Thursday, March 29, 2012

Balwant Singh Rajoana gets a reprieve as Centre bows to Akali pressure

TNN | Mar 29, 2012, 02.04AM IST
NEW DELHI: Balwant Singh Rajoana, convicted for the assassination of Punjab CM Beant Singh, received an extraordinary reprieve three days before his death sentence was to be executed, with the Centre buckling under the high-pressure advocacy of the Akali Dal government. President Pratibha Patil accepted a clemency petition from Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal and his son Sukhbir Badal on Wednesday, a move that is seen to have the Centre's concurrence. The Badals came to Delhi at the behest the Akal Takht, the temporal seat of the Sikhs that directed the Punjab government to stall Rajoana's hanging.

This will be the third high profile death sentence to be subject to political pressure. The assassins of ex-PM Rajiv Gandhi and Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru being the other two. The decision to put Rajoana's execution on hold will put in motion a fresh process as the petition is sent by the Rashtrapati Bhawan to the home ministry for its consideration and advice.

The home ministry in its letter to the Punjab home department has said that as per procedure regarding mercy in death sentence cases, the execution has been stayed till the order of the Supreme Court or the President (whichever is later). Although India's recent vote against Sri Lanka relates to foreign policy, it was also a case of the government failing to resist domestic political pressure brought to bear by Tamil Nadu parties, including its ally DMK.

The Centre's decision comes in the wake of unrest in parts of Punjab, J&K with clashes between Sikh and right-wing Hindu groups. While the Akalis backed the plea, Congress also has not vociferously opposed it, despite Beant Singh having been a party leader, who was credited with providing sterling leadership that helped end terrorism in Punjab.

A Rashtrapati Bhawan spokesperson said that the President had received Rajoana's clemency petition and sent to the union home ministry. "The President met the Punjab CM and took the petition. It has been sent to the home ministry for consideration," the official said. Rajoana is a Babbar Khalsa International terrorist convicted in the assassination of Beant Singh in 1995.

The petition moved by Sikh religious body SGPC and Delhi Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee forwarded by the Punjab CM to the President. Badal also met PM earlier in the day. Beant Singh had taken on Khalistani groups by steadfastly standing by former super-cop K P S Gill who was then director general of police in Punjab. Rajoana's co-conspirator Dilawar Singh, who was the human bomb, killed Beant Singh at the high security Punjab civil secretariat on August 31, 1995.

While jailed Jagtar Singh Hawara was the mastermind of the assassination, Rajoana was the second human bomb in case the first assassin failed to kill Beant Singh. The Punjab and Haryana High Court had in October, 2010, had upheld the death sentence for Rajoana, but changed the capital punishment given to Hawara to life imprisonment. Rajoana had refused to challenge the death sentence awarded to him.

Earlier Human Rights Watch had called for a halt to the execution describing hanging as "inhuman punishment." "The death penalty is always wrong and the Indian government should immediately stop this execution," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "Beyond that, executing Rajoana would merely continue the cycle of distrust between members of the Sikh community and the Indian state that has long divided communities." Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently irreversible, inhumane punishment. "The Indian government has rightly not carried out executions for nearly a decade," Ganguly said. "It should now officially declare a moratorium, commute all existing death sentences, and then abolish the death penalty for all crimes," she added.

Source: [accessed on 29th March 2012]

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