Worth the risk
June 5 presented a scary sight despite the all-too-known context. Sikhs in their hundreds marched through the streets of Amritsar, with some brandishing swords and paying tributes to Bhindranwale. The anniversary of the tragic events of 1984 evokes such reactions.
The administration, with years of experience on how not to get provoked, adroitly allowed the moment to pass. The fault lines emerged and dissipated with the same suddenness. A day earlier, a shift in approach had resulted in police firing in Jammu. The Amritsar march had the potential to go wrong and Jammu conversely may well have ended up as a peaceful protest.
Punjab’s cautionary stand till now on the demand for the release of Sikh prisoners, in jails on terror-related charges, reflected a similar dilemma of whether taking the risk was worth it.Branded as being soft on terror, even by the BJP, was one concern, but the state government’s larger calculus must have also factored in the possibility of political dividends falling in the lap of the radical elements.
The reason for the Badal government finally coming into action and processing the transfer of nine militants to Punjab jails, increasing the likelihood of parole, is the worsening condition of activist Surat Singh, who is on fast.
Much of the noise is over whether life term means till the death of the prisoner, or going by different states’ norms, completing 14, 18 or 20 years’ sentence, which many Sikh prisoners have undergone. The Supreme Court has put a stay on such remissions.
Today’s top brass of Punjab Police had earned their stripes during militancy. Their familiarity with the remnants and any new rumblings has ensured an effective containment over the years. Alongside has evolved hawkishness.
The recent meeting of the DGP with a delegation of Sikh organisations thus is a welcome development. Engagement is necessary since passions run high. If continued imprisonment is made out to be an injustice, a section opposes any relief to Devinder Pal Bhullar. The issue needs dispassionate handling. There can be no harm in the homecoming of a man who has served 30 years or one who is mentally unstable.