On the occasion of the 36th anniversary of the 1984 Genocide, Comrade Prakash Rao, Spokesperson of the Communist Ghadar Party of India, answered questions posed to him by reporters of Mazdoor Ekta Lehar (MEL). The following is the transcript of that interview.
MEL: Why does your party mark this occasion year after year, repeatedly demanding justice? What do you aim to achieve? Do you still expect that the guilty will be punished?
Prakash Rao: A people who forget their history have no future. We must neither forget the great achievements, nor the tragedies that have befallen us. The genocide of Sikhs of November 1984 is part of our collective conscience. The ruling class of our country has been trying to erase the memories of this genocide from the minds of the younger generation. It has been distorting what happened in 1984. It has been covering up why this genocide was organised and who organised it. Our Party considers it our duty to keep the memory of the genocide of 1984 alive in the minds of all Indian people. We must ensure that the younger generation knows why it happened and who organised it.
There are many political forces in our country who are opposed to communalism and communal violence. We have worked together with all such forces to advance the struggle for justice. The demand for justice raised by the victims of the 1984 genocide has become popularized throughout the length and breadth of our country. “PUNISH THE GUILTY!” has become a popular demand which has the support of all Indians of conscience. By now, this GUILTY includes those responsible for the numerous state organised communal bloodbaths before and after November 1984. These include the Nellie massacre of Assam in 1983, the communal killings that preceded and followed the demolition of Babri Masjid, the Gujarat genocide in 2002 and the communal violence that engulfed North East Delhi in February 2020.
Our Party has popularized the slogan “An attack on one is an attack on all!” This slogan has caught the imagination of all people opposed to communal violence and all forms of state terrorism. It has enabled the forging of a powerful unity against state organised communal violence, rising above all differences of religion, ideology and political affiliation.
The ruling class wants to communalise everything, including the opposition to communal violence. With this nefarious aim, it carries out the propaganda that only Sikhs are opposed to attacks against Sikhs, only Muslims are opposed to attacks on Muslims, only Christians are opposed to attacks on Christians, and only Hindus are opposed to attacks on Hindus. This is a big lie. In November 1984, people of other religious faiths came out, risking their lives, to defend Sikhs, and to organise relief and rehabilitation. This has been the case every time any section of our people has been the target of communal violence. Women and men of conscience from other communities have come forward to stand by them in their moment of need.
Our party firmly defends the right of every community which is the target of attack. They have every right to organise to defend themselves from such attacks. We do not accept the official propaganda that those who organise their communities to resist such attacks are communal.
As a result of the work of so many organisations over the past 36 years, it is by now widely recognized that the 1984 massacre of Sikhs was meticulously planned and organised by the Central Government. This has raised the issue — what does it mean to Punish the Guilty? This question cannot be sidestepped by any political force in our country.
It is not only the Congress Party in charge of the Central Government which organised the genocide of Sikhs. The entire machinery of the Indian state — the Prime Minister at the head of the Cabinet, the police and intelligence agencies— were involved. The foot soldiers who finally carried out the task were merely that — foot soldiers obeying orders. It is not enough to punish one or two foot soldiers. The organizers need to be punished. The machinery of state organised communal violence needs to be dismantled.
MEL: Your party calls it a state-organised crime, genocide. So do many others. However, official Indian history still calls it the anti-sikh riot. Why this glaring dichotomy?
Prakash Rao: Sikhs were hounded, burnt alive, raped and murdered because of their religion. Their gurudwaras, their homes, their shops were set on fire.
Rumors were spread that Sikhs had poisoned the wells and were distributing sweets to celebrate the assassination of Mrs Gandhi. Voters’ lists identifying Sikh homes were distributed to state organised gangs in each electoral district, along with petrol, rubber tyres, etc. to set victims on fire. Top leaders of the ruling party led the mobs. The police forces were under orders to disarm the Sikhs on one hand, and to assist the state organised mobs in carrying out the genocide. When top leaders of the Sikh community, including retired army generals approached the Home Minister to ask for a stop to the massacre, they were met with silence.
A riot gives the image of two communities fighting each other spontaneously. This is not what happened in November 1984. On the contrary, the attacks on Sikhs were state organised. The Sikhs could not look towards the police or state authorities for protection.
The ruling class wants to deny it was a genocide. They want to keep on distorting the truth and avoid punishing the guilty. To punish the guilty means not only to unravel the conspiracy organised by the rulers against our people in 1984, but also to take measures to ensure that such crimes are never committed again.
MEL: Published statements of your party point to the necessity for fixing command responsibility. You raise this as a demand to be fulfilled. Can you explain what you mean by command responsibility?
Prakash Rao: It is well known that soldiers in an army are expected to be disciplined and carry out orders of their commander. Similar is the case in the police and in the state administration in general. Command responsibility means that the Commander is responsible for the action of those working under his or her command.
In November 1984, as well as numerous other cases of state organised communal massacres, the officials of the state received the orders from higher ups, through a chain of command.
Indian justice system does not acknowledge crimes such as a state organised genocide or state organised communal violence. There is no law that enables people to punish those occupying the highest positions of the state machinery for the crimes they commit against the people. What this means is that when the state is the organizer of violence against the people, people cannot expect justice.
When massacres took place in Delhi and other places in 1984, should not the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, and top officials of the police and intelligence agencies be held responsible? Yes, according to the principle of command responsibility. No, says the existing Indian legal system. The courts do not begin their investigation by calling for the minutes of meetings in the Home Ministry. Many people who have been fighting for justice for victims of state organised communal violence, have put forth the need for ensuring command responsibility. People can see that if the guilty are those in command of the state machinery, then the ordinary laws of the state will never ensure justice. Our Party fully supports this struggle.
The very fact that no government in power has agreed to the principle of command responsibility shows that people cannot expect those in charge of the present state to stop hiding the truth and denying justice. The struggle to punish the guilty has to continue until the people of India establish a new state that will guarantee universal human rights and democratic rights, including the right to conscience. Such a state will ensure that no one is discriminated against on account of her or his beliefs, and anyone who carries out such discrimination is promptly and severely punished, regardless of her or his official position.
MEL: The Communist Ghadar Party says that it is the class in power which is responsible for unleashing communal violence. Most political forces, however, blame the party in power. They blame BJP for the attacks on the Muslim community. Can you explain CGPI’s stand?
Prakash Rao: First we must understand who rules India. India is ruled by the bourgeoisie headed by the capitalist monopolies. Through periodic elections, the ruling class brings to power that party or coalition that would implement its agenda best, and at the same time fool the people. Elections are used to legitimize its rule over the broad masses of people.
At the same time, workers and peasants keep fighting for their rights. They keep revolting. Various sections of the propertied classes also fight for their share of power. Alongside of elections, the ruling class has been perfecting the weapon of state terrorism, including state organised communal violence against this or that section of people. Through both these means, the ruling class tries to keep the people divided.
From the time of independence till the eighties, the ruling capitalist class utilized the Congress party to push through its agenda of enriching itself in the name of building a “socialistic pattern of society”. By the 1980’s, the discontent of workers, peasants, and other sections of our people against the “socialistic pattern of society” had reached great heights. In such a situation, the ruling class unleashed terrorism, communalism and communal violence in Assam, Punjab, Delhi and other places to smash the unity of the people.
The ruling class decided to change course, abandoning the “socialistic pattern of society” and replacing it with the program of liberalization and privatization. To divide and crush all opposition to this program, the ruling class organized large scale communal massacres in the name of building a Ram Temple in Ayodhya.
The ruling capitalist class does not want workers, peasants and other oppressed people to unite under one banner and around one independent program. It uses communal violence to divide the people and divert them from their common enemies. The communal violence that shook North East Delhi in February must also be seen in this light. Mass protests of workers, peasants and other working people against the anti-people course of the ruling class have been developing for some time. In such a situation, the ruling class rammed through parliament a divisive law that linked citizenship with religion. Lakhs of people, cutting across lines of religion, came onto the streets in powerful protests against this undemocratic law. In such a situation, the ruling class deliberately organised the communal violence in North East Delhi. Women and youth who organised the peaceful mass protests are being locked up in jail as terrorists, under the UAPA.
It is the ruling class that is guilty — not only its management teams. The governments formed by parties like Congress and BJP are but different management teams of the ruling class. These management teams will blame each other for the problems facing the people, including communalism and communal violence. But they will never blame the ruling class.
Congress Party swears by “Secularism” while BJP swears by “Hindutva”. Both “Secularism” and “Hindutva” are in the service of the bourgeois class and its strategy of divide and rule. Our party calls upon people to reject the path of joining hands with the Congress Party, whether in the name of opposing “Hindutva” and defending “Secularism”, or in the name of defending “Democracy” from “BJP-Fascism”.
Our party considers it the most important task to strengthen the unity of all sections of the exploited and oppressed against the rule of the bourgeoisie, headed by the monopoly houses. The struggle is not between the so-called right and left wings of the bourgeoisie. The struggle is between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. It is between those who want to maintain the existing system, on the one hand, and those striving to lift Indian society out of its crisis and guarantee prosperity and protection for all, on the other.