Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa’s indefinite fast enters 40th day

As the indefinite fast of former Sikh militant Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa, seeking the release of six Sikh terrorists convicted for life, entered the 40th day on Wednesday, a jittery Punjab government used its good offices to grant parole for four of them.

While Lal Singh, who was lodged in the Nabha jail in Punjab was granted parole last week, Gurmeet Singh was granted parole on Wednesday. Parole proceedings are under way for two others — Shamsher Singh and Lakhwinder Singh —sentenced to life for the assassination of Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh in 1995. They are lodged in Burail jail here.

As the issue gains momentum in Punjab, with radical Sikh groups leading the way and being joined by human rights activists and some top Punjabi singers, the fast by this farmer-turned-activist from Kurukshetra in Haryana has put the government in a bind.

Top sources in the government told The Hindu that this is because the complete release of these prisoners is not in the hands of the State government as all of them were booked by other States, and their trials and appeals also lie outside Punjab. Though Gurbaksh Singh and his supporters have taken the plea that the six former terrorists convicted under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) have completed their terms and should be released, the legal position is more complex.

Since all the six prisoners are sentenced to life imprisonment under Central Acts, any remission of their sentences can only be done by the respective State governments in which their cases are being heard, in consultation with the Centre. Punjab’s own policy of remission and commuting of life imprisonment does not consider convicts’ cases of heinous crimes, sources said.

However, since Gurbaksh Singh’s fast has acquired emotive appeal across Punjab and in the Sikh disapora, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal not only fast-tracked the parole of the four convicts in the State but also took up the matter with his counterparts in Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh, urging those governments to see if Waryam Singh and Gurdeep Singh, the other two convicts lodged in those States, can be given some relief by way of parole.

The task of pursuing a parole for the convicts became easier for the Badal government after a grandson of the late Beant Singh publicly announced that the family has no objection if those convicted for his assassination are released.

Meanwhile, Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh issued an edict from the Sikh temporal seat in Amritsar asking Gurbaksh Singh to end his fast.