Eye on Assembly polls, parties lap up Bhullar ‘issue’

Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar

The rejection of Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar's mercy petition by the President has stirred a hornet's nest and has catapulted it into one of the major issues in the run-up to the state Assembly elections scheduled in February next year. Though Punjab has not witnessed any major terrorist attack over the last decade and a half, issues relating to militancy and the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 invariably get back to the limelight during elections.

Khalistani ideologues abroad, particularly in some European nations and the US, have been active but have not been able to cut much ice in the state. Yet, some of the issues touch a raw nerve with a section of Punjabis and the unexpected decision on Bhullar has kicked up a debate that is likely to generate much heat over the months, particularly as parties up the ante for the election campaign.

The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) was expected to take a stand in favour of granting pardon to Bhullar and make it an election issue, particularly as "another discriminatory" act by the Centre. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal have appealed to the prime minister to intervene and stop the execution of Bhullar. They have pointed out what they call the "double standards'' of the Centre in commuting the death sentence of Dara Singh, the killer of Christian missionaries in Orissa, while confirming the death sentence of Bhullar. "It shall give a signal that there are two laws and in the country and Dara was pardoned because he belonged to the majority community while Bhullar is from a minority community,'' they said.

Given the sensitivity of the issue in Punjab, the state unit of the Congress is finding itself in an unenviable position. The Punjab Congress chief and former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh lost little time in voicing his opposition to hanging Bhullar, albeit in his personal capacity; as the central spokesman of the party said the party was opposed to questioning the President's decision.

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