Indian Justice Inches Closer to Chapters of Violence

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On Oct. 31, 1984, two Sikh bodyguards gunned down Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in her garden. In the three harrowing days that followed, more than 3,000 Sikhs were killed by enraged mobs seeking to avenge her death.

Eighteen years later, 58 people, most of them Hindu pilgrims, died in an inferno on a train in Gujarat, in western India. The fire was blamed on Muslims, and within days 1,000 died in widespread riots.

These two spasms of horrific sectarian bloodletting have stood as direct challenges to India’s status as a democratic, secular state governed by the rule of law. In both instances, senior officials of the party in power were accused of looking the other way or, in some cases, even orchestrating the bloodshed. In both cases, a mere handful of the killers were ever convicted. In both cases, the political fortunes of politicians accused of fomenting the violence flourished in the aftermath.

But that pattern of official impunity may be changing. In the past month, two senior politicians have found themselves in the cross hairs of legal action that could, after all these years, force them to face accusations that they egged on killers in the two mass killings.

As investigators and prosecutors move in on these officials — a former member of Parliament for the governing Congress Party, and a chief minister and one-time rising star of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party — hope is rising that India might at last be ready to face up to some of its darkest moments and deliver justice for crimes that undermined the core of its national identity....

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