Except for a few isolated clashes, the bandh (shutdown) sponsored by various Panthic organisations in solidarity with Balwant Singh Rajoana, a death row convict, passed off peacefully. Normal life was disrupted as shops and other commercial establishments remained closed. There was little traffic on the roads.
According to reports, at least six persons were injured in clashes that broke out after some people objected to the pro-Khalistan slogans by protesters in Patiala. Reports of clashes and stone-throwing have also been received from Gurdaspur, Jalandhar, Sangrur and Lehragagga.
The shutdown was complete in most parts of the State, as groups of men sporting “kesari” turbans and women draped in “kesari” dupattas participated in processions organised by the radical organisations seeking clemency for Rajoana, who faces the gallows after being convicted in the Beant Singh assassination case.
While Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh were camping in Delhi to meet President Pratibha Patil to seek clemency for Rajoana, about 60,000 police personnel and 15 companies of the paramilitary forces were deployed to keep a vigil and maintain law and order.
The security forces organised flag marches at various places, while the authorities enforced prohibitory orders to prevent assembly of more than five persons.
The apex Singh Sahiban (clerics) at the supreme religio-political seat, the Akal Takhat, through a “hukumnama” (edict) had directed the Chief Minister, the Akali Dal leadership and the SGPC to save Rajoana from the gallows.
They also asked the people to shun work and pray for the “Chardikala” (high spirits) of Rajoana.
However, about a dozen Panthic, radical and human rights' organisations had given a call for complete bandh in solidarity with Rajoana as well as seeking revocation of the death sentence.
However, Rajoana neither contested the case against him nor did he file an appeal against the court orders. Rather he had requested an expeditious execution of the death warrants against him.
Meanwhile, the former MLA and senior Congress leader, Sukhpal Singh Khaira, through an open letter, accused Mr. Badal and the Akali leadership of playing to the gallery on a sensitive issue with a view to making political capital without accepting any responsibility.
He said the Chief Minister was unnecessarily seeking clemency from the President, when the Code of Criminal Procedure in Section 433 Para (a) fully empowered the appropriate government to commute any sentence including death penalty.
Quoting Rajoana's letter, where he had expressed lack of confidence in the Akali leadership, Mr. Khaira wrote, “The stance taken by your alliance partner BJP is a well-crafted design of yours to keep both Sikhs as well as Hindus in good humour. You are riding the sympathy wave of Sikhs by posturing to save Bhai Rajoana from the gallows and the BJP by opposing clemency is trying to keep its Hindu electorate intact. This is what is exactly called the ‘Marriage of Convenience', an art that both the parties have perfected.”
The radical outfit, Dal Khalsa, thanked the people of Punjab for extending support to bandh call. Its spokesman Kanwar Pal Singh said in a statement that the response by the people had proved beyond doubt that Khalsa Panth fully stood by Rajoana.