125 Years’ History Book Leaves Red Faces in Congress

New Delhi, May 31: Former President Giani Zail Singh’s role during his tenure as Punjab chief minister has been criticised as also that of Sanjay Gandhi for the Punjab crisis of the 80s in a book on Congress.

The fifth volume of the series ‘A Centenary History of the Indian National Congress’ makes critical observations on “dirty politics” in the name of religion in Punjab that it concluded was one of the factors for terrorism and the Khalistan agitation in Punjab.

“Dirty politics and the use of religion for political ends clearly boomeranged on the Akali and Congress leadership with disastrous consequences for the Sikh community and the Indian state” the book says commenting on the situation in the aftermath of the Operation Blue Star.

Noting that Congress emerged as the single largest party in the state assembly in the 1972 elections and formed a government headed by Zail Singh, the book says, “by introducing a religious tone to Punjab politics, Giani succeeded to a great extent in weakening the Akalis. But the result–growing communalisation of provincial politics–was disastrous.”

The book notes that Zail Singh organised one of the biggest religious processions “in order to secure Sikh votes for Congress”.

In the chapter “Indira Gandhi: An Overview” the book says that Zail Singh, who was Congress chief minister of Punjab in the 1970s – and first home minister in Indira’s 1980 cabinet and later still the country’s President – had “unwisely” but ostensibly “tried to steal Akalis’s clothes” by pandering heavily to religious sentiments of Sikhs.”

“Zail Singh, in complete collaboration with Sanjay, picked up a relatively obscure young and fundamentalist lay preacher named Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale with a view to building him up as a rival to the Akali leadership.

“It is inconceivable that they could have done so without Indira Gandhi’s consent. Sanjay and Zail Singh believed that by advocating extremist causes, the young preacher could embarrass the Akali Dal. Precisely the reverse happened. Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale originally planted by Giani Zail Singh to weaken the Akalis, had outgrown his shoes,” the book said.

Congress has, however, distanced itself from the views expressed in the book, saying there is no official book about the party’s history.

Party spokesman Manish Tewari has stressed that the book, brought out by a group of editors, headed by senior party leader Pranab Mukherjee, has two disclaimers.

“In no circumstances, Congress subscribes to these views,” Tewari said. The volume brought out to commemorate 125 years of the organisation narrates and analyses a wide variety of issues, which affected the Congress and in turn impinged on the national issues.

In the preface to the book, Mukherjee noted that Congress desired the volume to be edited and contributed by experts in order to generate an “objective and scholarly perspective for the period under review” and “not necessarily have a party perspective”.