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  • It's not in our political culture to say sorry

    Posted On May 6, 2018

    By Karan Thapar

    I’m writing to applaud Salman Khurshid. Even though his comment has angered several members of his party whilst leaving many of us stunned and despite the fact his explanation has confused the situation, he’s absolutely right when he admits Congress has blood on its hands. The Sikh killings of 1984 is the most glaring example but by no means the only one.

    It takes a lot of courage to be this honest in public. There are very few politicians who are. Khurshid may have been indiscreet but he’s also proved he’s exceptional.

    However, the same comment could have been made with equal truth of the BJP. For some it’s role in the Babri Masjid demolition of 1992 is the first instance of this whilst for many the Gujarat massacre of 2002 is clinching proof. Of course, the BJP will not accept that. They will angrily refute it. But mine is not a lonely voice. The Supreme Court has spoken in almost identical terms.

    When I interviewed Mr. Modi in 2007, he claimed and I wrongly accepted, that the court’s comment was only obiter dicta. We were both wrong. Since then I’ve discovered the Court’s criticism was part of one of its formal verdicts. In the judgement on the Zahira Habibulla H Sheikh vs. State of Gujarat case, delivered on the 12th of April 2004 by Justices Doraiswamy Raju and Arijit Pasayat, the Court wrote: “The modern day ‘Neros’ were looking elsewhere when Best Bakery and innocent children and helpless women were burning, and were probably deliberating how the perpetrators of the crime can be saved or protected.”

    But, surely, similar accusations can be levelled at many other parties? Indeed, who amongst them is so clean their hands are not tainted with blood? Or corruption? Or crime? Or deliberately misleading the people of India? My point is simple: our political parties are not angelic and their leaders are by no means saints. They’re all sinners and they’re all in denial.

    Khurshid spoke the truth and Rahul Gandhi had the strength of character to defend him. I applaud that too. In fact, 12 years ago, as Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, apologized in Parliament for the 1984 Sikh killings adding “I bow my head in shame.”

    But now will others speak out? Is there a single voice in the BJP that’s prepared to accept mea culpa? And is there anyone in the AIADMK, BJD, RJD, PDP, TMC, CPM or any of the other parties that dot our political landscape who is prepared to raise their hand and accept blame or, at least, responsibility for their lapses?

    The undeniable fact is we all know the truth. The silence or denial of political parties cannot change that. But their acceptance will increase our respect for them and, in some small measure, reassure us that they have learnt from their mistakes.

    This is why Salman Khurshid’s admission is so important. This is also why Rahul Gandhi’s acceptance of it is so significant.

    Sadly, our political culture does not encourage us to accept mistakes. Instead, we circumvent, deflect or take recourse to the fact our opponents have done worse. Where honesty is needed we prevaricate.

    We think this is crafty strategy. We think we’ve outwitted our accusers. But that’s just self-deception. The sorry truth is we lack the character to stand up and say sorry. And each time that belittles us. We become men of straw, not the colossuses we think we are.

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