Backed by ruling Akali Dal, the SGPC, apex religious body of Sikhs, will file a clemency appeal before the President for Balwant Singh Rajoana, who is on death row for the 1995 killing of Punjab chief minister Beant Singh, even as ally BJP steered clear of the issue.
At an emergency meeting convened and chaired by the Shiromani Akali Dal president and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, the Core Committee said this evening that the party was prepared to "go to any extent to secure clemency for Bhai Rajoana so that the hard earned atmosphere of peace and communal harmony in the state is not disturbed."
Amid the campaign seeking support for clemency to Rajoana, which has even been endorsed by Beant's family, the Patiala Central Jail returned his death warrant for the second time in less than a week.
Patiala Jail Superintendent Lakhwinder Singh Jakhar, who had returned the warrant for execution of Rojana, informed Additional Sessions Judge Shalini Singh Nagpal (Chandigarh) that there were legal infirmities in the procedure followed and Punjab state had no territorial jurisdiction in the matter.
The Core Committe meeting, which deliberated the issue for over 2 hours and noted that the death warrant had been returned as the sentence could not be carried out in Punjab, asked the Shiromani Gurudwara Parbhandhak Committee to immediately file a clemency appeal for Rajoana before the President of India.
It also asked the Punjab government to take all possible legal and other steps to secure clemency for him, party general secretary Daljeet Singh Cheema said.
Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, who was present at the meeting, said that he would make a special statement on the subject in the assembly on Monday.
Meanwhile, Rajoana has refused the title of 'Zinda Shaheed' (living martyr) bestowed on him by the top temporal seat of Sikhs -- the Akal Takht-- and said he will prefer to be hanged.
In a statement issued through his sister Kamaljeet Kaur, who had met him in Patiala jail on Saturday, Rajoana said "I will prefer to be termed a shaheed after I am hanged."
The SAD Core Committee appealed to all political parties, organisations and citizens to extend support for the cause of clemency for Rajoana, who is scheduled to be hanged in Patiala Central Jail on March 31, to maintain peace and communal harmony in the state and the country.
However, SAD ally BJP was evasive on the issue of supporting clemency for Rajoana, a Babbar Khalsa terrorist.
"It is for the courts to decide and nobody has a right to interfere," Punjab BJP chief Ashwani Sharma told reporters.
"The BJP's stand on terrorism is very clear. We oppose it in any form. Moreover, this issue is for the courts to see and the law will take its course," he said.
Earlier this week also, the Patiala jail superintendent had returned the warrant of execution.
The committee appreciated the fact that the Punjab government had "already taken a decision not to execute the death warrant against Rajoana", and fully backed the efforts being taken by the government to secure clemency for him.
The Sikh clergy has also directed Badal and SGPC head Avtar Singh Makkar to make efforts to avert the hanging of the condemned prisoner.
Rajoana, who is now in Patiala jail, was earlier lodged in Burail jail in Chandiarh.
He had expressed desire to donate his body and eyes, Patiala jail sources said.
A special CBI court had awarded death sentence to Rajoana and Jagtar Singh Hawara in the Beant Singh case on August 1, 2007.
3 others -- Lakhwinder Singh, Gurmeet Singh and Shamsher Singh -- were sentenced to life imprisonment for hatching the conspiracy to kill Beant Singh.
Rajoana did not appeal against the judgment. The death penalty of Hawara, who filed an appeal against it, was commuted to life sentence.
On August 31, 1995 as Beant Singh stepped out of his office at the high-security Punjab civil secretariat in Chandigarh, a suicide bomber Dilawar Singh blew himself up, killing the then chief minister.
Rajoana was the 2nd human bomb to be used in case Dilawar had failed in his mission.
State Congress on Sunday joined the chorus seeking clemency for him.
State Congress chief Amarinder Singh also assured support and cooperation to the state government, whether legal or by way of making an appeal to the President, in this regard.
"Sardar Beant Singh gave his life for peace in Punjab and the members of his family today are united in their belief that peace must be maintained in the state at all costs," he said.
It is not the first time that there is clamour for saving a death row convict in Punjab.
Badal had been part of the delegation of Sikh leaders which had met President to seek commutation of death sentence to Harjinder Singh Jinda and Sukhdev Singh Sukha who had killed Gen (retd) A S Vaidya, who was chief of the Army when it stormed the Golden Temple [ Images ] in Operation Blue Star [ Get Quote ] in June 1984.
Jinda and Sukha were hanged in October 1992.
(source: Rediff News)