Home Archive_English Anti-Sikh Riots in 1984: How it Was Planned and Executed

Anti-Sikh Riots in 1984: How it Was Planned and Executed


After the assassination of Indira Gandhi, local politicians belonging to the ruling Congress party met to decide how “to teach the Sikhs a lesson they would never forget.” Party cadres were mobilised. Contacts were made with lumpen elements living in the shantytowns and neighbouring villages. Sikh homes and shops were marked. Trucks were commandeered, iron rods and cans of kerosene oil and patrol acquired. At break of dawn on November 1, the anti-Sikh pogrom got going in right earnest. Truck-loads of hoodlums armed with steel rods, jerry cans full of kerosene oil and patrol went round the city setting fire to gurdwaras.

Incapability of Authorities 

In Delhi, it took the authorities over 24 hours to realise that the police and the Para-Military forces were unwilling (not incapable, but unwilling) to put down the rioters. Curfew was announced but never imposed; shoot at sight was authorised but never executed; extensive patrolling was more heard over All-India Radio and Doordarshan than seen with the eyes. The killing assumed the proportion of genocide of the Sikh community.

Rajiv Gandhi’s Anti-Sikh Campaign for the Election 

Rajiv Gandhi called the election a month before they were due. A massive propaganda campaign was launched over the radio network, television (183 relay stations), the press, and posters. Day after day, all papers in India’s 15 languages carried full-page advertisements showing barbed-wire entanglements and text asking: “Will the country’s border finally be moved to your doorsteps?” And “Why should you feel uncomfortable riding in a taxi driven by a taxi-driver who belongs to a different state?” Huge hoardings showed two Sikhs in uniform shooting at blood-stained Mrs. Gandhi against the backdrop of a map of India, or Mrs. Gandhi’s body lying in state with the Congress party candidate’s picture doing homage to her.

Slogans to Kill Sikhs 

The murderous words and constant refrains chanted by the mobs, on television, throughout neighbourhoods demonstrated a desire to kill Sikhs as a people. “Khoon ka Badla Khoon,” or “Blood for Blood”, began at AIIMS and reverberated across India through the state-owned TV service Doordarshan. Ranjit Singh Narula, retired Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, watched local television on the morning of November 1, amazed at how the crowd outside Teen Murti, where Indira Gandhi’s body lay, chanted “Khoon Ka Badla Khoon” and “Sardar Qaum Ke Ghaddar,” or “Sardars are the Nation’s Traitors” while many government officials took no action to stop the inflammatory slogans. This continued on TV the whole day. Even the new Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, did not stop the chanting mobs. Almost every affidavit spoke of mobs shouting slogans to kill Sikhs. Other slogans often heard were: “Maar Deo Salon Ko,” or “Kill the Bastards”, “Sikhon ko mar do aur loot lo,” or “Kill the Sikhs and rob them”; and “Sardar Koi Bhi Nahin Bachne Pai,” or “Don’t let any Sardar escape.” Some relevant extract from the Nanavati Commission Report, the Commission submitted its final report in February 2005.

Attacks on Sikhs Organised by the Congressmen 

Considering how the violent attacks were made, it felt that the Congressmen or their supporters probably organised the attacks on Sikhs by some other organisations or associations.

Role of Kamal Nath and Vasant Sathe

When the mob again attempted to get inside the Gurudwara (Rakab Ganj Sahib), one person inside the Gurudwara who had a licensed gun fired some shots in the air to frighten the mob. After that, the mob became bigger, and Congress leaders Kamal Nath and Vasant Sathe were seen in the mob. The reply filed by Shri Kamal Nath was vague. Kamal Nath, in his affidavit, stated that in the afternoon of November 1, on receiving information that some violence was taking place in and around Gurudwara Rakab Ganj Sahib, he, as a senior and responsible leader of the Congress Party, went there but didn’t state at what time he went there and how long he remained there. The situation at the Gurudwara became very grave at about 11.30 a.m. and remained grave till about 3.30 p.m. The evidence discloses that Kamal Nath was seen in the mob at about 2 p.m. The Police Commissioner had reached that place at about 3.30 p.m. So he was there for quite a long time.

Political Organisers

Well-dressed young men coming in Matador vans or cars or buses later identified as important functionaries of Congress-I or elected leaders belonging to Congress-I have been responsible for mobilising and directing the mob towards Sikh houses, shops, factories, etc. Gurudwaras. Refugees from Patparganj, Khichripur, Kalyanpuri in Pandav Nagar Gurudwara separately interviewed mentioned that a cream coloured Matador (xxx) owned by one xxxx drove up to Ganesh Nagar (Pandav Nagar Complex) carrying 12 men, one of whom was xxxx, a Congress-I Councillor; they distributed to the crowd, assembled their lathis, revolvers and rifles – which they had brought with them – and were heard telling them before leaving ‘Use these on Sardars’. In Mangolpuri, a white Ambassador was seen driving up near the flyover from Mangolpuri. Sitting inside was xxxx, a prominent Congress–I man who had masked his face as not to be recognised (but he was recognised all the same). He called the crowd to his car, gave them some advice, and then left; soon after, the Gurudwara went up in flames on the morning of November. 1.


  1. Thus frenzied cries of:-
  • ‘Indira Gandhi Zindabad’,

Indira Gandhi Amar Rahe’ and

  • Jab tak sooraj-chand rahega

Indira tera naam rahega’,

  1. Were followed by:-
  • ‘Khoon ka badla khoon se Lenge’
  • ‘Sardaron ko jala do, ‘loot lo’, ‘Sardaron ko mar do’ and
  • ‘Hindu-bhai, Muslim-bhai, Sardaron ki kare safai’

Rajiv Gandhi Statement

In his speech, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, on November 19, 1984, said that “Some riots took place in the country following the murder of Indiraji. We know the people were very angry and for a few days it seemed India had been shaken. But when a mighty tree falls, it is only natural that the earth around it does shake a little.”

Role of Media 

Throughout the carnage, the official TV station Doordarshan continued to focus on Teen Murti and the chanting crowds, showing no coverage of the massacre of Sikhs. Television viewers abroad watched in horror, but tight control within India prevented any coverage. Despite repeatedly showing footage of slogan-shouting mobs, the Union of India told the Misra Commission in its reply to interrogatories that: “Doordarshan did not take shots of persons shouting slogans like ‘Khoon Ka Badla Khoon’ and ‘Sikh Kaum Ke Gaddar.’ It was a live telecast, and TV cameras focus sometimes covered shots of huge crowds lined up to pay homage to the late Prime Minister.

Congress-Led Meetings and Distribution of Weapons: Identification of MP Sajjan Kumar

On the morning of November 1, Congress (I) MP Sajjan Kumar was identified near the following Delhi areas: Palam Colony around 6:30 to7 a.m., Kiran Gardens around 8 to 8:30 a.m., and Sultanpuri around 8:30 to 9 a.m. Raj Kumar of Palam Colony, a Hindu, was returning from the market after deciding not to open his shop on November 1. When he reached the Palam Railway main road, he saw a jeep approaching him, followed by people on scooters, motorcycles and foot.

MP Sajjan Kumar, whom he recognised from Kumar’s visits to Palam Colony, sat in the passenger seat. The people following the jeep told him they were going to a meeting at Mangolpuri. By the time Raj Kumar reached the meeting, Sajjan Kumar had started speaking. Although Raj Kumar could not hear Sajjan Kumar, he heard the mob’s deadly answers to Sajjan Kumar’s calls: “Sardaroo Ko Mar Do,” [Kill the Sardars] “Indira Gandhi Hamari Ma Hai–Aur Inihoo Ne Ushey Mara Hai” [Indira Gandhi is our Mother, and These People Have Killed Her].

Role of HKL Bhagat 

Sarup Singh lived across from eminent Congress (I) leader Shyam Singh Tyagi in Shakarpur. On the evening of October 31he saw MP and Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting HKL Bhagat standing in front of Tyagi’s house, talking to four or five people. They went inside Tyagi’s house while Tyagi left to gather more people. Sukhan Singh Saini, a Hindu, witnessed the same meeting and recognised Shyam’s brother Boop Singh Tyagi, as well as 13 other people. He also saw Bhagat distribute money to Boop Tyagi, ordering, “Keep these two thousand rupees for liquor and do as I have told you….You need not worry at all. I will look after everything.”

Jagdish Tytler dictates Delhi Police Commissioner

Sudip Mazumdar, Journalist (eye witness): “November 5, 1984, 5 p.m. The police commissioner, Mr. S.C. Tandon, was talking to a group of journalists about the situation in the city. In response to a question from a reporter that Congress (I) MPs and other senior party leaders were trying to pressurise the police to release the gangsters arrested in connection with the anti-Sikh violence, Mr. Tandon firmly denied the allegation. Prodded to give a clear answer, Mr. Tandon stated that no member of Congress or any other party was putting pressure on the police. He had barely finished saying this when Jagdish Tytler, Congress MP from Delhi’s Sadar seat, walked into the room along with three other people. “Tandon saab, kya ho raha hai, aap nee mera kaam abhi tak nahin kiya (Mr. Tandon, what are you up to? Why have you not done what I asked you to?).”

The Commissioner was embarrassed. The journalists started laughing. Mr. Tytler went on shouting at Mr. Tandon, at which a reporter asked him to tell Mr. Tytler not to disturb the press conference. Mr. Tytler snapped at him, “this is more important.” Then the reporter invited Mr. Tytler to attend the press conference and face some questions regarding his involvement in the carnage. Mr. Tytler went red in the face but sat there all the same, “you are obstructing the relief work (for the survivors) by keeping my men in custody”, Mr. Tytler told the Commissioner. This incident silenced the Commissioner effectively against any further questions about the Congress party’s involvement in the violence.”

Rajiv Gandhi’s Strange Reaction when told of Congress workers’ involvement in the Riots

“When a delegation led by the former prime minister, Mr. Charan Singh met Mr. Rajiv Gandhi and drew his attention to the reports in the Indian Express about the Congress MPs trying to get their supporters released from custody, Mr. Gandhi’s answer was, “just as National Herald daily belongs to the Congress party, and the Express is the Opposition’s newspaper” implying, thereby, that the report need not be taken seriously.”

Manmohan Singh’s statement in Parliament 

In 2005, Indian Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, himself a Sikh, in an astonishing admission, following on from the latest judicial inquiry into the events, said the following in the Lok Sabha, the Indian Parliament: “What happened in 1984 was a grim national tragedy, and it brought us all to shame. Indira Gandhi’s assassination and subsequent events leading to anti-Sikh riots and all those ghastly happenings should have never happened. They are blots on our national conscience. On this, there is no difference of opinion on any side. But the question arises: “Where do we go from here?”

Twenty-one years have passed; over one political party has been in power, and yet the feeling persists that somehow the truth has not come out and justice has not prevailed. Therefore, it is our collective responsibility to find ways and means to accelerate the processes, which would give our people a feeling that they do appreciate justice in this massive State of India. I wish the debate had taken that tone. But the debate has been on narrow, partisan lines, and I respectfully say to the House that does not serve its purpose. Say once again; it was a national shame, a national and a great human tragedy.

Courtesy : ORGANISER