Former militant Lal Singh (50), sentenced in 1997 to life imprisonment by a Gujarat court under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (TADA) Prevention Act, walked out of the high-security Nabha jail on Friday evening after the Punjab's prison department granted him 42-day parole.
Behind this swift move of granting parole within a few hours after the ex-militant moved an application on Friday, the Parkash Singh Badal government has attempted to defuse the brewing tension created by the fast-unto-death of ex-militant Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa, who is backed by Sikh radical leaders. Khalsa's primary demand has been the release of six former militants -including Lal Singh - convicted by courts outside Punjab's jurisdiction. The five other ex-militants are lodged in jails outside the jurisdiction of Punjab.
The radical leaders received a major boost to their stir after the family of slain chief minister Beant Singh on Thursday said that it had no objection to the release of ex-militants convicted for involvement in the ex-CM's 1995 assassination. This chorus took a new turn with former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh also seeking the release of Sikh prisoners allegedly languishing in the state's jails even after the completion of their sentence.
These developments, top sources say, gave enough elbow room to the Punjab government to put on the fast track its efforts to grant parole to Lal Singh.
As per top government sources, before setting into motion the process of granting parole to Lal Singh, the chief minister took into confidence top national as well as state leaders of the alliance partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and accordingly devised the strategy to blunt the Sikh radical leaders' growing campaign for premature release of former militants even as they are lodged in jails outside Punjab.
On Thursday, Badal, deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal and Punjab director general of police (DGP) Sumedh Singh Saini held a lengthy meeting somewhere in Muktsar district to deal with this burning issue. It was after this meeting that the chief minister spoke with "top national-level BJP leaders" and sought their views.
"The chief minister, while speaking to BJP leaders, particularly emphasised that he was committed to maintaining peace and harmony in the state and that any step to be taken on the issue would be strictly as per the law of the land," said a top government source privy to the closed-door fire-fighting measures of the SAD-BJP government.
Late on Friday evening, Lal Singh's family members received him outside the Nabha jail and took him to SAS Nagar to meet Khalsa at Gurdwara Amb Sahib, the site of the hunger strike.
As per official records, Lal Singh has so far spent 29 months and 15 days on parole on different occasions and is a resident of Akalgarh village in Kapurthala district. Arrested in July 1992, he was convicted and sentenced by a Gujarat court in 1997 to life imprisonment under Section 3(3) of the TADA Act, 1987. The Gujarat government has already rejected his plea for premature release.
Lodged in jails outside state
After chief minister Parkash Singh Badal raised the issue with his Uttar Pradesh counterpart Akhilesh Yadav on Thursday to look into the case of ex-militant Waryam Singh, lodged in the Pilibhit jail, the UP government on Friday informed the Punjab government that the case had been put on the fast track for Waryam's premature release. The 71-year-old was convicted under sections 302, 307 and 120-B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and sections 3 and 4 of the TADA Act in 1994, along with other accused. Ever since his arrest in 1990, he has behind the bars.
"The UP government has informed us that his petition seeking premature release is likely to be forwarded to the governor very shortly. He is likely to be out of jail on the grounds that he is very old and has already spent more than two decades in jail," a senior government functionary said.
By granting parole to Lal Singh, the SAD-BJP government has tried to send a clear message primarily to radicals that the state government has done what was within its limits at the inter-state level, even as three ex-militants convicted in the Beant Singh assassination case are lodged in jail under the Centre's jurisdiction.
The trio Gurmeet Singh (42), Lakhwinder Singh (42) and Shamsher Singh (56) belong to Patiala district and are lodged in the Burail model jail of the union territory of Chandigarh.
While Shamsher was granted two-day parole in December 2012 to solemnise the marriage of his daughter, Lakhwinder was given one-day parole in February 2013 to attend the marriage of his sister, official sources said.
Government sources say that the Centre had earlier rejected the premature release petition of Gurmeet and Lakhwinder.
Meanwhile, the sixth ex-militant, Gurdeep Singh Khaira (54), who hails from Jallupur Khaira village of Amritsar district, is currently lodged in Karnataka's Gulbarga jail. It is learnt that ever since his arrest in December 1990 and conviction for life imprisonment, he has not been released either on bail or on parole.