Gurpreet Singh: Hindu right repeats 1984 by scapegoating Kashmiri Muslims to win election

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      This month, as Sikhs marked the 35th anniversary of their holocaust in India, it's worth noting that the ruling right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has repeated the history of 1984 by winning the recently held general election with a huge majority.

      In June 1984, the then-Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi, ordered the military invasion on the Golden Complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs, to deal with a handful of religious militants who likely could have been arrested by using alternative means.

      The ill-conceived army operation left many worshippers dead and highest temporal seat of the Sikh faith—Akal Takhat Sahib—destroyed.

      The attack was planned to win the forthcoming general election by scapegoating the Sikh minority to polarize the majority Hindu community. It was executed on the occasion of the martyrdom day of the fifth master of the Sikhs, Guru Arjun Dev, when the shrine is full of devotees.

      This assault, which was preventable, alienated Sikhs from the mainstream.

      The same year on October 31, two of Indira Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards assassinated her at her official residence in New Delhi. This was followed by anti-Sikh massacres all over India.

      Though the slain leader’s Congress party continues to claim itself as a secular alternative to the BJP, which has an agenda of turning India into a Hindu theocracy, Congress party activists were seen instigating Hindus to kill innocent Sikhs during the pogrom of 1984.  

      Indira’s son Rajiv Gandhi, who succeeded her as prime minister, was linked to the genocide through his party henchmen's actions.

      Riding on an anti-Sikh tide, Rajiv Gandhi then won the general election in 1984 with a huge majority. The slogan of national unity paid him huge dividends. 

      This memorial at the Rakab Ganj Sahib Gurdwara in New Delhi lists 50 Sikh soldiers who were killed by mobs in 1984.

      Fast forward to 2019. The BJP government used a similar strategy to retain power with a heavy majority. Out of 543 seats in the parliament, the BJP bagged 300—about a hundred lower than what the Rajiv Gandhi–led Congress captured in 1984.

      This was despite the fact that the BJP was in power for the past five years and had failed to deliver on many important issues. Obviously, the usual anti-incumbency factor didn’t work as the BJP increased its share of seats from 282 to 300 this time.  

      This partly had to do with a militant's attack on February 14 against Indian forces in Kashmir—a disputed territory where an armed insurgency for independence has been going on for years.

      As a result of the suicide attack by a Kashmiri Muslim, 40 soldiers died. The BJP intensified its rhetoric for revenge following which innocent Kashmiri Muslims were targeted by mobs all over India.

      During the 1984 massacre, 50 Sikh soldiers were lynched by mobs in different parts of India, but there was no widespread anger and outrage then over this.

      Throughout the lead-up to this year's election, Modi and his party campaigned heavily on the plank of nationalism and accused opposition parties of being soft on terrorism. The BJP-led government's retaliatory attack on an alleged militant camp in the neighbouring Pakistan excited political hawks, who saw the BJP government as true patriots.

      Prime Minister Narendra Modi distributed this photo of him visiting Indian army troops in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.
      Narendra Modi

      Blinded by jingoism, they did not even let anyone question why the February 14 attack was allowed to happen in the first place in a highly militarized zone.

      Notably, the present Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, has been linked to the 1984-like carnage of 2002 when thousands of Muslims were killed in Gujarat. Modi was the chief minister of the state back then.

      The violence followed the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. More than 50 people died in the incident, which Modi blamed on Muslims.

      Much like the Sikh pogrom of 1984 did for Rajiv Gandhi, the 2002 massacre of Muslims helped Modi to win the next assembly election with a comfortable majority.

      His ascendance to power cannot be delinked from the ugly political events of 1984. Back then it was only the Sikhs who were targeted, while today all minority communities and true secularist Hindus are facing hardships under majoritarian democracy.  

      The 35th anniversary of the Sikh repression vindicates what German theologian and Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller famously said.

      “First, they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Communist.

      "Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

      "Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

      "Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me."