The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has reached out to Surat Singh Khalsa (82), who has been ‘fasting’ for the release of Sikh prisoners, with Education Minister Daljit Singh Cheema holding a closed-door meeting with the octogenarian on Wednesday. The meeting, which lasted over two hours at Khalsa’s village of Hassanpur, is the first since a video, purportedly showing the Sikh activist consuming food, went viral on social media.
While Cheema said that the outcome of the meeting was ‘positive’, family and supporters of Khalsa claimed that the education minister had told activist to break his fast but the latter refused. “I went to meet Khalsa out of concern as we are worried about his health. I came here as a SAD representative. I have told his family and supporters not to trouble the old man anymore. They have some responsibility towards his health. It is the onset of winter and if irreparable damage occurs to his body, then it will be a big loss. It was a positive meeting though Khalsa continues with the fast,” Cheema told The Indian Express.
The education minister is likely to hold another meeting with Khalsa’s supporters on Friday. “Most probably, I will be coming to Hassanpur again on Friday. His family and supporters responded positively today. I told them that the government is ready to talk and listen to their point of view. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal was concerned about Khalsa’s health as he is too old to sit on such fasts. We do not want his health to deteriorate beyond repair,” Cheema, also the SAD spokesperson, said. He added that the activists have clearly been told that ‘none of Sikh prisoners are eligible for release’.
“They were taking three to four names and I promised them that we will get back with details of their cases. However, others have either not completed their terms or their jurisdiction is not in the hands of the state government. I tried convincing his family to make Khalsa end his fast but they did not agree,” Cheema said.
Meanwhile, Joga Singh, a member of the Khalsa Sangharsh Committee, and Ravi Inderjit Singh Gogi, Khalsa’s son, said the meeting ended in a deadlock. “They have planned another meeting with us on Friday. Cheema was concerned for Bapu’s health and asked him to take water. Bapu was unconscious but as per his orders to us, nothing is to be given to him till Sikh prisoners are released,” they told The Indian Express.