Amarinder corners BJP and Akalis on compensation to Jodhpur detainees
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh has played a political masterstroke on the issue of compensation to the Jodhpur detainees who have been fighting a legal battle for getting compensation for their arrest from the Golden Temple complex during Operation Bluestar.
Amarinder on Monday announced his government’s decision to pay the full compensation amount of Rs. 4.5 crore to these detainees if the Centre fails to come out with its share. This has helped him score some quick brownie points against both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led central government and its ally the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had booked the 375 detainees under Explosives Act and Arms Act. All of them were released in three phases between 1989 and 1991 and out of these 224 appealed for compensation alleging 'wrongful detention and torture'. But the CBI had contested his demand and had won the case in the lower court in 2011.
While several of these detainees died and many refused to pursue the matter further, there were 40 people who appealed against the order before the Amritsar sessions court and were awarded Rs 4 lakh each as compensation with six per cent interest in a judgment last year. While Punjab was willing to pay its share of the compensation, the Centre had approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court against the order of the sessions court. The compensation amounts to a paltry sum of Rs 4.5 crore.
Amarinder made his intention clear after a telephonic conversation with Union home secretary Rajiv Gauba whom he had called up to urge for early resolution of the matter in view of the prolonged suffering of the detainees. Expressing hope that the Centre would be forthcoming with its 50 per cent share of the compensation, Amarinder said that if, for any reason, the Union government fails to pay its share then the state government would take over the entire liability and ensure that the detainees get thee much-delayed justice.
Amarinder had taken up the matter with Gauba since the Union home minister is abroad. Pointing that these detainees have been suffering for the past several years for no fault of theirs, he called for a standardized policy to deal with such cases. He sought that the Centre immediately withdraw its appeal in the Punjab and Haryana High Court against the compensation ordered.
Amarinder had last week written to Rajnath pointing out that the central government’s appeal against the compensation, which the court had held to be jointly payable by the union and state governments, had evoked a strong reaction among the Sikh community. He had warned that it was further likely to lead to an avoidable sense of alienation and perceived injustice among the community. Amarinder had been approached by a delegation of the detainees on Saturday.
The issue of compensation had gained centrestage in Punjab politics over the last few days. In a bid to score points, the Akalis had last week sent a delegation to Rajnath who had given them an assurance from that the Jodhpur detainees would get their just dues. The Akalis had also asked the home minister to expedite release of all Sikh prisoners who are still languishing in jails after completion of their jail term.
The Akali delegation led by union food processing minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal had also urged Rajnath to declassify all papers related with Operation Bluestar so that the role of the Congress party as well as that of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi could be brought before the people.
The delegation had told Rajnath that now when an opportunity has arisen to give partial closure to the sufferings, the CBI has moved an application in the Punjab and Haryana high court appealing against the judgment of the session’s court. The delegation said this move had hurt the sentiments of the Sikh community worldwide because the CBI had followed the UPA government stand on this issue. It said this stand needed to change under the NDA government led by Narendra Modi.
With his move Amarinder has put the ball in the Centre's court and has cornered the Akalis who have been attacking the Congress for all that happened during the dark days of militancy. Observers feel that the move by Amarinder would once again draw the radical Sikh elements opposed to the Akalis to support him.
“Amarinder always had a following among a section of the radical Sikhs who have respected him for speaking out against the injustice to the community. His resignation from the Lok Sabha after Operation Bluestar despite being on very good terms with the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had earned him respect. He had also quit the state government led by Surjit Singh Barnala for playing to the tune of Rajiv Gandhi government at the Centre and allowing the searches in the Golden Temple complex by the security forces.
But in the run up to the last assembly polls, radical Sikhs had shown support for the rookie Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). To balance this Amarinder had made overtures to the Hindu community, mainly small traders, who had been traditional BJP voters. This support base had voted for the Congress, punishing the Akali-BJP combine for the misrule and demonetisation brought about by Modi. They were also wary of AAP coming to power with the support of Sikh hardliners,” pointed a political observer. He further pointed that when it comes to Panthic politics also, it is Amarinder who has been taking on the Akalis.
The Congress has tried to counter the NDA narrative on injustice to Sikhs by pointing that while its leadership had apologised in Parliament for both the Operation Bluestar and 1984 anti-Sikh pogronm would Modi do the same for the Gujarat pogrom against Muslims?
The move by Amarinder would surely take out some sting from the Akali attack as the parties warm up for the Lok Sabha battle of 2019 where the Congress would try to perform better than the last time.