Visiting road transport and highways minister Kamal Nath received a rude jolt during a press conference in New York on Tuesday when he learned that he has been summoned by a US federal district court for his alleged role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
A journalist from a local daily handed Nath a photocopy of the summons moments before a process server knocked on the doors of the New York consulate with the legal documents. Nath has been issued a court summons in a civil suit filed against him by Jasbir Singh and Mahinder Singh on behalf of the New York-based Sikhs for Justice. Nath said he was “appalled” by the allegations and denied any wrongdoing.
“The absurdity of it,” Nath fumed. “I am seeing the paper for the first time. I am surprised and appalled because I wasn’t involved — no one made a police case against me in India, nobody went to court against me either and 25 years later somebody suddenly emerges to say this. Well, it just reflects on the authenticity!”
The civil case filed under the Alien Torts Claims Act alleges Nath incited mobs to attack Sikhs and torch the Gurudwara Rakab Ganj in Delhi. More than 3,000 Sikhs died in riots sparked by the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984. Sikhs for Justice legal adviser Gurpatwant Pannun said Mahinder Singh’s father was murdered, while Jasbir Singh lost several aunts and uncles.
Nath is planning several roundtables with US investors this year, but the Sikh community is planning to lobby US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and the department of homeland security to cancel Nath’s visa. “The Coalition Against Genocide protested against Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s planned business visit to the US in March 2005 and scuttled his entry to the US. We can follow the same tactics to keep Nath out,” said a Sikh activist.
The summons calls for Nath to appear in court within 21 days. If he doesn’t, the summons said, he will be tried in absence. According to legal experts, Nath can supply answers to questions without being present in court.
Nath declined to discuss how he would respond to the court summons beyond saying that he would have to study the legitimacy of the matter.
In March this year, Nath first ran smack into Canadian Sikhs protests outside the King Edward Hotel where he attended the Canada-India Business Council meeting. Now Sikhs for Justice with the support of several Gurudwara management committees in the US will hold a “Justice Rally” against Nath on Thursday outside McGraw Hill Auditorium where Nath is attending a meeting.
The Sikh community in North America is mounting pressure on the Indian government to look into the 1984 riots. It wants the government to take action against Congress party leaders and workers who incited or helped the mobs in attacking the Sikhs.
Nath who is in the US on tour to revive foreign interest in India’s massive infrastructure development, particularly roads and highways is miffed by the distraction and embarrassment caused by the Sikh protests.
India’s road network of 3.32 million km is second only to the US and is in need of major upgrades. Nath said on Tuesday that India has seen recent investments from companies like Morgan Stanley and Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin Group. The government is looking to build around 7,000 kilometers of roads a year for the next several years, or 20 kilometers per day.
“Currently, we are building 13 kilometers a day,” said Nath seeking more US investments for building India’s creaky infrastructure.
India’s massive public-private partnership programme will result in the development of 15,000 km of roads and highways over the next three years at a cost of roughly $70 billion. About $45 billion of that is projected to come from the private sector and $20 billion is supposed to come from foreign investors.
Meanwhile, lawyers and activists associated with the 1984 anti-Sikh riots cases in Delhi say that while Nath’s claim of having no Sikh riot-related cases against him in Indian courts is true, “the fact remains that there still is plenty of evidence to prove his complicity”.
Senior advocate Harvinder Singh Phoolka, founder of the Citizen’s Justice Committee which has been fighting for justice for the riot victims, told DNA, “Yes, there was no case registered against Kamal Nath in any Indian court in relation to the ‘84 riots but there was enough evidence against him.”
Phoolka, who in his book When a Tree Shook Delhi wrote extensively about the alleged involvement of Nath in instigating the riots, clams that the minister was amongst the first politicians, “even before Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler”, to lead the riotous mobs at Gurudwara Rakabganj in the national capital.
Phoolka claims that the Nanavati Commission, which enquired into the anti-Sikh riots, had questioned Nath, who told the commission that he was present at Gurudwara Rakabganj when the riots broke out but claimed that he was dispersing the mobs and preventing them from any violent activity. “The Nanavati Commission strangely claimed that it found Nath’s submissions vague and that he had failed to explain the reason of his presence at the riot site. However, overlooking the body of evidence, the Nanavati Commission chose to give Nath the benefit of doubt,” Phoolka said.
- With inputs from Puneet Nicholas Yadav in New Delhi.