Akali Dal urges India’s Home Minister to release Sikh prisoners; BJP differs

New Delhi/Hyderabad (IANS): Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal Thursday urged union Home Minister Rajnath Singh to get released 13 Sikh prisoners, mostly Khalistani terrorists and supporters, who were “languishing” in prisons despite completing their sentences.

But the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which runs the central government, differed on this issue with the Akali Dal, its alliance partner in Punjab.

Badal, who is also the Shiromani Akali Dal president, led a party delegation that appealed to the union home minister to direct various state governments holding Sikh detainees to release them. He said that some of these prisoners were “aged and even blind”.

The detainees had “completed their required sentence and are eligible for release under the premature release policy”, he said.

Badal told reporters after meeting the home minister in New Delhi that he sought their release on “humanitarian grounds”.

“There are many prisoners who have served their sentence… There are people who are 80-90 years old. Some of them are blind. They have been in jail for 25-30 years,” he said, adding his party sought their release “on humanitarian grounds”

He emphasised that the demand did not make the Akali Dal “anti-national”.

Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal had earlier written to his counterparts in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Karnataka and Gujarat, the Delhi lt governor and Chandigarh’s administrator seeking “premature release” of the prisoners.

BJP president Amit Shah however told reporters in Hyderabad that the BJP did not agree with the Akali Dal demand.

“The BJP doesn’t agree with this,” he told a news conference, when asked about the request from its ally.

Badal, who was accompanied by senior party leader Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) president Avtar Singh Makkar, said Rajnath Singh had promised to go through the list of prisoners submitted by him. Badal refused to share the list with the media.

Briefing the home minister, Badal said that there were 182 life convicts in jails in Punjab who had undergone the minimum sentence and could be considered for premature release subject to prescribed policy parameters.

He said that “there was a sentiment in Punjab that those detainees, who had already completed their sentences and were eligible for premature release, should be released forthwith”.

“When a prisoner spends more than the stipulated period in jail but is still not released despite eligibility for the same it causes resentment amongst his near and dear ones and also gives rise for agitation among particular sections of society,” Badal told Rajnath Singh.

Badal pointed out that while the Punjab government could not move the cases of premature release of the 13 detainees in other states, it could not exercise the power of remission in case of the 182 prisoners in Punjab jails following a restraining order passed by the Supreme Court in July 2014.

He said that the Punjab government had decided to move an application before the Supreme Court to allow it to exercise the premature release policy for all lifers who have completed their required sentence and were eligible for remission.

“Our party is only endorsing the sentiments of the Punjabis and no one should try to label it as an anti-national party. The same yardstick has been used by the centre to free some convicts earlier. Our national credentials are impeccable. The SAD has not only participated in the freedom struggle but was also in the forefront in the fight against emergency,” Badal claimed.

The 13 detainees in other states include Waryam Singh (Uttar Pradesh), Gurmeet Singh (Rajasthan), Daya Singh Lahoria (West Bengal, but lodged in Delhi’s Tihar jail), Lal Singh (Gujarat, but lodged in Nabha jail in Punjab), Gurdeep Singh Khaira (Karnataka), Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar, Paramjeet Singh Bheora and Jagtar Singh Hawara (all three lodged in Delhi’s Tihar jail), Gurmeet Singh, Shamsher Singh, Lakhwinder Singh, Subeg Singh and Nand Singh (all lodged in Chandigarh).