The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Akalis ready Badal backlash

Chandigarh, Dec. 2: The Shiromani Akali Dal today announced a mass movement from December 8, Parkash Singh Badal’s birthday, against the Amarinder Singh-led Congress government in Punjab.

Akali leader and former chief minister Badal and his son Sukhbir, a Rajya Sabha member, were placed in judicial custody yesterday after a chargesheet was filed against them alleging assets disproportionate to income.

A meeting of the Akali political affairs committee, chaired by Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee chief Gurcharan Singh Tohra, decided to launch the agitation from Patiala, chief minister Amarinder Singh’s constituency, in defiance of his declared determination to not allow the opposition party to hold a demonstration in the state.

The committee said the charges against Badal and Sukhbir had been “cooked up”.

Roop sarkar banoandee hai (The choice is with the government). I cannot now say what turn it will take,” Tohra said in response to expression of fears of violence.

Badal and Sukhbir are in custody till December 13 in Patiala Jail in a Rs 78-crore disproportionate assets case. Their bail application will come up for hearing tomorrow.

Tohra said the Badals were being treated shabbily. “While Badal has been lodged in the same room where Akali ‘shaheed’ Sewa Singh Theekriwala had died of a hunger strike, Sukhbir has been confined to a 12/6-ft cell where hardened criminals are kept,” he said.

Theekriwala, he added, had protested against Amarinder’s grandfather Maharaja Bhupinder Singh’s “tyrannical” rule and had been jailed on charges of stealing a utensil.

A senior police officer explained that the decision to lodge Badal in the cell where Theekriwala had breathed his last followed orders “from above”. “We had kept two rooms ready but were told to shift Badal and Sukhbir to the cells they now occupy minutes before their arrival. Father and son are not being allowed to meet,” the officer said.

Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, a Union minister and the general secretary of the Akali Dal, said Badal would continue to lead the party from jail. “We will observe Badal’s birthday at gurdwara Dukhniwaran Sahib in Patiala on December 8 followed by a Jabar Virodhi (anti-repression) rally. We would like to see how Amarinder can stop us from holding the rally,” Dhindsa said.

“From December 9, groups of 101 Akali workers will stage daily sit-ins outside Patiala Jail demanding the Badals’ release.”

Dispelling fears that Punjab could witness political turmoil and make conditions ripe for the return of terrorism, Tohra said the Akalis had always, even against the British, began their agitation peacefully. “It is the government of the day which made them turn violent,” he added.

“We are aware that things could get out of our hands and lead to violence. But…if the government resorts to violence to stop our rally on December 8, we know how to hit back,” a senior leader said.

Akali legislators have been asked to assemble in Badal’s official residence here tomorrow to discuss strategy for the rally and the agitation.

A government spokesman said the legislators would not be allowed to reach Chandigarh.

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