Referendum puts spotlight on Pannun again | punjab | Hindustan Times
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Referendum puts spotlight on Pannun again

US-based Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, 50, claims to be much more than just a publicity-hungry lawyer.

punjab Updated: Jul 07, 2017 23:02 IST
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Gurpatwant Singh Pannun identifies as legal adviser to the pro-Khalistan outfit Sikhs for justice (SFJ)
Gurpatwant Singh Pannun identifies as legal adviser to the pro-Khalistan outfit Sikhs for justice (SFJ)(HT Photo)

He is known as the man who procures summons against Indian political leaders on “charges” of human rights violations when they visit the West. His “victims” have included Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, and Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Kamal Nath. Most cases have not crossed the summons stage, but have earned him publicity and even some goodwill with a section of Punjabi Sikh diaspora, particularly those still sympathetic to the separatist demand of Khalistan.

But US-based Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, 50, claims to be much more than just a publicity-hungry lawyer.

He identifies as legal adviser to the pro-Khalistan outfit Sikhs for justice (SFJ). Closer to reality, he is the only working member of the SFJ, while the other office-bearer fill the quorum. “SFJ was formed in 2007 to create awareness that Sikhs’ rights in India are not protected,” said Pannun over phone. 

He is in the headlines again as the Punjab government on Thursday registered a case of sedition against him and four others, on the orders of chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh, for putting up posters for a ‘Referendum 2020’ for Khalistan at several places in Punjab. “This is the old method of (Punjab) police to terrorise people,” he said on the case.

But the head of another Sikh outfit, who did not want to be named, said, “The case is like oxygen to his dwindling popularity.” 

A law graduate from Panjab University, he hails from Amritsar and moved to the US in the early 1990s. He now lives in Queens, New York. His peers at the university remember him driving a Willys jeep and wearing a turban. He does not sport the turban now. They say he was not a “driven person” at the time, but “got close to this ‘cause’ after moving to the US”. Upon shifting to the US, he did a law course from Touro College, New York. 

But Pannun does not talk much about his past, or why he got his hair, a symbol of Sikhism, shorn. “I am not a (Sikh) preacher! I am fighting for the cause politically and legally.”

“I am unfazed by sedition charges as it only promotes and gives legitimacy to the democratic campaign for Punjab Independence Referendum 2020,” he insisted.

He shot to fame when he procured summons first against Kamal Nath in 2013 as the Congress leader was alleged to have been involved in the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 after PM Indiara Gandhi’s assassination. 

The ‘Referendum 2020’ call started in 2014 has no legal sanctity, and the SFJ too says it is “an unofficial referendum among the community to know the response”, but it’s creating a lot of buzz in the political and religious circles. Pannun is at the centre again.