M A I N   N E W S

Govt may amend ATR on Nanavati report
Congress in damage control mode
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 9
Faced with an Opposition onslaught and adverse public reaction on the Centre’s response to the Nanavati Commission report on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, a worried Congress went into damage control mode today.

Senior UPA ministers and Congress leaders hinted that the Home Minister could announce amendments in the Action Taken Report (ATR) when this matter is debated in the Lok Sabha tomorrow. The Congress is keen on a discussion in Parliament as it believes this will give it an opportunity to respond to the Opposition criticism and, thereby change public perceptions.

The government, it is learnt, is also not averse to another investigation in certain cases where the Nanavati Commission report refers to the possible involvement of Congress leaders, notably Union Minister Jagdish Tytler. There is a growing opinion in the party that Mr Tytler should have stepped down voluntarily but feel his removal now will give the impression that the government is acting under Opposition pressure.

Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma indicated the government’s flexibility on this issue at his daily press briefing when he remarked that the government could go beyond the ATR while replying to the debate in Parliament.

The party’s defensive stance today was in sharp contrast to its reaction yesterday when it decided not to be apologetic about the riots, especially since the Nanavati report had exonerated the Congress and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

There was a dramatic change in the party’s mood today when it became clear that the report had only served to reopen the old wounds and it could trigger an angry public response with the BJP and the Akali Dal using this issue to launch a frontal attack against the Congress. The Congress is particularly worried about the Opposition attempts to discredit Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the Sikh community.

Senior Congress leaders held a series of meetings through the day today to assess the situation while AICC general secretaries were in touch with the PCCs in Punjab, Haryana and other Sikh-dominated states to get a feedback about the mood of the people. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee and other members of the “core group”, who normally meet every Friday, were confabulating till late tonight to finetune the party’s strategy.

The Congress is clearly in a dilemma. On the one hand, it agrees that since the Home Ministry’s ATR is a legal document, the government could not have gone beyond “the framework of existing laws” and acted against certain leaders on the basis of their probable involvement. On the other hand, Congress leaders realise that public mood is equally important and the party will have to act fast to come up with a credible political response if there is the perception gains ground that the Congress is shielding the guilty.

There are differing perceptions in the party on the political fallout of the Nanavati report. While a section believes the Opposition campaign will soon peter out as 21 years have elapsed since the riots took place. The Sikhs have since then revised their opinion about the Congress, especially after Dr Manmohan Singh took over as Prime Minister. On the other hand, there is a view that the old wounds had been “ripped open” again and unless the Congress is seen to taking pro-active steps, it could boomerang on the party.


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