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Opposition Walks Out of Punjab Assembly, Demanding Dismissal of Controversial Minister and Top Cop

File photo of Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh.

File photo of Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh.

A suspended police officer has accused the minister of masterminding a bomb blast in 1992 while the director general of police has sparked a row after purportedly stating that the Kartarpur pilgrimage corridor between India and Pakistan could pose risks to national security.

Chandigarh: The opposition Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) staged a walkout from the Punjab assembly on Tuesday, demanding the dismissal of cabinet minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu and director general of police (DGP) Dinkar Gupta. The parties had also stalled the proceedings of the House on Monday, demanding a reply from the chief minister. A suspended police officer recently alleged that Ashu harboured two Khalistani militants 28 years ago and was involved in a bomb blast.

The DGP stirred up a row after he made a controversial statement about the Kartarpur pilgrimage corridor to a media house last week. “Kartarpur offers a potential that you send somebody in the morning as an ordinary chap and by the evening he comes back as a trained terrorist. You are there for six hours, you can be taken to a firing range, you can be taught to make an IED,” he reportedly said.

Replying in the House on the third day of the Budget session, chief minister Amarinder Singh said DGP Gupta was “wrong” in making the purported statement, though he averred that “mistakes do happen”. The DGP has tendered an apology, the CM said, adding that his government “would never let the Kartarpur corridor shut down”.

Gupta had later said that his comments were “misconstrued”. While the opposition parties stuck to their demand of the DGP’s removal, they also created ruckus over Ashu.

The CM defended his cabinet colleague in the House, even as leader of opposition Harpal Singh Cheema asked him to reopen the case against the minister in connection with the 1992 Gur Mandi blast. “The government has the authority to reopen the case. Will the chief minister reopen the case?” asked Cheema.

Defending Ashu, the CM said that he would dismiss suspended deputy superintendent of police Balwinder Singh Sekhon who had levelled allegations against the minister of masterminding the 1992 blast.

“I come from the Army and if he (Sekhon) would have done the same thing there, then he would have faced a court martial for speaking against his senior,” Captain Amarinder Singh said in the assembly. The chief minister also told the House that the case against Ashu was over and he had been acquitted by the courts.

The CM added that Ashu was about 19-20 years of age when the blast took place, and SAD leader Parkash Singh Badal, who was chief minister at the time, should have taken action.

However, Harpal Singh Cheema pointed towards Ashu’s then confessional statement of involvement in a triple murder case, saying “he couldn’t be forgiven”.

The minister’s cabinet colleague Charanjit Singh Channi also came to his rescue and stated that circumstances during the early 1990s were such that many youths were picked up by the police and their confessional statements were forcibly recorded, maintaining that Ashu was one of those youngsters.

SAD legislator Bikram Singh Majithia also raised the matter of DSP Sekhon who was suspended last year after accusing Ashu of irregularities in a real estate project and targeting him for exposing it as the inquiry officer.

Not satisfied with the chief minister’s reply, AAP and SAD staged a walkout from the assembly, demanding the dismissal of DGP Gupta and minister Ashu.

Later, speaking to the media outside the assembly, the chief minster reiterated: “This matter has been closed, the DGP has expressed his regrets, and everyone is happy.” On the minister, he said, “Ashu ji is a very fine minister. There is no question (of removing him)… These are 30-year-old matters, they have already been investigated by various courts and nothing has been found in them. The Opposition is just playing politics”.

However, the Opposition was unrelenting. Speaking to reporters, Majithia said, “You have a person (Ashu) who is a terrorist and is a part of the government… he has confessed to killing even a police officer in front of a gazetted officer… you should take against action against him.”

AAP leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira said, “What justice can you expect from a state police chief who thinks of pilgrims, devotees and Sikhs as terrorists? This is a deep controversy. This has exposed the mindset which the government possesses towards its people.”