Chandigarh, Dec. 1: Former cricketer and now MP, Navjyot Singh Sidhu, was today convicted for causing the death of a 65-year-old man 18 years ago as the season of past acts returning to haunt famous people lengthened.
According to the charges, Gurnam Singh died after Sidhu beat him up during an argument over parking cars near the State Bank of Patiala head office where the cricketer used to work.
The verdict has caused deep embarrassment in the BJP, which Sidhu represents in Parliament, at a time when it was attacking the Congress over Shibu Soren, the coal minister who resigned after being convicted earlier in the week in a murder case.
On the same day, actor Sanjay Dutt was also pronounced guilty of illegal possession of arms.
Gurnam’s widow Vimaljit, 71, called Sidhu’s conviction “justice delayed”. Speaking from her house in Ghalori village near Patiala, she said: “This sentence has little meaning for me as I have already spent a lifetime awaiting justice. It has been a long 18-year wait.”
Sidhu resigned as an MP — the 43-year-old ex-batsman is a first-time member from Amritsar — but Speaker Somnath Chatterjee said the resignation could not be accepted in its present form. In the letter, Sidhu said: “I have always stood for truth and moral grounds and these principles are above any office or power that I hold.”
He now has to send another letter, following the rules.
The verdict was pronounced by a division bench of Punjab and Haryana High Court, overruling the September 1999 order of the Patiala sessions judge acquitting Sidhu and another accused, Rupinder Singh Sandhu.
According to the prosecution, Sidhu and Sandhu had an argument with the deceased and Jaswinder Singh, Gurnam’s relative, over parking their cars. Dragging Gurnam out, Sidhu hit him several times. When Jaswinder intervened, he was beaten by Sandhu, who too has been held guilty.
Jaswinder took Gurnam to a hospital where he was declared brought dead. On Jaswinder’s complaint, police registered a case and booked Sidhu and Sandhu, but they were acquitted.
Today they were declared guilty under Section 304(2) of the IPC for culpable homicide not amounting to murder, which carries a maximum punishment of 10 years or fine or both.
The court fixed December 6 as the next date of hearing arguments on the quantum of sentence to be awarded to Sidhu and Sandhu.
In its 30-page judgment, the high court refused to accept Sidhu’s explanation that he had reached the spot after the incident and had seen the deceased lying on the ground and was falsely framed because of his fame as a cricketer. Sidhu has played in 51 Tests and 136 one-day matches in a 16-year career for India.
The bench felt it was difficult to digest that a person known to everyone could be falsely implicated in a crime that happened on a busy road and in full public view. It also pointed out that Gurnam’s death had been caused by haemorrhage due to the blows and not cardiac arrest.
Sidhu’s counsel Vinod Ghai said a special leave petition would be filed in the Supreme Court depending on the quantum of punishment awarded. “We will wait till December 6 and then decide on our future course of action. The doors are still open,” he said.
Jaswinder said the family would contest any plea for leniency by Sidhu in the Supreme Court. “I can never forget the way they were beating Gurnam. He never offered resistance but they continued to rain blows on him.”
Sidhu, who is more popular as a television entertainer than he was as a cricketer, was still speaking thirteen to a dozen. Or attempted to as he talked to the media in Parliament on deciding to resign after the verdict.
“If ifs and buts were pots and pans, there would be no tinkers,” he said when asked what if his resignation was rejected.