Above: Former Punjab CM and SAD patriarch Parkash Singh Badal with son Sukhbir Singh Badal at an election rally in Punjab/Photo: UNI
Even as the rivalry between CM Amarinder Singh and his predecessor, Parkash Singh Badal, continues, the latter is being indicted by an inquiry commission for certain incidents of sacrilege and police firing
By Vipin Pubby in Chandigarh
Ever since the Amarinder Singh government won the Punjab polls in 2017, it has been saddled with legal troubles, including with the Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC). Last year, the chief minister accused SGPC chief Kirpal Singh Badungar of obstructing justice by refusing to appear before a one-man panel investigating cases of sacrilege in the state.
Troubles have also hit the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which proclaims itself as the representative of Sikhs and the guardian of Sikhism and its maryada (holy traditions). Ironically, it is facing heat over a series of incidents regarding sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib. These incidents took place during the second term of its decade-long rule in Punjab.
Former chief minister and patriarch of SAD, Parkash Singh Badal, and his son, Sukhbir Singh Badal, former deputy chief minister and current president of the party, are in the dock after an inquiry commission indicted them for a series of sacrilege incidents and the killing of two devotees in police firing at Behbal Kalan village in 2015. They were protesting against the incidents of sacrilege.
The father and son, among others, have been summoned by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) for “investigation of cases originating from various incidents of desecration in 2015”. The summons was issued to them under Section 160 of the CrPC and required their attendance for an investigation relating to the Bargari sacrilege case and the police firing incidents in Behbal Kalan and Kotkapura villages.
The summons said that “the presence of the aforesaid person is necessary for the purpose of inquiry into the above-mentioned offence” and the person summoned needed “to give such information relating to the said alleged offence as he may possess.”
Among those summoned is an unlikely accused and well-known Bollywood actor, Akshay Kumar. Akshay was summoned after one of the accused gave a statement that he had organised a meeting between Sukhbir Singh Badal and (now) convicted Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan.
The involvement of Rahim is central to the current controversy and providing its background is necessary. He had incensed devout Sikhs by dressing up and emulating the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. This led to his ex-communication from the Sikh panth or community. The only way he could have been pardoned was for him to accept his mistake unconditionally and seek forgiveness after presenting himself at the Akal Takht, the highest temporal authority of the Sikhs, at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The Sikh clergy then generally announces a punishment, which may include cleaning utensils or shoes at a gurudwara as a mark of repentance.
But Rahim neither presented himself nor gave any unconditional apology nor was awarded any religious punishment. But he apparently put pressure on Sukhbir Badal to get him pardon from the Sikh clergy, which was controlled by him as the president of SAD. In what came as a huge shock to the Sikh community, the clergy gave him a clean chit. This led to a hue and cry and several protests were launched across the state. The clergy was forced to withdraw its decision within a couple of months.
This, in turn, incensed the “premis”, the followers of the Dera chief, and it was widely believed that they were among those who had been indulging in acts of sacrilege. The police could not find any evidence even as such acts multiplied and led to police firing at a couple of places, killing two protesters.
As per the statement given by one of the witnesses to the Justice Ranjit Singh (retired) Commission, the crucial meeting between the Dera chief and Sukhbir Badal, before the pardon was granted, was held in an apartment owned by actor Akshay Kumar in Mumbai. He had indicated that the meeting was facilitated by the actor. Akshay, however, vehemently denied the charge and claimed he had never met Rahim and had not organised any such meeting.
As his fans were dismayed by the allegations, Akshay went on Twitter to clear his name. He tweeted: “It has come to my knowledge that some rumours and false statements are being loosely made on social media about my involvement with a person named Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, in the context of a fictitious meeting involving Sukhbir Singh Badal…I have never ever met Gurmeet Ram Rahim in my life, anywhere. I learnt from social media at some point that Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh resided for a while at some place in my locality Juhu, in Mumbai, but we never ever crossed each other’s paths.”
The actor went on to point out that over the years, he has been making films promoting Punjabi culture and the rich history and tradition of Sikhism, like Singh is King, Kesari (based on battle of Saragarhi), etc. “I am proud of being a Punjabi and have highest regard for the Sikh faith. I shall never do anything that would even remotely hurt the sentiments of my Punjabi brothers and sisters, for whom I have utmost respect and love…my statement above is the utmost and absolute truth. I challenge anyone who can prove otherwise,” he added.
Inspector General of Police Kunwar Vijay Partap Singh, who is heading the SIT, said the Badals and Kumar were summoned on the basis of “independent investigations” being done by the SIT.
The Justice Ranjit Singh Commission report stated that Sukhbir Badal had secured the Akal Takht’s pardon for Rahim, in September 2015, to facilitate the release of the Dera head’s movie. Though the pardon was revoked after a backlash from Sikh bodies, the report said it had a “devastating effect and played the role of catalyst in sacrilege incidents”. It also put Sukhbir, the then home minister, in the dock for “showing no involvement and seriousness” in resolving the sacrilege cases.
Others indicted by the Commission include highly controversial former DGP Sumedh Singh Saini and the police officers responsible for the firing in which two protesters were killed at Behbal Kalan.
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, the main rival of the SAD, said no politics was involved in the inquiry into the incidents of sacrilege and police firing. He said the SIT was set up following a resolution passed in the assembly and it shall function independently without any interference from the government. “Whosoever is found guilty as per the SIT, will be punished, irrespective of who the person is,” he said.
The current crisis is perhaps one of the worst faced by the Badals in their political career. The almost century-old party (it was formed in 1925) has always been known for its aggressive stand on issues, particularly relating to Sikhism, but it also had secular credentials and supporters from all religions.
Over the last decade, the Badals had firmed up their hegemony. Sukhbir’s wife, Harsimrat Kaur too was inducted in the central ministry, while her brother, Bikram Singh Majithia, was the third most powerful minister in the Badal ministry.
Parkash Singh Badal and Captain Amarinder Singh have been swapping power in the state over the last two decades and keep filing cases against each other. The latest charges against the Badals, however, may prove to be the most serious and decide the political fortunes of this family.