Chandigarh: The National Investigation Agency (NIA) last week summoned at least 40 people, directly or indirectly associated with the ongoing farmers’ agitation, to appear for questioning in connection with a case filed against the banned Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), among others.
The FIR registered by the NIA on 15 December — a fortnight after thousands of farmers from Punjab and Haryana reached the borders of Delhi to protest against the three central farm laws — centres mainly around the SFJ, a US-based Khalistani group that was declared outlawed by the Indian government under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in July last year.
“SFJ leadership has planned large-scale disruptive activities intended to damage government and private property, and also disrupt supplies and services essential to the life of the community in India,” stated the FIR, a copy of which was seen by ThePrint. The outfit has been booked under various sections of the IPC and the UAPA.
The NIA’s move to link farmers’ protest to the SFJ is largely being seen as an attempt by the Centre to delegitimise the agitation. But by doing so, the probe agency has also ended up lending credibility to a secessionist outfit that has failed to draw any response in Punjab, and was looking for attention after its failed ‘Referendum 2020’.
The outfit’s much touted referendum to garner support for the creation of Khalistan, a separate Sikh nation, elicited little response in Punjab last year. It has now been postponed to August this year and will start, to begin with, only in the UK.
Intelligence officers said the FIR naming SFJ is a “lazy approach to counter terrorism”.
The Congress said the SFJ is “a defunct organisation” that no one takes seriously, “except probably the NIA because it gives them a handle to harass the farmers”.
Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh Monday slammed the BJP-led NDA government for resorting to such “reprehensible and oppressive tactics”. “Do these farmers look like secessionists and terrorists?”
Farmer leaders, meanwhile, said anyone, including the SFJ, that is mixing the Khalistan matter with the protest is “playing right into the hands of the central government”.
‘SFJ a low hanging fruit’
Security agencies in Punjab feel the NIA has gone after a “low hanging fruit” by registering the FIR.
“Whether the FIR is politically motivated or not is not for me to comment, but to centre it around SFJ is a lazy approach to counter terrorism,” said a senior intelligence officer in Punjab, who refused to be named.
“The SFJ is an organisation that cries from rooftops that it wants attention. They issue press notes, videos, threats, reward announcements every morning,” he added.
Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar told ThePrint that “SFJ is a defunct organisation”.
“They issue ridiculous statements which no one takes seriously, except probably the NIA because it gives them a handle to harass the farmers. If the NIA has the courage, it should interrogate Arnab Goswami and find out how he had access to sensitive information,” he said.
Phone calls and reward money
Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the face of SFJ and its legal advisor, was designated as a terrorist last year. After his social media pages were banned in India, Pannun started using phone-recorded messages to spread his agenda.
“Sikhs have fought for India’s freedom and sacrificed their lives. NIA has raised the bogey of SFJ to discredit the farmers. Who is SFJ? They got some 2,000 people to register for the referendum. Pannun keeps sending recorded messages through calls and we just bang the phone down listening to his voice,” said Parambans Singh Bunty Romana, president of Youth Akali Dal, Punjab.
The SFJ has also started offering money to get people to do his bidding in its desperate attempt to elicit some response. Pannun even offered that he will get people visas to the US and Canada as a reward.
Last year, he announced that he would give $2,500 (over Rs 1.8 lakh) to anyone who would hoist the Khalistan flag on a government building in Punjab. Following this, three men raised a saffron flag with Khalistan written on it atop the deputy commissioner’s office in Moga.
“SFJ sent them a paltry Rs 19,000, and not $2,500 as promised. Now all three are in jail for listening to Pannun,” said the intelligence officer quoted above.
Both Pannun and the SFJ are facing multiple cases of sedition in India.
The SFJ had earlier gained notoriety for getting provincial courts in the US and Canada to issue summons to Indian politicians travelling abroad on account of human rights violations.
‘SFJ used to mute farmer agitation’
During last week’s Supreme Court hearing on the farmers’ protest, it was said the SFJ had offered Rs 10,000 to anyone who joins the protest.
“And this was enough for the Government of India to declare that Khalistani elements had entered the agitation. Does NIA have any proof of anyone having taken that Rs 10,000?” Gurmeet Singh of BKU (Dakaunda) asked.
Ahead of the farmers’ tractor rally on 26 January, the SFJ gave a call to the protesters to raise the Khalistan flag at India Gate on Republic Day and receive a reward of $2,50,000 (over Rs 1.8 crore).
Kanwar Pal Singh, who heads Sikh organisation Dal Khalsa, told ThePrint that Khalistan and the farmers’ agitation are two distinct issues.
“Those agitating on the Delhi borders are there as farmers and sons of the soil trying to save farming, which is the backbone of Punjab’s economy. They are not there because of any ideology they might follow,” he said.
“Anyone, including SFJ, that mixes Khalistan issue with the ongoing farmers’ agitation is doing a disservice to the farmers’ cause, playing right into the hands of the government that is looking for a convenient handle to unleash repression on the protesting farmers,” he added.
BKU (Rajewal) chief Balbir Singh Rajewal, addressing farmers at the Singhu border earlier this week, said “those who want to create Khalistan can do so in the country where they are”.
“There is no place for them here. Also, there is no place for anyone who wants to raise the Khalistan flag on the Red Fort. We have led this agitation peacefully and will continue to do so,” he added.