A political storm has been raging in Punjab over the findings of the Justice Ranjit Singh (retd) Commission of Inquiry into incidents of theft and desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib and other holy scriptures three years ago. The report, tabled in the Assembly Monday, has indicted then Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal in connection with the police firing on Sikhs protesting the sacrilege.
The inquiry was instituted in April 2017 to investigate the incidents of theft of the Guru Granth Sahib in Burj Jawahar Singh Wala village on June 1, 2015, desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib at Bargari village on October 12 that year, and the firing by police two days later on groups of Sikhs sitting on dharna at Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan against the Bargari sacrilege. Two protesters were killed in the Behbal Kalan firing, and one was injured in Kotkapura. The Amarinder Singh government set up the Ranjit Singh panel after rejecting the findings of an earlier inquiry instituted by the SAD-BJP government. The Ranjit Singh Commission was also asked to look at other incidents of sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib, and of Hindu, Muslim, and Christian holy scriptures in various parts of the state, following the Bargari incident. The Commission looked into 162 cases of sacrilege in all.
The report has observed that then CM Badal was in the loop on the planned police action at Kotkapura on October 14, 2015. Citing telephone conversations of Badal, then Punjab DGP Sumedh Singh Saini, and others on the night of October 13-14, the panel said it would be “reasonable to infer that the DGP had either discussed or apprised the Chief Minister about the proposed action in getting the dharna site cleared by using force or they both were on same wavelength about the proposed action which ultimately was taken at Kot Kapura”. While the Commission had submitted an interim report to the government on June 30, these specific observations against Badal were part of a five-page supplementary report submitted on August 16. As Sikh bodies clamoured for the findings to be made public, Amarinder had said that the report would be tabled in the Assembly’s Monsoon Session commencing August 24.
The panel’s main report has statements by witnesses alleging the Badals were behind the pardon granted by the Akal Takht on September 24, 2015 to Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh (now jailed for rape) in an alleged blasphemy case from May 2007. The pardon was revoked under public pressure in less than a month. The chief of the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikhs, is appointed by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, which the Badals control.
The SAD’s rage
The party, led by its president Sukhbir Singh Badal, has alleged the “fake report” was prepared “on the directions of the Congress leadership”. Even before the report was tabled, SAD mocked it by putting it on sale for Rs 5 per copy outside the Assembly, and later threw copies around. The party boycotted the House debate Tuesday, complaining that the 14 minutes allotted to it was too little, and instead held an hourlong mock session outside to trash the Commission’s findings.
The CM had announced on July 30 that he was handing over the probe into the Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan firing to the CBI — this, despite the Commission having noted that the CBI had not made much progress in the Bargari case that was already with it. This upset Sikh organisations and even some Congress leaders, who were concerned that with the SAD-BJP in power at the Centre, the CBI would work to help the Badals. Amarinder backtracked Tuesday, and announced that the government would take back the Bargari, Kotkapura, and Behbal Kalan cases from the CBI, and have the Punjab Police probe them.
The Ranjit Singh panel has indicted several top officials, including former DGP Saini and then Chief Secretary Sarvesh Kaushal. Acting on the panel’s recommendation, the government has ordered that then Moga SSP (now retired) Charanjit Sharma, then SP Bikramjit Singh, Inspector Pardip Singh and Sub Inspector Amarjit Singh be named in the murder and attempt to murder case registered in connection with the Behbal Kalan firing. The government has also sent notices to more than 20 police officers, including Saini, asking them to explain their conduct while dealing with the incidents of sacrilege and firing. Showcause notices have also been sent to Kaushal, then Special Principal Secretary to the CM Gagandeep Singh Brar, and then Principal Secretary to the CM S K Sandhu.
The Commission report has given ammunition to the opponents of the Badals and SAD. Such is the resonance of the sacrilege issue even three years on, that Rahul Gandhi’s statement Saturday denying the Congress’s role in the 1984 anti-Sikh violence failed to overshadow the political battle in Punjab over the report.