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Cop revisits Longowal murder

Bhopal, Dec. 3: On July 24, 1985, Sant Harchand Singh Longowal signed the Punjab Accord with Rajiv Gandhi. Less than a month later he was dead, gunned down as he stood, head bowed in prayers.

Twenty-eight years on, a former top cop who was director-general of police when the Shiromani Akali Dal president was killed at the height of the insurgency in Punjab, has questioned the “motive” behind Longowal’s assassination.

In Time Present & Time Past; Memoirs of A Top Cop (published by Penguin), Kripal Dhillon has accused several former Congress leaders of playing a “dubious game” to scuttle the accord.

Dhillon, who lives in Bhopal now, says the late Arjun Singh and his men were “constructively accountable” for the August 1985 murder, less than a year after Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

Arjun was then governor of Punjab and the state was under President’s rule.

In his book, which came out last month, Dhillon also pointed a finger at former President Zail Singh and former Union home minister Buta Singh who, he claims, were out to “negate” whatever Longowal and Rajiv Gandhi, who was the Prime Minister then, were “trying to achieve”.

Longowal, a moderate, had basically agreed to settle outstanding disputes, including linguistic and territorial aspirations, within the framework of the Constitution. Dhillon says Longowal, a devout man, sought guidance from the Sikh holy book to overcome his reluctance. After “offering ardas” (prayer while standing with folded hands), he opened the holy book randomly. “The first stanza on the page read, “Duvidha Chhad, Guru Tere angsang (abandon indecision, the Guru is with you).”

Longowal made up his mind to negotiate peace with Delhi.

Those opposed to the accord called it a “sellout”.

Dhillon, a 1953-batch IPS officer of the Madhya Pradesh cadre, gives a graphic account of the morning of August 20, 1985, when Longowal was killed in Sherpur, a village near his hometown Longowal in Punjab’s Sangrur district. “Two young men sitting behind the Sant whipped out their revolvers and shot at the Sant as he bowed in prayers after the ardas,” the former DGP writes, recounting what G.I.S. Bhuller, SSP of Patiala district, had told him.

“Predictably, the firing led to much commotion among the worshippers, though some had presence of mind to lie on top of the Sant, thus shielding his body from further attack,” Dhillon says.

A “police officer then apparently appeared and asked those protecting the Sant to let him get up as the alleged assailants had been caught. It was then that the Sant was fatally shot again”.

Dhillon, who had taken over as DGP a month after Operation Bluestar in June 1984, says the governor’s men were aware of the critical breach of security and were “constructively accountable” for the murder. “Who was really behind the crucial replacement in the proximate security set-up of Sant Longowal which had apparently facilitated the foul-deed? What was the motive for elimination of the Sant who was poised to play a historic role at that crucial stage in Punjab history?” he asks.

According to Dhillon, “Longowal had credibility among Hindus and Sikhs. This did not suit Zail Singh and Buta Singh and their supporters in the Punjab Congress, who had been playing a dubious game to negate whatever Longowal and Rajiv Gandhi were trying to achieve”.

The author claims Arjun had created a wedge between Longowal and two senior Akali leaders, Parkash Singh Badal, the current chief minister, and Gurcharan Singh Tohra, former head of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), and manipulated the rise of Surjit Singh Barnala, a political lightweight among the Akalis.

In Dhillon’s assessment, Arjun wanted to install Barnala as chief minister. “As it happened, Arjun had a hand in selecting candidates for the legislative elections of September 1985, both for the Congress and the Akali parties.... It had to be ensured that the selection of Akali candidates was made in such a way that Barnala — not Badal — would emerge as the leader of Akalis since Arjun Singh found the former easier to manage.”

A government headed by Barnala was sworn in on September 29, 1985 — 40 days after Longowal was killed.

The CBI, which probed Longowal’s assassination, said extremist groups had not taken kindly to the accord and, therefore, decided to take their revenge.