Two days before Punjab goes to polls, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) made allegations against the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. AAP claimed that “big people” from the government were involved in incidents where the Guru Granth Sahib was desecrated in June 2015, and that during the subsequent agitation the police fatally shot two protestors without any provocation.
Addressing a press conference in Ludhiana yesterday, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and AAP candidate from Dakha constituency Harvinder Singh Phoolka claimed they were in possession of the report filed by Justice (retired) Jora Singh, who headed the one-man commission set up by the Punjab government to investigate the incidents. Although Justice Singh had submitted his report to the government in June 2016, its findings haven’t been made public yet.
AAP’s Punjab media coordinator Manpreet Randhawa told Newslaundry that a source in the Punjab’s Home department had leaked the report to the party yesterday. “We have our sources everywhere,” he said. “So we got it out from the Home department and made it public.” Randhawa added that the government tried its best to gut the commission, first by not providing it proper “logistical support” and then by sitting on it for more than six months.
Reading from the leaked report (Newslaundry has reviwed a copy of the leaked report but could not confirm its authenticity from a Punjab government source), Phoolka said, “there was a general perception amongst the public that the incidents (desecration of Guru Granth Sahib) took place at the instance of big people”. He went on to say “the government’s own commission has confirmed the involvement of big people […] that this was a huge effort from the government to disrupt peace here”.
While this is a quote from the leaked report, Phoolka had only presented a fragment of a sentence which, if read in entirety, complicates the picture somewhat. The complete sentence reads: “In his statement as CW-29, Budh Singh maintained that he had no suspicion on any political party or individual, but there was a general perception amongst the public that the incidents (desecration of Shri Guru Granth Sahib) took place at the instance of big people.” The report does not expressly clarify if the general perception was speculation on Singh’s part or the commission’s. Neither does it pin the blame on any political party or individual. However, by omitting the first part of the sentence, Phoolka gave the impression that it was the commission, which had concluded that the general perception among the public was that “big people” were involved.
Further, in relation to the incident of police firing in Behbal Kalan village, district Faridkot where villagers were protesting the desecration on October 14, 2015 which led to the death of two people, the leaked report condemns the police actions in definitive terms. On the question “whether or not the police firing was in self-defence”, the report states that “answer to this is to be found in the negative in view of the evidence on record”. It raises the question that since “both victims (Gurjeet Singh and Krishan Bhagwan Singh) were in sitting position” what “impelled the police official(s) to fire at them and that too from a close contact […] more so when the victims were defenceless and unarmed”. It concludes that the police firing was “absolutely unwarranted”.
The report, Phoolka said, was a “severe indictment of the government”. “This incident, led to one of the biggest agitations in Punjab in the recent past […] these people [the government] buried the report and tried to mislead the people of Punjab,” Phoolka told media gathered at the press conference. Attacking deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, Kejriwal said “people at the top tried to derail the investigation and the suspicion is on Sukhbir Badal”.
Newslaundry attempted to contact Karan Bir Sidhu, Additional Chief Secretary Home, seeking his response to allegations made by AAP but he did not return our calls or text messages.
Randhawa, meanwhile, “challenged” the government to make the report public if it says “the report is not genuine”. When asked whether the timing of revealing the contents of the leaked report was strategically planned to coincide with the last day of campaigning before elections, Randhawa said the report was leaked the previous day. “If we had got the report earlier, we would’ve made it public then,” he told Newslaundry. “I don’t know if this will have any effect [on the election] but we wanted to bring out the truth which has been kept under the wraps for so long,” he added.
(With inputs from Amit Bhardwaj)