- Dr Manmohan Singh was speaking on birth anniversary of IK Gujral
- Nearly 3,000 were killed in the riots in 1984
- Several Congress leaders accused of leading mobs targeting Sikhs
The massacre of 1984 could have been avoided if former prime minister IK Gujral's advice to then home minister PV Narasimha Rao to call in the army at the earliest had been heeded, Manmohan Singh said on Wednesday in remarks that constitute a political landmine for his Congress party.
"When the sad event of 1984 took place, Gujral-ji on that very sad evening went to the then Home Minister PV Narasimha Rao and said to him that the situation is so grave that it is necessary for the government to call the army at the earliest. If that advice would have been heeded perhaps the massacre that took place in 1984 could have been avoided," said the former prime minister at an event to mark the 100th birth anniversary of IK Gujral, who was India's prime minister in 1997-98.
The BJP seized the comment to target Rajiv Gandhi, who was Prime Minister at the time. "Manmohan Singh-ji, the power to call in the army lies with the prime minister. Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister, why didn't he call the army," questioned Union Minister Prakash Javadekar.
"Instead, Rajiv Gandhi justified it saying - 'when a tree falls, the earth shakes'," Mr Javadekar said.
IK Gujral's son Naresh Gujral, a leader of the BJP's ally Akali Dal, said he wanted to compliment Manmohan Singh for "being candid and honest" and revealing that his father repeatedly went to Narasimha Rao to request him to call in the army, which was 60-70 km from Delhi.
"The home minister did not act. Clearly it was a congress conspiracy," Mr Gujral said.
Nearly 3,000 were killed in riots that broke out after the assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards. Several Congress leaders have been accused of leading mobs targeting Sikhs.
Narasimha Rao's family reacted sharply to the comments. "As a family member I'm feeling saddened by this statement by Dr Manmohan Singh, it's unacceptable. Can any Home Minister take independent decision without Cabinet's approval? If Army had been called, it would have been a disaster," said his grandson NV Subhash.
Narasimha Rao went on to become prime minister of a Congress government in 1991-96. Manmohan Singh, as finance minister at the time, is credited with bringing major economic reforms.
IK Gujral, who was prime minister for about a year, famously crafted the "Gujral Doctrine" for maintaining good relations with neighbours. He died in 2012 at 92.
(With Inputs from ANI)