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Above: Sikhs sitting on dharna over the 2015 sacrilege of the holy book in Tarn Taran/Photo: UNI

The Congress government in Punjab is left red-faced as four of five members of a SIT set up to probe the incidents of 2015 disassociate themselves from its report blaming the Badal government 

By Vipin Pubby in Chandigarh

A spate of incidents of sacrilege, involving the tearing of pages of the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, were reported in October 2015 from certain areas of Punjab. That the incidents started and ended abruptly proves that they were part of a well-planned conspiracy.

The issue of sacrilege, which had led to widespread protests and had culminated in the death of two protesters in police firing, has continued to dominate the political discourse in Punjab over the last four years.

Members of the Sikh religion are particularly sensitive to any incident involving the Guru Granth Sahib because for them the holy book is their Guru. The tenth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh, had declared that after his passing away, the Sikhs should consider the holy book as their Guru. He had said: “Sab sikhan nu hukam hai, Guru manyo granth (It is ordained to all Sikhs that they would consider the holy book as their Guru).” Any disrespect to the Guru Granth Sahib is, therefore, taken seriously by the devout. The series of incidents involving such sacrilege had touched a raw nerve among the Sikhs leading to state-wide protests when the Parkash Singh Badal-led Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP coalition government was in power.

The Congress, led by Capt Amarinder Singh, made it a big issue during the assembly elections in 2017 which the party won, beating the pro-Modi sentiments across the country, and handing over the worst-ever defeat for the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in the state. The party could not even retain the status of the largest opposition party, giving way to the Aam Aadmi Party.

But if the Akali leadership thought that the worst was over, it was sadly mistaken. Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh constituted a commission to get to the bottom of the spate of incidents. The Akali government too had ordered a probe by a retired high court judge and its report had given a clean chit to the government and had blamed some police officials for firing on peaceful protesters at Behbal Kalan, where two of them were shot dead.

Capt Amarinder Singh trashed the report and appointed another retired judge to report on the conspiracy behind the incidents. The report, which was submitted to the state government last year, pointed fingers at the Akali leadership and the top police brass and sought a thorough investigation into the matter.

This led the government to appoint a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to look into all aspects of the incidents. Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh, known to take a tough stance, was made a member of the team. The top Akali leadership said he was biased against them. They, in fact, complained to the Election Commission after the model code of conduct was enforced for the recent Lok Sabha elections and the Commission asked for his transfer.

On May 28, a few days after the Lok Sabha results were declared and the model code of conduct was lifted, the SIT filed a charge sheet claiming that the police firing which killed two protesters was the pre-planned handiwork of then deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal, the former state police chief Sumedh Singh Saini and the Dera Sacha Sauda head, Gurmeet Ram Rahim.

It blamed six others, including a former Akali MLA Mantar Singh Brar, for the firing at Kotkapura in Faridkot district that killed two men protesting against the cases of desecration on October 14, 2015. It also named then Ludhiana police commissioner, Paramraj Singh Umranangal, former SSP Charanjit Singh Sharma, then Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police, Ludhiana, Paramjit Singh Pannu, then Deputy Superintendent of Police, Baljit Singh, and then SHO, Kotkapura, Gurdeep Singh.

The SIT chargesheet claimed that Sukhbir Singh Badal arranged a pardon by the Akal Takht Jathedar for the Dera Sacha Sauda chief in a 2007 blasphemy case. The Dera chief, now in jail for 20 years for raping two sadhvis and also facing murder charges, had attempted to imitate Guru Gobind Singh by dressing like him and distributing charnamrat  (holy water) to his followers for baptising them. This had caused much anger among the Sikhs and the high priests had declared him guilty or tankhaiya which ordained that he was an outcast and was excommunicated from the religion. It also directed the Sikh community not to maintain any relationship with him until he apologised to the high priests and accepted the punishment given to him.

Under the convention, such a “guilty” person has to present himself before the Akal Takht and seek pardon. He is then given punishment in the form of public service like washing utensils which he has to accept. However, Ram Rahim never appeared before the Akal Takht and only a letter from him expressing regret was forwarded to the Sikh high priests. They, evidently under the influence of the Akali leadership, announced a pardon for him. However, this led to huge protests and anger which forced the high priests to take back their order granting him pardon. It was widely suspected that the members of his organisation, Dera Sacha Sauda, had something to do with the subsequent spate of incidents of sacrilege.

The SIT took note of the background and dismissed Sukhbir Singh Badal’s claim that he was abroad when the police firing took place. It was “nothing but an attempt to take a defence alibi”, the SIT said, adding, “the investigations suggest that he was aware of each and every development which was taking place in Punjab,” and claimed that the police firing at Kotkapura was “totally unprovoked” and the action was the outcome of a “conspiracy” between high-profile politicians and senior police officials in connivance with the Dera chief and his followers.

The SIT said the roles of then CM Parkash Singh Badal, Sukhbir Singh Badal, then DGP Sumedh Singh Saini and then Ferozepur range DIG Amar Singh Chahal were being investigated. It pointed out that the blasphemy case registered against Ram Rahim was cancelled at the behest of Sukhbir Singh Badal on January 25, 2012, five days before the assembly polls, to win the votes of his supporters.

The charge sheet claimed that actor Akshay Kumar arranged a meeting between Sukhbir Singh Badal and Ram Rahim to ensure a pardon for the Dera chief from the Akal Takht for allegedly posing as a Sikh guru. “The investigations conducted by the SIT reveal that the above meeting between the junior Badal and the Dera chief was arranged by the Bollywood star on November 21, 2018,” the charge sheet said.

These charges were made earlier too but Akshay Kumar had dismissed them. Referring to the allegation by one of the “witnesses” that the meeting was arranged at a house owned by Akshay Kumar in a particular locality of Mumbai, the actor had said he did not own any house in that locality.

The charge sheet relied on certain CCTV recordings in the area where the police shooting had taken place. “The clipping shows, in unambiguous terms, that Paramraj Singh Umranangal, then commissioner of police, Ludhiana, was all in all at the place of occurrence at Kotkapura actively commanding the force. He was in civil dress purposely so as not to be identified by people sitting on dharna. He was in same attire during the press conference on the same day, which was held in the DSP office, Kotkapura. It also shows that Charanjit Sharma, the then SSP Moga, was handling AK-47. It is also evident that there was no provocation from the people sitting on dharna and the use of force on protesters by the police was unprovoked and unwanted. It also reveals that Amar Singh Chahal, then DIG, was also active at the place of occurrence,” the charge sheet stated.

“The investigation reveals that the weapons used in police firing were intentionally kept in hiding, which was in the personal knowledge of then Moga SSP Charanjit Singh Sharma and then SHO and DSP of Kotkapura,” it said. The SIT compiled a list of persons who were injured in the firing but were allegedly not treated at the government hospitals in the first place or not given the Medico Legal Reports (MLRs), required for legal action. The charge sheet included detailed telephone call records involving police officers and even then Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.

Like most commissions, the SIT also is not without a twist in the tale. The SIT and the charge sheet have now turned out to be an embarrassment for the Congress government, and four of its five members have disassociated themselves from the charge sheet filed by IGP Kunwar Vijay Partap Singh.

The four members, led by SIT head and Additional Director General of Police Prabodh Kumar, have sent a representation to the DGP stating that the IGP did not consult them before filing the charge sheet in the Faridkot court on May 28. The other three members who endorsed the stand of Prabodh Kumar are IG (Crime) Arun Pal Singh, SSP, Kapurthala, Satinder Singh and ADCP, Amritsar, Bhupinder Singh.

They raised questions regarding the “style of functioning” of Kunwar and said the IG should be held responsible for the fate of the charge sheet. “If these charges are proved, the entire credit should go to Kunwar and if the charge sheet fails, only he should be given discredit,” their representation said.

Quite clearly, after two inquiry commissions and a SIT probe, the last is yet to be heard about the cases of sacrilege in 2015. As of now, what happened during that time continues to be shrouded in mystery.

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