A fast that has stirred up state politics (Punjab Newsletter)

By Jaideep Sarin, Chandigarh, Dec 26 : A fast by a former militant has stirred up politics in Punjab with leaders of political parties, former militants and radical and religious groups getting involved with his protest.

Former militant Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa has completed 40 days of fast unto death at the Amb Sahib gurdwara in Mohali town seeking the release of six militants lodged in jails in Punjab and other states.

Khalsa's argument is that these militants, some of whom have been sentenced for life, have completed their prison terms but have not been released as the executive has not decided what to do with them.

A resident of neighbouring Haryana, Khalsa, 48, is getting support from Sikh hardliners.

Three of the militants he wants released -- Lakhwinder Singh, Shamsher Singh and Gurmeet Singh -- are in Chandigarh's Burail prison after being convicted for the assassination conspiracy of then Punjab chief minister Beant Singh in August 1995. They have been in jail for over 18 years.

Another prisoner, Lal Singh, was released on parole from the Nabha prison in Punjab last week. He spent 20 years in jail. Two militants, Waryam Singh and Gurdeep Singh, are lodged in jails in Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh and in Gulbarga in Karnataka respectively. Gurdeep Singh has been in jail for 23 years.

Khalsa's fast has attracted leaders from political parties including the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal and the opposition Congress, radicals from groups like Dal Khalsa and Damdami Taksal, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) members and others.

Some of these leaders have not only visited the gurdwara and met Khalsa but have given speeches endorsing his cause.

With his hunger strike going past the 40-day mark, even Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has appealed to him to call it off. Khalsa's deteriorating health is a matter of concern for the Punjab government.

Badal had earlier maintained that the militants, whose release Khalsa was seeking, were in prisons in other states. But four of them turned out to be lodged in Punjab and Chandigarh. The Punjab government has claimed that it was pursuing the matter with other states.

Punjab Congress leader and party spokesman Sukhpal Singh Khaira has come out in support of Khalsa and addressed a gathering at the fast venue.

Radical Sikh organization Dal Khalsa has shot off a letter to Amnesty International highlighting the plight of the six jailed people.

"The continued detention of the six prisoners not only violates the principle of equality enshrined in the Indian constitution but is a clear violation of the UN Declaration of Human Rights," it stated.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

--IANS (Posted on 26-12-2013)

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