With a section of the Punjab Congress, including the family of slain chief minister Beant Singh, joining the chorus for the release of former militants, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal on Thursday raised the issue with his counterparts in Gujarat (Narendra Modi) and Uttar Pradesh (Akhilesh Yadav).
Badal reportedly asked the two CMs to look into the cases of former militants Lal Singh and Waryam Singh, who were convicted by Gujarat and UP courts, respectively, even as the hunger strike by ex-militant Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa, seeking the release of Sikh prisoners, entered the 35th day in Mohali on Thursday.
Beant Singh's family said it had no objection to the release of ex-militants Lakhwinder Singh, Sham
sher Singh and Gurmeet Singh, who are in the Burail jail here for their involvement in the ex-CM's 1995 assassination. They have been in jail for the past 18 years, serving life imprisonment.
Khalsa, who is on a fast-unto-death, is demanding the release of six former militants languishing in jails despite having completed their sentences, namely Lakhwinder, Shamsher and Gurmeet, besides Lal Singh, Waryam Singh and Gurdeep Singh Khaira (the latter is behind bars in Karnataka). Lal Singh is lodged in the Nabha jail after being shifted from the Ahmedabad jail, while Waryam Singh is in UP's Bareilly jail.
Beant Singh's family also offered to accompany the Punjab government to take up with the Centre the issue of release of former militants who have completed their jail sentence but are still behind bars.
"When the Khalistan movement is no longer existent and peace has returned to Punjab, why are we trying to keep it alive by making former militants stay in jails despite the end of their jail terms?" said Beant Singh's grandson Ravneet Singh Bittu, Congress MP from Anandpur Sahib.
He added that he had also spoken to senior Congress leaders and they, too, were not opposed to the release of such ex-militants.
"There are a number of them (former militants) who have completed their sentence. As per the Constitution, they should be released. Many of them have exceeded their jail terms," pointed Bittu demanding that they be allowed to be part of the mainstream.
"Top leaders of the Khalistan movement, such as Sohan Singh and Jagjit Singh Chauhan, returned to India and lived a normal life for years. Why can't a large number of militants be released and allowed to be part of society," asked Bittu.
Beant Singh's son Tej Parkash Singh said in case the court and the government had no objection, the family of the slain CM would not object.
"My father laid down his life for peace and law and order in Punjab. Our family is unanimous that all militants who have completed their jail terms be released. But peace in the state should not be harmed," he said.
Tej Parkash's son and Congress MLA Gurkirat Singh Kotli said the cause for which his grandfather sacrificed his life had been fulfilled and peace had returned to Punjab. "So, all those who were involved in the Khalistan movement should be allowed to return to the mainstream. We appeal to the government to make efforts for the release of those militants who have completed their sentence," said Kotli.
"In a number of cases, second and third generations of families of former militants are awaiting their return, so their sufferings should be put to an end," demanded Bittu.
The Punjab government is reportedly exploring legal, political and administrative options to tackle the issue.
Khalsa's close aides, who have formed a morcha, on Thursday met the Punjab CM and told him that the release of these six ex-militants was possible as there had been a number of instances when former militants were released after the completion of their jail terms.
Giving the example of Bhai Ranjit Singh, who later became the Akal Takht jathedar, and Kuki Gill, son of former Punjab Agricultural University vice-chancellor Khem Singh Gill, morcha member and Sikhs for Human Rights chairman Harpal Singh Cheema said Badal was informed about the legal way out.
"I am sure the Punjab government would take the matter to its logical conclusion," said Cheema.