The announcement by Balwant Singh Rajoana, who is on death row after being convicted in the Beant Singh assassination case, that he would field independent candidates in two of the 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab has stirred a debate in Punjab.

In a letter sent from the Patiala high security prison,said he had chosen Patiala and Anandpur Sahib seats to put up his candidates, as the families of the sitting MPs had worked against the interest of the Sikh Panth.

Patiala has been represented for the last 14 years by the present Union Minister of State for External Affairs, Preneet Kaur. Her husband Captain Amarinder Singh, is a scion of the royal family of the erstwhile Patiala princely State and former Chief Minister of Punjab. In the last elections, Anandpur Sahib returned former Punjab Youth Congress president, Ravneet Singh, who is the grandson of Beant Singh, who as Chief Minister was assassinated by a suicide bomber at the VIP entry of the Punjab and Haryana civil secretariat in 1995.

Rajoana’s letter — whose contents were confirmed by his sister Kamaljit Kaur — also said the purpose of fielding candidates was to convey the voice of the Khalsa and “grief of blood-ridden land of five rivers” to the entire world through Parliament.

The Director of the Institute for Development and Communication, Pramod Kumar, says Rajoana’s announcement has provided a new dimension to the debate on preventing convicted persons from getting elected to Parliament or the Legislatures. “A convicted person may be barred from contesting, but how are we going to legislate and prevent such individuals from putting up candidates or even orchestrating the elections? The debate on the issue should not rest at just preventing the convicted persons from contesting, but seeking a holistic answer towards cleansing the polity,” he told The Hindu .

Dr. Kumar felt Rajoana’s announcement also provided evidence that violent trends, especially in secessionist politics, were becoming more redundant and losing acceptability. More hardliners and militants seeking to articulate their viewpoint in the moderate space could only be a welcome development in a democratic setup.

It is worth noting that unlike others, including Babbar Khalsa operative Jagtar Singh Hawara, who were also convicted in the same case, Rajoana decided not to seek any legal remedy against the trial court verdict. Rajoana had appealed to the Akal Takht and the Sikh community, not to seek clemency for him, as he did not believe in the Indian justice delivery system.

Veteran journalist Jagtar Singh, who authored the book ‘ Khalistan struggle: a non-movement,’ views the development as an expression of a latent sentiment in a section of the Sikh community that aspires to salvage its “lost glory” of exercising sovereign power. He recalls that hardliners had participated in the Lok Sabha elections in 1989, when they had decimated the Shiromani Akali Dal, currently led by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. Bimal Kaur Khalsa, wife of one of the assassins of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and pro-hardline leader Simranjit Singh Mann, were among the prominent winners then.

“Continuous process”

Mr. Singh points out that assimilation of hardliners into the mainstream politics was a continuous process. He quotes the examples of MLA Virsa Singh Valtoha and Harminder Singh Gill, who have joined the Akali Dal and Congress, respectively. Similarly, Rajinder Singh Mehta and Amarjit Singh Chawla are also functionaries in the Akali Dal and are beneficiaries of moderate politics. All these four leaders were once close associates of the firebrand militant leader, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and were arrested during the ‘Operation Bluestar.’

Dal Khalsa International, now a political party with a radical agenda seeking a separate Sikh nation, was listed among the militant organisations. It was banned in 1982 after its members hijacked Indian Airlines plane to Lahore to protest the arrest of Bhindranwale. The 10-year ban lapsed in 1992, after which the members revived their “non-violent” activities, including fielding candidates for the elections to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee.

Advising him to stay away from electoral politics, Dal Khalsa International spokesman Kanwarpal Singh argued that by fielding candidates, Rajoana would negate everything he had been articulating, especially his stance on high values in public life, for which he was accepted as a role model among the youth. The Dal Khalsa leader also reminded that after venturing into mainstream politics, the various radicals had not only failed to pursue their mission, but also become as “maligned as other components of the system they had once rebelled against.”

“Hardliners and militants seeking to articulate their viewpoint in the moderate space can only be a welcome development in a democratic setup”