Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Friday triggered a controversy by denying his party’s involvement in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. However, he added that he completely supports punishment for those involved in the violence.

The Congress president was responding to a question about his party’s “involvement” in the riots that killed thousands of people, while speaking at the United Kingdom Parliament. He is currently on a two-day visit to London.

The riots broke out on November 1, 1984, after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. At least 2,433 people died in Delhi alone.

“I have no confusion in my mind about that,” Gandhi said, according to News18. “It was a tragedy, it was a painful experience. You say that the Congress party was involved in that, I don’t agree. Certainly there was violence, there was tragedy.”

“There are legal processes ongoing in India but as far as I’m concerned anything done that was wrong during that period should be punished and I would support that 100%,” PTI quoted him as saying.

During a session at the London School of Economics, Gandhi was again asked about the anti-Sikh riots. “When Manmohan Singh spoke, he spoke for all of us,” he said, referring to the former prime minister’s 2005 apology in Parliament to Sikhs.

“I am a victim of violence and I understand what it feels [like],” he said, referring to the assassination of his grandmother Indira Gandhi in 1984, and his father Rajiv Gandhi’s murder by members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 1991.

Gandhi said he condemns violence of any sort. “I am 100% for punishment for those involved in any violence,” he said. “That’s crystal clear.”

While the BJP and the Akali Dal objected to Gandhi’s statement, the Congress claimed the question itself was hostile. “Responding to a planted and hostile question, which contained a sweeping statement that Congress party was criminally involved in the 1984 riots, Rahul Gandhi said that that’s a wrong statement,” the party said.

“Congress party was not criminally involved in the riots,” the party added. “What happened was very sad, it was very unfortunate. Congress party has condemned the incident and our leaders have condemned what happened and we stand with those who suffered in the riots. We believe that the perpetrators must be punished.”

Former Union minister P Chidambaram said the Congress was in power in 1984 and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had already apologised for the riots in 2005. “You can’t hold Rahul Gandhi responsible for that [riots], he was 13 or 14,” Chidambaram said. “He hasn’t absolved anyone.”


Why did Manmohan Singh apologise, asks Akali Dal

Akali Dal leader Bikram Singh Majithia sought an apology from Gandhi. “When asked about the riots, Rajiv Gandhi had then said ‘When a big tree falls, the earth shakes’,” Majithia said. “Jagdish Tytler went on record to say that Rajiv Gandhi accompanied him to recce different parts of Delhi to see how successful the massacre was.”

The Bharatiya Janata Party too said Gandhi must apologise for his comment. BJP National Secretary RP Singh said Congress spoke about unity in diversity but in reality, it has always believed in dividing the country, according to IANS.

Singh also criticised Gandhi for invoking Guru Nanak Dev merely for vote-bank politics, reported PTI. “We are pained to know that Gandhi, who reminds us of anti-Sikh riots, claims that his thoughts resemble to the first Sikh guru – Guru Nanak Devji,” Singh said. “Actually his thoughts are in line with Congress culture of divide and rule.”

Union Cabinet Minister of Food Processing and Shiromani Akali Dal leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal also rebuked Gandhi and said his denial would “not wash off the blood of innocents from the Congress and his family’s hands”. Badal said Gandhi’s comments explain the “34-year delay in justice”.

If, according to the Congress president the “Sikh massacare never took place then as per me his father and grandmother [prime ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi] were not assassinated”, ANI quoted the minister as saying. “They died of normal heart attack.”

Shiromani Akali Dal President Sukhbir Singh Badal said the Congress president’s comments “justified the lynch mentality of the Gandhi family”. He asked why former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had apologised to Parliament for the riots if the Congress was not involved. You must explain what hold the perpetrators of the 1984 [anti-]Sikh riots have over you and whether you have given a statement denying the Congress party’s hand in the genocide at their instance,” Sukhbir Singh Badal told Gandhi.