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The Rediff Interview/Harvinder Singh Phoolka

February 11, 2005

Harvinder Singh Phoolka, senior advocate, Supreme Court, and former additional advocate general, Punjab, stands apart from his colleagues in the legal fraternity.

At the risk of incurring the then Congress government's wrath, he took up the cases of the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

In an interview with Associate Editor Onkar Singh in New Delhi, Phoolka discussed the Justice G T Nanavati Commission report on the riots, which was submitted to Home Minister Shivraj Patil this week.

Are you disappointed that the government is refusing the make public the report's contents?

From the proceedings, which took place on Wednesday evening when Justice Nanavati handed over the report to Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil before the media but refused to take questions, it seems that the government is adopting double standards.

On the one hand the government made public the interim report submitted by Justice U C Bannerjee on the Godhra incident. In this case there is a reluctance. We are disappointed.

Is the government trying to suppress the report?

If we go by the sequence of events then it does seem the government is trying to shelve the report. But it is too early to say what the government will eventually do.

Will you move the Supreme Court to force the government to make the contents public?

It is too early to say anything. Moving the Supreme Court will be our last option.

We hope better sense prevails and the government sooner or later makes the report public.

Leaks to the media suggest that the report absolves the Congress party of its role in the 1984 riots.

I do not think that the leaks that have been appearing in the print media or are being talked about on television are authentic.

There is so much of contradiction between various claims. On the one hand they say top Congress leaders like Sajjan Kumar, H K L Bhagat and Dharamdas Shastri were involved in the riots, that the home ministry was negligent and did not perform its duties.

On the other hand they claim that the Congress party has been absolved of its responsibility. Look at the Congress of 1984 and not of the Congress of today.

If Bhagat, Shastri and Sajjan are named, then who is left in the party? They were all powerful people. So I do not think what is being talked about in the media is correct. A judge of Justice Nanavati's stature is not going to submit that kind of report.

Twenty years on, does it serve any purpose to set up a commission of inquiry?

I would look at things in a different manner. Over 4,000 Sikhs were killed in Delhi alone between October 31, 1984 and November 2, 1984, and most of them in broad daylight.

Do you allow the guilty to go scot free just because the perpetrators of such heinous crimes were able to protect themselves from the law for 20 years?

If you allow this to happen, the cycle of violence and riots will keep on recurring. If you forget the 1984 riots then you have to be prepared for another one. Today if you forget the Gujarat riots then you have to be prepared for another round there as well.

Do you see similarities between the 1984 riots and the Gujarat riots?

I would say there are similarities as well as differences.

Similarity lies in large-scale violence, the mob frenzy and the killing of innocent people. Unfortunately, a message is going around that you kill innocent people in mobs and you can go scot free.

Recently, we had an incident in Haryana where four Dalits were killed by a mob because they are skinning a dead cow. Just because the sarpanch of the village in Jhajjhar said these people had killed the cow, the four innocent people had to pay with their lives. This trend needs to be checked.

There is a general feeling that such commissions are influenced by the parties in power.

I do not agree with this kind of logic.

Some may toe the line but there are others who give bold findings. Take Justice Rajinder Sachhar who gave the ruling against the government in the 1984 riot case and directed the Delhi and central government not to wind up relief camps, which they intended to do.

Are you surprised that the same judge is inquiring into the anti-Sikh riots and the Gujarat riots?

I cannot recollect any other precedent where the same judge had inquired into two cases of riots at the same time.

One inquiry involves the Congress and its leaders and the other involves the BJP and its leaders. Do you think he will do justice?

Judges are supposed to give impartial findings, irrespective of who is heading the government. He gives his findings on the basis of material before him.

It is immaterial who is involved and who is not as far as the judge is concerned. The judge heading a commission of inquiry is supposed to give independent findings. I am confident a judge of the calibre of Justice Nanavati will do the same.

Headline Image: Rahil Shaikh

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