Hardly a few hours after her conviction and arrest on Friday evening, former Punjab cabinet minister Jagir Kaur continued to wield political influence even as a prisoner of law.
Video footage emerging from Patiala and Kapurthala jails clearly shows that Jagir Kaur, who was convicted of criminal conspiracy and other charges in the mysterious death of her 19-year-old daughter, Harpreet Kaur, in April 2000 and sent to jail, was availing VIP treatment despite her conviction and arrest.
A Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) special court in Patiala on Friday sentenced Jagir Kaur to five years rigorous imprisonment on counts of forcible abortion, wrongful confinement, abduction and criminal conspiracy. She was absolved of the charges of murder of her daughter. Three others were also convicted by the court in the case.
Forced to resign as Punjab’s minister for rural water supply and sanitation and defence services after her conviction and arrest, Jagir Kaur was accompanied out of the packed courtroom by police officials.
"It appeared that the police officials were escorting and guarding her from the crowd and media rather than taking her away as a convicted criminal," a lawyer in Patiala courts told IANS.
She was led into a waiting air-conditioned grey-coloured Toyota Innova luxury vehicle to be taken to the Patiala central jail.
Within hours of her being sent to the jail, her request to be transferred to the Kapurthala central jail, nearly 200 km from Patiala, was "promptly" acceded to. Jagir Kaur, who is head of a cash-rich "dera" (sect) in Begowal village, belongs to the district.
Jagir Kaur was, late Friday night, driven under police escort, which looked more like a ministerial convoy rather than being that of a convicted criminal, in another white-coloured private air-conditioned Toyota Innova luxury vehicle. In the car, she was accompanied by only one woman police official seated next to her.
Her Innova was allowed to be driven straight inside the Kapurthala jail complex where police officials in uniform and other jail officials in plainclothes were waiting for her arrival.
To top it all, one official in plainclothes and a uniformed officer bent to touch her feet as she alighted from the Innova car in her trademark white salwar-kameez and a cotton dupatta over her head.
Former Congress legislator Sukhpal Singh Khaira, whom Jagir Kaur had recently defeated in the assembly election from the Bholath seat in Kapurthala, Saturday demanded sack of the police officials who touched the feet of Jagir Kaur and sought a probe into the VIP treatment being extended to the former minister after her conviction and arrest.
"Video footage shows jail officials, in uniform and civil clothes, shamelessly touching her feet. I understand that she has been extended the facility of a special darbar inside the jail where people can meet her. All this is happening on the directions of Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal. There should be an inquiry and these officials should be sacked,” Khaira said in Chandigarh on Saturday.
Raising questions over shifting Jagir Kaur from Patiala to the Kapurthala jail, Khaira said the rules were being openly circumvented, at the behest of the Badal government, to give VIP treatment to Jagir Kaur.
He said justice could only be done if she is shifted to a jail outside Punjab and treated like any other convicted criminal.
Jagir Kaur, who is a powerful politician in Punjab and considered close to the chief minister, was inducted as a cabinet minister March 14. She was the only woman minister in the Badal government. Being a former SGPC chief twice, the lone woman to head the Sikh body, she has a sizeable hold over Sikh religious affairs.
Her daughter had died under mysterious circumstances April 20, 2000, following which she was cremated hastily by the family members. There was no post-mortem conducted. The Badal government was in power at that time as well.
Harpreet had angered her mother and other family members by secretly marrying a youth, Kamaljit Singh, who belonged to a lower caste. Kamaljit belonged to Begowal village in Kapurthala district where Jagir Kaur heads her dera.