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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Explained: What are the sacrilege incidents that have Punjab on edge?

Six years after the incidents, the issue remains a hot potato in Punjab politics. Amid the ongoing feud within the Congress leadership in Punjab, Congress high command has told CM Amarinder Singh to fulfil the promise of bringing the perpetrators of sacrilege and police firing cases to book in a time bound manner.

Written by Navjeevan Gopal , Edited by Explained Desk | Chandigarh |
Updated: June 27, 2021 8:44:03 am
Punjab sacrilege incidentsPunjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh (File Photo)

With just a year left for Assembly elections in Punjab, Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh is under pressure over how he has handled alleged incidents of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib as well as the police firing on those protesting the same in 2015 when the SAD-BJP combine was in power.

After the Punjab and Haryana High Court quashed the Special Investigation Team (SIT) investigations into one of the incidents, where the police were alleged to have opened fire on protesters in Kotkapura in October 2015, but his rivals and supporters are gunning for the chief minister’s head.

The Indian Express explains the cases, the inter-linkages and their current status of investigations.

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What are the cases of sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib which are in spotlight?

There are three incidents under the spotlight. In the first case, a saroop (copy) of holiest of the scriptures of Sikhs the Guru Granth Sahib was stolen from Burj Jawahar Singh Wala village in Faridkot district on June 1, 2015. In its report, the Justice Ranjit Singh (retd) Commission of Inquiry instituted by Congress government described the theft as “an incident of unprecedented nature”. The report said the theft from the “unattended gurdwara”, was “unimaginable, unthinkable and unexpected”. “One can say without fear of contradiction that such incidents may not have happened even during Mughal Rule when there was price over the heads of Sikhs. This incident ought to have sent alarm bells for everyone in the highest echelon of the Government… It was certainly not a routine crime to be dealt with in a routine manner.”

In the second case, two abusive posters targeting Sikhs and a couple of Sikh preachers were found pasted in a samadh near the same Burj Jawahar Singh Wala village on September 25, 2015. “The grievance expressed in these posters was about the non-release of movie ‘Messenger of God’ in which head of Dera Sacha Sauda chief had acted as hero. The posters contained a threat that Holy Guru Granth Sahib shall be thrown in the streets,” the commission noted in its probe report. The panel noted that another poster was noticed on nearby Bargari on September 24 and removed by village gurdwara manager. This poster challenged the police to trace the [stolen] saroop which was claimed to be in the village. The panel noted, “Apparent leads were even not followed. Only thing which the police boast to have done is to get hold of handwriting of number of persons in and around the villages and compare these with the writing on hand written posters… None of the writings so obtained helped the police to zero on any culprit”.

In the third case, on October 12, torn pages (angs) of Guru Granth Sahib, revered as living Guru by the Sikhs, were found scattered in front of the Bargari village gurdwara and on nearby street early in the morning.

What is the current status of these three cases in terms of investigations?

On May 16 this year, the IG Surinder Singh Parmar-led SIT arrested six dera followers in connection with the sacrilege cases. They are in judicial custody now.

On July 4, 2019, the CBI, to which the cases were handed over by erstwhile Akali government in October 2015, had filed a closure report. One of the prime suspects, s dera follower by name Mohinderpal Bittu, was killed in Nabha jail in June 2019, before the CBI closure report. Following Punjab and Haryana High Court directions, the CBI, earlier this year, handed over files relating to the sacrilege incidents to the Punjab Police.

What are the Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan police firing incidents and what is their current status of investigations ?

After the sacrilege incident at Bargari, the protestors sat on a dharna at Kotkapura chowk in the evening. The police managed to convince protesting leaders on October 13, 2015 morning to end the dharna as they (protesting leaders) courted arrest following police assurance to arrest the culprits. The agitators however gathered again at Kotkapura chowk before noon and complained that they were let off without mentioning their arrest on record. The standoff escalated on the morning of October 14, 2015, with police using force to disperse the protestors resulting in injuries on both sides. A case was registered at Kotkapura under various sections including attempt to murder.

An SIT headed by ADGP Vigilance Bureau L K Yadav formed on May 7 is probing the Kotkapura firing incident (FIRs dated October 14, 2015 and August 7, 2018). The August 7, 2018 FIR was registered for the same incident following submission of Ranjit Singh commission report which had indicted the police. The SIT was entrusted with the investigation after Punjab and Haryana High Court, on April 9, quashed the Kotkapura case investigations and chargesheet filed by then IG Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh, who headed the SIT constituted by the Capt Amarinder government to probe the case. The Yadav led SIT has already questioned Akali patriarch and then CM Parkash Singh Badal and then DGP Sumedh Singh Saini among others. On Saturday, the SIT is expected to question SAD president and then deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal.

On October 14, 2015, two anti-sacrilege protestors were also killed at Behbal Kalan in alleged police firing. An SIT headed by Ludhiana Range Inspector General Naunihal Singh has been entrusted to probe Behbal Kalan police firing incident where two anti-sacrilege protestors were two FIRs, one dated October 14, 2015 (under various sections of Indian Penal Code including 307 (attempt to murder), and sections of Arms Act and Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act) and other dated October 21, 2015 for murder and under sections of Arms Act, were registered. The SIT was constituted on May 15, after the voluntary retirement of Kunwar Vijay who was probing the case till then. The Naunihal-led SIT, a source said, was “studying the documentation in detail” to “establish a platform for starting the investigation, if there were enough grounds for the same”. The source said the SIT was “getting the issues of chargesheets filed in Behbal Kalan case and the court stays and directions on applications made by the accused.”

What are the political ramifications of the sacrilege and police firing incidents in poll-bound Punjab?

Six years after the incidents, the issue remains a hot potato in Punjab politics. Amid the ongoing feud within the Congress leadership in Punjab, Congress high command has told CM Amarinder Singh to fulfil the promise of bringing the perpetrators of sacrilege and police firing cases to book in a time bound manner. The SITs are running against time and it is perceived that nothing substantial could be achieved before code of conduct comes into play before the dtate elections in early 2022.

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How has CM Amarinder Singh and the Badals reacted?

In a tight spot and under blistering attack for not being able to bring perpetrators of the incidents to book and after the court order quashing Kotkapura case investigations by the previous SIT, the Amarinder Singh government has had to fast-track the investigations. The speed at which the SITs have worked and even arrested some suspects is testimony to that.

Badals, on the other hand, have launched a counter offensive, riding high on the court order which trashed the Kunwar Vijay led SIT investigations and chargesheet into the Kotkapura incident, terming these as “political theatrics”. Though, the court order was limited to the Kotkapura incident, the Badals and Akali leadership is terming the entire investigations of all the five cases as a “conspiracy to destabilise then Akali government”. Akali Dal was alleged to have orchestrated controversial pardon to Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh on September 24, 2015 for “political gains” by the Sikh clergy, a development which is allegedly linked to the sacrilege and police firing cases. The pardon by chiefs of five Takhts was revoked following massive protests by the Sikh community. The chief of highest temporal seat of Sikhs the Akal Takht and chiefs of other two Takhts in Punjab at Anandpur Sahib and Talwandi Sabo are appointed by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, the Sikh body controlled by the Badals-led SAD. Akali Dal, while citing the court order on the Kotkapura incident, is now demanding narco tests of likely beneficiaries of the “conspiracy” and training their guns on Amarinder, AAP national convenor Arvind Kejriwal and Kunwar Vijay, who recently joined AAP.

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