is do you acknowledge the role of Congress men in the 1984 riots because
Rahul: I am coming to your question
Arnab: I am sure you don't, my question is do you acknowledge the role of Congress men in the 1984 riots because there must be justice. Mr. Gandhi there has to be finality, the Gujarat riot cases have moved forward and many people have got justice, if I just compare that to the 1984 riots, you can look at the status and case history of what happened to Mr. Sajjan Kumar, Jagdish Tytler, HKL Bhagat, Dharam Das Shastri and the one story that you hear there is these cases are endless, they go on for the longest period of time. I am asking you again, Mr. Gandhi before you seek an apology from Modi would you apologise for the 1984 riots, would that be something that you consider?
Rahul: I do not take my anger which existed on 2 individuals who did something evil and wrong and overlay it on millions of people. I think that's criminal. Did the Sikh riots take place in Delhi? Absolutely. Were they completely wrong? Absolutely.
Arnab : Were Congressmen involved?
Rahul : Did innocent people die? Absolutely
Arnab : Were Congressmen involved?
Rahul : Some Congress men were probably involved
Arnab : Has justice been delivered to them?
Rahul : There is a legal process through which they have gone through
Arnab : You admit some Congressmen were probably involved
Rahul : Some congressmen have been punished for it
Arnab : In that case, why don't you apologise for the 1984 riots? The congressmen who you are talking about are still fighting their cases and in 2009 if I am not mistaken Jagdish Tytler, Mr. Rahul Gandhi. Was going to get nominated as a congress candidate, it was only following the media furore that his nomination was taken back. Mr. Gandhi I am asking you this question in all seriousness do you feel that Congressmen were involved and 2)Do you believe if you apologise for the riots there will be finality
Rahul : The fact of the matter is that innocent people died in 1984 and innocent people dying is a horrible thing and should not happen. The difference between Gujarat and 1984 was that the Government of Gujarat was involved in the riots
Arnab: How do you say that
Rahul: I mean....
Arnab : The CM of Gujarat has been given a clean chit by the courts
Rahul : The difference between the 84 riots and the riots in Gujarat was that in 1984 the Government was trying to stop the riots. I remember, I was a child then, I remember the Government was doing everything it could to stop the riots. In Gujarat the opposite was the case. The Government in Gujarat was actually abetting and pushing the riots further. So there is a huge difference between the two things, saying that innocent people dying is absolutely wrong
Arnab : Explain that. Government of Gujarat was aiding and abetting the riots is what you just said, explain that?
Rahul : I mean it's not me...it's the large number of people who were there, large number of people who saw actively the Government of Gujarat being involved in the riots.
Arnab : You will keep that line despite the CM getting a clean chit form the courts?
Rahul : I mean, people saw it. I am not the person who saw it, your colleague saw it. Your colleagues told me
Arnab : They saw the riots?
Rahul : The saw the administration actively attacking minorities
Arnab: What are you saying? Can you explain?
Rahul : I am saying that there was difference between the 1984 riots and the riots in Gujarat. The difference was that the Government in 1984 was trying to stop the riots, trying to stop the killing whereas the Government in Gujarat was allowing the riots to happen.
Arnab: If the government in Delhi and in the center was trying to stop the riots in 1984, then tell me, how is it possible that Sajjan Kumar was named in Fir's on the grounds of inciting violence in outer Delhi leading to the murder of Sikhs. The status of the case is known. How is Jagdish Tytler, accused of inciting the mob in Pulbangash leading to murder and rioting in the area. How is the late HKL Bhagat accused of inciting violence. And you know that a plea in the Delhi Court was closed after his death. How did these Congress leaders do what they did allegedly, if the government was so strongly and proactively acting against the riots?
Rahul: There is a process. See there is a legal process. And that process is on. Okay.
Arnab: There was an SIT finding. It was challenged by Zakia Jafri. It went up there and the courts upheld what the SIT found. Are you questioning the wisdom of the courts Mr. Gandhi?
Rahul: Look. All I'm saying, all I'm saying is that there is a difference between the 1984 riots and the Gujarat riots. The simple difference is that in 1984 the government was not involved in the massacre of people. In Gujarat it was. The question is why do these kind of things take place. Why is it that the Gujarat riots took place? The Gujarat riots took place frankly because of the way our system is structured, because of the fact that people do not have a voice in the system. And what I want to do. And I have said it and I will say it again. What I want to do is question the fundamentals over here. What I want to do is ask a couple of questions. I want to ask why candidates that are chosen in every single party are chosen by a tiny number of people. I want to ask why women have to be scared to go out on the street. I want to ask these questions. These are fundamental questions.
Arnab: I appreciate that you believe in transparency. I'll move away from Gujarat but I must say that I have not found this comparison between 1984 riots and 2002 riots that they are two different cases. I can't take this at face value Mr. Gandhi. The reason for this is because in both cases the government, the accusation is that the government could have done a little bit more. But at the same time I want you to, once more if you can substantiate. You stand by what you said, that the Chief Minister and the government of Gujarat played a role in abetting the riots? You stand by what you said?
Rahul: All I'm saying is there is a difference between the 1984 riots and the Gujarat riots. The difference is that the government of the day in 1984 was not aiding and abetting the riots. That is all I'm saying.
Arnab: So you don't need to apologise for the '84 riots. If someone seeks an apology from you, will you give it? Your Prime Minister has apologised for the riots. Expressed deep regret. Will you do the same?
Rahul: First of all I wasn't involved in the riots at all. It wasn't that I was part of it.
Arnab: On behalf of you party.
Rahul: I think that riots, as all riots, were a horrible event. Frankly I was not in operation in the Congress party.
Read the full text of the interview at the TOI site