By B.K. Chum in Chandigarh
The euphoria over securing second successive term has lasted merely a fortnight. The Akali-BJP government now finds itself in the dock for two reasons. First, the controversy generated over proposed hanging (since stayed) of Balwant Singh Rajoana for the assassination of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh. Second, the five year rigorous imprisonment awarded by Special CBI court to former SGPC chief Bibi Jagir Kaur for the illegal confinement and forcible abortion of her daughter Harpreet Kaur.
The most disturbing fallout of the Rajoana controversy has been the creation of communal tension and clashes at some places in the otherwise peaceful and communal tension-free Punjab. On the other hand, Bibi Jagir Kaur’s conviction reflects the criminal mindsets of some of the members of our legislatures and constitutional and religious bodies.
The Rajoana controversy needs to be seen in broader perspective of humanity versus capital punishment debate. A view has been gaining ground for abolishing the death penalty. Seen in this context the temporary stay on Rajoana’s death sentence which was scheduled for March 31 is a welcome development.
The Rajoana issue has, however, raised some uncomfortable questions. For instance, what should be the exemplary punishment for terrorists and anti-national elements which kill people? And conversely, how should those security personnel be treated who, in the discharge of their duty to protect the people, eliminate terrorists in “encounters”? The question assumes importance in view of the protests the human rights bodies often make against “encounter killings” but hesitate to condemn terrorists when they kill innocent people.
Another crucial question kicked up by the Rajoana controversy is the method adopted by the ruling Akali leaders and the Sikh religious bodies to seek stay of Rajoana’s execution. Their public utterances to press for staying Rajoana’s execution made the issue look as a Sikh cause. This whipped up passions which fanned communal sentiment and encouraged the sword-carrying Sikh religious extremists and the separatists, who otherwise stand isolated among the people, to hold demonstrations. In response, certain Hindu extremist elements also indulged in violent actions resulting in clashes in some cities particularly Gurdaspur. Regrettably the terrorism issue was turned into a religious and political issue.
The best way for the Akali leadership to seek stay on Rajoana’s execution should have been timely broaching the issue at personal level with the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and the other central leaders with whom Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has personal equation. One is sure that the Centre would have followed the example of the Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru whose execution has been extraordinarily delayed.
Ironically, though the Akali leaders oppose terrorism they usually vacillate in taking stand on terrorism issues fearing this might annoy the terrorists. This attitude was also evident on the question of attending the Beant Singh’s funeral on September 2, 1995. A meeting of half a dozen top Akali leaders was held at Chandigarh a day before the cremation to decide whether they should attend the CM’s funeral or not. Some of them including S.S. Barnala and Parkash Singh Badal had reservations. But ultimately it was decided that they should attend the funeral because it was the question of party’s policy of being opposed to violence and pursuing its objectives through democratic means and following Punjabiat. (A senior Akali leader, then the party’s general secretary, had told me that the reservations were due to the fear that extremists and anti-Akali elements might create scene against them by holding demonstrations and create security problems for them. (A. Sharma, then DGP (Intelligence) welcomed the gesture and provided them full security. At the cremation site, people generally wished them and appreciated their gesture).
It is in the above background that the Supreme Court’s scathing comments against politicians assume significance. The SC described the events in Punjab in the last few days as “drama” and was critical of the political support given to persons found guilty of terrorism-related offences. It regretted that violence and destruction of property in Punjab was part of the support campaign for clemency to Rajoana. Passions were allowed to run high because of the “pressure” of modern political combination in governance. “Instances are replete where persons found guilty of terrorist offences have got political support. There are leaders who have garnered support on this basis. How can they leave them now?”
Since they have still five years to rule, the Akali leadership does not need whipping up religious passions on sensitive issues for political gains nor should it allow others to do so. Their failure to act would shorten the life of their coalition government.
Bibi Jagir Kaur’s conviction is a classic case of criminalization of politics. She was the main accused in her daughter Harpreet Kaur’s murder case and was also chargesheeted. She was booked in power stealing case in 2002. In 2005, the Shiromani Gurdwara Judicial Commission ordered her removal as SGPC chief on charges of admitting kin of VVIPs in the MBBS courses under the NRI quota, without charging admission fee, in the SGPC-run Ram Dass Institute of Medical Science and Research,Amritsar. Showing the Akali-BJP government’s low governance level, she, in gross violation of all rules, is now getting VVIP treatment in jail. She must be grateful to Mr. Badal for enabling her to scale new heights in political and Sikh religious body’s power structures. It does not matter if, in the process, the Badal government has started losing its sheen!!
Bibi Jagir Kaur seems to be a skillful practitioner of “Politics is the art of the possible” dictum. (IPA Service)