The usual Punjabi joie de vivre associated with Baisakhi was missing a bit this year with the talk veering to terrorism and clemency in the case of Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar. He has been convicted of carrying out a bomb blast at the youth Congress Delhi office in September 1993, killing nine people and leaving another 25 injured.
With this, the thorny issue of the Khalistan insurgency which ultimately claimed Indira Gandhi’s life has once again come to the fore. At the Baisakhi celebrations in several places, stalls were seen selling Rs. 100 T-shirts with Bhullar’s face printed on them.
A regional newspaper circulated a petition to save the 48-year-old Bhullar, a Khalistan Liberation Force terrorist, from the gallows. Rallying his party’s supporters, a Shiromani Akali Dal leader brought up the anti-Sikh carnage of 1984 and demanded for judicial consistency.
The Akali Dal has now brought this microcosm of discontent to the Capital. After the Supreme Court rejected Bhullar’s plea for commutation of his death sentence to a life term, the Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal has met the prime minister, demanding that Bhullar be given clemency.
Bhullar’s case has now begun to resemble that of Afzal Guru. Though a revival of militancy in Punjab is considered unlikely, fears of fringe extremism and a radicalised youth are adding fuel to reports that Bhullar may eventually be hanged secretly. In such a purportedly tense setting, the Akali Dal’s public campaign for a pardon — the party is considering filing a review petition in the Supreme Court — can only do harm to the letter of the law.
Interestingly, the Punjab ruling party is choosing not to concentrate on Bhullar’s mental stability or his custodial suicide attempts. It seems to be emphasising his ethnic identity more.
Similarly, M Karunanidhi used the case of Bhullar to push for a commutation of death sentences awarded to three convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. The DMK chief’s sympathies, like those of Mr Badal’s, appear to be governed by a desire for regional leverage, not rational justice. The law, by its definition and construct, remains above parochial sympathies. But by adding their two bit worth, political advocates for convicted persons are not doing justice to anyone, least of all the majesty of the law.