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Punjab's Lawmakers Debate the Dark Decade


The Tribune, Chandigarh, Oct. 18, 2005

Photo: The Akal Takht, an important component of the Darbar Sahib complex (also known as the Golden Temple complex), was reduced to rubble at the conclusion of Operation Blue Star.

It was 'moral cowardice' on the part of the Shiromani Akali Dal (S.A.D.) leadership versus Congress 'support of men, money and arms' that dominated the 189-minute discussion on 'roots and causes of terrorism, which caused huge loss to life and property in Punjab' in the state Vidhan Sabha before it adjourned sine die here this evening.

While the Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh blamed the S.A.D. leadership, especially its chief, Mr. Parkash Singh Badal, for the turbulence in Punjab, Mr. Badal had earlier thrown the entire onus on the ruling Congress party for supporting terrorism in the state with 'men, money and arms' in an attempt to teach 'Akalis a lesson for opposing the Emergency in the country in 1975.'

The much-awaited discussion, the second on the floor of the House since 1983, was virtually reduced to a 'blame game' with both the Opposition and the Treasury benches trying to run down each other by quoting excerpts from books and reports from newspapers and government agencies, especially the intelligence.

In fact, both Mr. Parkash Singh Badal and Mr. Tikshan Sood of the Bharatiya Janata Party questioned the wisdom of holding this discussion saying that it would revive old wounds. 'In fact, Congress wants to divert attention from major burning issues facing the state so it decided to reopen a sad chapter in the history of the state,' said Mr. Badal before the chief minister countered holding that the younger generation was not aware of what 'tragedy the state had undergone. They must know who all were responsible for this biggest turmoil since Independence.'

It was the chief minister, quoting more from his personal experiences and his association with the Akalis, that stole the thunder in his 61-minute wrap up of the discussion.

'Had the Akali leadership shown courage and acted judiciously the situation would have been different today. They always tried to buy peace by evading issues,' said the chief minister maintaining that 'had the government acted firmly in April 1978 by promulgating prohibitory orders on the eve of the Baisakhi samagam, the history of Punjab would have been different.'

Making scathing attacks on the Dal leadership, the chief minister said that the modus operandi of Mr. Parkash Singh Badal had been to court arrest on the eve of any major development. 'It is how he spent seven of the ten years of turbulence in Punjab in various jails. And he would come out of the jail at an opportune moment, claim the price for his sacrifice in the shape of power, and keep himself and his family protected. It is why he had sent his son, Sukhbir, and nephew, Manpreet, abroad on the pretext of studies while the state was burning.'

Capt. Amarinder Singh said that though official figures suggested that 21,700 people were killed in terrorist violence, he feared the number was more. The Akali Dal and Sikh politics, he said, veered around Mr. Gurcharan Singh Tohra, Sant Harchand Singh Longowal and Mr. Parkash Singh Badal.

While Mr. Tohra had to depend upon Mr. Badal for support, Sant Longowal used to give in to their pressure tactics. Admitting that he acted as a mediator between the Akalis and the Congress government at the centre at the initial stages of the problem, Capt. Amarinder Singh revealed that it was always Mr. Badal who backtracked on the eve of a settlement, be it release of additional 1 M.A.F. of water or the renaming of the Frontier Mail.

'If I came out of the Congress in protest against Operation Bluestar or quit the Surjit Singh Barnala government it was because of conviction. Unfortunately, the Akali leadership lacks this conviction. I have known Akalis who stood by their resolves and fought the might of the state in various morchas. Shaheed Darshan Singh Pheruman was one whom these Akalis do not remember even.

'It was a pity that even when Bibi Rajinder Kaur, M.P., Giani Partap Singh, Bhai Shaminder Singh and other such leaders fell to terrorists, this leadership had no courage to condemn their killings what to talk of innocent people,' he said asking Mr. Badal how come he was not there in the Golden Temple when Operation Bluestar took place and what happened to the oath he had taken at Akal Takht by joining do or die (marjiwarre) force.

The chief minister, however, did not answer any of the issues raised by Mr. Parkash Singh Badal, alleging that it was the Congress which supported militancy in Punjab with 'men, money and arms.'

Quoting from various books, including certain by ex-bureaucrats, intelligence officers and journalists, Mr. Badal held that since Ms. Indira Gandhi felt slighted at the Akali Dal's agitation against Emergency in the country, she and the Congress wanted to teach us a lesson.'

'It is the Shiromani Akali Dal which has suffered the maximum because of terrorism in Punjab. The party lost a number of senior leaders and the entire community got branded as terrorists. Then what happened to Sikhs in 1984 is known to everyone. Not only that it was the Congress which brought its men, gave them money and arms to fire trouble in Punjab. Dal Khalsa was the creation of the Congress,' he said, while quoting from various books.

Mr. Badal also held that leaders like Dr. Jagjit Singh Chauhan were all creation of the Congress. He said money and arms were given to Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale besides various militant organisations. Even C.P.M. supremo Harkishen Singh Surjeet wrote that Bhindranwale was the creation of the Congress. In the 1979 S.G.P.C. elections, Congress backed both Dal Khalsa and Sant Bhindranwale but the S.A.D. won comfortably. He said that a former deputy director of the Intelligence Bureau wrote that Bhai Gurjit Singh was given Rs. 20 lakhs. Even a relative of Bhai Jasbir Singh Rode was given bagfuls of money.

Joining the discussion, Deputy Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal said that the Congress owned and respected Bhindranwale as long as he was a sant. Once he took to the gun, the Akalis owned him.

She also assailed the Akali leadership for defiling the sanctity of gurdwaras by converting them into sanctuaries for killers of innocent people. She said the Akalis supported the terrorists.

'A number of Congress M.L.A.s present in the house have suffered the pain of terrorism,' she said while referring to supreme sacrifices made by Mr. Beant Singh, Ch. Jagat Ram, Mr. Joginder Paul Pandey, and others.

Earlier, Mr. Bir Devinder Singh, who had initiated the debate, dwelt on the philosophical background of Sikhism and how the founders of the religion wanted religion and politics to maintain a respectable distance by raising Akal Takht at a little distance from Sri Harmandar Sahib.

He also held that if the April 1978 clash between the Nirankaris and the Akalis, led by a then minister in the Parkash Singh Badal government, had been averted, the situation in Punjab would have been different today.

Mr. Balwinder Singh Bhunder (S.A.D.) held that it was the Congress which, in its attempt to marginalise the Akalis, supported terrorism in Punjab. Mr. Tikshan Sood of the B.J.P. said flaws in both defence and foreign policies of the Congress supported terrorism in Punjab.