Ex-Punjab CM’s Kin to Move SC Against Rajoana’s Life Imprisonment

Beant Singh, credited for ending terrorism in Punjab, was assassinated on 31 August, 1995.

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Politics
5 min read
File photo of people protesting to seek clemency for Balwant Singh Rajoana, assassin of former state chief Beant Singh. 
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The family of slain Punjab chief minister Beant Singh will challenge the commutation of terrorist Balwant Singh Rajoana's death sentence in the Supreme Court.

Confirming this, Punjab MLA and the slain leader's grandson Gurkirat Kotli on Tuesday told PTI, "We are taking a legal opinion on that. Most probably, we will challenge the centre's decision on the ground that Rajoana himself had never moved any mercy petition for the commutation of his death sentence."

The Union Home Ministry on Saturday had decided to commute the death sentence of Rajoana as a humanitarian gesture ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak Dev.

The Congress on Monday, 30 September lashed out at the government over the decision to commute the death sentence of terrorist Balwant Singh Rajoana in the assassination case of former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh, saying it has exposed the BJP's “false patriotism,” even as Punjab CM Capt Amarinder singh said he was “personally against death penalty.”

The Home Ministry has decided to commute the death sentence of Balwant Singh Rajoana, who was convicted for the assassination of former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh, to life imprisonment, officials said on Sunday, 29 September.

Beant Singh, credited for ending terrorism in Punjab, was assassinated on 31 August, 1995.

“A decision has been taken to commute the death sentence of Balwant Singh Rajoana. The process of issuing a formal notification is underway,” a home ministry official said.

On 31 August, 1995, the then chief minister Beant Singh was killed in an explosion outside the Civil Secretariat in Chandigarh. Sixteen others also lost their lives in the terror attack in which Punjab police employee Dilawar Singh had acted as a human bomb.

The Babbar Khalsa terrorist was the second human bomb in case the first one would have failed in killing the Congress leader.

‘Development Painful and Shameful’: Congress

Congress' chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala termed the development as “painful and shameful.”

Taking a swipe at the Modi government's slogan “sabka saath, sabka vikas” (together with all, for the development of all), Surjewala said the new slogan is “together with terrorists, for development of terrorists”.

He said it was the saddest day for the country in the fight against extremism.

“BJP’s false patriotism exposed! It is now with the killers of Sardar Beant Singh,” he said in a tweet in Hindi.

At a press conference, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi alleged that the Home Ministry's decision was an example of the BJP playing politics as its ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee had file a mercy petition for Rajoana.

“Remember, here is a heinous offence against a constitutional post holder... here is a party which ignores the loss of 16 other lives. So I ask them through you as to what is this new very cheap definition of pure politics. I ask them what is their commitment to basic values and principles,” he said.

They campaigned in the election on Rajoana's mercy petition which was referred by the then President to the Home Ministry as is the rule, he said.

The Home Ministry after all this gap announces that it is commuting Rajoana's death sentence to life imprisonment, Singhvi said.

‘Personally Against Death Penalty’: Amarinder

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Monday differed from the party’s stand on Rajoana's death sentence, saying he is against capital punishment.

Talking to reporters in Ludhiana on Monday, the CM said he was personally against death penalty, which he had said back in 2012 too. All cases of death penalty should be commuted to life imprisonment, he said, indirectly endorsing the commutation of the death sentence.

He however, said the Congress stand on Beant Singh's killers had always been clear and consistent-that they should serve their full sentence.

The CM said the Centre had demanded a list of 17 prisoners booked under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act from the state government.

“Rajoana’s name was in the list of the 17 prisoners submitted to the Centre as he was a TADA prisoner who had completed more than 14 years in jail, like the other prisoners on the list,” he said, adding that the state had no role in the Centre’s decision. In fact, he said, the state government was yet to receive the names of the nine prisoners who had been given a special exemption by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

‘Who are they to commute Death Sentence?’: Beant Singh’s Grandson

Ludhiana Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittu, who is the grandson of slain former chief minister Beant Singh, has questioned the Centre's move, saying the dreaded terrorist should not be “spared” at any cost.

On the other hand, Bittu questioned the Union government's move.

“Who are they to commute the death sentence to life term when the Supreme Court has given capital punishment (to Rajoana),” Bittu said in Ludhiana on Monday. “He (Rajoana) is a dreaded terrorist and should not be spared at any cost,” the Ludhiana Congress MP said.

Hitting out at the saffron party, Bittu said the BJP indulged in petty politics to woo Sikh voters despite the prime minister vowing to fight terrorism on a global platform.

‘Decision Should be Welcomed’: Akali Dal

Meanwhile, five-time chief minister and Shiromani Akali Dal's patron-in-chief Parkash Singh Badal lauded the decision, terming it “statesmanlike, far-sighted and humane”.

Badal said the gesture would go a long way in assuaging sentiments of the Sikh masses.

“Every step that strengthens hands of the forces of peace and communal harmony and cements the Hindu-Sikh unity in Punjab and the country should be welcomed by everyone,” said Badal in a statement.

The Akali stalwart said the SAD and the SGPC had always opposed death penalty on a matter of principle.

“We had to wage a long and hard struggle to get Rajoana’s death sentence commuted. The party and the religious body approached the Government of India, met and gave memoranda to the President of India on several occasions,” he claimed.

The former chief minister said the issue of the execution the death sentence to Rajoana was “one of the most sensitive and toughest moments” that he had to face as the chief minister during the last SAD-BJP tenure.

“But I was clear that both constitutionally and morally, it would not only have been wrong but also disastrous,” he said.

What’s the Home Ministry Order?

On Saturday, a home ministry spokesperson said eight Sikh prisoners, lodged in different jails in the country for committing crimes during the militancy in Punjab, would be released by the government on the occasion of 550th birth anniversary of Shri Guru Nanak Devji as a humanitarian gesture.

Through a special remission, the death sentence of another Sikh prisoner has been commuted to life imprisonment, the spokesperson had said. It came to light on Sunday that this prisoner is Rajoana.

Rajoana and eight others are lodged in different jails in the country. The eight others were convicted by the various courts in the country for the offences committed by them during the militancy period in the Punjab.

The decision was taken by the central government as a token of goodwill in response to the long pending demands of the release of Sikh prisoners articulated by various sections of the Sikh community, the spokesperson said on Saturday.

The 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Devji will be in November.

A special court had in July 2007 awarded the death sentence to Rajoana, along with another terrorist Jagtar Singh Hawara, in the Beant Singh assassination case.

Rajoana was scheduled to be hanged on 31 March, 2012. However, the execution was stayed on 28 March, 2012, by the then UPA government at the centre after Shiromoni Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee, the Sikh religious body, filed a mercy petition.

The Shiromani Akali Dal, which was then in power in Punjab, campaigned against his execution. The President had forwarded the plea to the Home Ministry to take a call on it.

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