Opposition parties in Punjab have stepped up their attack against the Akali Dal-led state government for its ‘inept handling’ of the protests in Faridkot, where ‘unprovoked’ police firing killed two people and injured dozens last week.
The area continues to remain tense with the establishment struggling to deal with the crisis.
Aam Aadmi Party leader Sanjay Singh visited the affected areas on Friday and met the families of those killed and other protesters, currently being treated at various hospitals.
Speaking to www.jantakareporter.com, Singh said, “Bahut badi saazish hai is ke peeche and nishchit roop se yeah Badal sarkar ka taanashaahi aur policiya gundagardi ka aachran hai. Aam Aadmi Party has placed three specific demands. First, adequate compensation must be provided to the families of two killed in police firing and those currently being treated for grievous injuries. Our second demand is to arrest those who fired at the protesters and initiate legal action against them. And we also want the immediate arrests of those who had desecrated the holy book. ”
Singh also urged the people from other faiths to help maintain peace in Punjab adding that ‘Hindus and Muslims too must join their Sikh brothers in stepping up the pressure on the government so that it acts.’
“Badal sarkar may have helped create this unrest to divert people’s attention from the growing farmers’ unrest, but the government forgot that everything can’t be done from the point of electoral politics,” he added
Singh has this message for the state’s chief minister, Prakash Singh Badal, through these couplets,
” watan ki jo haalat sunaane lagenge, To Patthar bhi aansoo bahaane lagenge, Agar bheed mein kho gayi aadmiyat, To use dhoondne mein zamaane lagenge (If we start narrating the condition of our country, then even the stone will start crying. And if humanity gets lost in the din, it will take generations to find it)”
Congress too doesn’t appear to be in any mood to spare Badal on this issue. Punjab Pradesh Congress Committe president, Pratap Bajwa demanded an immediate imposition of the President’s rule in the state.
He told www.jantakareporter.com, ” Our stand is very clear. We want President’s rule to be imposed immediately. Nobody’s life and property is safe in Punjab at the moment. There’s total anarchy in the state of Punjab. All sections of the public are up in arms. Punjab is a Sikh majority state. Sikhs who were reciting the names of their gurus in the morning, were fired upon by the police without any provocation.”
Bajwa said that the police’s action was unconstitutional and they had acted only at the behest of the chief minister, who according to him wanted to ‘divert people’s attention’ from the growing farmers’ protest.
What really happened
Hundreds of people protesting the alleged desecration of a ‘bir’ of holy Guru Granth Sahib clashed with police on 13 October in Kotkapura town in Faridkot district of Punjab.
Police rounded up nearly 200 protestors but released them later, as Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal urged the people to remain calm.
Tension mounted in Kotkapura area on Monday after over 100 pages of the Sikh holy book were found scattered in a street near a gurdwara in Bargari village, 15 km from Kotkapura. Some pages were reportedly pasted on the wall with provocative messages written underneath.
Angry people that included Sikhs, Hindus and even Muslims, protested and demanded that police take action against those who had desecrated the holy book.
The protesters created blockades on the main road. However, on police’s insistence, they removed the blockades of the main road and moved to a side road. According to local residents, it was simply a peaceful sit-in protest, where the they would spend most of their time holding japs (recitation of holy scriptures).
At least two people (Gurjeeet Singh and Krishan Bhagwan Singh) were killed and nearly 70 injured, including police officials, on Wednesday in bloody clashes between police and Sikhs protesting against the desecration of the holy book, near Kotkapura town in Punjab’s Faridkot district, 230 km from here.
Gurjeet had gone to help volunteers organisers langar (communal free kitchen) , to feed the protesters. Hours later, his dead body returned home. Singh was allegedly shot dead in front of his father.
Locals say that this was the second instance of state government’s insensitivity towards the Sikhs’ religious sentiments as. almost four months ago, they had complained of mysterious disappearance of the Guru Garanth Sahib from the local gurudwara, but the police allegedly ignored the complaint.
Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal on Friday ordered the suspension of Moga Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Charanjit Sharma for alleged lapses in duty.
“The suspension has been ordered following a recommendation of the special investigation team formed after sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib in Faridkot district a few days ago,” a Punjab government spokesman said here.
“The SIT, headed by Additional Director General of Police I.P.S. Sahota, Director of Bureau of Investigations, went into the entire sequence of events following the disappearance of Guru Granth Sahib from Faridkot,” the spokesman said.
Sharma was the Faridkot SSP when the holy book was stolen from a gurdwara there. Sanjay Singh of AAP says this action should have been taken four months ago.
Politics of convenience
Both AAP and Congress have accused the state government run by the BJP-Akali coalition of orchestrating the unrest in Faridkot to turn the heat away from the farmers’ protest, which was on for over a week.
The farmers were protesting against Punjab government’s response to the whitefly attack on the cotton crop in the Malwa belt which led to over 60 per cent of the crop being damaged and losses of farmers running into hundreds of crores. The protests nearly got our of control after they stopped the running of Samjhauta Express leading to passengers being stranded in both India and Pakistan.
Some 200 people were coming to India by Samjhauta Express last Thursday when it was stopped at the Wagah Border by the authorities who cited potential security risks due to protests by farmers.
The train then returned to the Lahore Railway Station and the Pakistani authorities provided stay to the passengers at the station and adjacent hotels.
Besides Samjhauta Express, several trains like New Delhi- Amritsar Shatabadi were also affected due to the continued agitation by the farmers who had blocked the rail route between Delhi-Amritsar.
Prominent Sikh groups in UK have expressed their outrage over the firing at what was a ‘religious gathering’ of the protesters. Famous British Sikh singer, Sukshinder Shinda took to Facebook to register his protest against the police firing.
He wrote on Facebook, “Very sad to hear about the Beadbi of Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji… Sikh protesting peacefully and not being able to not fair!!!”
Shinda, who has sizeable following in Britain’s Asian community, is now asking everyone to sign a petition urging the BBC to cover the ‘police’s brutality’ as he alleged Indian government had ordered a media blackout in Punjab. This prompted the BBC Asian Network radio station to hold an hour long debate last week.
With election scheduled in 2017, Badal government, which was already drawing flak for letting the menace of drugs spiral out of control followed by widespread farmers’ protests, will find the Faridkot incident the most damaging to its poll prospects.
P.S. We tried to contact many Akali leaders including their MP, Prem Singh Chandumajra, but they were unavailable for comments. We will carry their comments as and when we get them.
(With inputs from news agencies)