Updated: June 27, 2021 5:00:52 am
Shiromani Akali Dal chief and former Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal was Saturday questioned for four hours by the new SIT formed to probe the 2015 Kotkapura police firing case.
Sukhbir reached the Punjab Police Officers’ Institute at Sector 32 here around 11 am, and the questioning started at 11.15 am. He came out of the institute at 3.10 pm and then waved at the Akali Dal workers from his vehicle. Several senior SAD leaders, including Bikram Singh Majithia, Balwinder Singh Bhundar, N K Sharma and Daljit Singh Cheema, had reached the Punjab Police Officers’ Institute in a show of support.
As questioning began, Sukhir demanded to know from the SIT why was he being questioned in the case. The SAD chief was the deputy CM with charge of the home portfolio when incidents of desecration of religious texts and the subsequent police firing at people protesting against it had taken place.
According to sources, Sukhbir went on and told SIT that “to best of my knowledge, the then SDM of the area issued the order (for police action including lathicharge, use of water cannon and police firing on protestors).”
Sukhbir, a senior Akali leader close to him said, further asked, “Has there been any illegality? Did the police open fire without getting orders from SDM?”
The SIT members responded by saying that these questions were also part of the investigation, revealed sources.
Pointing out that SIT had already questioned former CM Parkash Singh Badal on June 22, Sukhbir questioned the rationale to summon him when he (Sukhbir) was not there in the state at the time of the incident.
Harcharan Bains, the principal secretary to Sukhbir Badal, told The Indian Express, “It (questioning of Sukhbir Badal) is a totally useless exercise. It is just a show-off for public. In any police firing incident, there is a legal process. The order has to be given by the SDM. In this case, the SDM has told previous SIT and otherwise also that he issued the orders. After that no one can be questioned. And if SDM denies issuing any such orders, it makes sense to do further questioning. But, if he has already owned up issuing orders, the matter should end there and then.”
Bains added that Sukhbir looked “very relaxed as he came out after the questioning. He put the SIT on the defensive in the beginning itself.”
Sukhbir left the questioning venue without interacting with the media.
Later, senior party leaders Prem Singh Chandumajra, Balwinder Singh Bhunder, Maheshinder Singh Grewal and SAD spokesperson Daljit Singh Cheema held a press conference at party head office in Sector 28 and alleged that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar and Congress MLA Navjot Singh Sidhu had “undermined the existence of the SIT” and that Akali Dal would write to SIT chief to launch an investigation against them for “hatching a conspiracy to frame the senior SAD leadership”.
Cheema, while hitting out at the functioning of the SIT and not perusing the record, said, “I am surprised that the very police investigating the case do not know that their Home Minister at that time was not in state. What kind of investigation it will do? There were big hopes from the SIT.”
Cheema went on to add that Sukhbir was a Z-plus protectee and the SIT should have perused record of his movement at that time before calling him for questioning. He added, “Everyone knows that Sukhbir Badal was not in Punjab at that time and was officially on leave,” added Cheema.
Calling incident of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib at Bargari on October 12, 2015 as thousand times more serious than Kotkapura, and referring to Behbal Kalan incident where two protestors were killed in police firing, Cheema said the Congress was not showing any interest to solve those cases, but was targeting Badals in Kotkapura firing case where an agitator had sustained a bullet injury in thigh.
Cheema demanded day-to-day hearing in sacrilege cases, including Bargari, where another SIT headed by IG S P S Parmar has arrested six Dera Sacha Sauda followers.
Chandumajra alleged that “institutions were being used for political gains”.
Calling it “vendetta politics” and investigations by former IG Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh led SIT as “malicious”, Grewal said “quelling the dissidence within Congress” by targeting Akalis was another motive of the Congress.
In a correspondence on June 23, a day after it questioned senior Badal, ADGP L L Yadav-led SIT had summoned Sukhbir to appear before SIT on Saturday.
Earlier, Sukhbir had reached Punjab Police Officers Institute along with a convoy of vehicles carrying senior Akali leaders, including members of party’s core committees and party legislators. The vehicles of party leaders were stopped at some distance from the Institute. The SAD leaders were subsequently allowed to walk their way into the Institute where they waited in a hall before the questioning of Sukhbir ended.
Earlier, Kunwar Vijay led SIT had questioned Sukhbir in November 2018 at police headquarters, days after the questioning of senior Badal at that time at his official MLA flat.
In a chargesheet filed on May 27, 2019 before the trial court in Faridkot, Kunwar Vijay-led SIT had submitted that post-sacrilege incidents, the subsequent police firing on protesters in October 2015 was a “pre-planned handiwork” of the then deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal, former state police chief Sumedh Singh Saini and Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. The High Court had quashed the findings of Kunwar Vijay-led SIT and ordered formation of a new probe team.
In a related development, Yadav-led SIT’s “legal expert” Vijay Singla, who retired as Punjab Director, Prosecution and Litigation, quit his assignment on Friday following a row over accompanying three-member SIT during questioning of senior Badal on June 22. Akali Dal had objected to Singla’s presence with the three-member SIT and had alleged that Singla tried to pose first question to Badal, but was stopped from doing so. Singla denies that he tried to pose any question and had said that he had “just accompanied the SIT”.
On Saturday, he told over phone that he quit due to “family reasons”. He added, “I have not signed even a single paper (while working with SIT) so far.”
After leaving the Institute, Sukhbir along with party leader Bikram Singh Majithia headed to Golden Hut dhaba in Kurukshetra to show solidarity with its owner Ram Singh Rana in connection with the ongoing farm protest. Tweeted Sukhbir, “Visited Ram Singh Rana’s #GoldenHut Dhaba in Kurukshetra & saw how Haryana govt closed the front of his dhaba with concrete barriers solely because he was providing langar & shelter to farmers. Assured that @Akali_Dal_ will stand by him & won’t allow anyone to harass his family.”
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