Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Tuesday said that Balwant Singh Rajoana, convicted of the assassination of the then Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh in 1995, has not been pardoned.
“Please don’t go by media reports. Koi maafi ki nahi gayi (no pardon has been given),” Shah told the Lok Sabha.
The Home Minister was responding to a question raised by Congress MP from Punjab Ravneet Singh Bittu, who is grandson of Beant Singh, during Question Hour.
Bittu raised the issue while MoS Nityanand Rai was responding to a question on cyclone Fani that affected areas in Odisha.
Bittu said, “Home Minister Amit Shah is sitting here. Answering this question is up to him. I am raising this because there were talks about capital punishment on rape in both Houses yesterday. Amit Shah-ji, please tell me why have you pardoned Balwant Singh Rajoana in Punjab.”
Sukhbir Singh Badal, Lok Sabha MP from Ferozepur, Punjab, and president of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), an ally of BJP, said Shah’s statement that Rajoana’s death sentence has not been commuted has caused “pain and anguish to the Sikh community, which was under the impression that the death sentence had been commuted to life on the eve of 550th Parkash Purb celebrations of Sri Guru Nanak Dev”.
In a press conference in Chandigarh, Gobind Singh Longowal, president of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, the apex organisation managing gurdwaras, said, “Changing the decision was very unfortunate; (it) has hurt Sikh sentiments.”
Pointing out that Sikh sentiments were “associated with Balwant Singh Rajoana”, Longowal said the decision “should be reviewed and death sentence (should) be commuted to life.”
Following media reports in September – that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had approved commutation of Rajoana’s death sentence to life term as a humanitarian gesture ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, Beant Singh’s family had stated that they would challenge any such decision in the Supreme Court.
The MHA had not made any official announcement.
A correspondence by the MHA to chief secretaries of Punjab, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, NCT of Delhi and the adviser to Chandigarh Administrator on September 27 stated, “I am directed to say that on the occasion of commemoration of 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the Government of India has decided that 8 Sikh prisoners may be granted special remission and death sentence of one Sikh prisoner may be commuted to life imprisonment. The details of these nine Sikh prisoners are given at Annexure.”
The letter and annexe, marked “SECRET”, were purportedly signed by Deputy Secretary (PR & ATC) Arun Sobti. In the three-page annexe, the case of Rajoana was categorised on the last page as “Case of Commutation of Death Sentence to Life Imprisonment”.
The details stated, “Balwant Singh Rajoana S/o Malkit Singh (Age: 55 years) R/o Village Rajoana Kalan, PS Sudhar, Ludhiana (Punjab)”. Another sub-head read, “State/UT of Conviction: Chandigarh UR Administration and Punjab”.
The letter stated, “…I am also directed to convey the concurrence of the Central Government to the State Governments/ Union Territories to the remission and release of eight Sikh prisoners (details mentioned in the Annexure) for the cases where approval/concurrence/consultation of/with the Central Government is required under Article 161 or Article 72 of the Constitution of India, as the case may be, or, under any other law in force. This issues with the approval of the competent authority.”
While two prisoners among the eight whose name figure in the list are already out from Patiala jail, one prisoner was acquitted by the Supreme Court in January 2017.