“The Gujarat riots would not have taken place if the government had punished those responsible for the 1984 riots,” says Karamjit Singh Sunam, the man who once tried to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi. He’s now fighting the Lok Sabha polls as an independent candidate from Patiala in Punjab. His message: spare perpetrators of communal crimes and you risk alienating the people. Sunam was 23 when the 1984 riots broke out. “I saw death and destruction all around. The rioters burnt my closest friend, Baldev Singh, alive while I watched,” he recalls. Later, he heard the new PM Rajiv Gandhi dismiss the riots as an angry reaction to Indira Gandhi’s assassination. “It was an act encouraging the riots,” says Sunam. He decided to kill Gandhi. He tracked the PM’s routine, and armed himself with a country-made pistol. He hid in the bushes at Rajghat for 10 days and shot at Gandhi when he came there on 2 October 1986. The Jain Commission, in an interim report, recorded that the attempt “could well have succeeded had the assailant not been armed with a crude, country-made weapon”. After his release from jail in 2000, he started a school in his town, from which he draws the name Sunam.
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