New Delhi: The decision to release eight Sikh prisoners is the culmination of numerous crucial steps taken by the Union government to allay the sentiments of the Sikh community and hinder Pakistan's ‘K2’ (Kashmir & Khalistan) motive, according to senior officials in the government and security community.
The Central government on Saturday decided to grant a special dispensation to eight Sikh prisoners from various jails in the country as a humanitarian gesture on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.
In one case, a decision was taken to commute the death sentence to life imprisonment, and in the remaining eight cases, the decision was to prematurely release prisoners serving life and other sentences.
These individuals were convicted by various courts in the country for offences committed by them during the militancy period in Punjab.
The release of Sikh prisoners was a long-pending demand, raised by various sections of the Sikh community.
The above decision is another way to dilute a 35-year-old 'black list' that barred 312 members of the Sikh community, who have foreign passports, from travelling to India, officials told the Hindustan Times. They were suspected for their alleged role in the Khalistan movement in Punjab.
The pardon was in queue since 2015 and was put into action soon after the Narendra Modi government came back to power, officials said.
Its objectives was to “heal the wounds of the Sikh community” and “wean away hardliners living abroad” from a plot by Pakistan’s spy agency ISI to reactivate militancy in Punjab.
According to sources, under its ‘K2’ plan, ISI is planning to exploit sentiments in Kashmir and Punjab. “The Indian government has responded by the nullification of Article 370 to put Kashmir on the path to development, and assuaging the sentiments of the Sikh community with confidence-building measures,” an official familiar with the matter told Hindustan Times.
Foreign minister S Jaishankar, the chiefs of the Intelligence Bureau and the Research & Analysis Wing, also had a role in the rollout of the decision, apart from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
“The process of healing the wounds of the Sikh community began with the meeting of Prime Minister Modi with Sikh groups in London on November 12, 2015. In that meeting, the demand to facilitate the return of radicalised Sikh elements was raised,” said a second official.
He added that government has also fast-tracked the 1984 riots cases, dismissed the names of people from the black list and coaxed Pakistan to allow pilgrims with OCI (Overseas Citizenship of India) cards to travel through the Kartarpur Corridor.
The officials said the community outreached to Modi as a part of their effort to stop Pakistan's ISI to influence Sikh hardliners, particularly in the US, Canada and the UK. These extremists were working on lines of the Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) group.
SFJ had launched the campaign 'Referendum 2020' with an objective to seek a separate homeland for Sikhs called Khalistan.
Several prominent Sikh members and leaders lauded the Centre's decision to release the prisoners and also commute the death sentence of Punjab chief minister Beant Singh's assassin.
The Union home ministry on Sunday approved the commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment Balwant Singh Rajoana for his role in Beant Singh's assassination.
On August 31, 1995, 17 people, including the then chief minister Beant Singh, were killed in an explosion outside the Civil Secretariat in Chandigarh.
“I am personally grateful to PM Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and the central government on the whole for the decision on the Sikh prisoners’ release and commuting the death sentence of Balwant Singh Rajoana as a goodwill gesture,” Sukhi Chalal, chairman of the Punjab Foundation, wrote in a Facebook post.
“The act of kindness will go a long way in healing the wounds of the Sikh community. My gratitude as a Sikh and President of Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Southall UK,” said Sardar HS Sohi.
Meanwhile, the government is also planning to release some more prisoners from jails across the country under the scheme for special remission to prisoners to commemorate 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
So far, 1,424 prisoners have been released by states and Union Territories in two phases (October 2, 2018, and April 6, 2019).
The third phase of release is due on October 2 and action is underway by states and UTs, the spokesperson said.