After nearly two weeks of protests in the state over incidents of “desecration” of the Guru Granth Sahib, the embattled Punjab government on Sunday replaced Director General of Police Sumedh Singh Saini with Suresh Arora.
Saini was considered a blue-eyed boy of Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who also holds the Home portfolio. He has been shifted as Chairman, Punjab Police Housing Corporation. Arora comes from the Punjab Vigilance Bureau, where he was serving as Chief Director.
In another move at damage control, the Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) announced it had revoked the suspension of the Panj Pyaras (the five beloved of the Guru) for summoning the high priests, and said they would be transferred to other duties in the organisation.
SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar said the five had been moved to the Dharam Parachar Committee, but until late in the night, the Panj Pyaras maintained they had not heard anything from the SGPC, and that they did not recognise their suspension in the first place.
There have been violent protests across the state since the first case of “desecration” surfaced on October 12. Police have been unable to get any solid clues regarding the perpetrators or to stop the “desecrations”. The killing of two protesters in police firing on October 14 further worsened matters.
With the protests coinciding with Sikh anger over the SGPC’s pardon to controversial Dera Sacha Sauda head Baba Ram Rahim Singh and coming in the wake of farmers’ agitation over a range of issues, the state government is facing one of its worst crises ever.
On Sunday, after the blog ceremonies of the two men who died in police firing, the protesters said they would “suspend” their road blockades until November 15 to give the government time to find the Guru Granth Sahib stolen from a gurdwara in Faridkot in June. The “desecration” of pages from allegedly this book had sparked off the protests.
However, the protesters will march from Fatehgarh Sahib on October 30 to Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s house, demanding among other things early elections to the SGPC and release of Sikh militants in jails in other states.
Protesters also resolved to hold black flag demonstrations on roadsides, without blocking traffic. There are plans for a sarbat khalsa, a general assembly of Sikhs, on November 10.
Earlier, the state government had effected a major reshuffle in the state intelligence unit. Currently, the intelligence unit is headless.
The Centre had also called up CM Badal to express its concern over the events in the state. Subsequently, 10 companies of the BSF were deployed in the state. The BJP is a partner in the Punjab government.
Saini took over as DGP in March 2012, becoming the youngest person to hold the post in the country at the age of 54. He succeeded Anil Kaushik. The 1982-batch officer’s unceremonious removal comes towards the fag end of his career, as he is due to retire in 2018. New DGP Arora too will retire the same year.
The exit also comes soon after the Dinanagar terror attack episode where Saini had garnered much limelight for “eliminating” the three Pakistani militants. Saini had declined Army help in the operation, and while his decision had raised many eyebrows, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had congratulated the Punjab Police for it.
Saini is also known for his work during Punjab’s terror days, when he earned both praise for his operations as well as criticism for alleged human rights violations.
Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa, who has been alleging a “conflict of interest” between the Badals and Saini, on Sunday asserted that the police officer was “reluctant to act against his force”. “This also proves my charge that state agencies were involved in the sacrilege incidents to divert attention from other issues putting the government in a tight spot. By coming up with the foreign hand theory in the incidents of sacrilege, the state government tried to mislead people,” he said, demanding that Sukhbir Badal resign.