A purported photo of Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar with Nihang sect chief Baba Aman Singh has led to a political furore, even as the latter has alleged that he was offered money to leave the protest site at Singhu border, where farmers have been agitating against the Centre's farm laws.
This comes amid a row over the brutal murder of Lakhbir Singh by a group of Nihang Sikhs at a farmers protest site last week. Four Nihangs of this group were arrested for the killing.
The photo in question shows Tomar with Singh, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Harwinder Garewal, and Gurmeet Singh Pinki – a Punjab police officer who has been dismissed from service and convicted for murder. Along with them in the photo is Minister of State for Agriculture Kailash Choudhary, at whose residence the meeting was reportedly held.
WHAT HAS THE MINISTRY SAID?
According to a report by The Hindu which quoted the Agriculture Ministry, the meeting, held in July, was not an official one but a "courtesy meeting".
"As a politician, Mr. Tomar meets with a lot of people and his doors are always open to religious leader," the official told The Hindu.
WHAT DID THE NIHANG SECT CHIEF SAY?
As the photo went viral, the Nihang sect chief said that he was allegedly offered Rs 10 lakh cash and horses in exchange for vacating the Singhu border protest site, The Tribune reported.
Baba Aman Singh added that the group, however, rejected the money offer and said they would lift the protest only when their demands – withdrawal of farm laws, MSP guarantee, justice in sacrilege cases and withdrawal of cases against the Nihang Sikhs – were met.
HOW HAVE POLITICAL PARTIES REACTED?
Reacting to the photo, Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa has called the killing of Lakhbir Singh "a deep-rooted conspiracy to defame the farmers' stir".
Former Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar also joined in, alleging in a statement that "there is certainly something more than what meets the eye" with regard to the murder. He also said that the BJP has been trying to "tarnish the secular farmers' struggle as a Sikh movement to term protesting Sikhs as militants".
(With inputs from The Tribune and The Hindu.)