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Congress on defensive in Punjab
Published on 5 Apr. 2009 12:11 AM IST
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The Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) clean chit to Congress leader Jagdish Tytler in a 1984 anti-Sikh riots case has evoked an angry response from community leaders in Punjab, the only Sikh-majority state, and put the party on the defensive in the state ahead of the polls. With Punjab’s ruling Akali Dal, Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) and other Sikh bodies already gunning for the Congress and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government it leads on this emotive issue, the party will have to do a lot of explaining to people here. Hundreds of Sikhs were killed in the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi and other places across India following the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984. Former central minister Tytler, who was accused of leading mobs against Sikhs, was given a clean chit by the CBI in the riots case this week. He is the Congress candidate for the northeast Delhi Lok Sabha seat. The Congress’ anguish is reflected in the statement of former chief minister and the party’s election campaign in-charge Amarinder Singh. ‘The clean chit (to Tytler) is unnecessary at this point and other parties will make an election issue out of it. It is embarrassing for the Congress,’ Amarinder Singh told reporters in Jalandhar Friday. But he was equally aggressive in countering the Akali propaganda against the Congress on this count. ‘This cancellation report (by the CBI) against Tytler is not the final word. Let the court decide on this. The Akalis and others are jumping the gun. Even in case of the Nithari killings, the main accused (Moninder Singh Pandher) was given a clean chit by the CBI but the court refused to accept that,’ Amarinder Singh pointed out. Akali Dal president and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal seemed in no mood to let go of the issue. ‘If the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) is voted to power at the centre, we will reopen the cases against Tytler and others and get them punished,’ the junior Badal said. Though the CBI clean chit to Tytler has not led to any untoward incident in the state except for a few protests at various places, radical Sikh elements are more blunt about the repercussions of the move. ‘It is one of the biggest mistakes of CBI and central government that they have given clean chit to Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler. Now, if they contest in the elections, nobody is going to tolerate it,’ Kanwar Pal Singh Dhami, a former president of Akal Federation, told IANS. ‘If they do not take back this decision then its repercussions would be certainly dreadful for the whole country. This development has stirred the whole Sikh community and I am afraid that out of frustration people can go berserk and try to take revenge by ignoring the law,’ said Dhami, a former terrorist. Dhami, who runs the Guru Aasra Trust for children of slain terrorists here, said that this decision is equivalent to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Varun Gandhi’s purported hate speeches against Muslims. ‘There is no change in the attitude of the government towards Sikhs in the last 25 years. They still are giving us step-motherly treatment. Sikhs are treated with discrimination in all the areas like law, defence, administration and education,’ Harpal Singh Cheema, chairman of Sikhs for Human Rights, told IANS. ‘We strongly condemn the move to give a clean chit to the main accused who incited anti-Sikh riots. I have devoted 22 years of my life against this and am committed to fight for our rights,’ said Cheema, a lawyer who was deported from the US on directions of the Indian government. He spent over 15 years in jail. ‘This is shocking. It clearly shows that laws for one community in India are different compared to those for the minorities,’ Dal Khalsa leader Kanwarpal Singh said. Former Punjab assembly deputy speaker Bir Devinder Singh resigned from the primary membership of the Congress party, saying he could not be associated with a party which was siding with perpetrators of violence against Sikhs in 1984. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal termed the clean chit to Tytler as an ‘outrage against humanity’. He said the Congress was trying to decorate known killers of Sikhs with party tickets. ‘I call upon Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to intervene even at this late stage to ensure that the CBI is not allowed to be used as a tool to shield the killers of thousands of innocent men, women and children. His silence at this hour could prove to be a historic failure to discharge his basic constitutional responsibility,’ the senior Badal said in a statement here. The SGPC, the mini-parliament of Sikh religious affairs, too has condemned the clean chit to Tytler. ‘The anti-Sikh attitude of the Congress has again been exposed. It has become clear that the CBI works in tandem with the Congress,’ SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar said in Amritsar.

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