4 probes and a dead end in Bargari sacrilege case
Three SITs of Punjab Police and the CBI, which probed 3 politically sensitive cases related to desecration of Guru Granth Sahib in Bargari have failed to make any headway. They contradicted each other instead of nabbing culprits. Four years on, the most important question — who did it — remains unanswered. Ravinder Vasudeva recaps four probes and finds that things stand exactly where they started
PROBE ONE: SAHOTA-LED SIT
‘SACRILEGE HANDIWORK OF FOREIGN HANDLERS’
After the sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib on October 12, 2015, and subsequent firing on Sikh protestors in Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan in which two Sikh youth were killed, the then SADBJP government, faced with anger among the Sikhs, formed the SIT under ADGP (now DGP, Punjab Armed Police) IPS Sahota. The SIT was quick to claim a breakthrough at a press conference on October 21, 2015, terming the Bargari sacrilege incident “a handiwork of some foreign handlers”.
The SIT also arrested two Sikh youth, Rupinder and Jaswinder Singh, both residents of Panjgrain village in Faridkot, concluding that the two brothers were in touch with someone in Australia and their funding by “foreign-based handlers” has been established. It also claimed to have intercepted their calls to handlers in Dubai and Australia. Audio clips of telephonic conversations between Rupinder and his foreign handler and Rupinder (9217660002) and Jaswinder, who was using his relative Gurbachan Singh’s number (9872214055), were also shared.
However, the SIT theory came under question the very next day following media report that the “foreign handlers” named in the case were ordinary NRIs who sent money to Rupinder and Jaswinder to fund the anti-sacrilege protest in Bargari, adding fuel to the fire. The claims backfired and the Sikh protesters accused the SAD-BJP government of a frame-up. The panicky government released the two brothers on November 2, 2015, and handed over the probe to the CBI. The CBI clubbed three FIRs registered for the theft of a “bir” of Guru Granth Sahib from a Burj Jawahar Singh Wala gurdwara on June 1, 2015, putting up of hand-written sacrilegious posters in Bargari and Burj Jawahar Singh Wala on September 25 and torn pages of the holy book being found at Bargari on October 12, 2015, and started its investigation.
PROBE TWO: KHATRA-LED SIT
‘DERA LEADER BITTU THE KEY CONSPIRATOR’
After handing over the three FIRs related to the Bargari sacrilege to CBI, the then SAD-BJP government constituted another SIT led by then DIG, Ludhiana, RS Khatra on November 30, 2015, to probe similar incidents of desecration in nearby villages in Gursar and Malke. The SIT, while probing the cases under its ambit in which it has filed the chargesheet, claimed a breakthrough in the Bargari sacrilege case and arrested Dera Sacha Sauda leader Mohinder Pal Bittu (murdered recently in a Nabha jail) on June 8, 2018, along with two others, Sukhjinder Singh alias Sunny and Shakti Singh.
It arrested Bittu from Palampur in Himachal in a 2011 case of arson in Moga and claimed that during his interrogation, it emerged that he was also the “main conspirator” of Bargari sacrilege who had involved Sunny, Shakti and others. The SIT even claimed that Bittu had initially planned to kill Sikh radical leader Baljeet Singh Daduwal and a meeting in regard was held between him and two other dera followers Harsh Dhuri and Pardeep Kalair under the directions of Rakesh Dirba, personal secretary to Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim. The plan to carry out sacrilege in Bargari was handiwork of Bittu and others to avenge “insult” of the dera head by Sikh preacher Harjinder Singh Manjhi at Burj Jawahar Singh Wala Village.
The probe further claimed that on Bittu’s directions, another Dera follower Randeep went inside Burj Jawahar Singh Wala gurdwara and picked the “bir”, mentioning registration number of the car used in the theft. Bittu was also accused of being the mastermind behind the posters put up at Bargari and Burj Jawahar Singh Wala to threaten the Sikh community that “angs of their living god” (Sikhs worship pages of the holy book as body parts) will be cut and scattered. When the SIT got his remand for 10 days, Bittu, a Kotkapura resident, confessed to carrying out the sacrilege in a statement before the judicial magistrate, Moga, under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. As the CBI was already probing the matter, the SIT even after its claims of finding the culprits handed over its report to the central agency.
PROBE THREE: CBI
‘DERA MEN NAMED BY SIT NOT INVOLVED’
Giving a clean chit to Dera Sacha Sauda followers in the 2015 Bargari sacrilege case, the CBI, in its closure report filed in the case, debunked the findings of the Khatra-led SIT and gave clean chit to dera men — Bittu, Sunny and Shakti.
In the closure report filed in the Special CBI court in Mohali, the agency claimed that involvement of Bittu, Sunny and Shakti prime facie could not be established for want of evidence. Point by point, the CBI demolished the claims of the SIT in its report, raising questions if the Khatraled probe was a cooked-up theory. It also claimed that there was no eyewitness to the theft of a “bir” from Burj Jawahar Singh Wala gurdwara.
The SIT theory of recovering an Alto car used to transport the stolen “bir” also fell flat in the CBI probe. “The second-hand car was purchased in the name of Shakti’s brother Ravinder Singh on August 8, 2016, and it was registered with RTO, Faridkot, on October 4, 2016. Thus, it could not have been used by Shakti in June 2015 for carrying the stolen bir as claimed by the SIT,” the CBI probe claimed. Similarly, the Tata Indigo car, which the SIT claimed was used by Bittu for carrying the stolen ‘bir’, was sold to Bittu’s son only in January 2017, the CBI said.
The CBI report said neither the fingerprints nor the voice samples and the polygraph test established the involvement of Bittu and other accused in the case. The layered voice analysis, report of which was received on September 9, 2018, also did not found anything positive. The CBI also analysed dump data of mobile towers and call records at Burj Jawahar Singh Wala and Bargari when the sacrilege incidents took place, but failed to find any lead.
PROBE FOUR: KUNWAR VIJAY PRATAP’S SIT
‘PRE-PLANNED HANDIWORK OF SUKHBIR, SAINI AND DERA’
After the Punjab assembly passed a resolution to withdraw the decision to hand over the probe into the police action on Sikh protestors in Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan from CBI, the Amarinder Singh-led government set up another SIT led by ADGP (now DGP) Prabodh Kumar to probe these cases. Its members include IG Kunwar Vijay Pratap, IG Arun Pal Singh, Kapurthala SSP Satinder Pal Singh and PPS officer Bhupinder Singh. On May 27, 2019, Kunwar filed a chargesheet in a Faridkot court alleging that incidents of desecration were “a pre-planned handiwork of then deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, then director general of police Sumedh Singh Saini and Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda. The chargesheet also linked sacrilege incidents to transfer of then state intelligence chief Hardeep Dhillon, saying it was a “pre-planned conspiracy”.
“Dhillon, an officer well known for his competence and experience in Intelligence wing, was transferred as ADGP intelligence on October 10, 2015, and in his place, a much junior officer of DIG rank, RK Jaiswal was asked to look after the work of intelligence wing. It is pertinent to mention here that there were three senior officers of ADGP/DGPrank, who were eligible and available for this posting. Jaiswal was also given directions to report to Punjab DGP Sumedh Saini,” read the chargesheet.
The SIT claimed that the complicity of the transfer of intelligence chief by posting a much junior officer in his place and the incidents of sacrilege soon after, suggest in unequivocal terms that it was a pre-planned handiwork of Sukhbir, Saini and members of Dera Sacha Sauda, including its head. Later, four members of SIT disassociated themselves from the chargesheet filed by Kunwar and wrote to a letter to the DGP, stating that Kunwar did not consult other members of the SIT before filing the chargesheet in this case.