Zail Singh and Sanjay Gandhi responsible for Punjab mess in 80s : Book

Zail Singh and Sanjay Gandhi responsible for Punjab mess in 80s : Book

The fifth volume of the series 'A Centenary History of the Indian National Congress' makes critical observations on "dirty politics" in the name of religion in Punjab that it concluded was one of the factors for terrorism and the Khalistan agitation in Punjab.

"Dirty politics and the use of religion for political ends clearly boomeranged on the Akali and Congress leadership with diastrous consequences for the Sikh community and the Indian state" the book says commenting on the situation in the aftermath of the Operation Blue Star.

Noting that Congress emerged as the single largest party in the state assembly in the 1972 elections and formed a government headed by Zail Singh, the book says, "by introducing a reilgious tone to Punjab politics, Giani succeeded to a great extent in weakening the Akalis. But the result--growing communalisation of provincial politics--was disastrous."

The book notes that Zail Singh organised one of the biggest religious processions "in order to secure Sikh votes for Congress".

In the chapter "Indira Gandhi: An Overview" the book says that Zail Singh, who was Congress Chief Minister of Punjab in the 1970s - and first Home Minister in Indira's 1980 cabinet and later still the country's President - had "unwisely" but ostensibly "tried to steal Akalis's clothes" by pandering heavily to religious sentiments of Sikhs."

"Zail Singh, in complete collaboration with Sanjay, picked up a relatively obscure young and fundamentalist lay preacher named Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale with a view to building him up as a rival to the Akali leadership.

"It is inconceivable that they could have done so without Indira Gandhi's consent. Sanjay and Zail Singh believed that by advocating extremist causes, the young preacher could embarrass the Akali Dal. Precisely the reverse happened. Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale originally planted by Giani Zail Singh to weaken the Akalis, had outgrown his shoes," the book said.

Congress has, however, distanced itself from the views expressed in the book, saying there is no official book about the party's history.

Party spokesman Manish Tewari has stressed that the book, brought out by a group of editors, headed by senior party leader Pranab Mukherjee, has two disclaimers.

"In no circumstances, Congress subscribes to these views," Tewari said. The volume brought out to commemorate 125 years of the organisation narrates and analyses a wide variety of issues, which affected the Congress and in turn impinged on the national issues.

In the preface to the book, Mukherjee noted that Congress desired the volume to be edited and contributed by experts in order to generate an "objective and scholarly perspective for the period under review" and "not necessarily have a party perspective".

The book further notes "the tragedy of Punjab politics is that, in competition for votes both the Congress and the Akalis have started making emotional appeals to the Sikh electorate by taking communal issues as was done by Giani Zail Singh. This politics of vote bank is fast eroding the secular space for political arena in Punjab, which is a dangerous signal."

Referring to the coming back to power of Indira Gandhi in 1980 post the Janata Party government experiment after Emergency, the book notes that Indira Gandhi "nursed a grudge" against Prakash Singh Badal who was then leading the Akali government in Punjab, which she later dismissed.

It said that Badal had earlier let it be known that if left undisturbed he would extend full cooperation to the Congress government at the Centre.

"Indira  Gandhi nursed a grudge against Badal for his having joined hands with the Opposition and launching Akali Morcha against the Emergency. And this the Akalis did in spite of the fact that while banning RSS and other communal organizations, Akali Dal remained untouched.

"Repeating Janata government's experiments of dismissing properly-elected governments in the states, Indira Gandhi also dismissed some state governments including the Akali government in Punjab....Out of power, the Akalis quickly retrieved their grievances and did not hestitate in making a common cause with pro-Khalistani elements abroad," the book said.

The book notes "The attack on the Golden temple (and later, the massacre of innocent Sikhs in the aftermath of the killing of Indira Gandhi) did great damage to the psyche of the Sikhs."

Referring to the chaotic communal situation in the state before the Operation Blue Star, the book held that the the "rivalry" between the then Union Home Minister Zail Singh and Punjab's Chief Minister Darbara Singh, stood in the way of prompt action.

It has also accused former Haryana Chief Minister Bhajan Lal of "adding insult to injury" of Sikhs by issuing instructions to the state police to "frisk all Sikhs passing through Haryana on the eve of 1982 Asain Games in New Delhi."