Akali Rulers Needed to be Protector of Sikh Clergy Rather Approved Jathedar Kaunke’s Fake Police Encounter, Why?

Gurdev Singh Kaunke

Millions of Sikhs in India and abroad are perturbed over the well-established facts now that Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) instead of acting as protector of the Sikh clergy rather approved the killing of acting Akal Takht Jathedar Gurdev Singh Kaunke in the ‘fake encounter’ by Punjab police 31 years ago. It is also well-known now as per the mandate of the Congress-ruled New Delhi Establishment in those days the Punjab government headed by its party Chief Minister Beant Singh had killed thousands of Sikh youths in fake police encounters and also sanctioned the elimination of acting Akal Takht Jathedar Gurdev Singh Kaunke in 1992-end. But why did Akali Dal Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal suppress the killing of once- the head of Sikh clergy during his nearly 15 years of rule?

Was there any political consensus or secret understanding between Congress and Akalis to finish off those who had threatened both parties’ style of ruling in nexus with top police-civil bureaucracy and the corporate houses? There is no concrete answer or proof to such underhand wheeling dealings of the political class. But the circumstantial evidence and developments that followed have vouchsafed underhand deals of the political class. The Badal governments rewarded all those top police officers with plump positions who were infamous for killing the Sikh youth in fake encounters during the preceding Congress rule in Punjab.     

Another pertinent question the Sikhs ask is why the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), a statutory Sikh religious body remained silent on Jathedar Kaunke’s killing. The SGPC is a custodian and regulating authority of the Akal Takht, the supreme spiritual and temporal seat for the Sikhs. It has been controlled by the Badal Akali Dal for the past several decades.   

Historically, the Akali Dal, a political outfit of the Sikhs came into being in 1920 when the Sikh community was struggling to get their gurdwaras (Sikh shrines) liberated from the British-backed mahants (hereditary priests) and the community made a lot of sacrifices to achieve the goal. Since the very inception of the SGPC in 1925, the Akali Dal has continuously been controlling it. And even as Akali Dal now claimed it to be a Punjabi Party but Sikh community has still been its dominant electoral base. All this makes it morally and otherwise incumbent on the Akali Dal that it should act as custodian and protector of the Sikh clergy. But it happened the other way around.

Events leading to the elimination of Jathedar Kaunke and developments thereafter speak volumes for themselves. The Akali Dal headed by Parkash Singh Badal contested the Punjab assembly polls in 1997 with a promise in the party’s ‘election manifesto’ that it would punish the police officials who had committed excesses on innocent Sikh families and killed the youth in fake police encounters during their preceding Congress and governor’s rule. As expected, when Mr. Badal became Chief Minister, the aggrieved Sikhs, and human rights activists particularly ‘the Punjab Human Rights Organization (PHRO)’ headed by retired Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court Ajit Singh Bains also pressed for an inquiry into the killing of Jathedar Kaunke. After several representations, Mr Badal ordered an inquiry into the killing of Jathedar Kaunke by the Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) B P Tewari in 1998. After six months in 1999, the ADGP submitted his investigation report to the Chief Minister. The Badal government suppressed that report and ignored all the queries about it thereafter during his two subsequent Badal governments in 2007 to 2012 and 2012 to 2017. Till today, the report has not been released officially and the Jadhedar is being shown as ABSCONDING in police record.

However, in 2010, another Akali Dal faction headed by Simranjit Singh Mann moved High Court to secure a copy of the BP Tewari report. To bypass the Court’s directions, the Badal government instituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under Police IG JP Birdi and rendered the BP report infructuous.

This shows how much importance the Badal government had given to the Tewari report and rebuts the fresh claims of SAD under Sukhbir Singh Badal that the said report was incomplete and useless.

After the army attack on the Durbar Sahib, Amritsar in June 1984, the then incumbent Akal Takht Jathedar Kirpal Singh whom Sikhs accused of failing to perform the role that befitted his position, had stopped coming to the Akal Takht secretariat. The United Akali Dal headed by acting president Baba Joginder Singh and the Sikh Students’ Federation leaders virtually controlled the SGPC affairs and the Akal Takht. Both outfits in collaboration with Damdami Taksal organized ‘sarbat khalsa’ (a gathering of Sikh community’s representatives) at the Akal Takht on 26 January 1986. That gathering appointed Jasbir Singh Rode as Jathedar of the Akal Takht. Since Jathedar Rode was incarcerated in the Sagar prison, Gurdev Singh Kaunke was appointed as acting Jathedar till the former was released from jail. Jathedar Kaunke performed the duties as Akal Takht Jathedar till he was arrested following the announcement of ‘Khalistan” by a five-member Panthic Committee from Durbar Sahib on 29 April, 1986.     

Now some dedicated human rights activists managed to procure a copy of the report from the official records. Then, they submitted that Tewari report to present to Akal Takht Jathdar Giani Raghbir Singh and requested him to act upon it. Now Akal Takht has taken cognizance of that report and directed the SGPC to get the police case registered into the elimination of Jathedar Kaunke in the fake police encounter.    

According to the 11-page report, a murder of a person took place in Kaunke, the native village of Jathedar Kaunke falling under the Jagraon police station on 7 December 1992. A few days later, the Jagraon police near Ludhiana picked up Jathedar Kaunke from his village. Following pressure from villagers, the Jathedar was released from police custody to perform the last rites of a small child who died in his family. The report says that on 25 December 1992, a Jagraon police party again came to Kaunke village, and encircled the village gurdwara in which Jathedar was performing religious rites. He was picked up from within the gurdwara in the presence of 200 villagers who had gathered there. For seven days, the Jathedar was given third-degree torture in the Jagraon CIA investigation center. The report records the witnesses of the torture who narrated that the jathedar was tortured in the CIA center. Later the body of the Jathedar was disposed of at the bank of Sutlej river.

The next day, the police concocted a story that the jathedar was being taken to a nearby village for the recovery of illegal arms hidden there. The jathedar broke the belt of police constable Tarsem Singh with which the former was chained and ran away from the police custody. In this respect, another FIR was recorded in the Jagraon police station on 2 Jan 1993 against the Jathedar saying that he had run away from the police custody. To make the police story sound more authentic, the police suspended Tarsem Singh for his lack of alertness which facilitated the Jathdear to escape. Since then the Jathedar has been shown as absconding. But soon the suspended constable Tarsem Singh was given promotion which itself debunk the police story.  

The report also quotes that Akali Dal chief Mr Badal happened to come to Jagraon to meet his party leaders in those days. He was informed by his party leaders about the arrest of the Jathedar. Mr. Badal phoned SSP Swaran Singh and asked him to give fair treatment to the Jathedar and arrange homely cooked food for him.

Interestingly, the entire story of Jathedar Kaunke’s “disappearance” from police custody was documented as early as 1999 by an eminent human rights activist late Ram Narayan Kumar. That documentation is part of his book “Terror in Punjab- Narrative, Knowledge and Truth” published in 2008 (SHIPRA Publications, Delhi). In the detailed report under the heading “The Life and the Death of a Sikh Priest”, spreading over 20 pages (from pages 58 to 78) Mr. Kumar penned down statements of Jathedar’s family members including his wife Gurmail Kaur, villagers, police officers including SSP Swarn Singh and also a recorded interview of ex-army man Darshan Singh who was reemployed by the Jagraon police and who had frequently visited the CIA investigation center. The book also carries the interviews of Ranjit Singh and Mohinder Singh, one from Kaunke village, who were also lodged in the CIA center when the Jathedar being tortured there.

Following Jathedar Raghbir Singh directions, a team of SGPC staff has now visited the family of Jathedar Kaunke for the first time after his elimination 31 years ago. The Sikh circles now view the Akal Takht and SGPC activities as a cover-up exercise and ask why incumbent Jathedar does not pinpoint an accusing finger of the Akali Dal which is equally guilty of suppressing the brutal murder by police.

The Sikhs, however, are not very hopeful that the present APP government in Punjab would take appropriate action on the Tewari report as it has chosen to be mum on the issue for the past several weeks. end                                            

Jaspal Singh Sidhu, an independent journalist can be reached at [email protected]           

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