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Saturday, October 23, 2021

In SAD losing power, Captain’s ouster as CM, a common thread

Both Badal and Amarinder are Jat Sikhs and were considered popular chief ministers before being shown the door.

Written by Kamaldeep Singh Brar | Amritsar |
Updated: October 1, 2021 11:22:44 am
capt amarinder singh punjab congress crisisFormer Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh leaving the residence of MP Parneet Kaur in New Delhi on Thursday. (Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

History has a strange way of repeating itself, especially in Punjab as the political events over past couple of weeks have shown beginning with the ouster of Congress’s Capt Amarinder Singh from the post of the chief minister, largely over his failure to address the issue of sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib.

His ouster reminds one of the way the Parkash Singh Badal-led SAD-BJP government was ousted from power in 2017 by the Sikh electors who were sore at the desecration of the holy book in 2015, the subsequent police firing on protesters leading to two deaths, and failure on part of the government to ensure justice in the case.

Both Badal and Amarinder are Jat Sikhs and were considered popular chief ministers before being shown the door.

There was also a strong sense of Deja Vu when Punjab Police had to issue a clarification Wednesday stating that newly-appointed acting state police chief, Iqbal Preet Singh Sahota, never gave clean chit to Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda or its now-jailed chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in the sacrilege case.

Two years back, in July 2019, Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal had to issue a similar clarification. “I never issued a clean chit to anyone or described the arrests of Dera Sirsa men as wrong. I strongly oppose the CBI closure report and want the case to be taken to its logical conclusion,” Sukhbir had then said after being hauled up over his remarks where he had said that investigation into the 2015 Bargari sacrilege carried out by the Congress government was hogwash.

The Dera head was named as an accused in a case that pertains to the theft of Bir (copy) from Gurdwara Burj Jawahar Singh Wala. Sukhbir was the Deputy chief minister and also had charge of the home department when the case had come to light. Sahota, as then Punjab Bureau of Investigation chief, was left red faced when it came to fore that two Sikh Youths his team had arrested in connection with case, claiming it to have been solved, were innocent.

The crime
It was in June 2015 that a report was filed about a Bir of Guru Granth Sahib being stolen from village Burj Jwahar Singh Wala. After almost three months, some derogatory posters were found pasted on the wall of a gurdwara in Bargari on September 24, and then outside Gurdwara Burj Jawahar Singh Wala the next day. The two shrines are two kilometres apart. In the posters, it was claimed that the stolen Bir was with some followers of Dera Sirsa, a sect which was in direct tussle with Sikhs since 2007. The torn pages of the holy book were found strewn in Bargari on October 12, leading to the registration of a case at the Bajakhana police station.

In the police firing on people protesting against the sacrilege, three days later, two youths were killed.
Several probes with same result: zero

A Special Investigation Team (SIT) was formed on June 4, 2015 by Faridkot’s then SSP Charanjeet Sharma, with then SP(D) and Jaito DSP as its members, to probe the theft of the Bir.

On June 10, a second SIT was formed by then Bathinda IG Paramraj Singh Umranangal. The new SIT had five members including SSP Charanjeet Sharma along with Ferozepur SP (D).

Both the SITs failed to trace the Bir.
The then SAD-BJP government then formed third SIT to probe the theft, sacrilege and the subsequent police firing, Sahota, as director of the state Bureau of Investigation, was head of this third SIT which soon arrested two Sikh youths on charges of the theft of Bir and sacrilege. Sukhbir had held a press conference to announce the arrests. Sahota had claimed to have cracked the case. However, the police story fell flat within few hours and the arrested youth were released.

Later, the SAD-BJP government had handed over the three cases — the theft of Bir, putting up of handwritten sacrilegious posters and the torn pages of the holy book found at Bargari — to the CBI for the probe.

What Sukhbir Badal did, or didn’t do
The Punjab Police, then headed by DGP Sumedh Singh Saini, did nothing to prove or disapprove the claims made on behalf of Dera Sacha Sauda in letters and posters that came up between June to October 12 in 2015.

On September 25 that year, Akal Takht Jathedar Gaini Gurbachan Singh issued pardon to Gurmeet Ram Rahim in a 2007 blasphemy case. The pardon came at the a time when Sikh bodies were demanding from police to trace the stolen bir.

Immediately after securing the Akal Takht’s pardon, Gurmeet Ram Rahim released one of his movies in Punjab theatres. Prior to that, there was an unwritten ban on entry of the Dera chief in Punjab since 2007 and release of his movie was not possible without Akal Takht’s pardon.

While Sikh bodies were pressuring the government to crack the bir theft cases, the Akali leaders were seen going to theatres to watch Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s movie along with his followers.

Sikh bodies the accused Sukhbir of using his party’s control over Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee to force Akal Takht to issue pardon to Dera chief instead of directing police, as home minister, to probe the bir theft case and claims of it being stolen by Sirsa Dera followers.

They accused SAD of not getting the case probed to secure the votes of the followers of the Sirsa Dera. A Huge gathering at Sarbat Khalsa held by Sikh bodies at Amritsar in November 2015 blamed Badals for the sacrilege to appease Sirsa Dera for vote bank politics.

The Akali Dal could never recover from these allegations and was relegated to the third spot, behind AAP, in 2017 Assembly election winning only 15 seats in 117 strong Vidhan Sabha. It was the Akali Dal’s worst performance ever.

How Capt Amarinder played it out
The Sirsa Dera, owing to its followers, was considered a political force to reckon with. The perception got demolished following Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s conviction in a rape case in August 2017 and later in a murder case. It was only after his conviction that Punjab Police could “find” the link between the Sirsa Dera and Maur Mandi bomb on January 31, 2017 blast, in which seven persons, including five children, were killed.

During, the SAD-BJP government, an SIT was constituted on November 30, 2015, headed by DIG Ranbir Singh Khatra, primarily to investigate the incidents of sacrilege reported in villages Gursar and Malke in Moga that same month. This SIT had no direct link with Bargari sacrilege case.

It was in June 2018, more than a year after Congress formed government in state with Amarinder Singh, as CM, that the SIT headed by Ranbir Khatra claimed to have arrested some Sirsa Dera followers for sacrilege at Bargari, during its course of investigation. The probe was opened months after Gurmeet Ram Rahim was sentenced.

The SIT action came at a time when Bargari Morcha, launched by Dhian Singh Mand, had started getting public support while questioning Amarinder Singh on “inaction” in sacrilege cases. The SIT action also gave credence to the allegations that previous SAD-led government had been going slow in the probe against Dera.

Later, Amarinder too formed separate SITs to probe the sacrilege cases and the police firing cases on the basis of Justice Ranjit Singh Commission report.

When and why Captain lost the edge

While some Dera followers were arrested in sacrilege case, some police officers including, IG Paramraj Singh Umranangal, were also arrested in Kotakpura police firing case.

Despite the arrests, it was alleged that the Congress government was going soft on the accused. Punjab Police was questioned on why it was not impleading Gurmeet Ram Rahim into the probe. Meanwhile, the accused arrested in the sacrilege secured bail from the court.

The SITs questioned former CM Parkash Singh Badal and Sukhbir.
However, in a big jolt to Amarinder Singh, Punjab and Haryana High Court quashed the report filed by the SIT headed by IPS Kunwar Vijay Partap Singh and directed that a new SIT be formed but without Kunwar Vijay Partap. The IPS officer opted for premature retirement and joined the Aam Adami Party while accusing then Advocate General Atul Nanda og going soft on the accused in the police firing cases.
Amarinder had to ultimately resign from the CM post.

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