NEW DELHI/MUKTSAR: The ghost of anti-Sikh riots continued to haunt Congress leader Kamal Nath despite his giving up charge of poll-bound Punjab with his political rivals stepping up attack and demanding filing of a case against him.
On his part, the former union minister and his party rejected reports that he was asked to resign in view of the controversy surrounding him and that he did it on his own volition so that attention is not diverted from issues facing Punjab.
Talking to media, Kamal Nath rejected reports that he was asked to step down as general secretary in charge of Punjab and said he quit to ensure that attention was not diverted from the issues affecting the state.
He denied that Congress president Sonia Gandhi asked him to quit the post, adding that she understood the reasons he gave in his letter to the party to step down as in charge of Punjab.
"I called Rahul Gandhi and told him I am sending the letter ... I read him the letter. He told me to send it to the Congress President ... I called Sonia Gandhi and told her that this is in the interest of the party and we should not let them use this politics," he said.
Kamal Nath said Gandhi spoke with him again after she received the letter and told him that "well if this is your reason, fine."
On being asked whether he was forced to step down as the in charge after allegations over his role in the anti-Sikh riots resurfaced, the senior-most Lok Sabha MP wondered why the issue of his alleged role in the riots was being raked up after 32 years. He said the Nanavati Commission which investigated the anti-Sikh riots had absolved him.
"It is nothing but a political ploy to divert from the real issues. There was an adjournment motion on which Akalis spoke, LK Advani of BJP spoke. No one pointed fingers at me," he said.
He claimed that the real issues affecting Punjab such as drugs, farmer plight, mis-governance are being ignored.
Responding to a poser on a letter reportedly written by his former Cabinet colleague MS Gill, Kamal Nath said he never raised the issue of 1984 riots with him when they were Cabinet colleagues nor in the Cabinet.
Gill had on Wednesday described his appointment is akin "rubbing salt on wounds".
Kamal Nath rejected suggestions that the Nanavati panel absolved him due to 'lack of evidence'. He said the report should be read in its entirety.
The Congress veteran said he was at the Rakabganj Gurudwara near Parliament House after he was told that a crowd had gathered here.
He said that policemen at the scene asked him to engage the crowd till reinforcements arrived. "I left as soon as I saw the reinforcements arrive," he said.
Congress's face in Punjab and former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh came to Kamal Nath's defence saying he had done a gracious thing by his resignation but maintained that had he continued also "there would not have been any difference".
On Sunday, Kamal Nath was appointed as general secretary and given charge of both Punjab and Haryana. He resigned on Wednesday night as in charge of Punjab, which goes to polls next year, in the wake of rivals targeting him on the issue of riots.
Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma, however, made it clear that Kamal Nath continued to be the AICC general secretary in charge of Haryana.
Akali Dal leader and Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal attacked Kamal Nath saying his exit "vindicated" the stand of his party that 1984 Sikh carnage was a "deep rooted conspiracy" of Congress party to "butcher of innocent" Sikhs.
"Kamal Nath was reluctant to accept this post because of his guilty consciousness' owing to his role in massacre of thousands of innocent Sikhs," Badal alleged on the sidelines of Sangat Darshan programme in Malout assembly constituency.
He alleged Kamal Nath could not "muster the courage" to face people of state who were well aware of his role in this "barbaric holocaust" of Sikhs.
However, Badal said that the people of state in general and Sikhs in particular would never forgive Kamal Nath and other leaders of his party who had "planned and executed this heinous carnage", which was a dark spot in the entire history of India.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is trying to make inroads into the state in the next year's assembly elections, also joined the attack on the Congress leader.
It claimed victory over his resignation and demanded that an FIR be registered against Kamal Nath in the Gurudwara Rakabganj Sahib in which two Sikhs were burnt to death in 1984.
After its persistent pressure, the Congress had to sack Kamal Nath, the AAP said claiming it was an "acceptance" of defeat.
"Two Sikhs were killed in the incident. So Kamal Nath is also responsible for it as he was their leader. This is an insult to the law.
"By merely tendering resignation does not absolve Kamal Nath from the charges and he should be tried for murder and chargesheet should be filed at the earliest," said AAP leader and lawyer HS Phoolka, who has been fighting for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots victims. He said the role of Kamal Nath has never been investigated.
But senior Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma defended Kamal Nath saying he resigned "on his own volition" anguished over the "mischievous" campaign against him by opponents regarding the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
"The demand to reopen cases is ridiculous because there is no case ever. You cannot reopen which does not exist", he said when asked about the AAP demand.