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Veteran Congress leader HKL Bhagat dead

     New Delhi: Former Union Minister and veteran Congress leader HKL Bhagat, who was in coma for the last two years, passed away on Saturday, at Apollo Hospital here. He was suffering from Alzheimer's disease, in which patients rapidly lose their memory and brain functions. Doctors at the Apollo Hospital today said that Bhagat's brain was completely paralysed and that he was not able to do anything except breath. Bhagat was the Union Information and Broadcasting Minister in Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's cabinet. He was also one of the prime accused in the 1984 Anti-Sikh riots case, was was heard by the Justice G.T. Nanavati Commission of Inquiry.

     The anti-Sikh Riots took place after the assassination of Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984 by two of her Sikh guards acting in the aftermath of Operation Bluestar. Over the next four days nearly 3000 Sikhs were massacred in systematic riots planned and allegedly planned by Congress leaders like Bhagat, Jagdish Tytler, Dharamdass Shastri and Sajjan Kumar, activists and sympathizers. The then Congress government was widely criticized for doing very little at the time, if not acting as an conspirator, especially since voting lists were used to identify Sikh families. The then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, son of Indira Gandhi allegedly made a statement "When a big tree falls, the earth is bound to shake" on the Sikh carnage. His widow and current President of the Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi officially apologized in 1998 for the events of November, 1984. The most affected regions were neighborhoods in Delhi. The riots were a key antagonist in the subsequent Punjab insurgency. According to the official figures, the largest number Sikhs, about 1,086, were killed in Bhagat's East Delhi constituency, during the riots. One witness, Satnami Bai, said Bhagat had led the rioters. Later on, she turned hostile and failed to identify him. Another witness, Darshan Kaur, stuck to her deposition despite threats to her life and identified Bhagat. But the case collapsed in 1995 and Bhagat was acquitted on the ground that in a riot case, conviction cannot be based on the word of just one witness. In 2003, Bhagat was acquitted by the court in all the riot cases, including the Satnami Bai case. The Nanavati Commission, in it's report this year had acquitted him saying "no purpose is served in investigating him further because of his advanced age and declining health".

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