After the Union Government took shelter under legal technicalities to keep pending the execution of Afzal, sentenced to death in Parliament attack case, hanging of Balwant Singh Rajoana, sentenced to death in the Chief Minister Beant Singh’s assassination, is mired in political controversy and chicanery. UPA Government acting on SGPC petition ordered the postponement of the hanging that was scheduled for March 31.

Our system being what it is, no one can say with any amount of certainty as to when justice would be done to the slain Chief Minister. These developments have revived the frightening memories of bloody 1980s that brought the border state of Punjab to the brink of a disaster. A violent separatist movement for an independent Sikh homeland had rocked the state, heightened communal tensions and consumed several thousand unarmed citizens, security personnel and armed terrorists. Army action on the Golden Temple complex to flush out terrorists followed by the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and massacre of thousands of innocent Sikhs in Delhi and other parts of the country are extremely sad chapters of our recent history. It was under the stewardship of the late Chief Minister Beant Singh that terrorism in Punjab was contained and eventually vanquished. Terrorism is dead but not the spirit of separatism. Radicals, though miniscule, are lying in wait for half a chance to resurrect the ghosts.

An orchestrated campaign to save the convict from the gallows has created a political storm in the state. It all began with the Sikh high priests insisting they had received numerous petitions from Sikhs to save the life of Rajoana, issued an edict to the Akali Dal and the SGPC to seek clemency for him. The SGPC promptly petitioned the President of India for mercy. Interestingly, the Akali Dal controls the SGPC and it is the latter that appoints high priests as per certain procedure. Simultaneously, Superintendent of Central Jail Patiala, where the convict is lodged, returned the warrant to the Chandigarh Court saying it suffered from several “legal and constitutional shortcomings, loopholes and flaws” and, therefore, it would be impossible within the ambit of law to execute the order of the court. The Jailer also quoted a Supreme Court judgement to argue that since the appeal of a co-accused in the case was pending in the apex court, it would be necessary to wait for the disposal of the case by the Supreme Court. Additional Session Judge, Chandigarh, dismissed the Jailer’s petition and ordered that Rajoana be hanged as scheduled on March 31, 2012 and slapped a contempt notice on the jailer for disobeying court orders. The jailor remained adamant. Developments in Delhi have now over taken the judicial process.

Several Sikh outfits, including certain radical outfits, observed a Punjab bandh on March 28. Angry demonstrations demanding clemency for Rajoana were held in the state and outside, including J&K. At some places pro “Khalistan” slogans were raised by demonstrators leading to minor clashes. Tension gripped the state but fortunately there was no large scale violence. The same day Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal called on the President of India and the Prime Minister to plead clemency for the convict. The President promptly forwarded SGPC’s mercy petition to the Home Ministry for its advice. The Union Ministry will now seek the advice of the State Government concerned before making its final recommendation to the President. However, the same evening the Union Government ordered the postponement of Rajoana’s execution till the final disposal of the petition by the President or disposal by the Supreme Court of an appeal in the case by a co-accused “whichever is later”. Badal tried to persuade BJP leadership to accompany him to the President but the party firmly declined. It reiterated reiterating its stand that it was against all kinds of terrorism and that nothing should be done against the law of the land and the Constitution. BJP is perhaps the only political party that has not joined the chorus for mercy to the killer of Beant Singh.

Interestingly, while the Sikh clergy, the SGPC and the Punjab Government marshaled legal and constitutional arguments to seek mercy for the convict, the latter remained unrepentant and unmoved. He appears determined to be a “martyr for the cause”. He firmly resisted attempts to persuade him to file a mercy petition and forbade his family to seek clemency for him. He told a delegation of the Akal Takht that recently called on him in the Patiala jail that no one should seek mercy for him as it would amount to getting the community insulted by the “Delhi Durbar”.  He condemned political parties supporting the demand for clemency and spurned with contempt the sympathy shown for him by the family of the late Chief Minister Beant Singh. Certain radical outfits too have rejected the edict issued by the clergy and said an appeal for clemency would amount to “surrender” before the state in which Rajoana had no faith. Their intentions are ominous.

The fact of the matter is that all the options available to a death row convict are still available to Rajoana – the man who never denied his involvement in the crime and refused to appeal against his conviction to either the High Court or Supreme Court. He is free to exercise all or any of the options available to him. Legal experts are of the view that mercy appeal filed by anyone else,  governments or individuals, is legally untenable as in criminal cases third party interventions regarding pardons are not maintainable. The Punjab and Haryana High Court had rejected such an appeal by a third party citing apex court judgements.

Rajoana was a police constable and a top operative of the terrorist outfit Babar Khalsa. He confessed in the court that he was the standby bomber in the case that killed the then Chief Minister Beant Singh and 16 others. His involvement in the conspiracy was a measure of the penetration of the radicals in the police force. The former Chief Minister earned the wrath of terrorists for waging a relentless battle against them. Let all Indians, particularly Punjabis, salute the martyr and take a solemn pledge to maintain peace and communal harmony whatever the provocation.

(Organiser)