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Congress, Akali Dal to slug it out in House over wooing dera voters

The Congress strategy is to make political capital out of report’s indictment of the previous Badal regime for securing Akal Takht’s pardon for dera head Gurmeet Ram Rahim in September 2015.

punjab Updated: Aug 18, 2018 10:12 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
punjab,punjab news,punjab assembly
Congress strategists believe that the Akalis will stage a walkout rather than face a debate. (HT File )

The report of Justice Ranjit Singh (retd) Commission on sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib and police firing on protesters in October 2015 at Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan in Faridkot district is set to kickoff a political slugfest between the ruling Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) over wooing Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda for votes. The report is to be tabled in the assembly session that begins on August 24.

The Congress strategy is to make political capital out of report’s indictment of the previous Badal regime for securing Akal Takht’s pardon for dera head Gurmeet Ram Rahim in September 2015.

Linking the September 24, 2015, pardon to the release of sect head’s movie “MSG-2 The Messenger” in Punjab the same day, the report says: “If there was political pressure behind the move, then it must reflect badly against those who allegedly exerted such pressure. The decision (to pardon) seems to have had a devastating effect and may have played a catalyst for sacrilege incidents.”

The report says that pardon led to resentment among Sikhs and “Panthic” bodies gave a call for holding Sarbat Khalsa (congregation) on November 10, 2015, and announced a meeting on October 12, 2015, in Ludhiana. “On this very day, sacrilege took place at Bargari in Faridkot. If this is a coincidence, then it is too much of a coincidence,” the report states.

Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar says the party will expose how the previous regime “played politics” over an emotive issue.

“There is no doubt left now on the collusion between the dera and the Badals for securing pardon from the Akal Takht. What can be worse than exploiting the highest temporal body of the Sikhs for political gains? They deserve to be ostracised by the community,” Jakhar said.

The Congress may also corner former CM Parkash Singh Badal for being “informed” about the police firing on protesters in Kotkapura and Behbal Kalan. Then DGP Sumedh Singh Saini’s reply to the panel says the two spoke at 2am, hours before police firing in Kotkapura between 6.46am and 6.50an on October 14, 2015.

Congress strategists believe that the Akalis will stage a walkout rather than face a debate.

The SAD is likely to finalise its counter-strategy a day or two before the session in its core committee meeting. It may launch a double-barrelled attack as its defence. “We will point out how the Congress wooed the dera. Captain Amarinder Singh, who was the state Congress chief then, visited the dera for support in the 2012 state polls. The Congress won Malwa on dera’s prop in the 2007 polls. But the SAD-BJP formed the government by winning in Doaba and Majha. Senior Congress leaders make a beeline to the dera every election. The party fielded Harminder Jassi, a relative of the sect head, from Maur,” a senior SAD leader said, requesting anonymity, adding: “It was the Captain government that provided buses to ferry dera followers after the Panchkula violence in August 2017.”

The Akalis are also aiming to dig holes in the report saying it has relied on testimonies of parallel jathedars appointed at the November 2015 Sarbat Khalsa. “Most of the report’s conclusions are based on statements of these witnesses. Right from the protest at Bargari to the report, everything is orchestrated,” an Akali leader said.

The SAD may also corner the government on breach of secrecy of the report. A handle that it could use to also target rebel AAP leader Sukhpal Khaira’s relations with Justice Ranjit Singh.

SAD spokesman and former minister Daljit Singh Cheema on Friday accused Khaira of having an advance copy of the final report and leaking it. The Badals also intend to question why the CM chose not to act on the findings of the report but transfer the police firing cases to the CBI.

Sacked leader of opposition Khaira may not get the opportunity to take on the Congress and Akalis whom he accuses of playing “vote-bank politics” on dera.

First Published: Aug 18, 2018 10:12 IST