Mohinder Singh, 72, breaks down in tears as he speaks about how his son, Krishna Bhagwan, was shot dead by the Punjab Police in Faridkot’s Behbal Kalan in 2015. “Captain Amarinder Singh came here then and told me he will get me justice within two months of becoming Chief Minister. He has never come back or kept his promise,” he says.
The Congress government stormed to power in 2017 in Punjab promising justice in the five emotive cases for Punjab involving theft and desecration of Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs, and the subsequent killing of two local protestors by the police in 2015. All these incidents happened in a radius of about 10 kilometers in villages of Faridkot. However, today, the mood in this epicenter is of anger towards Congress and specifically the CM for not fulfilling promises.
A Punjabi phrase one hears most here is “Captain teh Badal andaron rale-mile hoe nain (Captain and Badals have a secret understanding)”. This, people believe, is responsible for a flurry of Special Investigation Teams (SITs) and inquiry commissions failing to punish the culprits since 2015. “Badals were in power when the firing happened. They were responsible. Captain is in power for 4.5 years but Badals are free,” Mohinder Singh told News18 in the Behbal Khurd village.
Mohinder Singh, whose son was killed in Faridkot’s Behbal Kalan in 2015, says he has no hope from the probe.
Two separate SITs were set up this May, one under IG Naunihal Singh to probe the Behbal Kalan firings that killed Krishna Bhagwan and Gurjeet Singh, and other under ADGP LK Yadav which is probing a police firing in nearby Kotkapura town that left many injured. The SIT led by Yadav last month questioned Prakash Singh Badal and Sukhbir Badal. “But we have heard nothing from the SIT of IG Naunihal Singh. We do not want to deal with this SIT. We have no hope,” says Singh.
Singh’s grandson and son of the deceased Krishna Bhagwan, Prabhdip Singh, said this is so as they fear the new SIT may only accuse police officials till then DGP Sumedh Singh Saini but spare the Badals. The earlier SIT led by now AAP leader Kunwar Pratap Singh “was on the right track,” he says. “In 2015, Rahul Gandhi came to our house too along with Captain. Congress leaders want action against Badals but Captain is completely silent on this issue. Why?” Prabhdip Singh says.
At the Gurudwaras, Unease too
Granthi Gora Singh can still remember each detail of June 1, 2015, when it all began from his Gurudwara at the Burg Jawahar Singh Wala village. Around 1:30 PM, someone stole the saroop (book) of Guru Granth Sahib from here. Singh lodged the FIR. On June 29, some objectionable posters emerged on the walls of the Gurudwara. On October 10 that year, some torn pages of the holy book were found near a Gurudwara at Bargari village situated five kilometers away.
Granthi Gora Singh at Gurudwara Burg Jawahar Singh Wala from where Holy Book was Stolen in 2015
An SIT set up last month under IG Surinder Parmar for these three cases claimed a breakthrough recently with arrest of six persons associated with the Dera Sacha Sauda. “I was here when the police brought them to the Gurudwara for probe and later took them to the Sikhan Wala village where they had hidden the holy book after stealing it. They have confessed to the crime,” Gora Singh told News18. He said the police should now find out “if there was a larger conspiracy.”
Gora Singh and his wife underwent lie-detector tests by the CBI earlier and made several rounds of Faridkot to depose before earlier SITs and commissions. “People here are upset as they feel the real masterminds are at large. Yes, six people have now been arrested but we will only know for sure when they are convicted by court,” Singh says. He points out how an alleged mastermind of the incidents and a Dera Sacha Sauda supporter, Mahinderpal Bittu, was murdered in the jail in 2019.
The CBI which probed the cases earlier had filed a closure report against certain accused arrested by Punjab Police in earlier years.
At the Bargari Gurudwara near which torn pages of the holy book were found, the Sikh clergy does not buy the new theory. The Simaranjit Mann faction of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD-Mann) is holding a serial protest from this Gurudwara since July 1 demanding the arrest of Prakash Singh Badal and Sukhbir Singh Badal. “Sikhs backed the Congress in 2017 because they were promised justice in the sacrilege and police firing cases. Now, the people will punish the Congress in the 2022 elections,” Gurdeep Singh, the SAD-Mann district chief said.
Congress Fire-fighting, AAP upswing
A senior Punjab Congress leader said the CM has been silent on the sacrilege-police firing cases as the High Court has clearly said there should be no political interference in the SIT probes. “We are hoping for all the SITs to complete their probes by August and bring a closure to the affected people after six years,” the senior leader said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The party unit is divided over the matter with Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu visiting Kotkapura and Bargari recently and criticising the CM for non-action in the cases.
“Time seems to be running out and people’s anger is rising. We may find it difficult to campaign for the elections and enter villages if action does not happen soon,” a Congress MLA in the region told News18, saying the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) could gain here instead. AAP had won the Faridkot Lok Sabha seat in 2014 and two out of the three assembly seats in Faridkot district in 2017. Some locals speak about giving AAP a chance, saying they won’t vote for Akali Dal or the Congress. “Kunwar Vijay Pratap of SIT who was trying his best to get Sikhs justice also resigned and joined the AAP,” a group of locals said.