The situation in Hasanpur village in Ludhiana district is heading towards showdown with the coordination committee of Sikh organisations blocking every move of the Punjab government to forcibly take away octogenarian Surat Singh Khalsa who has been on an indefinite for about six months now demanding release of the Sikh prisoners.
Gurdip Singh, who heads the coordination committee of the Sikh organisations, blames the Badal government for the present stalemate.
The police tried to force into his residence day before yesterday to take him away to force-feed him but met with stiff resistance with the people frustrating all such moves in the absence of the government implementing the minimum conditions that were agreed upon during the last two meetings with the representatives of the coordination committee in Chandigarh. The main condition related to releasing seven of these prisoners on parole followed by getting them regular bail through the judicial process till the Supreme Court ban on pre-mature release continued. Of immediate concern was the case of three prisoners including Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar and Gurdip Singh Khera, both transferred to Amritsar and Waryam Singh. The government failed to act.
Surat Singh Khalsa decided to undertake indefinite fast for this cause as earlier Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa failed to live up to the vow despite going on fast twice. In the process, he is said to have made lot of money. While for the first time, he broke his fast on the assurance given by Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh, he wound up second time unilaterally evoking strong reaction among the Sikh organisations. Surat Singh Khalsa resolved to carry his fast to the logical conclusion.
Initially for days, none took notice of his fast that he started on January 16 last as he too was perceived as a non-serious player like Gurbaksh Singh. However, the situation started taking serious turn. He conveyed to the leaders like Gurdip Singh who met three to four days after he started his fast that he would not backtrack and was willing to make the supreme sacrifice. A few days later, a committee was formed representing various non-Akali Sikh organisations to carry forward the struggle and mobilise people on this issue.
As he continued with his fast, he was picked up by the police from his residence and admitted to the hospital where he was forced intravenously and kept in the hospital for 57 days. His release followed as the representatives of the coordination committee met President Pranab Mukherjee seeking his intervention.
Last month again he was shifted to hospital in Ludhiana where he was given intravenous fluid for about 10 days and as his condition continued to deteriorate, the hospital authorities referred him to the PGI in Chandigarh. In PGI, he refused to be force fed and the doctors respecting his sentiments decided against force feeding him. The writ of the Punjab government does not run in Union Territory of Chandigarh. He was taken back to his native village.
In between, several meetings were held by the coordination committee with the state government including Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. The first meeting was held with Badal on February 16 last but it remained inclusive. This meeting was followed by the arrest of several members of the coordination committee who remained in jail for several days. The next meeting with the Chief Minister was held on May 28 in which some progress was made. The state government set up a 4-member committee consisting of Principal secretary to the Chief Minister, Principal Secretary, Home, Additional DGP, Intelligence and Secretary, Jails. A couple of meetings have been held with this committee. The framework evolved at the meeting was that some of these prisoners would be transferred to Punjab and then released on parole followed by regular bail. The Supreme Court has stayed pre-mature releases. However, the stalemate continues.
The coordination committee leaders maintain that the state government then started dragging its feet. The coordination committee had also demanded that the cases of those detained under Unlawful Activities Act should also be reviewed. No progress was made at the last meeting held a few days back.
The state government is now learnt to be adamant that Surat Singh should first accept medical aid before next step could be taken. This is not acceptable and his health is deteriorating fast. The Sikh volunteers are now keeping a strict watch to frustrate any attempt of the police to take him away forcibly.Gurdip said the government should make the beginning by releasing Bhullar, Khera and Waryam Singh on parole to create congenial atmosphere. In the meantime, tension continues to escalate.
By Jagtar Singh