The day-long fast by Congress leaders at Rajghat on Monday to promote communal harmony had an unusual prologue. Before Congress president Rahul Gandhi arrived on the protest site, Delhi Congress president Ajay Maken asked former Union Minister Jagdish Tytler to leave the Gandhi memorial. A cautious Congress president obviously did not want to share the stage with somebody who is still to be exonerated of the charges of pogrom of Sikhs which followed in the aftermath of the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984.
The irony of the event was not lost on those who have closely followed the politics of the national capital during the past four decades. Ajay Maken, the person who asked Tytler to leave, was himself catapulted to political prominence following the assassination of his uncle Lalit and aunt Gitanjali Maken by Khalistani terrorists. The Khalistanis had gunned for Lalit Maken as he was alleged to be involved in the anti- Sikh riots.
A report titled 'Who Are The Guilty', published by the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), had listed 227 persons who had led the mobs, which killed about 3,000 Sikhs over three days in Delhi. Lalit Maken's name figured prominently on the list along with with those of other Congress leaders like Har Kishan Lal Bhagat, Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar.
At the time of his assassination in summer of 1985, Lalit Maken was member of Lok Sabha representing the South Delhi seat; Bhagat and Tytler were important ministers but Sajjan Kumar had been denied ticket. Why Sajjan had lost out then whereas others had survived the “corrective measures” taken by the Congress leadership after the hue and cry was raised was largely because of the reason that the threesome of Bhagat, Tytler and Lalit Maken enjoyed lot of clout in the city whereas Sajjan then was still to grow in stature beyond being a disciple of Bhagat.
It’s also important to mention that Lalit was given ticket to contest Lok Sabha polls in 1984 as the sitting Congress MP Sardar Charanjit Singh, the owner of Le Meridien and Campa Cola, had refused to contest on the Congress ticket protesting the killing of the Sikhs.
Lalit Maken did not live for long as he was gunned down in July 1985. Encashing on the sympathy wave created by Maken couple’s killing, Lalit’s nephew Ajay, then a science stream student at Hanraj College, was fielded as Congress-affiliate National Students Association of India’s (NSUI) president candidate in the Delhi University Students Union (DUSU) polls, which followed a month or two later. Congress scored an unprecedented victory in the polls, with Ajay Maken defeating Vijender Gupta, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad’s (ABVP) star leader. Gupta is currently Leader of Opposition in Delhi Assembly.
The three other accused of pogrom – Bhagat, Tytler and Sajjan—however, continued to remain strong in Congress for several more years. The slide in their fortunes began only after the arrival of Sheila Dikshit in Delhi politics. She was hand-picked by Makhanlal Fotedar, the Nehru-Gandhi family’s close aide, to cleanse, to use the much-hackneyed phrase, Aegean’s Stable, which the Delhi Congress had turned into.
Born into a Sikh family, Dikshit from day one made efforts to woo the community back to the party’s fold. Her efforts to assuage the hurt feelings of the community by initiatives like renaming the IP University as Guru Govind Singh IP University came to a naught as Tytler and Sajjan Kumar still held strong, though Bhagat faded with age and illness.
The best example of persisting Sikh angst was defeat of Dr Manmohan Singh from the community dominated South Delhi Lok Sabha seat to Vijay Kumar Malhotra in 1999. The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government at the Centre, meanwhile, pushed the probe into the riots. Using subterfuge, as charged by her rivals, Dikshit too managed to get the cases against Tytler and Sajjan going, considerably weakening them politically, especially after the Nanavati Commission report was finally tabled.
However, a section of mandarins in the Congress high command kept backing Tytler and Sajjan as they did not want a free run for Dikshit either and they wanted to hem her increasing rise in popularity as Delhi Chief Minister. Tytler in fact was sworn as a minister in Manmohan Singh government in 2004 ahead of Kapil Sibal but was forced to quit as the riot cases kept coming back to haunt him.
Sajjan was denied ticket in 1984 but the seat was given back to him in 1991, which he won. Though he lost one poll thereafter and was denied ticket in another, in 2004 he recorded a resounding victory polling more than 8.50 lakh votes wresting the seat from former CM and Delhi BJP stalwart Sahib Singh Verma.
Both Sajjan and Tytler were initially fielded by the Congress in 2009 Lok Sabha polls also. However, Sikh journalist Jarnail Singh protested the ticket given to the duo by throwing shoe at the then Home Minister P Chidambaram at the party’s media briefing.
“Respect for public sentiment”, the line vigorously advocated by Dikshit and Sibal, saw Sajjan and Tytler being replaced. JP Agarwal was fielded in place of Tytler from North-East Delhi seat though Sajjan managed to ensure that the ticket remained within his family with his brother Ramesh Kumar being fielded instead.
The 2009 Lok Sabha polls saw the Sikhs whole-heartedly vote for the Congress across the city. In fact on the Sikh-dominated West Delhi seat, a Bihari, Mahabal Mishra, managed to defeat a Punjabi, Jagdish Mukhi. The slogan being, “A Vote For Mahabal Was A Vote For Manmohan.” The Congress had fought 2009 Lok Sabha polls with Manmohan Singh as its PM candidate.
However, the electoral hammering which the Congress received in the national capital thereafter, first in the 2013 Assembly polls, then 2014 Lok Sabha polls and again in 2015 Assembly mid-term polls has not only weakened the party but also leaders like Sajjan and Tytler, whose old loyalists have either withered or wandered to other camps.
Today, Jagdish Tytler has no constituency which he can call his own. Sajjan’s son too was mauled in pocketborough during the Vidhan Sabha polls. For a Congress party in reinvention mode, the leadership today sees worth of Tytler and Sajjan not more than that of scrap. This message the veterans should now understand, as it could not have been announced to them any more loudly
(The writer is senior journalist and political commentator. Views are personal)