In the run-up to February 2017 Punjab Assembly polls, then ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) faced the blame for a string of incidents of desecration of the holy book, Guru Granth Sahib and police firing on anti-sacrilege protesters at Behbal Kalan and Kotkapura which led to death of two Sikhs besides injuries to many others in October 2015.

The situation appears no different for the Akali Dal ahead of Lok Sabha polls. The issue is heating up again with the arrests and summoning of senior police officers related to the police firing. And indications are that then Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal could be the next in the firing line of this case related to the sentiments of Sikhs. Anticipating his arrest in the case, SAD patron Badal has offered it in advance in order to bring an end to the alleged witchhunt ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.

Addressing a Press conference, Badal asked the Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh “to put a stop to the high drama being enacted in the name of a probe into the Kotkapura and Behbal Kalaan incidents”.

“Instead tell me where I should come and offer myself for arrest, since this is the sole aim of the ongoing political witch-hunt,” he said, adding that even before any inquiry was instituted or started into these incidents, Amarinder, Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar and their senior party and cabinet colleagues had been pronouncing him (Badal) guilty.

“All this is being done only to create a political climate to justify the final goal of feeding their lust for vendetta and hatred for me, which can be satisfied only by putting me behind bars,” the Akali veteran said.

While former Punjab Director General of Police (DGP) Sumedh Singh Saini has been summoned by the Punjab Police Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the cases of sacrilege and firing incidents in Punjab in 2015, the SIT has already arrested two senior police officers ~ Inspector General (IG) of Police Parampal Singh Umranangal and former Moga Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Charanjit Sharma ~ in connection with the firing incidents.

Speaking in the budget session of the Assembly, CM Amarinder Singh said some ‘high-profile’ persons of the state may soon face action in the Behbal Kalan and Kotkapura police firing incidents.

Referring to the arrests and the CM’s statement, Badal said he did not want anyone else to suffer or be harassed unnecessarily in this ongoing vendetta politics. “It was the same thing with the Justice Ranjit Singh Commission probe in which the CM declared me guilty even before setting up the Commission. He (Amarinder) has now gone to the extent of declaring on the floor of the Assembly that his vendetta will reach the highest level. Everyone knows what he means by the highest level. So why waste the state’s time on hypocrisy? I offer myself for arrest so that the state’s energies are not put to destructive waste any longer,” the Akali leader said.

The former CM even rang up the state Director General of Police (DGP) Dinkar Gupta and told him that he was available in Chandigarh for arrest and could wait if they needed time. “Otherwise, I am available for arrest whenever, wherever you want me,” he told the DGP.

Reacting strongly to Badal’s dramatic challenge to ‘put him in jail’ if the CM dared, Amarinder ridiculed it as another piece of drama from Badal Senior, who was finding himself cornered on the issue of the sacrilege cases, in the backdrop of the findings of the Ranjit Singh Commission.

Rejecting the Akali patron’s allegation of a political witchhunt by his government, Amarinder said the SIT was a completely independent entity, with no interference whatsoever from the government.

All that his government had clarified, time and again, was that anyone found guilty of killing innocent people in these firings would not be spared, whatever his position or political standing, said the CM. He said the people of Punjab were not fools and could see through the antics of the Akalis, led by Badal, who were only showing their desperation in the face of an imminent Lok Sabha poll defeat with such capers.

According to the findings of Justice Ranjit Singh Commission which probed sacrilege incidents, then CM Badal was “aware” of the proposed action of the police to disperse the protesters at Kotkapura in Faridkot by using force. But the SAD maintains the report has no sanctity as “it has been prepared with collusion of Congress only to damage SAD in Punjab”.

Badal maintains he never ordered police firing on protesters at Behbal Kalan and Kotkapura, which left two persons dead. But the issue of police firing on anti-sacrilege protestors is attached to the sentiments of Sikhs, it dents SAD’s claim of being the sole champion of Panth (Sikh religion) and its core constituency of Panthic (Sikh religious) votes which have been with the party ever since its formation.

As per the 2011 census, 57.69 per cent of the state’s population follows Sikhism and SAD is on the backfoot yet again over the issue.