India’s opposition criticized ruling party leader Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday for avoiding any expression of regret for the killings of Sikhs in riots three decades ago, a sensitive issue that threatens to dog him in a tight election due by May.
Gandhi said the government led by his Congress party did everything it could to control the violence against minority Sikhs in retaliation for the assassination of his grandmother, then prime minister Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the riots and rights activists accuse the Congress of having turned a blind eye and say some of its leaders helped orchestrate the violence.
“It is tragic that so many died but there is no tribute, no remorse, no apology,” said Prakash Singh Badal, the chief minister of Sikh-dominated Punjab state whose party is a member of the main opposition alliance.
Gandhi in a rare interview broadcast on Monday night said the riots were horrible and that some members of the Congress party may have been involved. But they had been punished and the government had, at the time, tried to stop the attacks.
He said he had nothing to do with the violence when asked if he would apologize or at least express regret.
“I think that riots, as all riots, were a horrible event. Frankly I was not in operation in the Congress party,” said Gandhi, the fourth generation member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
Instead, he targeted the opposition’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, accusing his administration in the western state of Gujarat of abetting attacks against Muslims there in another series of riots in 2002.