In terms of sequence, this was the third NGO report on the November 1984 carnage. But what it set it apart from the earlier reports was the fact that it was not written by any human rights activists. On the contrary, the Citizens’ Commission that was set up for the purpose of probing the massacre consisted of people with impeccable “establishment” background. The five-man commission was headed by former chief justice of India S.M. Sikri and included Badr-ud-Din Tyabji, former Commonwealth secretary and vice chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University, Rajeshwar Dayal, former foreign secretary, Govind Narain, former governor of Karnataka and Union home and defence secretary, and T.C.A. Srinivasavaradan, former home secretary.
What prompted this group of eminent citizens to come together and hold an inquiry of their own – complete with public hearings and witness depositions - was the Government’s persistent refusal to appoint a commission of inquiry. Compared to the earlier NGO reports, the Citizens’ Commission report is understated and dour. As befits the exalted status of its members, the Citizens’ Commission began by addressing letters to the Prime Minister and Home Minister seeking interviews and information. Since it got no response from the Government, the Commission said “a large number of questions remain open.” But it added: “These questions, if left unanswered, can only result in spreading further doubt and lead to adverse inferences about the role played by the administration in this crisis.”
Some of those open questions relate to the failure of the administration to take preventive measures in the time gap of several hours between the attempt on Indira Gandhi’s life to the announcement of her death. “We have no means by which to judge the nature of the deployment of the preventive machinery available to the authorities, nor of the adequacy or otherwise of their appreciation of the worsening situation. Similarly, we are unaware of the nature of the briefing or instructions for action issued to field formations. The accounts furnished to the Commission do not give the least indication of any concern shown by senior police officers or others in what was happening in the affected localities. Not having been able to hear them individually or on their behalf as a force, it is not possible to say how they occupied themselves during the situation of escalating violence.”
Its cautious approach, if anything, made the report all the more damaging to the Indian state. Especially because it confirmed all the essential charges against the rulers of the day. For instance, the Army, it said, was not only deployed late for no good reason, it was also for a long time handicapped even after that because of a “lack of coordination” with the administration and police. The Commission also said that several Congress MPs and councillors were accused of having “instigated the violence, making arrangements for the supply of kerosene and other inflammable material and of identifying the houses of Sikhs. Some of them have also been accused of interceding with the authorities to obtain the release of their followers who had been arrested for various crimes.” Thus, the Citizens’ Commission report served the laudable purpose of adding pressure on the Rajiv Gandhi Government to concede the demand for a judicial inquiry