After spending 10 months in jail in connection with a 1988 road rage death case, Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu walked out free on Saturday. Soon after stepping out of the Patiala Central Jail, Sidhu slammed the Centre, alleging that democracy is in chains and the country’s institutions have turned “slaves”, and also attacked Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann as “akhbari mukhmantri” and criticised his government over law and order and debt issues.
The former Punjab Congress chief was sent to prison in May 2022 after being sentenced to one-year rigorous imprisonment by the Supreme Court over the death of Gurnam Singh, 65. His lawyer had earlier said Sidhu was being released from prison on account of his good conduct.
Speaking to reporters outside the Patiala jail, Sidhu said, “Whenever dictatorship came to the country, a revolution came and today, I say the revolution’s name is Rahul Gandhi. Debate and dissent are essences of this democracy, but attempts are being made to suppress the Opposition’s voice”. He said the Congress is fighting against oppression.
“Today democracy is in chains, there is nothing like democracy today,” he alleged.
Sidhu said it was worrying that institutions, which otherwise were supposed to work as per Constitutional values “have turned slaves and these have been made rubber ‘ke gudde’ (dolls)”.
He said he was scheduled to be released at 11:45 am, but the release was delayed “since they did not want the voice of the truth to be heard and wanted media to leave by evening”.
He further said: “In case my younger brother [CM] Bhagwant Mann is listening. I want to tell that Punjab is the shield of this country and an attempt was being made to break this shield. A conspiracy is being hatched to impose the President’s rule in Punjab”.
In an apparent reference to Sikhs, Sidhu said, “There is a minority rule in Punjab. Wherever the minority is in majority…the Centre hatches conspiracy (against it). If you weaken Punjab, then you will become weak yourself. No government can become strong by weakening Punjab”.
He accused the BJP-led Centre of playing divisive politics for polarisation of votes where their “Hindutva agenda” does not work. The former Punjab Congress chief alleged that first a law and order problem is created. After that, there is an attempt to control it and then they say, we have brought peace, he said.
Democracy means people’s power to the people, he said but asked whether it has reached them while pointing out it was limited to a few capitalists. “Tanashah, Tanashah,” he exclaimed and added no religion is bigger than ‘Rashtradharam’.
Sidhu also hit out at Mann over issues including law and order, Bargari sacrilege issue, debt and not fulfilling pre-poll promises. Questioning the AAP government, Sidhu said the party’s promises of earning promised revenue from sand mining, excise, giving one lakh jobs remain “unfulfilled”. He said development had come to a “standstill in Punjab”.
“Bhagwant Mann sold dreams by telling lies to people. You made people of Punjab a fool. You have been reduced to ‘akhbari mukhmantri’. You are just a CM of fake advertisements,” he added.
He also targeted the state government over the death of famous Punjabi singer Sidhu Moosewala.
On the radical preacher Amritpal Singh issue, Sidhu said he will speak about the law and order situation when he visits Moosewala’s house.
There were expectations that Sidhu would be released by 12 noon but he came out of jail at about 6pm. Several senior Congress leaders, majority of them former ministers and former legislators had assembled outside the jail in the morning itself. They included Congress MP from Amritsar Gurjeet Singh Aujla, former MLAs Ashwani Sekhri, Sunil Dutti and Sukhwinder Danny apart from senior leaders such as Shamsher Singh Dullo, Mohinder Singh Kaypee, Laal Singh, and Navtej Cheema.
The only sitting Congress MLA who was present to welcome Sidhu was Pargat Singh.
State party president Amrinder Singh Raja Warring was not there. Warring, however, said in a tweet, “Welcome Sardar Navjot Singh Sidhu Ji @sherryontopp. Look forward to meeting you soon as you resume public life in service of all Punjabis.”