The original resolution that had been approved and was on the table was about demanding justice for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and to impress upon the Ministry of Home Affairs that it should take specific steps to include crimes against humanity and genocide in India’s domestic criminal laws. The Delhi legislative Assembly has been discussing anti-Sikh riots for the second day in a row.
Kejriwal and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia were not aware of the last line read by AAP’s Tilak Nagar MLA Jarnail Singh: “The House resolves that the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, the one who had justified the riots, should be stripped of the Bharat Ratna award and that the central government should take steps to this effect”.
AAP MLA from Malviya Nagar, Somnath Bharti, by his own admission, had made the ‘impulsive’ reference to Rajiv Gandhi in his speech.
“I was hearing all testimonies for two days. The House was charged, the high court had said that the perpetrators enjoyed political patronage. A person who justifies a massacre cannot be a ratna (gem) of Bharat. I thought of moving an amendment and scribbled the same on the copy of the resolution that was with me,” he said.
After his speech, Bharti told Saurabh who was sitting next to him: “This line will make it to the papers”. Saurabh replied: “You have created controversy and it will make it to the papers”.
Since Jarnail Singh moved the resolution to be passed, he googled to translate Bharti’s lines in English into Hindi and that was how, in the last line, ‘uchit’ (proper/justified) became ‘auchit’ (optional). The big blunder made it to the amendment but was not put to vote. It was, however, read out by Jarnail Singh as part of the original resolution.
When the resolution was passed, neither Kejriwal nor Sisodia were present in the House. The copy that was with Speaker Ram Niwas Goel also did not have the contentious line.
When the news broke, an angry and stunned Kejriwal swung into fire-fighting mode. “Boss was very angry, livid” is how one AAP MLA referred to Kejriwal’s mood. Bharti and Jarnail owned up on the roles they had played, and Bhardwaj tweeted clarifying that it was an amendment that was not put to vote and therefore was not part of the resolution that was passed in the House.
When AAP boss was in damage-control mode, the party’s Chandni Chowk MLA Alka Lamba, who had already left the Assembly when the resolution was passed, tweeted the same resolution, further escalating matters.
Effectively, her tweet added fuel to fire that Kejriwal was trying hard to douse. She was asked to delete the tweet and she did, but the AAP chief was not convinced. Somnath Bharti and Alka Lamba came under the scanner. Words flew thick and fast; Lamba was asked to resign, she accepted and that news was leaked to the media.
Lamba feared being made the scapegoat with some media outlets attributing the controversial line in the resolution to her. To clear her stand, which made matters worse for the AAP, Lamba tweeted the same resolution again alleging that she was told to support the controversial demand and was ready to face consequences for refusing to do so. This tweet elicited praise from Congress leader Ajay Maken, triggering speculation about her possible ‘homecoming’ to the Congress. Later, Alka Lamba deleted the second tweet as well.
Bharti said the demand for the withdrawal of Rajiv Gandhi’s Bharat Ratna was his own opinion. “It was solely my discretion as an MLA,” he said. No MLA was asked by the party to support any such demand. The only official change to the resolution was on Jarnail Singh’s demand to use ‘genocide’ to describe the anti-Sikh riots, which was included, printed and placed in the House.
Offering an elaborate explanation, Bharti told News18: “I had been hearing for two days the horrific details of the 1984 massacre. During my turn to speak, I proposed that the Bharat Ratna given to Shri Rajiv Gandhi be taken back in view of his absolutely ridiculous justification of the same as revealed in an old video. After I finished my speech on the already moved resolution, I handwrote my suggested amendment and because neither Mr. Arvind Kejriwal nor Mr. Manish Sisodia were there in the Assembly, and because Mr. Saurabh Bhardwaj was sitting right next to me, I showed him the proposed amendment. I asked his opinion, to which he said that I could move the same.”
Shifting the blame onto Bhardwaj, Bharti added: ““In fact, I also said to Mr. Saurabh that this amendment is not small, but still he did not stop or object. My handwritten amendment was passed on to Mr. Jarnail Singh. Mr. Singh did not read my proposed amendment as an amendment. Rather, he got it translated in Hindi and read my amendment as a part of the actual resolution. When he read the same, it also skipped the attention of Honble Speaker because my amendment had to be voted on separately before being made part of the original resolution on which the debate took place. But Mr. Jarnail read the amendment as part of the original resolution.”
Rubbishing Bharti’s claim, Bhardwaj said: “After his speech, Bharti told me ‘This line will make it to the papers’. I replied ‘you have created controversy and it will make it to the papers’.”
The next day, Sisodia and Bhardwaj held a press conference to explain why the demand was not passed in the House. The AAP went soft on Lamba as well, saying there was no talk of any resignation.
The goof–up, which comes during intense speculation of a possible AAP-Congress tie-up in Delhi, also led to speculation that some AAP MLAs deliberately tried to embarrass Kejriwal to scuttle the chances of an alliance. It is not a secret that many MLAs within the AAP are not in favour of an alliance. When asked, Sisodia played the matter down, saying each MLA was free to have their own individual opinion.
The question, however, remains. How did the Rajiv Gandhi reference go unnoticed not only by the members present, but also by the Speaker?