Akali, Congress fanned terrorism

Hypocrisy thy name is politics. The reference is to those some of whom had advocated strong action against terrorists in the eighties, but are today trying to save the convicted extremists by stopping the law, what politicians rhetorically repeat, ‘from taking its own course’. The latest example of their turnaround is the campaign to seek clemency for the 1993 Delhi blast convict Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar.

Being spearheaded by the Akali Dal, this is the second such case in which the Akali leadership is trying to save from the gallows the person whose 1993 action had killed a number of innocent people. First, it was the Beant Singh’s assassin Balwant Singh Rajoana’s case. His execution was deferred two days before he was to be hanged, after the chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal met the then president seeking deferment of the execution and clemency for him.

One is surprised by the Punjab Congress bigwigs’ stand favouring clemency for Bhullar. They perhaps forgot that the Congress leaders were also among the victims of the 1993 blast. The BJP has taken a contradictory stand. Although Sushma Swaraj has strongly demanded hanging of rapists, her party has, in Bhullar’s case, wanted that the court’s verdicts should be implemented. Actually, the BJP seems to be more interested in saving its ministerial chairs in the Badal-led coalition ministry in Punjab.

One need not go into the arguments advanced by Akali Dal and state government’s legal brains for saving Bhullar from the gallows. These lose their logic as the Supreme Court had ordered his execution after hearing all arguments and had on 21 April upheld his death sentence in the wake of the president’s rejecting Bhullar’s mercy petition.  

The Akali leadership’s demand for clemency for Bhullar would appear logical if seen against the growing clamour for abolishing capital punishment. To a newsman’s question on 18 April, Badal himself said that ‘this (abolishing death penalty) is a big issue and needs a wider debate’. But till a decision on the issue is taken, the laws of the land must prevail and the apex court’s orders must be respected.

The main argument given by the Akali leaders for seeking clemency for the Delhi blast convict is that the hanging will affect communal harmony in Punjab. It adds ‘The Akali Dal is extremely concerned about the volatile law and order situation in the state. The fallout of the Supreme Court order has led to a surcharged atmosphere in Punjab. Our apprehension is that if the death sentence is executed, it will create a serious law and order problem and will give fresh breeding ground to the people who are averse to the idea of peace and communal harmony.’

The question is: who is responsible for creating the presumed ‘surcharged atmosphere’? Hasn’t the Akali Dal itself been creating such an atmosphere by appeasing the Sikh radical elements like Damdami Taksal and Sant Samaj whose support it managed to secure to win the last assembly elections?  

Quid pro quo politics makes it imperative for the beneficiaries to pay back for the favours they receive from their benefactors. The Akali leadership is just doing that. First, it submitted to its radical benefactors by submitting to their demand for raising Blue Star Memorial in the Golden Temple Complex. Under intense pressure, Badal had to announce that the memorial would be in the form of a small gurdwara without any photographs.  Then not only Akali Dal but its dominated highest religious bodies also declared Beant Singh’s assassin Balwant Singh Rajoana as ‘zinda shaheed’ (living martyr). It is such like actions which create an atmosphere conducive for surcharging the atmosphere.  

The post-1980s generation may not be aware of how the Congress and hardline Akali leaders contributed to the creation of an atmosphere conducive for the growth of religious extremism, which ultimately led to the eruption of terrorism.   

It all began with the out-of-power Giani Zail Singh promoting Sikh fundamentalist and separatist elements with intention to weaken the Akalis. In 1978, Dal Khalsa, then an obscure fundamentalist body, held a Press Conference in a Sector-22 Chandigarh hotel, where I was also present. It was addressed by Dal Khalsa chief Gajinder Singh. The hotel bill for the Press meet was paid by Onkar Chand, Secretary of Punjab Congress Bhawan Trust and Zail Singh’s right hand man.  A pro-Khalistani, Gajinder Singh was among those who on 29 September 1981 hijacked an IA plane to Lahore (Pakistan).

He was named Minister for Agriculture in the clandestine Government which was formed by West-Germany based Dal Khalsa’s Mukh Panch (chief) on 11 June 1984.   The fifth volume of the series A Centenary History of Indian National Congress, brought out in 2012, also made critical observations about the role Giani Zail Singh played, first when he was Punjab chief minister (1972-1977) and then as Union Home minister, in promoting religious extremists in Punjab.

The book concluded that ‘dirty politics in the name of religion in Punjab was one of the factors for terrorism and the Khalistan agitation in Punjab. Dirty politics and the use of religion for political ends clearly boomeranged on the Akali and Congress leadership with disastrous consequences for the Sikh community and the Indian state’.

Then it was the SGPC president Gurcharan Singh Tohra who allowed Bhindranwale and his armed entourage to move from Guru Nanak Niwas to Akal Takht on 15 December 1983 over the objections of Giani Kirpal Singh, the head priest of the Takht and Harchand Singh Longowal who feared being physically harmed by Bhindranwale’s armed men.   

The Akali leadership’s stand on the foregoing controversies needs to be seen in the backdrop of the warnings the central and the state intelligence agencies have been giving that efforts are being made to revive terrorism in Punjab with the foreign-based Sikh militants also remitting huge amounts of money to help revive terrorism. (IPA)
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