“We apprehended that something like this will happen”. This was the common refrain at Sarawan and Behbal Khurd villages Tuesday, a day after the Punjab government relieved Inspector General of Police Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh of his duty as a member of the special investigation team (SIT) probing the Bargari sacrilege incident and the subsequent police firing on protesters at Faridkot’s Behbal Kalan in 2015.
The two villages lost one man each in the police firing.
“I had said earlier that something will happen soon and hamper the ongoing probe by the SIT. Now, IG Kunwar Vijay Partap has been transferred,” said Sadhu Singh, a resident of Sarawan village in Faridkot district.
Sadhu Singh’s younger son Gurjeet Singh killed in the police firing at Behbal Kalan. He was among a group of people protesting against the sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib on the streets of Bargari village in October 2015. The incident had taken place when SAD-BJP combine was in power. SAD patron Parkash Singh Badal was the chief minister and his son and party chief the deputy CM.
IG Kunwar Vijay Pratap was shunted after the Election Commission of India (ECI) wrote to Punjab chief secretary on April 5 directing it to transfer/relieve the IPS officer. A Shiromani Akali Dal MP Naresh Gujral, had earlier written to the EC alleging that IG Kunwar Vijay Pratap had given a “politically-motivated interview” to a TV channel on March 18 and March 19.
Sadhu Singh sees in EC action “political pressure” by the Central government.
“It has been done under pressure from the NDA government at the Centre to save the Badals. My appeal to all is to vote out Modi from Centre and Badals from Punjab. Only than the SIT will be able to work independently without any pressure. What were the Badals afraid of that they wanted the IG transferred? People understand their tactics. We were trying to put the issue on the backburner during the polls, but now it has once gain become fresh in our minds,” Sadhu Singh said talking to The Indian Express.
At Behbal Khurd, Sukhraj Singh, whose father Krishan Bhagwan Singh was killed in police action that fateful day, echoed Sadhu Singh. “I had this apprehension. There’s a reason why the Badals had been seeking the IG’s transfer,” Sukhraj Singh said.
He said he will be meet the Punjab chief electoral officer (CEO) to “give my representation for ECI seeking transfer orders to be revoked”. “The SIT was doing free and fair probe. Former Akali legislator Mantar Brar was also coming under the SIT’s probe purview, which had the Badals worried that they may be trapped too,” Sukhraj Singh said, adding “This (the transfer) should not have happened and it seems that ECI took the decision under some influence”.
Meanwhile, SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal, who was in Khanna, accused Kunwar Vijay Pratap of “not acting as a police officer”.
“When the truth emerged before the EC, it was found that he (Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh) was not acting as a police officer. He was working like an office-bearer of the Congress. His role was known to everyone. We welcome the EC decision of relieving him of his role as a member of the SIT,” Sukhbir said.
His father and five-time chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, said it was wrong to read the EC move as political. “The Election Commission is an independent authority. It does not have anything to do with any political party. It is a constitutional body. The transfer order is not a political move. Rather, the EC acted in an unbiased manner. It examined the complaint and then passed the order,” the senior Badal said, adding “His (Kunwar Vijay Pratap’s) role was already under scanner”.
Gora Singh, the head granthi of Gurdwara Burj Jawahar Singh Wala from where Guru Granth Sahib had been stolen on June 1, 2015 and later its torn pages were found in the streets of nearby Bargari village on October 12, 2015, begs to differ from Badals.
“SIT was working independently. The whole of the Burj Jawahar Singh Wala village was questioned by the SIT members in connection with the incident and we were satisfied with its working. However, this transfer, that too on a Akali leader’s complaint, has raised many questions in the minds of the villagers. We have not yet forgotten that incident. It is going to affect the Badals more than anyone else,” Gora Singh said.
Gurlabh Singh, another villager, chipped in: “Badals paid for their deeds in 2017 state Assembly polls. They will pay for it again in the Lok Sabha elections”.
The 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab go to polls on May 19.
“It seems that Badals were apprehending some action and hence got the IG transferred,” said Harjinder Singh, sarpanch of Behbal Khurd. He, however, also questioned the sincerity of the ruling Congress government. “With the IG being transferred, even Chief Minister Amarinder Singh seems to have found a reason for not taking action against culprits. He will now make it a poll issue. In a nut shell, Badals and Amarinder are hand in glove to facilitate each other and also to keep the issue alive in poll season,” he added.
Another villager, Tej Singh, said that Behbal Khurd village had normally voted 50-50 for SAD and Congress in the past. “This time, the mood may change,” he said, adding “We still don’t understand what role the SIT had been playing in the elections. This (the transfer) has raised doubts in our minds”.
Former cabinet minister and Sukhbir’s brother-in-law, Bikramjit Singh Majithia, meanwhile, said that
now that the IG has been relieved of his role in the SIT, he was free to “contest elections on Congress ticket” as he was working as a Congressman only.
The five-member SIT was formed by the Congress government last year to probe the incidents of sacrilege and police firing at Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan in 2015, in accordance with Justice Ranjit Singh (retd) Commission report.