With the Lok Sabha elections over, in Punjab, a political slugfest is on between the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Congress leadership over the transfer of Inspector General of Police Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh, a member of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing sacrilege and police firing during the model code of conduct. The transfer, ordered on the directions of Election Commission of India, is mired in “ambiguity”. The Indian Express pieces together the sequence of events.
Who is Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh and why is there a controversy over his transfer?
Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh is a 1998 batch IPS officer of Punjab cadre currently serving in the rank of Inspector General in Punjab police. He is the face of five-member Special Investigation Team constituted by Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh to probe incidents of police firing on protestors at Kotakapura and Behbal Kalan in 2015 during SAD-BJP government.
The protestors were sitting on a dharna to express anguish over the desecration of Guru Granth Sahib and two of them were killed in police firing at Behbal Kalan. Following a complaint by Shiromani Akali Dal to Election Commission of India which subsequently issued directions to Congress government in Punjab, the Punjab government relieved Kunwar from the post of IGP (Crime) Bureau of Investigation and IG (Organised Crime Control Unit) with immediate effect, posting him as IG (Counter Intelligence), Amritsar. After the model code of conduct ended on May 26, Punjab government posted Kunwar back as IG (Organised Crime Control Unit) with additional charge of IG Counter Intelligence Amritsar the next day on May 27. Earlier, various Sikh organisations and activists raised a big hue and cry over “shifting” Kunwar from SIT, alleging that same was done under ‘political pressure’ to protect Badals. As unrest grew, chief minister Amarinder Singh also wrote to Election Commission of India asking it reconsider its decision to transfer Kunwar out of SIT.
Why is Akali Dal miffed now?
The latest spin in the matter came after SIT filed a charge sheet in Faridkot court on May 27. Referring to incidents of sacrilege and police firing, the charge sheet noted that the police firing on anti-sacrilege protestors was a “pre-planned handiwork” of the then deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, then DGP Sumedh Singh Saini and Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. The SAD leadership held a press conference, alleging that Kunwar “signed” the charge sheet on May 23, when the Model Code of Conduct was still in place and that he was not supposed to have continued as SIT member by that time as per EC orders. On Tuesday, a delegation led by SAD’s member in Rajya Sabha Balwinder Singh Bhundar submitted a representation to EC seeking action against Kunwar. The SAD delegation also accused Chief Minister Amarinder Singh of misleading EC by stating in elections rallies that Kunwar would be back in SIT after the model code of conduct.
Did Punjab government issue any orders to shift Kunwar from SIT?
The answer is no to both the questions, going by the official orders of both Punjab government and the Election Commission. Kunwar was transferred following a complaint by SAD member in Rajya Sabha Naresh Gujral. After examining the complaint, the EC found that “the officer gave politically motivated interview to a TV channel on 18 and 19 March 2019 about ongoing investigation by SIT and made certain political comments”. The EC also observed that “the contents of the part of the interview has political connotations and has the potential to show certain political leaders in poor light.” The EC order also read, “The officer also mentioned the name of leaders of SAD which is clearly in violation of the provisions of Model Code of Conduct.” The April 5 directions of EC to Punjab government read, “The Commission has therefore decided that Sh Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh, IPS, IGP (Member SIT) shall be immediately relieved from his present post and shall not be given any post related to conduct of elections. A compliance report be sent to the Commission by 1700 hrs on 8.4.2019. The Commission has also directed that action may be initiated against him for the above lapses/violation.” The directions nowhere specified that Kunwar be shifted out as SIT member. In fact, the directions concluded, “The Commission has further decided that the member of SIT may be directed not to air any such contents in future during the period of Model Code of Conduct which will affect the fairness of the conduct of the electoral process.” This indicated that for EC, Kunwar continued to be “member of SIT”. A Punjab government functionary said that EC guidelines were clear that IG be shifted from “present post” and “being a member of SIT is not a post”. In compliance with EC directions, Punjab government on April 8, issued orders which read “In pursuance of the directions of the Election Commission of India conveyed vide letter number 437/PB-HP/2019 dated 05-04-2019 Sh Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh, IPS, IGP is relieved from the present post of IGP/Crime, Bureau of Investigation, Punjab and IGP/Organised Crime Control Unit (OCCU) with immediate effect and posted as IGP Counter Intelligence, Amritsar. He shall not be assigned or involved in any work related to the conduct of elections.”
Why does SAD continue to rake up the issue?
Because, it thinks in both scenarios it has enough ammo to target ruling Congress. SAD is alleging that if Kunwar was removed as SIT member as also sort of corroborated by CM Amarinder Singh who wrote to EC to review its decision and made it a poll pitch in election rallies, it was “violation” to “continue as SIT member” and sign the chargesheet before model code of conduct came to an end. In other scenario, SAD is alleging that if Kunwar was not removed as SIT member, why did CM Amarinder Singh gave such an impression during the election campaign.
Going by the official orders, there is nothing much left to debate, except how the issue was used in poll campaign against the Shiromani Akali Dal.